Star Trek Re-Freshers:Star Trek IX: Insurrection & Star Trek X: Nemesis

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

Oddly enough, after rewatching all of the TNG movies, Insurrection has become my favorite of them all. It gets rid of most of the movie trappings that hamper at least half of them, and it does so while feeling like a natural extension of the T.V. show.  It’s basically the closest thing to a season eight episode we’re ever going to get.

The first noticeable thing about Insurrection is the dialed-back plot. It’s not about saving the galaxy or even an entire world; this time around, it’s about protecting a small colony of people from being forcibly relocated from their home. The Ba’ku are a humanoid species living on a planet that gives off a special kind of radiation. It constantly regenerates cells, meaning it counteracts the body’s aging process. Living on a planetary fountain of youth would be desirable to anyone, and certain members of the Federation want to harvest the radiation. To accomplish this, they form an alliance with another race, the Son’a. Led by Ru-afo (F. Murray Abraham), the Son’a care nothing for the lives of the colonists and want them off the planet as quickly as possible so they can harvest the radiation for themselves. There’s more to it underneath the surface, but the majority of the movie deals with these themes of immortality and forced relocation.
Picard (Patrick Stewart) is made aware of the situation when Data, who was secretly observing the Ba’ku with a team of Terran and Son’a scientists, blows their cover and declares everyone enemies out to harm the Ba’ku. As it turns out, Data discovered part of the radiation harvesting plan and was attacked. For some reason, the attack caused his moral and ethical subroutines to take over, and everything he does from then on is done solely to protect the Ba’ku from an atrocity.
I like the idea, but it kind of makes no sense. It’s explained that once Data’s subroutines took over, he was basically on auto pilot while protecting the Ba’ku. It’s nonsensical, because a person’s morality and ethical behavior is informed by life experiences and intertwined with their personality. When moral dilemmas present themselves, there are no automatic responses, and whatever responses there are certainly aren’t made while in a trance-like state. I see no reason for Data’s programming to function any differently, so why is he coming off as a raving lunatic who won’t speak to anyone and just does whatever he wants?
However you want to look at that, it at least sets up the rest of the movie’s morality play, which is fantastic. While on the surface with the Ba’ku, Picard meets a woman, Anij(Donna Murphy), whom he quickly falls for. During one of their conversations, she reveals that the Ba’ku have been on the planet for about three hundred years, and they haven’t aged a day. On the topic of immortality, Anij says, “…you stop reviewing, you stop planning for tomorrow.” I have a big problem with that attitude, because it’s indicative of an existence that has no meaning. The idyllic surface of their lives is meant to show that everlasting life is extremely attractive until it’s thought about and explored more in-depth. If someone can say they stopped planning for tomorrow, what kind of life are they really living? But the movie muddles the message a bit here, because it really does look like the Ba’ku’s quality of life is insanely high. Their artisans apprentice for thirty years, for Christ’s sake. How awesome of a carpet-weaver would you be if you got the opportunity to work on it for thirty years before becoming a professional? I would kill for that kind of time to focus on meaningful study, and maybe that’s the fine line Insurrection is walking: immortality isn’t that desirable in truth, but a long lifespan of, say, several hundred years would be ideal. I certainly agree with that.
One mistake of First Contact that Insurrection repeats is the need to have additional characters taking over what should be the roles of people on the Enterprise’s crew; namely, Picard and Anij’s relationship. As I’ve said before, any subplot that has to deal with relationships should be internal to the Enterprise crew, and with Picard, it should come from scenes between him and Beverly. On the other hand, her character was never allowed to grow as much as I would have liked on the show, so it might be too late at this point to try and force their romance. Otherwise, it might mirror what they did with Riker and Troi. For seven years on the show, their love for each other was hinted at but always danced around. Riker never had any problems wining and dining sexy diplomats while Troi sat around in her counselor’s office, but he still felt something for her. All of a sudden, in Insurrection, they decide to start making out in a bubble bath. What? In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, “That escalated quickly!” Hell, even Data experienced a more fleshed-out relationship on the show.
I haven’t talked much about Worf (Michael Dorn) in any of my reviews, but while watching Insurrection, it finally dawned on me: someone on the writing staff must really enjoy mocking the hell out of him. In First Contact, he says he’s afraid of heights as he’s made to go on a space walk to fight some Borg. This time, Worf gets to shoot off a bazooka, but only after it’s revealed that he’s going through the Klingon version of puberty. Giant pimple on his face that everyone stares at? Check. Spontaneous hair growth? Double check. I guess it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, because even though he was the Enterprise’s chief of security, he was always getting his ass kicked on the show. I lost count of how many times a super-powered alien hurled him across the bridge. However, I do think that his launching of a phaser bazooka at a bunch of Son’a on the side of a mountain makes up for his past embarrassments.

