Movies That Hate You: Star Trek: Insurrection

On a distant planet, a simple Amish-like civilization is enjoying a normal everyday existence, which is soon interrupted by strange happenings around them, but they cannot see what is causing them.  We soon learn that the Federation has been working with an alien race to spy on this civilization, but Data has malfunctioned and is out of control.  He disables a number of personnel until he reveals the secret headquarters of the Federation on the planet.

In space, the USS Enterprise-E is busy with galactic treaty negotiations when they receive a call from Starfleet regarding Data.  The Son’a, who have been working with Admiral Daugherty on the planet, are unable to stop Data.  Picard soon rushes in with the Enterprise-E and attempts to engage Data.  Unable to stop him as well, Picard and Worf begin singing a song from “HMS Pinafore” as a distraction.  Worf then boards Data’s fighter and disables him.

The Enterprise-E crew beams down to the planet and find an idyllic setting.  Children are playing as if they do not have a care in the world, and the Starfleet personnel that were exposed by Data on the planet are having a meal with the inhabitants of the village.  They also find that the people on this planet have eschewed technology almost completely, despite the fact that they are at least as advanced as any civilization in the Federation in technical knowledge.  Picard reports his findings to Admiral Daugherty, who declares the mission a success.

However, the Enterprise crew start suspecting things are not quite what they seem with regards to their findings about the Son’a and the planet.  Picard and Data beam down and begin an investigation.  Although the native Bak’u on the planet are reticent, mostly about Data the android and his presence, they allow Picard to investigate further.  Eventually, Data and Picard find a cloaked ship in the middle of a lake.  Even more disconcerting, the ship’s interior contains a holographic simulation of the Bak’u village.  They are attacked by a Son’a guard, who is disabled shortly thereafter.

Meanwhile, the strange nature of the planet begins to have interesting effects on the crew.  Counselor Troi and Commander Riker, who have maintained a cordial friendship since reuniting aboard the Enterprise almost a decade ago, rekindle their romantic feelings towards one another.  Geordi begins experiencing headaches, which we find out later were because Geordi’s own natural eyes regenerated.  Worf starts to grow Klingon acne.  The crewmembers who were held on the surface are healthier than ever.  Picard notices that even he is starting to grow hair where he had once been bald.

Picard beams down to confront the Bak’u and he finds that the Bak’u were once a technologically advanced civilization that was at war with one another.  The people on this planet are refugees who set out to find a new home.  When they settled on this planet, they found that the planet’s rings regenerated their genetic structure to the point where they are virtually immortal while on the planet or close to it.  Picard deduces that the Son’a are planning to throw the Bak’u off the planet to use it for themselves.  In the meantime, Picard finds himself drawn closer to Anij, a Bak’u woman who serves as one of the unofficial leaders of the village.

The Son’a call in for reinforcements, and Son’a Leader Rua’fo and Admiral Daugherty confront Picard over his decisions.  Rua’fo storms off when Picard stonewalls, and Admiral Daugherty argues with Picard over issues of moral standing and the Prime Directive.  When Picard attempts to find a different solution, Daughtery points out what had already been tried beforehand.  When Admiral Daugherty finally orders Picard to leave, Picard symbolically leaves his Starfleet comm badge and Captain’s rank pips on the table in his quarters.

When Picard attempts to launch his personal yatch to the planet, he is stopped by his senior officers, who join him on his unauthorized mission.  The Son’a monitored the launch and start their assault on the Bak’u village.  Although the Son’a manage to beam away some of the planet’s inhabitants, Picard and his team manage to find safety in the hills.  The Son’a move to intercept the Enterprise-E before it can communicate with the Federation Council about recent events, and they send machines that will allow the Son’a transporters to take the Bak’u.

