Hi Internet, how are you? You know, recently I’ve noticed that my posts tend to vary wildly in their length from one to the next, so I’ve resolved starting now to not do anything about that and just let each one be whatever length it needs. Ah, the joys of not having a real publisher. Another joy of being entirely unprofessional is that I get to talk about pretty much whatever I want. This week, I want to talk about Star Trek, because I am a classic nerd. I have Reggie Jackson’s rookie card, posters of Mark Mcgwire on my wall, a bat signed by Sammy Sosa…wait, I’m describing a classic baseball fan, and doing so anachronistically at that! No, I’m the other thing and I recently re-watched a certain sci-fi movie which shall remain nameless until I finish this sentence: Star Trek IX: Insurrection.
I remember having seen this one a long time ago and kind of immediately forgetting it after that, forever after holding a less than stellar opinion of it most likely due to its unfortunate place between First Contact and Nemesis, 2 of my top 3 favorite movies. Poor guy. Upon a second look it occurs to me that, while this particular installment is weak compared to the rest of the cast’s distinguished career, I’ve been unfair to it. So thank you, J.J. Abrams, for haphazardly throwing together a reboot that was so bad that all of the TNG cast movies look like all-time classics by comparison. But I guess that’s a story for another day.
The story for today is an observation mission on the home planet of a peaceful but apparently primitive species of suspended-disbelief-shatteringly human-like aliens called the Ba’ku, wherein Data has sustained some sort of damage to his positronic brain creating a malfunction which manifests itself as his going ape shit and taking the rest of the mission’s crew hostage. This is of course an elaborate writing ploy meant to draw the Enterprise away from some unimportant and boring diplomatic mission, because Captain Picard is never doing anything interesting at the start of a movie but he and the rest of the crew have a hard-on for Data. I kind of wish they would do one movie where the Enterprise spends the whole time just carrying out one of these diplomatic missions they always use as a framing device for the more interesting movie parts.
After successfully subduing Data in one of my ten favorite scenes from a movie ever, Picard learns that, spoiler, everything is not as it seems! Specifically, the Ba’ku are not a primitive species, but they’ve abandoned technology and science and the future an’ shit because they live on a planet that grants them immortality and fuck, I’d probably give up all that shit too if I suddenly didn’t have the grim reaper breathing down my neck. I mean, they’ve adopted a slower pace of life. Or something. Turns out the observation mission was a joint venture by the shadier members of Star Fleet and the guy who killed Mozart in the movie Amadeus to relocate the Ba’ku so we can steal the eternal youth from the rings of their planet. Using science. The crew of the U.S.S Do-Good find this appalling and have resolved to commit treason by resisting the relocation by force, presumably as a flimsy pretext to get Picard, the bridge crew and Data to have one of those inspirational scenes where Data says something like “I think I speak for everyone when I say to hell with our orders” and we all stand up and cheer. And damned if I didn’t actually stand up and cheer.
You know, it occurred to me while watching this movie that I think it’s odd that Picard hasn’t gotten a promotion in, apparently, ever. He was already a seasoned captain when he took over the Enterprise in 1987, and he’s still a captain in Nemesis in 2002. In the time between the original series and the very first movie, Kirk had gotten promoted to rear admiral. Between the end of Voyager and Nemesis, Janeway had also achieved the rank of admiral. I’m not saying that Janeway or Kirk didn’t deserve their promotions, but fuck, Picard and crew saved Earth from the Borg twice. But I digress.
So Picard and crew help the Ba’ku evade relocation and Riker takes the ship and sets up the obligatory spaceship battle, I mean takes the ship and tries to sway political opinion back home. Then some action movie happens, the bad guy turns his evil knob up from “Andrew Jackson” to “Adolf Hitler” and just decides to harvest the planet with the Ba’ku still on it, thus killing them, and we learn the actual twist of the movie (presumably the twist that the Ba’ku used to be astronauts was a red herring): that the Son’a (the bad guy aliens, led by John Practice) are actually a group of Ba’ku separatists who left home 100 years ago with a serious grudge. Then some more action movie happens and Picard saves the day using science fiction.