Insurrection also showcases the best incarnation of Data (Brent Spiner), as his blossoming humanity is obvious with every interaction he engages in. It’s particularly apparent during a conversation he has with a Ba’ku child while on the run from the Son’a. To calm the kid’s fears about him being a machine, Data admits that he will never know what it’s like to be a child, but he would gladly give up all his present advantages in exchange for experiencing it. I think Data was more or less trying to find some common ground with the child instead of really wishing he could become a 10-year-old. A few years ago, this kind of conversation would have played out as an awkward exchange between a curious but ignorant machine and a bewildered little kid, but instead, Data’s journey is finally proving fruitful, as he’s able to put himself in someone else’s shoes. It feels like it’s the natural form his character progression would take if the show continued on past the seventh season.

The last third of the movie reveals a new dimension to the plot, which I do like, but it also carries with it the side effect of burying the earlier themes in favor of an additional one. It’s not necessary to discuss specifics, but the events that take place do show how uninformed and greedy the Federation conspirators have become. I kind of wish the conspiracy boiled down to a group of admirals being controlled by ear mites like in that one TNG episode. It’s also probably a good thing I didn’t write this movie.
More cynical viewers might dismiss Insurrection as being boring since the stakes are significantly lower, but that’s the beauty of it. Great drama and a strong morality play coming from a humbler story is much more in line with what the show was about, and it’s one of Insurrection’s greatest strengths. If you’re looking for more of a true extension of The Next Generation, you’ve come to the right place. It’s a shame all of the movies couldn’t figure it out.
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

Star Trek: Nemesis has a lot of cool moments. From Tom Hardy and Ron Perlman putting in excellent work as Picard’s foils to the crew of the Enterprise acting like a family, a great deal of it feels like a worthy Star Trek movie. It’s too bad, then, that some catastrophically bad decisions turn a respectable entry in the series into a laughing stock that shouldn’t have made it out of space dock.

Look, I don’t want this to turn into a giant rant, but…okay, I think I’m fine with that. It’s almost like the creators of Nemesis just wanted to shit all over Data. There’s no other plausible explanation as far as I can tell. The plot, which I dig overall, centers on a new Romulan leader, Shinzon (Tom Hardy – yes, that Tom Hardy), and his scheme to enact vengeance on basically the entire universe. You’ll have to grit your teeth and bear with me as I explain the plot, which does include the word “clone.” Yes, I understand the trepidation that comes along with it, but your worst fears aren’t represented here.
Once upon a time, the Romulans had an idea to clone Jean-Luc Picard and replace him as captain of the Enterprise. But as their government shifts like the wind during a hurricane, so did their plans of infiltrating the Federation’s flagship. Once the plan to clone Picard was abandoned, the would-be Picard was dumped into a hard labor mining facility on Remus, a planet inhabited by a subservient species to the Romulans. Experiencing life as a lesser Reman, Shinzon naturally grew bitter and obsessed with vengeance. Meeting Picard only exacerbated the situation, and soon enough, Picard is fighting an uphill battle to beat back Shinzon as he plans to destroy the Federation and everything it stands for.