Soon, battles rage on two fronts.  Picard and his officers defend the Bak’u against the Son’a drones, and Riker and LaForge are fighting off the Son’a vessels in space.  However, the battle on the planet takes a turn for the worse when Picard and Anij are captured.  Rua’fo and Daugherty confront Picard one last time, and that’s when the final revelation is given; the Son’a are merely Bak’u children who wanted to embrace technology and attempted to take over and were cast out.  Rua’fo has decided to complete the final phase of his plan, which is to collect the immortalizing radiation and make the Bak’u planet uninhabitable.  When Admiral Daugherty attempts to intervene, Rua’fo kills him

Picard escapes captivity with the help of Rua’fo best friend, Gallatin, who is having second thoughts about killing his own people.  Together they form a plan with Data and Worf that fools Rua’fo into believing his own plans worked.  When Rua’fo deduces that he’s been tricked, he beams aboard the collector and reactivates the system.  Picard beams aboard the collector and the two of them have a gunfight.  Worf, on the other hand, fights valiantly but is overrun by the Son’a’s slave races.

Picard, however, manages to activate the self-destruct on the collector.  Rua’fo is killed in the explosion.  Meanwhile, Riker reports that the Federation Council has decided to review the relocation program.  On the surface of the planet Gallatin is reunited with his mother by Dr. Crusher.  Picard promises to return to the planet one day, and Data has fun with his new best friend Artim.  The crew finally beams away and the Enterprise-E leaves the Bak’u planet.

Review and Analysis:

This movie is uniformly bad.  From start to finish, Star Trek: Insurrection proves itself to be only slightly better than Star Trek: Generations in some ways, but it is rather disconcerting to see another by-the-numbers Star Trek movie released these days.  The villains are uninteresting, the secondary players are as boring as a settling rock pile, and the main characters are so uneven you start to wonder if you’re watching a Star Trek movie at all.

Stop Me If You’ve Seen This One Before:

Star Trek: Insurrection, thematically, is Dances With Wolves. Or, The Last Samurai. Or, more recently, Avatar.  All three movies deal with the encroachment of White American Society and the evilness their technology bring with them.  The allusion fits in more ways than one, since the United Federation of Planets, within the Star Trek universe is, thematically, an idealistic (if Whitewashed) version of the United States of America.  Picard’s rejection of the Federation’s orders to relocate the Bak’u from their paradise is the same as it is in the films previously mentioned, as is his use of his knowledge to fight the society at large.

Glen Larson Casting Annoyances:

Once again, a Future Paradise is very...White. Does Star Trek even want non-White fans anymore?

I call this a Glen Larson casting annoyance because of my findings during my deconstruction of the Battlestar Galactica (Original) Series.  Whiteness, particularly blondness, was a casting stand-in for goodness, innocence, and all that is right with the Galaxy.  Rick Berman and Brannon Braga followed this edict here, in making the Bak’u all White.

But they find time to cast non-Whites to work for the "Bad" Aliens. Star Trek's "Infinite Diversity" Strikes Again.

Meanwhile, there are a few non-White actors who are in this film.  However, if they aren’t working in Starfleet, they are the alien races that are subservient to the Bak’u/Son’a.

The data rod broke again.

When is an Insurrection not an Insurrection:

These are your bad guys. Neither of them are compelling.

When your Federation vs. Federation fight, necessary for an “Insurrection,” doesn’t happen at all.  Admiral Daugherty is supposed to represent the Federation Council in this matter, but he does not have his own ship here.  Instead, he’s been bumming a ride on Rua’fo’s flagship the entire time.  It is difficult to imagine that the Federation would have approved the Bak’u relocation with this kind of arrangement.

What should have occurred is that the Son’a would be backed up by a small Starfleet task force consisting of a Galaxy-class ship and some much smaller vessels.  Admiral Daugherty’s authority would be assured in the region because of these ships.  Without these ships, Daugherty just seems wishy-washy and weak.

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder:

When your innocents are in bright settings and your bad guys in dark ones, your audience yawns in response.

Besides the fact that the Bak’u are an all-White colony, they are nearly always shown in the sunlight.  The Son’a, on the other hand, are shown to be in the dark drab of light powered by technology.  This was supposed to be the dichotomy of the two different peoples.

