Monday, June 28, 2010

"Star Trek: Insurrection" (1998)

Starring Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner and F. Murray Abraham
Written by Michael Piller
Directed by Jonathan Frakes

That's right, the Enterprise is joystick-compatible.
Remember when I said that part of the problem that drags down "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" was too much over silliness?  That issue rears its ugly head once again in the ninth "Star Trek" feature, "Insurrection."  While the former film mostly concerned itself with characters getting knocked on the head or one-liners about holding your horses, the latter is filled with bits about making Worf sing, pimples, and I shit you not, a boob joke.

"Insurrection' begins with a bright, sunny day on an idyllic alien world interrupted by weapons fire.  Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) suddenly appears, combating strange aliens in high-tech suits that render them invisible.  After defeating them, he uses his weapon to reveal to the world's inhabitants that they are being spied upon by a hidden observation post above their village - crewed by Son'a and Starfleet officers. 

Word reaches the starship Enterprise that Data is malfunctioning, and Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) decides to ignore orders to stay away.  Upon reaching the alien planet, which resides in a dangerous area of space known as the Briar Patch because of its unusual environmental qualities, they manage to capture Data.  Quickly, they learn that the reason for Data's malfunction was that he was fired upon by the Son'a, which contradicts what they had been told by the Son'a commander Ru'afo (F. Murray Abraham) and Starfleet Admiral Dougherty (Anthony Zerbe).  Going down to the planet to investigate further, they discover the truth about Ru'afo and Dougherty's plan: To transplant the population of the planet, in secret, to another.

It seems the rings of this planet emit some kind of strange radiation that heals the sick and keeps people young - the planet itself is like a fountain of youth.  Dougherty and Ru'afo intend to harvest this radiation, but doing so will ruin the planet's atmosphere.  So they have come up with a plan to remove the people below, and take what they need.  When Picard discovers this, of course, he takes the moral high ground and vows to stop this plan.  He and his crew arm themselves to protect the planet's inhabitants while Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is ordered to take the Enterprise outside the Briar Patch to blow the lid off this conspiracy.  But Dougherty and Ru'afo aren't about to let that happen.

"Star Trek: Insurrection" is a middling movie, which is unfortunate, after how successful "First Contact" was before it.  Like "Final Frontier," it presents an intriguing premise for the story, but then gets bogged down by the silly humor and lame special effects.  The movie throws too many small action sequences at the audience, trying to distract us from the fact that the script really doesn't develop much of anything.  There's enough real story here for an episode of the TV series, but the rest of the film's runtime feels padded out.

The premise begs for a serious treatment of the idea of forcing the relocation of a settlement of people, something that has led to tragedies throughout human history.  A better script could've made this an excellent "Star Trek" feature, doing what "Star Trek" often does best - present a moral, allegorical story under the guise of a science fiction adventure.  But "Insurrection" doesn't do that.  It throws the idea at us, and then starts throwing jokes and action sequences to help us ignore the fact that it's not really exploring the idea at all.  

The jokes don't really work.  The cast is game, obviously, and seems to be having fun, but the simple fact is that it's just not all that funny.  The cast is having fun because they like working together, but they can't manage to sell all the gags they're trying to throw at us.  A number of the jokes are focused on emasculating Worf (Michael Dorn), the big Klingon warrior.  Why Worf is even in this movie is never explained (he starts to tell us why, and then gets interrupted).  The truth is that he's in this movie because he was in the TV series, so no matter how little sense it makes for him to be here, he apparently must be here.   The producers apparently weren't content with letting him just stay aboard "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."  One of the funnier bits in the movie is when a boy asks Data if he knows how to play, and Data replies, "Yes, I play the violin."  This is funny because it's the sort of thing Data would say, as opposed to later when he asks Worf if he's noticed his boobs firming up.

The film suffers in terms of its visual effects, as well.  There's a lot of bad compositing work in this movie.  Any scene where there's a window looking out into space or something flying around the planet's atmosphere just looks cheap.  There's one shot of the Enterprise being knocked around by an explosion that might as well have come from the original 1960s TV series, since the ship looks like a small toy dangling on wires.  It's awful. 

The lighting throughout the movie is bright and flat, also making it look cheap.  On the plus side, there is a great deal of gorgeous location shooting.  Of course, none of this is helped by the fact that the image quality on the blu-ray disc is disappointing as hell.  While "First Contact" generally looked excellent, "Insurrection" looks much like the original crew movies did.  Detail has been obliterated.  The Ba'ku costumes look like they should have fantastic textures, but they don't.  Close-ups fare okay, with good skin and costume detail, but anything beyond that looks flat and soft. It's definitely an improvement over the DVD, but disappointing all the same, especially considering how good the previous film looked.

The sound on the blu-ray, however, is first rate.  Jerry Goldsmith's excellent score (truly the best thing about this film) fills the soundstage from all sides.  Sound effects have excellent directionality and bass is deep and hefty. 

"Star Trek: Insurrection" is a mediocre movie.  It's not unwatchable, but it's nothing special.  Bad visual effects and a weak script bring it down.  The quality of the blu-ray disc is sadly lacking, as well.