That’s all well and good, but the execution of the plot leaves a lot to be desired. For starters, Shinzon lures the Enterprise crew into his scheme by littering a prototype of Data across a desert on some random planet. Once the prototype is reassembled, it unwittingly starts collecting vital information about the Federation’s fleet from the Enterprise computer.  B-4, as the prototype comes to be known, is basically the mentally handicapped version of Data. If you were to ask him where he was at any given moment, he would probably respond by telling you he’s in a room with walls, and then he would need his nap time.

For reasons I’ll get into later, I really like B-4’s inclusion in the movie, but I can’t stand the explanation of how he came to be. Shinzon claims he just “found him” somewhere and he then got the idea for his evil plans. He just happened to find one of (now) only two androids in the entire universe that were built by Dr. Noonian Soong? That’s it? What a lame excuse for shoe-horning in another android. They didn’t even bother attempting plausibility, which is baffling. Putting this major flaw aside, Brent Spiner does an amazing job as both Data and B-4. Watching Data lament B-4’s unsophisticated neural pathways is a sad thing, especially since the life of Data’s only other brother on the T.V. show, Lore, is such a tragic one.
There are other inspired moments, such as when Data and Picard are discussing the nature of the individual. Picard wonders if he would have turned into Shinzon if his life had been different, which isn’t the happiest of thoughts. But Data dispels the notion by comparing Picard’s situation to that of his and B-4’s. No matter what B-4 does, he is not Data. To suggest (as Shinzon does) that being a clone of Picard basically makes him Picard ignores the fact that the sum of a person isn’t all genetics. In fact, Shinzon contradicts himself by saying that if Picard were in his place, he’d have turned out the same. If that were true, it would seem to have more to do with environment than DNA. Shinzon really just wants something or someone to hang his guilt and frustration on so that he can feel like he’s the constant victim.
The one weird exchange between Picard and Data comes when Picard asks him how they can know for sure that B-4 wouldn’t be exactly like him if his neural pathways weren’t less advanced. Well, the obvious answer that no one thought of is Lore. Data already had a brother that was identical to him in intelligence and advanced construction. The only difference between them was that Lore was able to feel emotion while Data wasn’t at the time. Again, that speaks to experience and environment over a person’s physical makeup. At the very least, it’s an interesting discussion.
Here’s where I’m going to rant, though (with a big spoiler): Data got the most unceremonious death he could have possibly received, and the manner in which he goes out is an insult to everything the show did with his character. Data is one of the most unique and interesting characters in science fiction, but he dies doing something that any other officer – even a totally green ensign – would have done. Yes, it was heroic, but I think he deserves better, and his quest to become as human as possible deserves a better conclusion than him being blown up in a race against the clock to stop a giant weapon from being launched. It’s the same tired, clichéd sacrifice for a friend and commanding officer, which has its place, but not with an arc like Data’s. To make matters even worse, Brent Spiner had a hand in writing the story for Nemesis, which throws my mind for a gigantic loop. Maybe he was really, really tired of playing Data, so he wanted to make sure he didn’t have to do it again? Mission accomplished, I guess. It just sucks for the rest of us.

As The Next Generation went along, one of my favorite things about Data was how he never realized just how human he was becoming. He would constantly remind people that he feels no emotion, but his behavior betrayed that notion. He consistently felt sorrow, empathy, compassion, and a range of other emotions; he just didn’t know it was happening. His progression continued in the movies, and the best version of Data can be seen in Insurrection. Without even having his emotion chip, he genuinely acts like a human being in everything that he does. So, fifteen years after his journey started, how is it ended? By doing something I’ve seen a million other characters do in a million other movies. That pisses me off beyond belief. Shame on whoever thought up that brilliant idea.

Nemesis isn’t an utter failure across the board, but its shortcomings sure are spectacular. It mishandles Data’s character in extremely important ways; it furthers relationships (Riker and Troi) without the audience present; and it rehashes the revenge theme that was already done much better twenty years earlier with The Wrath of Khan. Is there a point to Nemesis existing? I have to say no, because although there are high points that are worth seeing at least once, when it falters, it does so in almost proud defiance of good taste. All the awesome special effects and fancy phaser rifles can’t make up for that.
George Bell 

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