Star Trek: Insurrection review
I was severely disappointed by how Star Trek: Insurrection, the ninth Star Trek film, was marketed. The film’s theatrical poster gave us an image of Ru’afo’s face looking down (ripping off that of a Klingon’s face in The Undiscovered Country’s teaser poster) at a recycled shot of the Enterprise from the previous film’s teaser poster, with the tagline “The Battle for Paradise Has Begun” (echoing the tagline of The Undiscovered Country‘s theatrical poster: “The Battle for Peace Has Begun”). When I saw this poster, I just shook my head. They really are running out of ideas, I thought. Paramount’s marketing department really dropped the ball on this one. If this hadn’t been a Star Trek movie, I might not have bothered!
Behind the scenes, the film itself also suffered. Being the big, huge franchise that Trek had become by this time, far too many people had their say in how the film should go and be developed, much to the detriment of how it turned out.
My first viewing of the film in the theater was preceded by the first teaser trailer for Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace. As a result, I spent a lot of the film’s running time thinking how cool the return of Star Wars would be.
Fortunately, the film itself turned out to be entertaining enough. At the time of its release, Insurrection seemed like the perfect antidote for the level of darkness that was permeating the Star Trek franchise. Between the stopping of the Borg invasion in First Contact and the Dominion War arc on Deep Space Nine, I was really beginning to wonder what had happened to the spirit of exploration in Star Trek. When Picard asks aloud, “Can anyone remember when we used to be explorers?”, I said aloud in the theater, “Thank you!” The adventure that followed showed us a new civilization and our heroes fighting for “the small guy,” in the form of a newly introduced species, the Ba’ku. I was rooting for Picard and company sticking up for them. On top of that, the film had a light-hearted tone that I thought was badly needed, at the time.
Unfortunately, time has not proven Insurrection to be one of the better films in the now-long-running Star Trek film canon. This is primarily because its story could just as easily have been a two-part episode of the show. When I first saw the film back in 1998, I thought the best thing about it was that it was the kind of film that was good to watch on a Saturday afternoon when you have nothing better to do. Now, I realize that the worst thing about this film is that it’s the kind of film that is good to watch on a Saturday afternoon when you’ve got nothing better to do. In essence, the story itself falls pretty flat and feels too “safe,” delivering all the “right” moves to keep us fans happy while not taking huge risks with the characters or the franchise.
It wasn’t until I’d had time to contemplate the situation with the Ba’ku that I realized it could have been done much better. My personal favorite alternative idea would have had those in favor of sticking up for the Ba’ku (Picard, Troi, and Data) in conflict with those who think the Ba’ku are despicable for hoarding what could benefit millions (Riker, Crusher, Worf, and Geordi). In the film, they’re all of one mind about it, and while that’s fine for an episode or a film that’s “just another adventure,” we really should demand more from a Star Trek movie.
Additionally, though the film had a budget of fifty-eight million US dollars, it doesn’t appear that much of that budget went to anything besides the all-digital effects (the first Star Trek film to rely exclusively on CGI) and some spectacular outdoor location shooting. In fact, the locations chosen for this film are incredibly beautiful, moreso than any previous Star Trek film.
Ru’afo’s speech about the Federation being “old” seems to reflect the fact that, by the time this film was released, Star Trek had been running continuously on TV for eleven years and that Rick Berman and associates were probably growing more aware of that. I can easily imagine that scene with a Paramount suit telling Berman, “Star Trek is old! In the past twenty-four months, you’ve been challenged by every other franchise in Hollywood. Star Wars, The X-Files, Babylon 5. They all smell the scent of death on Star Trek!”
Although the film is written with competence (if not originality) and is very well-made (kudos once again to Jonathan Frakes), it lacks any real stakes and again feels like “just another adventure.” The most disappointing thing about the film was its bad marketing, even though it had nothing to do with the film itself. The best thing is the amazing outdoor locations. Although the fact this was not TNG’s last film does make this an easier pill to swallow, I think that we, after so many films and having seen Star Trek done right on the big screen more than once, have a right to demand more.
A freelance writer, Douglas has several years experience writing newsletters, sales copy and movie reviews. He is also the author of the screenplays Supralight and Bloodstone: The Sorceress and the Warrior. His reviews of Star Trek films (as well as a DS9 retrospective) have been published on the TrekSphere website.