Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Case for Insurrection: 15 Years On

With today marking the 15th (yep I was surprised too) anniversary of the release of Insurrection I felt it the right time to slip this online...

As the title credits on the First Contact DVD rolled I realised two shocking things. One - that I was coming ever so close to Nemesis and second; that I had to go through Insurrection to get there.

Now I have to say that it really isn't that bad after all. Actually it's quite a substantial change of pace and yes, it is about the length of a two-parter but it shouldn't be written off that easily. Some of the bad press is for the two reasons I've mentioned there but also it had a lot more involvement from the cast than ever before. Stewart was involved with production and Frakes was back for a second shot at directing but what criticism would have been levelled at Insurrection if it had been all out action again as with First Contact? Lack of originality? Copying? 

Changing tack and doing something different is one of Star Trek's greatest assets and it's been effective in many an episode right across the franchise. Insurrection is nothing if not different. Even the opening sequence which plays under the titles and sketches out the idyllic existence of the Baku is a mirror to the events of the previous film. It all seems a lot more chilled out and arty from the outset if I'm honest although it could have done without the cute palmpet thing.

So why should we give Insurrection 90 minutes of our lives again? While it's not the explosive kick-ass dark cinematic moment that it's predecessor managed so effectively it's possibly The Next Generation's most true to Roddenberry's vision movie produced. The core of the film is based around the principles of the Prime Directive and how far you should go to ensure those rules are not broken. It's got it's action sequences but it also has a very big heart and while Generations was a classic Espresso, First Contact a bottle of Oozo, Insurrection would be a milky hot chocolate served by the fireside. It's the most feel-food of the series and also the lightest on the mind. I'm still working on an analogy for Nemesis that is printable by the way.

I get a bit fed up with the moaning about Insurrection especially seeing as it's been out since 1998. For me the concept did seem a bit twee but there are pockets within the movie which keep me watching. From the beginning it marks out distinct differences with First Contact. This time Starfleet are the interlopers; the invaders. They are the ones observing a peaceful people with Data (as we discover), their saviour. The shuttle chase is certainly unique and nicely done and who could forget the Captain's Yacht making it's only appearance to date even if it is fleeting?

The worry is that while the cast of the first six movies got to chew on Shakespeare, Melville and Masefield, Picard's crew are landed with Gilbert and Sullivan here and Irving Berlin in Nemesis. Was anyone really bothered with the franchise by this stage or had they been resigned to the notion of the odd-numbered curse which clearly meant that Nemesis would be good whatever happened?

So, yes, it appears they had. An interesting start accompanied by that nifty shuttle chase and Data recovery set up great possibilities but it never seems that they get delivered on. When the Enterprise arrives for instance the Baku turn out to be nice and peaceful, welcoming those who were behind the duck-blind observation post as guests. However good action sequences can't make up for the fact that the Baku are, well, a shade dull. Even Donna Murphy comes across as a little weary from time to time. The Baku just aren't bothered with anything and their serene lifestyle does start to come across at times as edged with a little arrogance.

In some respects you can't blame the Sona for leaving and finding something more exciting to do with their time. The whole face-stretching thing is a little uncomfortable but it's one more unique element to the movie and covers the identities of the protagonists until the final acts of the story.They are still aiming to remain young in their own way but it's not worked out as well. Ru'afo is as driven a foe as Soran and the Borg Queen before him. The former of those two is the closest comparison as they are both willing to give up everything and sacrifice anyone necessary to achieve their goal. Cleverly though the Sona get Starfleet assistance to keep themselves on the right side of the law.

So we can see from the sequences and characters mentioned here that there are at least a few things that make Insurrection unique among the movies and therefore worthy of at least the occasional rewatch. Maybe it's just worth a third or fourth viewing for a beardless Riker flying the Enterprise with a 1980's Atari joystick?! You can't accuse any Star Trek before or after this movie of ever pulling a stunt that even came within a ten mile radius of that moment. I still feel that it gets massively underrated for being a little quirky, not just repeating more heavy action sequences and giving the cast something different to deal with.  

There is clearly a moral message in here about environmental issues, resettlement and the basic principle of being able to differentiate between good and bad however aside from Frakes perhaps no other cast members should be allowed to touch the franchise in either writing or production areas. Not only does that factor apply here but also to the subsequent Nemesis as we will see. Giving more focus on Picard as the all-action hero isn't the best but after First Contact who could blame him for wanting a bit more off-ship action (see also Nemesis and the Argo).

What I do like about Nemesis is timing. Being only slightly more than an hour and a half in length it's quite tight on the story with very little "baggage". I love the villains here. F Murray Abraham is just awesome as Ru'afo and spits and hisses through most of the scenes he's in. Putting him opposite Stewart is a masterstroke and does save the movie from mediocrity. The youthening techniques that the Sona employ are truly unique if not slightly unsettling when it gets to the point where there can be no further manipulation. The mission to gain the secret of the Baku and resolve their aging really is different  but I doubt it would have carried as much clout had there not been such a heavyweight actor underneath the stretching makeup.

Adding the element of Admiral Dougherty into the story and thereby Starfleet's implicity within the matter and there's a winning villainous package. Dougherty isn't necessarily evil, just following orders and making a right hash of it. He knows the actions to relocate the Baku is wrong but yet he continues because of the "financial" victory it will bring. The needs of the One certainly look like they are outweighing the needs of the many here. Ultimately the admiral pays the price but not before falling further into darkness and agreeing to the destruction of the Enterprise.

Where it does fall apart however is the "Picard as Moses" leading the Baku to safety. It is messiah-like in its nature and in some strange way that's perhaps why I like it. It's a rare occasion where The Next Generation did the unexpected and went for a mellow approach; there's children, there's families here and even a bit of romance for Picard which counterbalances against the dangers faced by a beard-free Riker and the crew of the Enterprise as they attempt to inform Starfleet of Dougherty and the Sona's plans. There's lots of wonderful landscape shots in here as the Baku go....somewhere. To be fair it seems that doing away with Riker's beard may have been a Samson-esque act which meant he didn't get asked back for a third stint which might, in retrospect, have saved Nemesis from becoming the car crash moment in Star Trek history.

Overall I still enjoy watching Insurrection and with today marking 15 years since release it might even get a special dusting down. I can even manage to stomach all the saccharine moments of stopping time and that CGI slug. Odd-numbered it was however it'll still be remembered for being better than what was to come along and assist in burying the franchise in 2002...

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