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Immortality and Star Trek Insurrection

The entire plot of Star Trek Insurrection (a Starfleet Admiral in some secret conspiracy with a race of bad plastic surgery people to secretly evacuate a race from an immortality planet to process their immortality particles) if an immortality potion hadn’t already been invented in an earlier movie. Wrath of Khan.

The Genesis Device turned out to be a crappy way of making new planets, but a great fountain of youth. Fire off a Genesis torpedo into an genesis devicearea with some debris or gasses, then shoot some torpedoes full of old or dead people into the area. Recover the torpedoes and you have your own immortality machine.

Not true immortality. Just a reset for a few decades, but that’s all the Briar Patch in Insurrection was offering and this could be repeated over and over again.

Without the Vulcan ability to back up and restore minds, reviving dead bodies and plugging memories into them wouldn’t work. But by TNG there was technology that could do that for humans out there. We saw it in use. It didn’t work too well plugged into a computer or even into Data, but shooting a body into the area, recovering it before it becomes a baby and uploading the memories might work.

Even if it doesn’t. There’s still a way to extend life by decades. Memories would be lost, if the de-aging process followed a biological pattern, but plenty of eighty year olds might accept losing forty years of memories. So if immortality was really on the agenda, it was available.

The only hitch is that everything involving Genesis was classified, but Starfleet had the information. If they wanted to use it, they didn’t need the Briar Patch.


The ideas of Star Trek Insurrection in Review


To those who believe in the odd and even numbered curse that is supposed to strike “Star Trek” films rendering the even numbered movies excellent and the odd numbered ones into poor weak exercises reviled even by fans, “Star Trek Insurrection” undeniably serves as an excellent supporting point.

Yet arguably behind the odd and even numbered curse is the more complicated reality that the odd numbered “Star Trek” films tend to be the product of greater aspirations than just to make another action movie. “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”, the first Star Trek film and the first odd numbered film and accordingly the first movie to suffer from the curse of the odd number. Directed by legendary, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” director Robert Wise, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was meant to be an ambitious journey into the nature of humanity and the universe. Instead it was often accused of being slow, plodding and soporific.

As would become the pattern, the sequel to “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” was the heavily action oriented and crowd pleasing, “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.” Similarly the crowd pleasing comedy, “Star Trek: The Voyage Home” served as the follow up to the tepid “Star Trek: The Search for Spock” and the follow up to the famously disastrous “Star Trek: The Final Frontier” was the heavily political and action oriented, “Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country.”

As the “Star Trek” movies passed the torch from the original cast to the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” cast, the pattern still continued with a weak odd numbered opener in “Star Trek: Generations” which couldn’t even be livened up by the death of Captain James T. Kirk himself. This was followed promptly by the hyperactively violent “Star Trek: First Contact.” So too the action oriented and dark “Star Trek: Nemesis” would follow, “Star Trek Insurrection.”

The underlying pattern is that the odd numbered movies like “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”, “Star Trek: The Search for Spock”, “Star Trek: The Final Frontier”, “Star Trek: Generations” and “Star Trek Insurrection” would attempt to reach for the ideals of the Original Series to explore the nature of the human condition and engage in moral and philosophical exploration about man and the universe. The results would usually pull in a weak box office rating and still weaker reviews. Misunderstood by fans, critics and audiences alike, the studio would respond by ordering up more crowd pleasing fare filled with action and adventure. These even numbered follow ups would win acclaim and the odd numbered movies would be damned for their aspirations.

The pattern held true from “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” through “Star Trek Insurrection”. Unlike the majority of the “Star Trek” films, “Star Trek Insurrection” hinged on a moral question, rather than a practical one. The question of whether the needs of the many should permit the exploitation of the few. Star Trek Insurrection’s answer that the few could never be exploited and dispossessed, regardless of the great benefits this exploitation would bring to the many, did not sit well with critics, many of whom like Roger Ebert protested that they would actually support Admiral Doughery’s actions and in doing so only further demonstrated the timeliness of the ideas in the movie they were attacking.

We live in a WallMart world driven by consumerism and the lowest deal, living by buying shoddy products from third world countries made by slave or child labor. Not only do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, but we live in an economy where the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many. The Son’a with their plastic surgery and their greedy pursuit of youth represent a mirror for our culture and society. The Ba’ku by contrast, with their emphasis on a peaceful and simple life, represent an alternative path.