However, it follows the same simplistic Hollywood formula that was created out of the infantile “White Hat/Black Hat” mentality of most films.  What would make this a better Star Trek film is a simple juxtaposition:  The Bak’u society, while “in the light” were more like the Son’a, and the Son’a were more like the Bak’u.  Star Trek under Roddenberry often eschewed the idea of a “Perfect Society,” believing that such societies were not really enlightened.  In fact, most of these kinds of societies in Star Trek had an underbelly that exposed the flaw of such societies – the lack of free choice.

And, despite their immortality, the Bak’u do not exercise the right of free choice.  Michael Piller (the screenwriter) attempts to handwave this by having the Son’a attempt to “take over” the village (How they tried to do so, and how the Bak’u elders stopped them without the use of technology or weapons is not explained) and then ostracized off the planet.  Roddenberry would have had Kirk turn this society upside down by the time he was done.  Instead, Picard, who is supposed to be more “cerebral” than Kirk, immediately sides with the Bak’u, mostly because:

Jean-Luc and his new Girlfriend. This is your hero's only motivation in this film.

Jean-Luc spends some time with a Bak’u woman that is attracted to him.

Dr. Crusher Actually Does Something:

Dr. Crusher goes hunting for Drones.

After being ignored in Generations and completely sidelined in First Contact, Dr. Crusher is practically ignored by Picard as he goes off on his horse to save some Bak’u woman he barely knows.  Although she plays a small role in the film itself, it is nice to know that she doesn’t disappear in the final 15 minutes of this film.

It’s just too bad that Picard doesn’t allow his own feelings for someone he’s pined over for decades to come to the surface.  Even Kirk was never this stupid.

Let’s Get Silly on Worf:

Worf holding the Star Trek equivalent of a Standard Issue Big Gun.

Everything about Worf is played for laughs.  While everyone else gets some “tangible” benefit in the Briar Patch (Picard grows hair, Riker and Troi relight their boilers rekindle their romantic feelings, Geordi gets his natural eyesight, Crusher gets firmer boobs…), Worf gets Klingon Acne.

Acne…

Worf also “oversleeps.”  He also grows lots of hair.  And he is more “aggressive,” meaning he gets to do a fight scene in this movie.

Other than that, he’s practically as invisible in the movie as Geordi LaForge and Beverly Crusher.

Data’s B-Story:

The only thing that would improve this scene would be McHale's Navy dropping depth charges right about now. Failing that, Captain Ramsey firing Mark 48 torpedoes at him.

Once again, Brent Spiner gets the B-Story, which revolves around his relationship with a young Bak’u boy by the name of Artim.  Artim, like nearly everyone else in the Bak’u are both afraid of and despise Data for what he is – the pinnacle of machines and technology.  If his backstory of Data wanting to be human sounds familiar, it is; Data’s quest is a bad ripoff of Nimoy’s Spock during the Original Series TV run.  It should be noted, however, that Data’s emotion chip, which was a central plot device in the two previous movies featuring his character, seems to be completely excised here.

However, Artim comes to accept Data and they play around like kids.  While Artim has to bend his beliefs to suit Data, Data makes no similar sacrifice of his own.

Any attempts at serious drama or action are undercut with this character, especially when he is out-of-control during the beginning of the film.  Picard and Worf distract Data by:

And the Star Trek franchise tanks. Maybe it should have been run over by tanks.

Singing a song from the play “HMS Pinafore.”

Comedy should be ejected from the Star Trek franchise faster than malfunctioning warp cores.

The Bad Guy?

F. Murray Abraham, wondering how he goes from playing a memorable Salieri to being caked in Sharkface makeup playing a crappy villain.

Rua’fo is the leader of a group Bak’u who wanted to leave the Amish life behind and embrace technology.  For the crime of wanting to pursue something other than a simple life, they were banished from the planet.

To emphasize that the Son’a are evil, they are dressed in dark, drab colors, placed in dark rooms with poor lighting, and have makeup effects that show them as being conventionally not-pretty or attractive.  In Rua’fo’s case, he is supposed to be evil personified, and when Sojef decides to tell the truth of the Son’a, suddenly the beauty of the Bak’u is exposed for the forced authoritarian dogma it really is.

