Star Trek: Insurrection is a glorified TV episode and does not belong on the big screen. Fact

Star Trek Insurrection 01The danger of relying on your television creative team to craft a major motion picture is that your major motion picture may come across as more suited for the small screen rather than the big.

Such is the case with Star Trek: Insurrection, which feels not so much like another Star Trek movie as it does like a two-part episode with a slight (very slight) increase in the special effects budget.

Which is to say, it’s a disappointment that often borders on being a bore.

The fact that it opens in some throwback village and then immediately descends into Data Has Gone Stark Raving Mad insanity as a way to create intrigue is an early red flag that this movie is going to go astray. We spend close to 40 minutes with the mystery of why Data has gone mad as the focal point of the story. We know nothing about the stretchy skin aliens we meet, who these villagers are, and why the Federation seems to be on a secret mission with the stretchy skins to spy on the villagers. The movie is all about Data going bonkers.

That’s television stuff, not big screen stuff. The question is not only not that interesting, it’s actually kind of goofy. Data fighting off hordes of troops like a Terminator, Data in a small fighter blasting at Picard’s shuttle, Data as the deadly android assassin. Who thought it was a good idea to open the movie this way?

It’s damn near an hour until the Data story is dropped like a hot potato and we finally get a sense for what the stakes really are, but once the truth is revealed it’s hard to muster up anything more than a “who cares?” because those stakes are even more yawn-inducing that Data’s mental breakdown.

Star Trek Insurrection 02So here’s the deal: thanks to some pseudo-scientific mumbo jumbo, this remote planet has regenerative properties that keep people who live there in a perpetually youthful state. The stretchy skins are decaying and falling apart, so they want a piece of the regenerative action. They can’t just move in and live there, though, because Reasons – it will take them too long to regenerate or some such – so they plan to suck up the planet’s energy to git ‘er done real fast like. That will kill the 600 villagers who live there, unless they are relocated by force. Picard and crew discover the plan and most stop the stretchy skins.

Again I ask, who cares? This is television episode-level stakes. There are some intriguing themes here about finding inner peace, what people are willing to do to cling to life, and happiness, but it’s not silver screen stuff, it’s TV episode stuff.

Most importantly, there are no stakes for the Enterprise or its crew. The jeopardy they are in is slight and of their own making. The stretchy skin alien threat is a nebulous one, implied to be more powerful than the Enterprise even though it’s not quite clear how or why. (Seriously, some backwoods knuckleheads managed to scrape together a small fleet of starships that could tear Star Trek Insurrection 04apart the best ship in the Federation? I call bull on that.) None of the Enterprise crew have a character arc of note, either. Sure, Geordi gets to see for a little while, Riker gets a little frisky, and Picard has a chaste and cheesy romance with a 300-year-old lady, but this is all minor material best explored in (again) a television episode or two.

When things DO get dangerous and phasers start flying, this movie’s limitations really start to rear their ugly head. They clearly had just enough money to improve upon the look of the show, but not enough to look much better than a dated video game. Little flying droids, fighter ships zooming around, even the beloved Enterprise, all of it is barely better than B-movie level. If it’s better than an FX movie, it’s not by much. No wonder half the movie’s action takes place on a rocky hillside and in nondescript caves.

By the time we get to the rushed, with-no-setup-at-all climax – one of the stretchy skins betrays the lead stretchy skin, which would have been dramatic if we had any idea who the hell these characters were – we’re left wondering when the actual BIG SCREEN MOVIE is going to start.

But it never does. The story limps to a mandatory explosion and a failed attempt to recapture Wrath of Khan’s nebula battle, then ends.

Star Trek Insurrection 03Star Trek: Insurrection isn’t bad. I’d be exaggerating if I said it was. There are actually some really good concepts here posing the kind of philosophical questions Trek is so good at asking, and there is clearly great love for these characters, who (except for Picard) are more endearing here than in either Generations or First Contact. There are many small character moments, and most show love for the crew. Plus, Jonathan Frakes’ direction is often quite good. He stages a scene well, and the humor throughout is charming to the last.

