SEQUELISED: Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

What happens when you slap two Next Generation episodes together and call it a movie? Dylan finds out. 

Who made it?: Jonathan Frakes (Director), Michael Piller (Writer), Rick Berman (Producer), Paramount Pictures.

Who’s in it?: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, F. Murray Abraham.

Tagline: “Six Hundred Lives… One Directive.”

IMDb rating: 6.3/10.

A big problem facing a film series like Star Trek, is that its based on a television show. This might sound great; you have an instant fanbase, no need to create a new set of characters or scenarios, and a product that has been tested as a success. But with this success comes anticipation, and you have a fan community that needs to satisfied, as well as bringing in other audiences who may feel alienated.

This is especially true with a show with such epic ideals; how do you bring it up a notch to make it filmic? Over the years, the franchise has had its hits and misses, and sadly Star Trek: Insurrection is a film where the plot’s core idea cannot escape the shackles of the worst tea-time TV show.

Insurrection follows the crew of the Enterprise as they track down Data (Brent Spiner) after he malfunctions on an undercover mission. They discover the pacifistic Ba’ku people, who live in peace with nature. However, under pressure from a race called the Son’a, their way of life is threatened after the Federation tries to take on their natural resources.

Insurrection is a slap in the face after watching First Contact. The crew act like different people, who are much happier with their lives and spend a lot of their professional time kidding about. I know I criticised Contact for how stoic the characters were, but here they go way too far with it. There’s always been light-hearted moments in The Next Generation saga, but here returning director Jonathan Frakes spoils the atmosphere. The scene where Picard (Patrick Stewart) wears beads on his head (don’t ask) goes on for so long that you start to question his sanity. What should be an exciting chase to capture a rogue Data (which, to be honest, is a strong enough concept for a whole movie), turns into a musical sing-a-long. Seriously. It just doesn’t represent the original source material. At its best, Star Trek dealt with some magnificent sci-fi concepts and it’s a real shame to see it brought down to this level.

That brings us on to the general tone of the film. The move focuses more on the dilemmas the crew have to face with the Son’a rather than action, and the fight scenes are short and limited. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the filmmakers trying something a little more philosophical with the plot, rather than making Die Hard in space, but it fudges the main issues, both through a lack of logical sense and a failure to confront the problems.

The real issue is that the Ba’ku people supposedly exist without technology, and yet live in a world that requires technology to survive. But they don’t. They have nice houses, crops, wells, and even a dam. The narrative doesn’t work at the most basic level. I’m not the first one to point this out, but it doesn’t quite cripple the film intrinsically. In fact, it opens up some really interesting angles. The Ba’ku might be forced to use technology purely for practicality’s sake, even though it goes against their beliefs. The Federation could point out to Picard that these people are living in an impossible-to-achieve dream world. The crew could also tell the Bak’u that they clearly need technology to survive, and try to get them to mix modern developments and ideologies for a better way of life. All of these elements would lend a lot of development to the Ba’ku, but they just end up like actors in a photo frame, inhabiting a moral high ground that’s impossible to achieve.

Or from a production perspective, the filmmakers could’ve created a world where houses, roads and crops are somehow grown without any kind of machinery, and where people live in a much more spiritual state. A rural farming community is a dreadful location to plant a group of technophobes, and it is without a doubt Insurrection‘s biggest misstep. The dilemma comes down to this – potentially save the lives of billions, or relocate six hundred and go against the Prime Directive. The crew go for the latter. This has been mocked in a lot of quarters for the ridiculous decision, and although I am inclined to agree, I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. After all, dozens of philosophers throughout history have tried to create an absolutely ethical system – there is so much room for the film to expand on the difficulty of morality. But here, the Ba’ku are good, beautiful and loving people, and the Son’a are evil, ugly and in the wrong. The lack of grey area brings no conflict to the decision, and just emphasises the problem in it being a dilemma at all.

However, all this dodges the main, killer problem: The story isn’t a very good idea for a movie. The concept works for television at best, but here, it grounds the Enterprise and her crew on an Earth-like planet, stuck sorting out political bureaucracy. For what is meant to be a series about space exploration, you have the makings of an eighteenth century costume drama. Star Trek: Insurrection feels like a telly movie that has managed to use the budget very well. The problem is that the actual budget was $58 million. This is the very definition of a movie that is for “completists only,” and is a textbook example of how not to convert a television show into a motion picture. I’m reluctant to put all of these problems at the feet of Frakes, though. He clearly has a lot of love for the material, and in spire of the actors playing it a little goofily, it is solid enough. There’s nothing specifically wrong with his direction, and though the production looks cheap for the budget, all is generally coherent. But it’s spinning round a plot nucleus that just doesn’t hold the attention. The filmmakers should’ve boldly gone back to the drawing board.

Best Scene

This is the best part of Insurrection because, at this point, the movie could go anywhere – we could have an interesting flick about a rogue Data. At the very least, there is still mystery. Sadly, it’s all downhill from here.

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • So far, this is the only Star Trek movie in which absolutely no scenes take place on or near Earth.
  • The only Star Trek movie to-date where a Stardate is never given nor displayed at any point throughout the entire course of the film.
  • First Star Trek movie where all the space shots are computer-generated.
  • Many of the shots used in the Teaser Trailer, such as when the crew are grabbing the phaser rifles, and when the Enterprise E is making a turn to engage, and when other ships are lining up to fight, the Enterprise is firing quantum torpedoes, are shots used for Star Trek: First Contact. There is also a shot of the Enterprise-D from Star Trek: Generations during this trailer, from the scene in that movie when it is being attacked.
  • Scenes involving Quark (Armin Shimerman) from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were filmed, but cut.
  • On the VHS Commentary (which appears at the end of the VHS copy of the movie), Jonathan Frakes says that for the scene where Ru’afo (F. Murray Abraham) has his skin folded over his head, Producer Rick Berman and several of the make-up artists had visited a plastic surgery clinic and watched surgeries being performed to get ideas for that particular scene.
  • Arnold Schwarzenegger was first offered the role of Ru’afo.

Dylan Spicer

Dylan graduated from Brighton Film School and and went on to complete an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. He has worked on award-winning short and feature films. He is currently experimenting with Narradu Memories, and his online audio drama giantcannibals.co.uk.

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