The Bad Guy is Confronted. But Just Who IS The Bad Guy Here?

We never learn who Rua’fo’s parents were, or if his parents had been in the Bak’u village.  So who took care of Rua’fo when he was (about 100 years) younger?  The “They’re the Same People” revelation has precisely zero impact because the three people who needed to provide the impact, Anij, Sojef, and Rua’fo, have no connection to each other at all.  The scene from where the above screenshot is taken would have had more impact if Rua’fo was Sojef’s own son.

Secondarily, the wants of the younger Bak’u/Son’a are dismissed because the idea of wanting to leave home to make their mark in the Universe is tied in to Rua’fo’s lust to kill the Bak’u in horrible fashion.  Therefore, not only is Rua’fo portrayed as evil, but the very idea that the kids wanted to grow beyond their parents is portrayed as being an affront to decency.  Since the movie does not question why the Bak’u/Son’a wanted to leave “Paradise” in the first place, a pillar on which the premise of the movie needed to stand on falls.  The rest of the movie crumbles shortly thereafter.

Pillaging from the Bottom of the Barrel:

Rejection of Technology?  Check.

Idyllic, Serene Existence?  Check.

Immortal Paradise? Check.

Evil Technologists Cast Away from Immortal Paradise?  Check.

Technologists Return with Superior Firepower to Kill Their Progenitors?  Check.

Evil Technologists Defeated in the End? Check.

Surviving Technologists Reject Their Superior Technology Afterwards? Check.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is, thematically, Battlestar Galactica Reimagined crushed down to less than 2 hours.  For all of Ron Moore’s insistence that he is nothing like Rick Berman, not only does he seem to borrow whole Star Trek episodes lock, stock, and barrel, but his themes are nothing more than Star Trek rehashes from the Rick Berman era.

Also, Michael Piller was brought on by Ronald Moore particularly after Battlestar Reimagined reached the second half of Season 2, when the show walked away from its own stated premise.

In Conclusion:

Star Trek: Insurrection is not a Star Trek movie at all.  Kirk questioned the rationale behind nearly everything.  Even with societies that offered Kirk something that he or the Federation needed or wanted, Kirk never took everything presented to him at face value.  This is because Kirk always realized that there was a larger picture; while Spock’s axiom (The Needs of the Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few) is correct, Kirk’s axiom (The Needs of the One Outweighs the Needs of the Many) is also correct.  It was always a judgement call as to which needed to be applied here.

In this case, Rua’fo’s need for revenge was his motivation for wanting to collect the radiation of the Bak’u planet AND destroy the ecosystem in the process.  Picard may have been right to stop him on those grounds, although leaving him to explode aboard the collector was rather crass of him and Riker.  However, the Bak’u’s own behavior towards their own children is not cause for praise, and their punishing for not totally embracing their Amish-like way of life is the very antithesis of Federation principles, particularly the exercise of free choice.

The Bak’u are virtually immortal.  The only price they pay in return is subservience to fear and loathing AND surrendering their need to overcome their emotional weaknesses.  The Bak’u came to the wrong conclusions regarding the near end of their civilization; it was not technology that did them in, it was their own emotional prejudices and cultural bigotries that led them to their wars.  By placing the blame on technology, the Bak’u showed that they have no ability to grow beyond their own limitations.

Where Gene Roddenberry would have had Kirk admonish them for this, Rick Berman and Michael Piller embrace and celebrate this with arms wide open. Picard never bothers to question anything that would upset his accepted view on what was happening.  And this is part of the reason why “Action Picard” will never measure up to “Action Kirk”;  Kirk questions everyone, Picard never does.

Ultimately, Insurrection is nothing more than an attempt to celebrate Luddite Theory.  The Bak’u are presented as being right in their way of life and philosophy, and their stance against all machines and technology were validated by their own use of technology in wars.  The Son’a are presented as being evil in their way of life and physically ugly (and grossly unattractive) because of their want of and use of advanced technology.  There is no nuance anywhere, and the siren song of eternal youth was too much for Picard and company.