The exploitation of the Ba’ku by the Son’a represents our usual way of doing business. That is why Roger Ebert could insist that Doughterty’s solution was the right one and even round up Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard) and Jonathan Frakes (William Riker) to agree with him. It is also why, despite it flaws, the message of “Star Trek Insurrection” is an important one.

There is no question that “Star Trek Insurrection” is deeply flawed. The unnecessary action sequences, an all too common legacy of Patrick Stewart’s and the studio’s interference, remain an abiding problem. Many of the more convoluted scenes and technological concepts are a distraction and simply unnecessary. These include the Holoship meant to transport the Ba’ku secretly off the planet. The multiple Son’a ships and the predictable ending action sequence. The tags are also another unnecessary piece of technobabble that permit the escape and refuge action sequences, which themselves represent a weak piece of plotting.

The simplistic portrayals of both the Son’a and Ba’ku undermine the movie’s message by reducing it to a cliche. Data befriending a little boy and his pet lizard is another piece of material that has no real use or value. It’s almost as if Brent Spiner wanted something for his character to do and so it was decided it would be a cute idea for an android to interact with a little boy.But with these issues discarded,”Star Trek Insurrection” nevertheless has a strong heart.

Picard’s confrontation with Doughterty poses the fundamental moral problem asking when sacrificing the few for the many becomes wrong, when the numbers reach a hundred, a thousand, a million. The question reaches to the heart of the moral argument about exploitation and what constitutes disposable people who can be legitimately exploited. It’s also a line that resounds as strongly as Picard’s memorable retort in “The Drumhead,” quoting Judge Aron Satie. As in many of the odd numbered films, the plot may be mishandled, but the ideas carry them through if the audience is patient enough and open enough to listen.

Another pattern odd numbered movie pattern for “Star Trek” movies held up as well. Like “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”, “Star Trek: The Final Frontier” and “Star Trek: Generations”, “Star Trek Insurrection” suffered from production problems, unfinished and discarded sequences and general confusion. Where “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” finally saw a Director’s Edition released under Robert Wise’s supervision that recreated missing sequences and restored footage, Star Trek Insurrection’s DVD release does not restore the bulk of the missing footage that had been cut. Much of this footage was not particularly significant.

Some of the scenes were purely frivolous, such as an ending that had Quark appear on the planet attempting to turn it into a spa. There’s little question that the scene was a gimmick and that Jonathan Frakes made the right decision in discarding it. The library scene was similarly frivolous and silly and generally useless. However the manner in which it was discarded after objections from librarians was itself inappropriate raising the question of whether any and every humorless group representing a profession can censor a movie.

Much of the material that attempted to tie “Star Trek: Insurrection” together with the ongoing events on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” at the time including the Dominion War were cut, but the impact is not particularly significant as “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” has long since gone off the air and its relevance has departed along with it. The significant loss is the original Rufa’o death sequence that had him plummeting down to the planet while his age receded into childhood. A sequence that was significantly more dramatic than the death sequence remaining in the film

Like many of the odd numbered films, “Star Trek: Insurrection” has been neglected, misunderstood and mistreated. Without a true director’s cut, we might never know what the film could have been, but we can see the potential inherent on the screen and the issues it has raised can continue on in our discussions and ultimately more valuable than any aesthetic judgment on the film alone could be.



Star Trek Voyager review – Natural Law

Summary: Another day, another shuttlecraft. Half the Voyager special effects budget is blown on one of the worst episodes of the season.

The poet has said, “The saddest words of tongue or pen are these: ‘It might have been’.” On Voyager the saddest words are, “What was the

star trek voyager Natural Law

There... that's where Craft Services is set up

point of making this episode in the first place?” And all too often when this question is asked, there is no answer except another bad episode from a show that already has far too many bad episodes to begin with.

The first half of Natural Law has all the dramatic and intellectual excitement of a half hour of static and noise. For those few fans hoping for a romance between Chakotay and 7 of 9, the opening classic fanfic hurt/comfort scenario might have suggested some possibilities but as awful as that possibility might have been, it’s better than what we actually got; which was nothing. Or technically speaking, worse than nothing. There are plenty of FX dollars which might have been put to better use on “Void”, but were expended on a B-story that has Paris going to alien driver’s ed.

