Monday, September 05, 2016

The Takedown of Star Trek: Insurrection

So a while back I laid down a thorough description of why Star Trek V: The Final Frontier wasn’t well-received. In that same breath, I maybe offered offered my services as a shitter-on-things for hire and was immediately asked to do a similar takedown for my favorite movie from The Next Generation era: Star Trek Insurrection.

There’s very little I could say about Insurrection which hasn’t been said by Red Letter Media. RLM is a set of hack frauds who actually make movies and they cover the technical failures of the movie in terms of effects, stunts, plotholes, and costumes.

If you’ve already seen it or if you don’t care to watch a Star Trek review punctuated by random screams and jokes about an alcoholic murder killing women, I’ll continue.

Insurrection has a sound story, but was lazily--no, complacently executed.

I’d say that Insurrection’s story is solid, but it lacks a theme. We despise the Son’a because they’re shallow and vain, always using facelifts--I’m sorry, space facelifts--to make themselves seem younger. but then we turn around and idolize the eternal youth of the Ba’ku and the youthening of the Enterprise crew. If that’s the theme, then the Son’a are reviled because they aren’t good at staying eternally young, not because they’re vain.

It’s like if a pair of twins decided to get tans. One went to a tanning bed and came out a natural bronze while another got a Donald Trump Orange Blast(TM) treatment. If you praise the first and deride the second, you aren’t against superficiality; you’re against superficiality when it’s poorly executed.

The other possible theme is the wishy-washy, means-nothing concept of “live in the moment and have fun” that the Ba’ku are peddling. In direct contrast to much of Star Trek, the Ba’ku are a society that isn’t critically examined by the crew of the Enterprise. When our guys do ask a question, it’s always turned into another way the Ba’ku are wise.

I get that living in LA sucks--I’ve been there and the place is a nightmare--and I get that sometimes you’re writing a script for a Star Trek movie on a deadline and you just wish life was simpler and slower, but there is clearly cultural space between “simpler than LA” and “Pol Pot’s wet dream” where you could compromise. **It’s insulting, the idea that we’d believe both this simplistic alien culture and that they *need* to be such a perfect victim society in order for us to root for them.**

The storyline with the kid and Data does blunt the perfect victim characterization of the Ba’ku. That arc and the one with Picard and Anij slowing down time might make the audience like the Ba’ku as more than just a noble savage stereotype. As far as theme goes, though, “slow down and play” does not intersect with the rest of the film, where a good, old-fashioned guilt trip and action sequences save the day.

But is it an action movie? That shouldn’t be a question you have after watching a movie, but here we are. Stories in Hollywood get broken. That means that you take all the characters, moments, stories, themes, etc., put them in a pile and change or destroy those elements until you have a story that makes sense, evokes a consistent set of emotions, and has a direction. All of those things aren't in Insurrection because Insurrection was a story that was never broken; everything was thrown in.

Breaking a story is how you give it a direction and decide whether it's a drama, comedy, actions or something else. Insurrection doesn't know. There's drama from the Picard/Dougherty conversation, but fails to do more than say that the Son’a are mean or that forced relocations are wrong because they are wrong. The jokes are based on derision and discomfort (usually Worf’s). The action is thoughtless and hackneyed. Relationships are formed because people stand next to each other multiple times while saying stuff. Everything necessary to be any movie type is in here, but no type predominates; the bits just sit down and stare at each other without interacting.

Data says “lock and load” without any cultural context, Worf is late to his quarters so we can all point and laugh at Worf, the Evora have to be a protectorate instead of a full member of The Federation, and weird-ass jokes about boobs are made; every line of dialog made to build character screams of folks who wanted to lazily make a 20th century movie without regard to who or what they were actually writing for.

In just one scene, an away team of two investigates a dangerous mystery with a civilian, Picard refuses to answer a reasonable question about Data being in the water, a dam appears solely to facilitate a dramatic reveal, a no one explains what a holodeck is to the audience, that thing where the villain gets the drop on the heroes then misses with the first shot happens, the body of that villain vanishes, and Data says something incredibly stupid.

Little things like these pile up and when they’re in multiple, successive shots your brain notices. You might enjoy every scene, but the story itself doesn’t culminate the way it’s supposed to. Most stories build so that there’s an inertia which makes five minutes from the end of a movie feel much, much “bigger” than five minutes from the beginning. Insurrection doesn’t do that well because by the time you get to the end, your brain isn’t committed to the the actions unfolding because it’s either trying to tie up a series of unresolved earlier events or because it’s spent 90 minutes learning to ignore so many small story inconsistencies that it has accepted the movie itself is unimportant.


SkilTao said...

I'm surprised I got used to that guy's voice.

Is this derived from a Xanga post? When I saw it on your other site, I felt like I'd heard it from you before. (I suppose you might've gone over it at some point during 17-to-01.)

This all sounds about right. Though, without disputing how directionless Insurrection is, I would--purely out of reflexive contrariness, mind--contend that a movie can (at least in principle) have all its bits interact and culminate without making a single genre of bit (drama, comedy, action etc) dominant. Or, to put it in a way that disagrees with you less, a strong theme isn't necessarily constrained to a single genre (The Martian, for instance).

...can't tell if Insurrection is your actual favorite or not, just looked at the other TNG movies and the competition is pretty slim...

Interesting insights into the themes that are (almost) in the movie; I don't remember if I was twigged to any of them the first time I saw it, and I don't know if I've rewatched it at all since it came out.

VanVelding said...

Plinkett? Yeah, the entire style is offputting, which is probably why it's been so successful.

This is an original thing. I try not to tear into anything before we cover it in 17 to 01. I foreshadow, but I try to keep the thing in front of us center focus. This just sort of came up and had some time to rewatch Insurrection and put an argument together.

I don't think a movie needs to have one genre be to dominant. "True Lies" exists, after all. But yeah, you don't need one genre to have a good theme or a good tone. But you need to know what kind of movie you're making and I'm pretty sure those things were never selected for Insurrection.

SkilTao said...

You and Plinkett do make the movie sound more like a grab-bag than a planned thing.

On foreshadowing: I look forward to Derek discovering your distaste for the "Q = Trelane" comparison.

VanVelding said...

That prescient motherfucker is probably going to bring up 3 fucking minutes into Farpoint. *Drags hands across face*