There was an insurrection, and it was against everything that Star Trek held dear.  If Berman wanted to bury the Original Series under the ocean, he succeeded.

Too bad he took his own Next Generation crew with them.

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12 Responses to Movies That Hate You: Star Trek: Insurrection

  1. O. Deus says:

    Exactly. Star Trek questioned paradise and treated it as a prison for the human mind. But around TNG that began to change. Post-Roddenberry the show became much less skeptical, and more enthusiastic about paradises.

    The original premise might have been a showdown with Starfleet ships negated because it would have jarred the Star Trek universe a little too much. But I like to think that Voyager’s Nemesis “undid” this movie.

  2. G Ehmery says:

    Seriously, in every Star Trek review I’ve read on this website, you seem to be concentrating a lot of your time on “race”. Oh, if a black person isn’t a main character, that immediately makes the writers racist, or some sort of Arian-obsessed Nazis. There’s a difference between political correctness and plain ridicule: if you went to Britain 400 years ago, I doubt you’d see a black person anywhere. Why can’t the same apply to different planets/cultures in a Star Trek film?

    I think if you appreciated the films for what they are, you’d enjoy it more. Personally, I feel that the new film (Abrams) has been the biggest two-fingers up to Star Trek fans in comparison to any other Trek film. I thought that all the Next Gen films were enjoyable- and when people say that they’re not as good as the new film, I really do worry. It’s almost as if the modern film audience simply clap like seals every time they see an explosion. I thought the plots in all TNG films were highly compelling: but that is a personal opinion, of course.

    • Heavy Armor says:

      G Ehmery,

      Normally I would welcome you to this site and give you an explanation for how I write my reviews. However, since you have decided to pull out the trainwrecking “I Don’t See Race” canard, you don’t deserve it.

      How I enjoy movies is none of your concern and irrelevant to how I review movies, or even to this conversation. When you couple that with the backhanded Conspiracy Against White Actors derailment, your response to my review reveals more than you think, as well as your level of actual wisdom.

      And, yes, there were people of color (even Black people) in England 400 years ago. If your central processing organ weren’t located so far up JRR Tolkien’s deceased waste disposal unit, you would have known that had you actually read any decent history on Europe. Oh, and leave the arguments of intent in the box. They never work.

      Here is your reading assignment for the day:

      http://arsmarginal.wordpress.com/2010/09/03/the-color-and-shape-of-heroes-representation-in-fantasy-roleplaying-games/

      This applies to other film and print media.

      I leave you with a final thought: It doesn’t matter if the intention of the filmmakers is racist or not. But for someone like you to complain about others who point out the bleachiness of a story shows just how washed in White Privilege you really are. And that makes you Borg.

      Jolan’tru.

  3. Dave the Art Guy says:

    I wonder if it isn’t true that movies reflect a certain character of the times in which they are made. Utopia movies get made when real life at large sucks. People crave escapism, and Hollywood gives it to them, or rather sells it to them. It was bound to bleed into Star Trek sooner or later. Think about the time period TOS debuted, hippie-era culture of the late 60’s. People were out there, trying for real change, and there was this hopeful atmosphere that through technology and tolerance, everything would work out someday. In TNG there is still technology, but it’s not the answer to everything. The Borg are the biggest representation of that shift. A race of beings taken over by technology rather than living in balance with it was a radical shift from the old days. Logically, like all trends, it’s been taken too far. The Luddite overtones have merged with the Green revolution and made technology the enemy, suggesting this “back to nature” idea that really isn’t workable. Technology is here to stay, it’s a fact of life. Who has the most advanced technology almost always survives. I’m in total agreement about the tired use of appearance as metaphor. Good guys are always beautiful Caucasians in soft warm lighting, bad guys are always ugly in cold dark lighting. But I think the moviegoing public may be so dumbed down after years of not being challenged that they would be confused without the crib notes of stereotype imagery that the film might lose money, and no one in Hollywood seems willing to risk that for art’s sake anymore. Look at the Return of the Jedi, for God’s sake. Cute little primitive teddy-bears wipe out trained stormtroopers with laser guns and All Terrain War Vehicles. Or Phantom Menace. Dopey Gungan primitives wipe out thousands of battle droids by throwing rubber balls at them. Sadly, big money damages great storytelling and risk-taking. Now, with remake and reboot fever sweeping the industry, it will be interesting to see if cliches go by the wayside, and if the rebellion against cliche will itself become cliche.