One could ask why we need this storyline. One could also ask why we need the Ebola virus. It accomplishes nothing useful except for a weak attempt at humor whose payoff only comes in the final few minutes of this episode. After “Author, Author” had tried to make such a point of how Paris had matured since we first met him, this storyline makes a strong case for Paris being the same developmentally disabled adolescent he always was. The instructor may not be particularly flexible but instead of approaching the problem in a mature manner, Paris tried to lie to, wheedle and manipulate the instructor thereby proving the instructor’s worst notions about him to be true.

You have to wonder if there isn’t any character, any story on Voyager that needed to be told more than this one. I could think of half a dozen and so could most fans, especially considering that we’re a few episodes away from the finale which means this is all the character development we’re going to get. In light of this and in light of the fact that Paris has been on a solid fatherhood character development path for a while now, what was the point?

But as bad as the “Paris goes to driver’s ed” storyline may be, the first half hour of the “Seven of Nine learns the value of other cultures” story is even worse. Here, the writers attempt to avoid the possibility of having a bad story, by having no story at all. Instead Chakotay hurts his leg, Seven of Nine breaks a heel and loses her tricorder (why is she wandering around a forest in high heels anyway?) and they discover some friendly natives. Why are the natives so friendly and ready to give our characters the shirts off their backs, literally?

Well, there are no explanations given except that for lazy writers this is the cheapest and dirtiest way of shouting how wonderful and special a people the natives are, from the highest tower. As with the Ba’ku in Star Trek Insurrection, we’re supposed to believe that these people have amazing spiritual or cultural values that make them truly amazing. The writers fail to specify what these values are but they seem to involve smiling a lot, using sign language and giving lots of presents. And so of course Chakotay soon trusts the aliens absolutely.

This is a bit odd considering that he doesn’t know anything about their culture, species or whether or not their gestures mean “stay for dinner and we’ll cook you a nice meal” or “stay for dinner and we’ll cook you into a nice meal.” As friendly as they appear, leaving yourself at the mercy of a primitive society can be a bad idea, yet none of them actually take any precautions. But then the aliens aren’t real and neither is their culture, they’re two dimensional caricatures intended to make a political point. There’s no complexity or contradictions here. It’s not a primitive culture, it’s a primitive culture theme park courtesy of Disney where nothing can actually hurt you.

But this “noble savage” aspect of the natives drives what little in the way of a story this episode has. Which is that the natives are better off

star trek voyager Natural Law

"Do your wise and noble people have any hallucinogenic herbs to share?"

being cut off by the barrier from the rest of the universe. The episode denigrates the research team for arrogantly thinking they know what’s best for the natives and Chakotay challenges Seven demanding to know how she can think she knows what’s best for the natives. This is nice except that Natural Law is dedicated to the premise that the Voyager crew know what’s better for the natives more than anyone else, including the natives’ advanced cousins and the natives themselves!

The barrier was a piece of alien artificial technology. The result was to isolate the natives trapping them in a static, unchanging, primitive society for centuries. After a surface encounter with the native culture, Chakotay and Seven arrogantly assume that they have perfect knowledge of them and can make decisions for them. They praise the wonders of the native lifestyle ignoring the fact that this lifestyle is artificial and imposed by the barrier. And one wonders what the average lifespan is for the natives right now. Undoubtedly, a fraction of Chakotay’s or that of the writers so ready to praise such a lifestyle and so unready to adopt it. It’s almost amusing to see how many simple-living tales come out of Hollywood, a place as synonymous with simple living as the People’s Republic of China is with human rights.

Janeway, then, bizarrely presents the aliens with an ultimatum– ordering them to leave a planet in their own solar system. Of course she expects them to obey, as the Federation would no doubt obey if the Vulcans stopped by Earth and ordered them to leave the American continent. Unsurprisingly, they attack Voyager instead in a very restrained manner, indeed showing far more restrain than Janeway has. She and Chakotay claim to be doing it in the best interest of the natives but beyond a passing glance of their culture and a few words of their language, they know nothing of that culture. The natives themselves don’t get consulted on the subject. Their curiosity, their desire for knowledge and their fascination with Voyager’s technology are dismissed as aberrations that would interfere with their primitive way of life. Yet just about every action of the aliens suggests that they want more, yet is ignored as being counterproductive to maintaining their own primitive way of life; because the Voyager crew of course knows what is better for the natives than the natives know themselves. This is the ultimate arrogance, the ultimate colonialism, as the Voyager crew reduce the natives to children who can’t think or choose or decide for themselves.

Next week: Neelix finally goes to join his own people.

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