Star Trek: Insurrection (1998, Jonathan Frakes)

Insurrection

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Federation is observing an oblivious alien race called the Ba’ku. But after the operation is revealed, dangerous secrets are also uncovered…

Regulars: Picard is hosting a diplomatic dinner on the Enterprise when the crisis kicks off. He tracks down a malfunctioning Data and sings Gilbert & Sullivan in an attempt to reboot him. When affected by the Ba’ku planet’s Fountain-of-Youth-like energy, he dances a little jig to some mamba music – that’s enough to make him realise something is wrong. When ordered to leave the system, he chooses to disobey orders and – in a neat dramatisation of his decision – removes the captain’s pips from his collar. Riker and Troi try to do the background research on the Ba’ku situation, but can’t stop flirting. She kisses him with a beard for the first time (he’s the one with the beard), then they share a hot tub while she shaves it off for him. Her TV-show romance with Worf has seemingly petered out at some point. Maybe it ended when he left the Enterprise crew – he was a regular in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine by this point, so we get a knowingly arch moment when Picard bumps into Worf and asks, “What are you doing here?” Because it’s not important, Worf’s explanation is essentially rhubarb dialogue underneath a more important discussion. The Ba’ku influence means Worf later oversleeps and gets acne. Data, meanwhile, initiates the plot when he behaves erratically after being attacked on Ba’ku; Geordie’s optic nerves regenerate, allowing him to see naturally for the first time in his life; and Crusher identifies the invigorating effects the crew are experiencing (but doesn’t seem all that concerned about them – great work, Doc!).

Guests: F Murray Abraham is the lead bad guy, a member of the Son’a race called Ru’afo (what’s with all these apostrophes?!). Donna Murphy plays Ba’ku woman Anji, while Anthony Zerbe appears as villainous Federation admiral Matthew Dougherty. Apparently, Armin Shimerman filmed a cameo as his Deep Space Nine character, Quark, but it was cut from the finished film.

Best bits:

* The reveal of the duck blind.

* Data going loopy while wearing an invisibility suit – the subsequent fight is seen only through certain sections of the duck blind’s window, then Data takes off his helmet so his head (and only his head) is visible to the natives.

* Geordie briefing Picard on the situation while Picard is wearing a silly ceremonial headdress given to him by an ambassador.

* Ru’afo having his skin stapled into place.

* Worf’s shake of the head when Picard suggests he sings to Data.

* Data walking into the lake and along its bottom.

* The reveal of the holo-ship.

* When Picard goes rogue, the other six regulars turn up and insist on joining his mutiny. (Most have changed into Ba’ku clothing, but Riker and Geordie are still in their uniforms. *Completely coincidentally*, they’re the two Picard asks to stay behind on the Enterprise.)

* Troi and Crusher discussing their boobs.

* Admiral Dougherty having his skin forcibly expanded – a scene oddly similar to how Anthony Zerbe was killed off in Licence to Kill.

* The Son’a being unwittingly transported aboard the holo-ship – a cute idea, which is well seeded earlier in the story. (If anything, it’s a shame they work out what’s happened so quickly.)

* “The Son’a crew would like to negotiate a ceasefire,” says Worf, who’s aboard their ship. “It may have something to do with the fact we have three minutes of air left.”

TV tie-in: The movie shares a basic setup and a general tone with a 1989 episode of The Next Generation called Who Watches the Watchers. It’s altogether a tighter, more focused and more interesting experience. Riker and Troi have to go undercover with the Mintakans, a Bronze Age-level society, after the Federation team observing them from a hidden bunker are accidentally revealed and the natives believe Picard is a god. (It guest stars Kathryn Leigh Scott from my mates Joe and Davy‘s Dark Shadows audio series.)

Review: A simplistic story about pacifist hippies and power-hungry authority doesn’t exactly make for cutting-edge drama, and this twee plot is stretched to fill out 100 minutes. Just in case you don’t get the analogy on display, Picard refers to previous ‘forced relocations’ from Earth’s history, then does a Moses impression and leads the Ba’ku on a cross-country hike to safety. That countryside, by the way, is clearly not far from Los Angeles. The majority of Star Trek filming locations are in California, of course – but the first six films felt ambitious and inventive and gave us deserts, cities, tundra, mountains, forests… With the Next Generation team, however, it seems there’s a lack of ambition in that department. And that’s emblematic of the whole movie. It’s often said that Insurrection feels like a two-part TV story cut together and put on the big screen – there’s nothing wrong with that in theory, but it actually does those double-length episodes a disservice. Most were more engaging than this humdrummery.

Five British Tars out of 10.