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  6. mgibson17 says:

    The further we pierce the infinite reaches of the cosmos the whiter it seems to get. Moreover, not only don’t we see people who look like us in sci-fi, you’d be pressed to find any worlds where non-whites make up the majority. The original Stargate had a good idea in that it was a planet on the other side of the galaxy, made up of non-whites and ruled by a non-white entity; least until the white savior arrives then all hell breaks loose. To further capitalize on Stargate the story broke up into a series of franchises: Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, Stargate Universe (Animated series) and Stargate Infinity. Again with each new portal or gate whisking us to the ends of the universe, non-whites practically disappear.

    Some whites are of the opinion that because blacks make up 12 percent of the population we should only be seen in mass-media only 12 percent of the time. But this doesn’t make sense when one considers people of color make up the world’s majority. Why isn’t this reality reflected in science fiction? Whites have become so comfortable in their world-view they’re unable to relinquish this contradiction, even as it flies in the face of all logic. They must be central to any story-line even when the narrative would do well without them. As long as whites control what we see and hear we’ll continue to see this white-washing of reality.

    To paraphrase the Opening narration from, The Outer Limits: “There is nothing wrong with your television set (Or Race relations in this country). Do not attempt to adjust the picture (Or change the way things are). We are controlling transmission. (Pay no attention to the white man behind the curtain) If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. (We control the variables) If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. (See above) We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. (We decide who succeeds and who fails in this society) We can roll the image, make it flutter. (We can manipulate the context as we see fit- and make you believe anything we want you to believe) and we can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. (Through the lens of white pundits- commentators and media personalities) For the next hour, (Century) sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. (For our view is better; our ways are the right way). We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery (Of White hegemony) which reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits.”

    Lastly, with reference to the Borg, “…we will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.”

    Ostensibly, we will descend upon your borders and we will annex your lands. Your valiant struggle to preserve your history and culture is irrelevant; for we are ‘The Whites’ (Borg). Think of it: A nation of aggressive automatons with a fetish for patriotism, invading civilizations and urging conformance. Compelling you to abandon both your history and your culture in favor of the dominate ethos. Upon compliance you’re hereby Americanized. That’s how some people of color see whites.

    • Heavy Armor says:

      Not many people seem to get the Borg = (American) White Monoculture reference. It should be considered one of Roddenberry’s final gifts to the Star Trek audience. So, on that alone, congratulations.

      Also, very interesting interpretation of the Outer Limits mantra. It gives one food for thought.

  7. R. Levitt says:

    SO RIGHT! I mean, speaking in terms of Picard and Crusher. The two obviously have feelings for one another and he completely ignores her in the film and runs to whorebag Anij. SO ANNOYING. Kind of ruined the movie.

    • Heavy Armor says:

      Agree in spirit, not feeling you on the use of the term “whorebag.”

    • Deebz says:

      In all ST-TNG productions, both tv and film, I never really saw Picard happier, with the sparkle of love in his eye, than in this film and for good reason too… On board the Enterprise, Picard is both God and the Father, as is the traditional role of a serious Captain, the loneliness of command. He is married to his ship and Star Fleet…. So there is little time for frivolities with whinging doctors, or fleeting archaeologists and certainly not for overbearing and sex-starved mother-in-laws…. Here, he can finally and literally let his hair down…

      If I had been Picard, on defeating the Son’a and exposing Star Fleets corrupt implication, I would have resigned my SF commission, moved my belongings down to Anij’s place, and spend the next couple of years procreating, prolifically. Riker can handle the chair… Crusher’s got her bit on the side anyway…. Job done.

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