Thursday, October 2, 2014

Star Trek IX: Insurrection

Jonathan Frakes blew away expectations for his debut at the director's chair with Star Trek VIII: First Contact, so it was no surprise he was back for the follow up film I am covering today that is 1998's Star Trek IX: Insurrection (trailer). While he falls short of matching his previous effort, Frakes still delivers an intriguing Star Trek experience in the theaters that is like nothing else before it.

In Insurrection the crew of the Enterprise has uncovered a sinister plot between their very own Federation alliance they are a part of and the Son'a race who are trying to transport the entire population of the Ba'Kus race off their homeworld so the Son'a and Federation can exploit the planet's mysterious powers that grant eternal youth. Naturally, this does not fly with Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) as he finds himself in a moral quandary over the matter.

Up until this point, Insurrection is probably the Star Trek film that features the most scenes not taking place on the Enterprise (nor any other spaceship for that matter). A majority of the film takes place on the planet that is home to the Ba'Kus. The Enterprise crew lands there to investigate something that triggered a hostile reaction out of Data (Brent Spiner). Watching the Enterprise crew interact with the Ba'Kus is amusing as Picard teases finding a true love, and Data tries to find his inner child. Shortly after arriving they notice the planet's powers are having an effect on the Enterprise crew too. Some examples are Picard starting to sport a smidge more hair, Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Troi (Marina Sirtis) rekindling their romance in a high school-esque flirty way, and Geordi (LeVar Burton) no longer needing any visual enhancements to see fully.

I really like how Insurrection has a different approach at an antagonist this time around. Ru'afo (F. Murray Abraham) is the leader on the Son'a, and while you can tell there is something not right with him, for a majority of the movie he is constantly being a thorn in the side of Federation leaders trying to maintain a cover up until Picard throws it in their face. It is not real late in the film that you get to see his true sinister side, which is somewhat milder when compared to villains of previous movies.

Throughout this film, I could not help but think that Paramount was shooting for Insurrection to be Star Trek: The Next Generation's version of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. By that I mean that of the first six films that featured the cast of The Original Series, The Voyage Home was the only one that put comedy at the forefront of the movie, while the trademark sci-fi action and drama the series was known for played a supporting role and I kept feeling that was the motif that Insurrection was going for. While I would break down The Voyage Home as 75% comedy and 25% sci-fi action/drama, I will nudge it a tad differently with Insurrection being about 55% comedy and 45% action/drama.

Maybe that is where Insurrection misses in some aspects. The Voyage Home went all in on comedy, and pulled it off in ways I never thought one could make a movie about time traveling whales possible. Insurrection did not quite go all the way in on comedy, and while I appreciate its lightheartedness, when it came down for the big showdown with the antagonist that usually transpires in past Star Trek films, they could not quite pull that off because they did not go all in on the action either. Of the 13 minutes of included deleted scenes on the disc, there a couple more scenes that amped up the comedy that probably could have helped benefit the film if they made the final cut.

Speaking of extra features, once again Paramount jam packed this BluRay with well over four hours of material. And thanks to the 1.5x playback feature on my PS3, I was able to get through it all to report back on in a third less of the time it would have normally taken. Unlike most of the past discs I covered of the BluRay set, Insurrection only has one commentary on it, and it is a freshly recorded one with Frakes and Sirtis. Frakes' commentary is better this time around than in First Contact since he has someone to commentate with, and listening to the two reflect back on the film over a decade later with a fresh set of eyes brings in some interesting insights from both.

There are a few of the many previously released extras going out of your way to watch if you have not already seen them on past releases. The Story is a 17 minute interview with screenplay writer, Michael Piller who discusses the challenges I mentioned above of balancing the serious and comedic tones of the film. Making Star Trek IX: Insurrection is a 25 minute look at how the film came to be and how it tries to make a return focusing on the life principles The Original Series was based upon. To round off the noteworthy orginal extras, Beautiful Alien Women is a 12 minute overview of the cast and crew's favorite actresses from the films and television series, with plenty of fan service flashbacks included. There are not as many new HD extras, but what they have included is well worth checking out, including Westmore's Legacy, which is a 12 minute piece honoring the man responsible for Star Trek's costumes and make up. There are also new interviews with Marina Sirtis and Brent Spiner, and another installment of Trek Roundtable where four critics gather and breakdown Insurrection.

While I may have picked apart some issues I have with Insurrection, I still quite enjoyed it. It is a nice change up to the Star Trek film formula, and it was nice to have a more lighthearted affair after the huge Borg scare in First Contact. I think if you go into this thinking of it more of a two part The Next Generation special, you will get more out of Star Trek IX: Insurrection than giving it motion picture-esque expectations.

Star Trek Film Ratings

Star Trek: The Motion Picture - 5.5/10
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn - 10/10
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock - 7.5/10
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - 9/10
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier - 6.5/10
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - 7.5/10
Star Trek VII: Generations - 8/10
Star Trek VIII: First Contact - 9/10
Star Trek IX: Insurrection - 8/10

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