 

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Star Trek: First Contact (1996, Jonathan Frakes)

FirstContact

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When the Borg go back in time and change Earth’s history, the crew of the Enterprise must follow them to 2063 to put things right…

Regulars: Picard dreams about the Borg before he hears they’re invading Federation space – he was assimilated by them a few years earlier and is haunted by his experiences. He disobeys orders and heads to Earth when it’s threatened, and when the Borg have taken over the Enterprise he kills a captured crewmember out of mercy. Lily, a woman from 2063, accuses him – rightly – of being a hypocrite for wanting revenge. Riker searches for famous historical figure Zefram Cochrane, and almost always has a wry grin on his face. Data deactivates his emotion chip from the last film when he gets scared – Picard says he envies him this ability – but the Borg switch it back on when they capture him. Worf isn’t part of the crew any more: since the last film, the character had joined spin-off TV show Deep Space Nine. But he gets beamed aboard the Enterprise early on, then later helps Picard destroy the ship’s deflector dish. Troi tracks down Cochrane, and gets drunk with him and has to swat aside his advances. (She then goes missing from the story for an oddly long time.) Crusher gets plenty of medical stuff to do: she goes down to Earth on the recce and takes an injured Lily to sickbay, and later activates the Emergency Medical Holographic doctor (in part, a reference to Star Trek: Voyager) in order to cause a diversion. Geordie, meanwhile, isn’t wearing his visor any more – he’s had cybernetic ocular implants since we last saw him. Astonishingly, no comparison or thematic rhyming is made of the fact that a regular crewmember has bionic eyes and this is a story about the Borg.

Guests: Cochran is played by James Cromwell, who I’ll always be fond of because he’s in my favourite film, LA Confidential. Alfre Woodard adds energy and humour as Lily. Alice Krige plays the Borg Queen. Neal McDonough plays doomed helmsman Lt Hawk. Star Trek: Voyager’s Robert Picardo and The Next Generation’s Dwight Schultz cameo as the EMH and Reg Barclay respectively.

Best bits:

* The opening shot: a very long pull back from Picard’s eyeball to the massive Borg ship he’s aboard.

* The old dream-within-a-dream trick from An American Werewolf in London.

* “Tough little ship,” Riker says of the Defiant. “Little?!” Worf replies indignantly.

* The Borg have assimilated the Earth!

* Picard lovingly touching the rocket ship he will later worship in a museum – and trying to explain to Data why tactile contact can be so evocative.

* Troi gets drunk. “This is no time to argue about time. We don’t have the time!”

* “And you people, you’re all astronauts on some kind of star trek?” Zefram wins the wankiest-reference competition.

* Picard notices that the phaser Lily stole and pointed at him was on its highest setting and could have killed him. “It’s my first ray gun,” she says meekly.

* The Borg Queen’s head and shoulders being lowered onto her torso while she chats away to Data.

* Reg Barclay’s excited fan-boy moment as he meets his hero Zefram.

* The space-walk sequence and the subsequent fight on the hull of the ship.

* Riker: “Someone once said, ‘Don’t try to be a great man. Just be a man and let history make its own judgement.’” Zefram: “Rhetorical nonsense. Who said that?” All together now: “You did, 10 years from now.”

* Picard calling Worf a coward.

* Troi’s stentorious countdown to liftoff is interrupted by Zefram putting on some loud music (Steppenwolf’s Magic Carpet Ride).

* Data was only pretending to be assimilated!

* Zefram’s scream as he travels at warp for the first time.

* The actual first contact – a ship lands, a Vulcan gets off, Zefram shakes his hand. (Shame the gathered extras seems so underwhelmed by what they’re witnessing.)

* Zefram introducing the Vulcans to rock’n’roll.

TV tie-in: The character of Zefram Cochrane first appeared in a decent episode of the original Star Trek TV series called Metamorphosis. In it, Captain Kirk and his colleagues discover a 237-year-old Cochrane stranded on a planet where a strange entity called the Companion has rejuvenated him so he appears to be 35. (Although meant to be the same man, the Cochrane from First Contract looks and behaves nothing like this incarnation.)

Review: Well, it doesn’t hang about. But whereas the best Star Trek movies are enjoyably pacey, this is just rushed. There’s also a sense that the film is being made for established fans. It’s assumed we know who everyone is, there are quite a few continuity references, and we must recall vital details of a TV episode from 1990. Not only that, the storytelling is generally pretty shoddy. Key conversations seem to get skipped over (we don’t get to see Zefram being told the crew are from the future, for example). A bizarre holodeck sequence comes out of nowhere. Jokes stick out incongruously. We get little sense of Zefram and Lily’s relationship – and they’re the only 21st-century people we meet. Sadly it’s all a bit undercooked, like they filmed an early draft of the script. The bulk of the movie is split between a fun enough but leisurely story with Zefram and a boring Die Hard pastiche aboard the Enterprise. The two halves run parallel yet are unconnected: neither half’s characters seem to care what’s happening in the other story. There’s crash, bang and wallop, but little of it means anything.

Six Moby Dick quotations out of 10.