Star Trek: Insurrection (Special Collector's Edition)

Oh. My. God. How did the once gloriously second-rate “Star Trek” franchise sink so low? Insurrection is obviously intended for those weird fans of “The Next Generation,” and we know who we are, but even that target audience may have a hard time enduring this flabby excuse of a film. All the “Generation” main players are present including Lieutenant Worf (Michael Dorn), Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes also the director), Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), and perennial favorite, Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). They come out of semi-retirement when their normally capable android, Data (Brent Spinner), goes off-program and runs violently amok on a planet inhabited by the charming Ba’ku people during what was supposed to be an innocuous, but secret, mission to observe their quaint customs. The mission is led by the Son’a, an evil race of narcotics addicts with oddly squashed-up faces. Their leader, Ru’afo (F. Murray Abraham) is evil to the core but the Federation forces don’t understand his true motives at first so Data is allowed to assist him. And as for the Ba’ku? Well, they like to stroll through their bland, manicured village wearing handwoven cotton tunics and smiling gently at the little birdies chirping overhead; sometimes they kick around a hackysack for extra excitement. (Need I say more?)

Jean Luc becomes suspicious when he learns that someone deliberately tampered with Data’s controls, and the puzzle pieces fall into place when he discovers that the Ba’ku are all young and attractive because “unusual metaphasic radiation” on the planet bestows eternal youth. It turns out that the Son’a want to savagely eliminate the Ba’ku and steal the good stuff for themselves, thereby flouting the Federation’s rules against harassing other cultures. The Enterprise crew considers its options, then says “F—k scruples” and joins the Son’a exploitation scheme -- just kidding of course, virtuous Picard and friends would never do such a thing and that’s unfortunate because it leaves Insurrection in a state of flaccid anti-suspense.

There are many of the flashy Star Trek battles that we expect and some of their standard effects have been updated. When people or humanoids are transported these days they shimmer and pixelate before vanishing and that’s great, but other clumsy features have been retained from earlier Treks, much to my delight. I especially appreciate the low-tech shaking of the camera to indicate tremors onboard a spaceship.

Stewart was a respected British theater actor before American TV paychecks lured him to “Next Generation” (he’s said as much in interviews). This makes him the only cast member with any real acting chops and director Frakes knows it so he has lots of screen time. As Jean Luc, he pontificates endlessly about the Federation’s “directives”, and shoots many ugly Son’a but sometimes he just stares vacantly into space while posed against a dramatic space backdrop. What is he thinking about? The nature of good and evil? Whether or not he should pull the plug on Data? Maybe he’s just contemplating the impressive cleavage on Anij, (Donna Murphy) his Ba’ku love interest, and how her St. Pauli girl outfits are the best features of this film.

Stewart does the best he can but the other actors couldn’t pull off a convincing stare if their lives depended on it. Their talents were always slim and time hasn’t improved them. Worf is pretty grotesque when he mentions a Klingon-sized zit that’s formed on his nose but Deanna and Riker are even worse during a love scene in a bubble bath: their lack of chemistry combined with Riker’s slight double-chin might trigger nausea in viewers with weak stomachs.

But the problem isn’t really the predictable story or the stilted acting (those have always been part of the Star Trek mystique) it’s attitude. On the televised “Next Generation” the cast always like they were barely holding back their laughter during truly stupid scenes about stuff such as holograms gone wrong, or intergalactic love. They acted as if they’d been interrupted during a hilarious party and couldn’t possibly straighten up just to deliver some crappy lines. It was fun for them and fun for viewers.

But alas, those days are gone because this writer/director has gone preachy. They desperately want to comment about the evils of big powerful countries that interfere with smaller nations and, although this has always been a worthy and popular Trek theme, Insurrection overdoes it big-time. Specifically, Captain Picard sermonizes incessantly about the endangered Ba'ku, with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. And that’s really too bad because we can’t take his lectures very seriously when his staff includes slutty psychic Deanna Troi, and his fiercest warrior, Worf (the Federation’s Schwartzkopf) wears what looks like an abalone shell on his forehead. There are some attempts to recapture the humor of the glory years – like when Data assures Anij that in event of a flood he can be used as a “flotation device,” – but they’re wobbly.

Basically, the fun is gone. I never thought I would say this but it’s enough to make me pine for Captain Kirk, who strutted proud and pudgy in his tight unitard while he seduced outer-space babes. At least William Shatner looked like he was having a good time. The disc of extras covers basically every aspect of the film, and then some. Definitely more than anyone but the most hardcore trekkies would ever need – and even they might fast-forward through portions of “It Takes A Village” where the creation of the Ba’ku’s uber-hippie village is described. Hitting the major points:

The sound is good. The nicely pulsating base gives explosions a solid thump, especially if you have a quality subwoofer. I didn’t notice anything exceptional about the visuals.

The “Director’s Notebook” features Jonathan Frakes musing about how challenging it was to make a film that contains 288 visual effects shots, but then he lapses into reminiscing about how much fun it was to be reunited with his Next Generation “family” (especially Marina Sirtis, the one he gets to hang with in the bubble bath scene). During “The Story” screenwriter Michael Piller talks about how he incorporated a classic Trek theme – the Federation must a protect weak nation (Ba’ku) against a strong one (Son’a) – into a story of a battle for eternal youth; I liked it until he, too, veered off-topic to gush about the wonderful Generation “family” cast members. During discussion of how Insurrection was filmed on location in the Sierra Nevada Mountains (previous films were staged almost completely on studio sets), Patrick Stewart rhapsodizes about – you guessed it— the wonderful “family” he’s created with his colleagues. And on and on. It’s great that this cast has close working relationships dating back more than a decade before Insurrection but this is a big disc to fill with nothing more than tributes to friendship. In fact, I characterize most of the disc as filler, but with a few notable exceptions.

In “The Art of Insurrection” the film’s art director shows illustrations of the various ships used and talks about how he was inspired by the overall shape and inner strings of a grand piano, especially when he created Son’a vessels. In “Creating the Illusion” there’s discussion about how CGI technology was utilized to show battling ships, and chase scenes. It was good to see because space vehicles in flight or fight are really the meat and potatoes of any Trek offering. In “The Star Trek Universe”, Michael Westmore, chief makeup designer for the franchise for the past 12 years describes how strange, real-life insects and mammals have inspired most of the Trek aliens.

But the only segment that I rate as a must-see, is “Star Trek’s Beautiful Women” because it follows lascivious Trek history all the way back to Kirk’s era. The best thing about it is that none of featured hotties are, theoretically anyway, women at all! It’s all footage, all the time, of horny, alien space goddesses. From bodacious Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan), to a pre-Sex in the City Kim Catrall playing an ice-queen Vulcan, then back further to someone called the Green Orion Slave Girl (I think she had the hots for Kirk but the green face paint makes it hard to tell) – this one is a winner through and through. All of the interviewed actresses enjoyed talking about their former sexcapades within a multi-galaxy context, and I laughed along with them and had to play it again. If only the entire disc could rise to that standard.

This disc has its bright spots but it drags, much like the film. Bigger isn’t always better.