No, the problem with Insurrection isn’t that it’s bad, it’s that it never rises above Just Another Decent Two-Part Episode.

And if you’re trying to make a great movie, Just Another Decent Two-Part Episode doesn’t cut it.

43 Comments

  1. John Miętus

    This is objective fact.

  2. Eric San Juan

    The whole time I watched it I thought, “This isn’t BAD, but why is it a MOVIE?”

    1. Bill Johnson

      Pretty much my thought on all TNG movies…

    2. Eric San Juan

      While I liked a couple of them, it’s true that they fail to live up to the This Is A Motion Picture scale and presentation of the original screw flicks. They just couldn’t shake the TV stink off themselves, for some reason.

    3. John Miętus

      The reason is that the creators of the show itself never embraced theatricality like the original did.

    4. John Miętus

      Also, with the exception of First Contact, the conflicts in each film aren’t as grandiose and operatic as those in the original cast movies — look at the conflicts in the TOS movies: TMP – ship of immense power is heading straight for Earth, destroying everything in its wake. WOK – Exiled superhuman captures a starship and seeks revenge on Kirk for his exile. SFS – Klingons try to capture superweapon from Kirk who is trying to save the soul of his dead friend. TVH – Another probe is destroying everything in its path and only time travel to retrieve and extinct species can stop it. TFF – Religious nutjob hijacks the ship in order to find God. TUC – Kirk fights to save a dying enemy species while overcoming his own prejudices against them and a conspiracy from both sides. Even the weakest conflict here is big and over the top compared to the TNG films.

    5. Eric San Juan

      Agreed, the stakes in TNG movies tend to be smaller and more personal — which is fine, except when you jump from the small screen to the big, there is an expectation that you’re going to be dealing with bigger ideas, bigger threats, and a grander scale.

    6. John Miętus

      Exactly.

    7. Hank Wirtz

      Generations, I think, has a decent scale to it. Soran’s a reasonably interesting villain, and there are some great visuals, between NCC-1701B, the rift and the 1701D crash.

    8. Zaki Hasan

      I’m a Next Gen fan, but I truly believe the very nature of the tv show handicapped it from ever achieving a lasting big screen presence like that of the original crew.

    9. Zaki Hasan

      I discussed some of my thoughts on this when I looked at Generations a few years back: http://www.zakiscorner.com/2009/04/generations-gap.html

    10. Eric San Juan

      “or the chair on the ship’s bridge reserved for the captain’s shrink” — Jeez, I was a fan of TNG growing up, watched almost all of it, but put like that … hah! Yeah, it was a different Trek all right.

    11. Zaki Hasan

      🙂

    12. Ed Sanders

      We waited years and years for TOS to get to the big screen…did they even wait a year for TNG?

    13. Zaki Hasan

      It was about six months.

    14. Ed Sanders

      No anticipation with the series still so fresh in our minds

    15. Eric San Juan

      If anything, I recall it feeling like an unearned cash-in. Maybe that’s part of why I fell asleep in the theater!

    16. Stephen Segal

      Making it worse was that the movie-length series finale of TNG had been legitimately standing-ovation-worthy.

    17. Eric San Juan

      Stephen, I’m not sure I actually saw it, and if so I don’t remember … but now I am curious. Netflix, here I come!

    18. Ed Sanders

      Eh…I was not impressed with All Good Things…the series finale…but then again not a Q fan.

    19. Zaki Hasan

      If the final scene of “All Good Things” was the last we ever saw of TNG’s crew, that would’ve been just fine.

    20. Ed Sanders

      True on that final scene.

    21. Ed Sanders

      Stephen Segal movie length? I thought it was a regular hour episode?