Alright, with the brief overview out of the way I can get down to the things I really liked about this movie. First, while it doesn’t have the same solid footing in classical thought experiments, it does raise an interesting ethical dilemma that it then swiftly cruises over. Suppose that by relocating the Ba’ku and harvesting the planet, one could usher in a new era of medical advancement; billions of people would live longer, happier and healthier lives, and all you have to do is commit a horrible crime against about 600 people. Let’s not mince words, you have to utterly violate the basic human rights of those 600 people, but there are only 600 of them and you could help billions. What’s the right thing to do? The only trouble here is that the film just goes ahead and dismisses utilitarianism out of hand, which you might do if your movie has a lot going on and you have a fixed runtime and your hero is a deontologist, so maybe I can forgive that.
Secondly, the movie takes the opportunity that it has, granted by soft science fiction, to explore how a person or persons might alter their world view if they could live forever. This gets played out over a series of conversations that Picard has with a Ba’ku lady that he’s totally macking on (direct quote). The “fountain of youth” also gets played for laughs with members of the crew reverting to their pubescent selves, which is pretty hilarious although it means we have to deal with beardless Riker which must be some kind of war crime. Riker’s naked face aside, all of the actors in this film are at the absolute top of their game, and they even do a Picard-Worf-Data rendition of A British Tar from H.M.S Pinafore which is really, really funny. J. Murray Abraham makes such a good bad guy that it kind of makes me wish someone would cast him as the villain in an upcoming Marvel movie…though that might be because I’m sick to death of Loki.
Speaking of great acting, I wonder if Patrick Stewart is even capable of saying sentences without conviction and depth.
“How many people does it take before it becomes wrong? A thousand? Fifty thousand? A million? How many people DOES IT TAKE, admiral?”
“Is this how a Federation officer pleads for his life?”
“I’m not pleading for my life, Gal’na. I’m pleading for yours.”
“Who the hell are we to determine the next course of evolution for these people?!”
Fourthly, the space ship battle in this movie is just amazing, and while I had my doubts, putting Riker in the captain’s chair for it worked out pretty well. Or at least, he yells out cool stuff while shit’s exploding all around him.
“I thought subspace weapons were banned by the Khitomer Accords!”
“Remind me to lodge a protest.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if history remembers this as the Riker maneuver.”
“If it works!”
Uh, I, uh, I really liked the briar patch battle…
I also got the sense that the writers were a little worried that they’d never get another shot to do fun stuff with Data, so they went for broke in that regard. As previously mentioned, he sustains damage to his head-piece early on and goes bonkers because malfunctioning robots are a cool way to add intrigue in the form of a protagonist being the bad guy for an act. By juxtaposing him with a people who have rejected technology (and robotics in particular on the belief that they rob living creatures of their humanity) outright, and then introducing an alien invasion that he is trying to repel, we get to see Data gradually prove himself (and, really, prove his humanity) to a set of characters (and one in particular) who we can’t blame for not trusting or liking him. Also, they do goofy shit with Data that is cute and funny, like revealing that Data can be used as a flotation device, and having him parrot lines of dialogue out of context without really understanding what they mean for comedic effect.
All in all, while Insurrection isn’t going to earn a spot at the all time classics table of Star Trek movies, it can rest easily knowing that it’s in the very next tier of movies, which are still really good. It might lean a little heavily toward the typical action movie end of the spectrum at times, but it knows what it is and who it is for. It does not forget its responsibility toward us hardcore fans. What’s that? Who’s Michael Welch? Ok, the little kid, Artim, what about him? Yeah, I know this movie launched his career, what are you getting at?
Ok, I’ve just been informed that this movie launched Michael Welch’s career, thus enabling the Twilight Saga. Forget everything I’ve said, this movie can burn in hell.