16 April 2011

Star Trek: Insurrection

I've been watching a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation lately, just cycling through from season 3 all the way to season 7 in my downtime or vegging-out nights at home. It's spotty but generally very good, and I guess I just felt recently like continuing that trend by revisiting one of the more generic Next Generation movies over the last few nights as a fall-asleep-to choice. I remember it being pretty bland, a little too new-agey for its own good, and more about the actors and writers having fun with the characters than it was about developing them in a meaningful story. (Unequivocally, this falls into that recurring theme of late, plot-driven science fiction stories that don't give enough attention to characterization [for my tastes], just like this and this and this.) It's also an odd-numbered Star Trek film, the ninth, and we all know what that means.

But for all of that, it's actually surprisingly watchable. Especially when stacked up against the last few episodes of the TV series and not the other, admittedly better Star Trek feature films (it follows the mostly very good First Contact, for example -- though it's worth noting that it's succeded by Nemesis, which is basically the X-Men 3 of the Next Generation movies/universe). To geek out for a moment, Insurrection is basically a recap of several decent episodes, off the top of my head it steals major plot-points from "Who Watches The Watchers?", "Brothers", and "Homeward" -- and to be honest, aside from combining elements to keep the story moving, it doesn't even offer a very original take on these ideas. It also insists on making Picard a Kirk-style action hero -- though I suppose both Generations and First Contact had already started pushing us down that road, it's still weird when comparing him to the stoic diplomatic Picard of the TV series (and frankly, hard to believe as a natural development of the same character). But it's not bad. It's reasonably smart, and the fan service paid is neither pandering (exactly) nor totally out of character -- Data's awfully smarmy-human in most scenes but I guess by now he's experienced emotions so many times I can't even keep track, so why not; and Riker's gotten awfully soft and well-fed for a dashing new ship captain, hasn't he?

The only other comment I have is, it's always been my opinion that the difference between an okay Star Trek movie (which I'll generously lump this one into) and a great Star Trek movie is the villain. Star Trek II had Khan; Star Trek VI had General Chang (plus, insidious conspiracy); First Contact had the Borg Queen. Even The Motion Picture and Star Trek IV had interesting non-human/truly-alien adversaries. Hell, Christopher Lloyd cut a decent Klingon villain in Star Trek III, for that matter. But F. Murray Abraham falls into an unfortunate pile with Malcolm McDowell, Tom Hardy, and Eric Bana: fine actors who just can't salvage uninteresting, kind of cheesy villains. Like Batman, like James Bond, like any number of action movies or thrillers: without a good villain, it doesn't matter how cool your heroes are.

In my mind, this was more like a ridiculously expensive reunion episode more than a feature film. I'd say that's how III and IV and Generations feel, too. (Star Trek V wants to feel that way, and the not-unbearable parts of it definitely do, to a fault; but it's easier to just pretend there never was a Star Trek V.) So in a way it almost feels silly to blog (rant) about it here, where I generally don't write-up every TV series I watch (I've made exceptions when I felt I had something I wanted to say). But it's a movie, so I gave it the full service. And I more or less enjoyed it, even the weak parts (oh, and a side-note: now that I've seen all of TNG's successor and this film's contemporary, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I do want to say I found it satisfying that there were references to the galactic-political situation of that show, giving a sense of consistency to the continually expanding world). And since I enjoyed it, I figured it deserved a little bit of blather. And so there you go.

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