    22. Ed Sanders

      Never mind…you are right…105 minutes with commercials

  3. John Miętus

    Since I mentioned that the fan service of First Contact felt to me like pandering, you can see why I say that the TNG movies started out “meh” and just went downward from there.

  4. Ian Sokoliwski

    You are far more generous to this movie than I am, sir 😀

  5. Chris Knight

    This movie feels exactly like a 6th or 7th season episode of TNG (in fact, it copies two plot lines from those seasons almost verbatim, one of which could have made for an actually good film). The producers just picked the wrong seasons to pluck elements from. It’s like if Harve Bennett had picked Spock’s Brain as the episode to turn into Star Trek II, instead of Space Seed. But, hey, at least it’s not the next one (I don’t even remember what it’s called – the nonsensical one with a Young Romulan Picard).

    1. John Miętus

      Insurrection. For whatever reason.

    2. Chris Knight

      John Miętus No, that’s this one…but I can see how you would get the titles mixed up, considering every single TNG movie is about Picard and Data.

    3. John Miętus

      Oh, right. Um… hell, what IS the name of that last one?!?

    4. John Miętus

      NEMESIS! That’s it!

    5. Chris Knight

      ha, i was sitting here thinking “it has an A in it…maybe?”

    6. Eric San Juan

      And this discussion zeroes in on another problem with TNG movies: terrible frickin’ titles that don’t say shit about the movies. The Wrath of Khan, The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home, these all SAY something. Generations, Insurrection, Nemesis. Those are generic as hell.

    7. John Miętus

      And say very little about the stories being told. Even First Contact — that’s not even the focus of the movie.

    8. Eric San Juan

      Agreed. Before I watched it I asked someone about why it was called First Contact. They said the answer was a spoiler. Turns out, nah. You find that out in the first 15 minutes, and the movie itself ends up having little to do with the actual first contact

    9. Chris Knight

      Better titles:
      Generations -> Picard and Data share their feelings
      First Contact -> Picard and Data’s date with a queen
      Insurrection -> Picard and Data go bananas!
      Nemesis -> Picard and Data: Twincest

    10. John Miętus

      ALOL!

  6. Zaki Hasan

    Space hippies!

  7. Ian Sokoliwski

    SPACE. FRAKKING. HIPPIES.

  8. Yvonne Christian

    You just described my feelings about the 4th ST:TNG movie (being a TV episode). I can barely remember the 3rd one, Insurrection. Something about them racing around in a dune buggy like they were in a Frankie & Annette movie. Also, Data could make his body invisible somehow but not his head?

    1. Eric San Juan

      That’s probably how I’ll describe it in six months when I’ve forgotten everything I saw

    2. Eric San Juan

      That’s probably how I’ll describe it in six months when I’ve forgotten everything I saw

  9. P

    It’s a movie based on a TV show, so of course it’s a glorified tv episode! They ALL are. Seeing it on the big screen was a big bonus for me. Fans should appreciate the larger than life episode produced long after the series end. A former tv show reborn! The ultimate reunion again! They all have elements of “big screen moments”, whatever that really is, and I think that if you’re considering this to be no better than a two-part episode, you had better go back and watch a season or two, because I think your memory of how great they were is being seen through rose-colored glasses.

    The budget alone for a two-part episode on TNG would be around 2 million dollars. The movie Insurrection cost an estimated 58 million dollars. That money DID go somewhere. Comparing an old episode to one of the motion pictures certainly shows that. The effects are better, the lighting is better, the costumes are better, the set is designed better, the sound is better, and the list goes on.

    Of course from this article, written in 2016… unless you have a time machine, you’re not watching this on “the big screen” at all. You didn’t experience it with any more grandeur than your typical tv episode, and that’s a large part in why you feel that way. Having seen this the day it came out, in theater, in great seats…. I was happy as a clam in high water.

    But I digress, you can literally say the same thing with every movie stemmed from a tv show EVER. I don’t exactly know what the author of this article expects….

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