I watched Star Trek: Insurrection again yesterday, and it reminded me of why I prefer Classic Star Trek over the Next Generation, and why Next Gen doesn’t appeal to me like it used to.
I’ve been a die-hard classic-series Trekker since grade school, but when the Next Generation came out, I followed it with equal enthusiasm. For a time, it worked well, and I enjoyed it; though I never stopped loving the original series’ innocent campiness. But it was the Next Generation movies that slowly began to change my outlook on what Star Trek is becoming: Insurrection most of all.
Despite the sci-fi setting, most Star Trek episode or movie plots are centered around personal conflict: between characters, within characters. As Q implied in the final Next-Gen episode, “All Good Things,” it isn’t about exploring the farthest reaches of the universe, but exploring the uncharted depths of the human soul. Patrick Stewart, I must say, has been an excellent vehicle for this kind of storytelling: he has brought an intense profundity to the role of Captain Picard, on par with, if not exceeding, Shatner’s Kirk, Nimoy’s Spock, and Kelley’s McCoy. It’s storytelling along those veins that make Star Trek what it is in any generation.
But not in later Next-Gen movies. Insurrection wasn’t so much a good story as it was a walk through the Next Generation Technical Guide. Technological knicknacks came into focus as primary plot devices, and any kind of character development or conflict took a back seat to phaser cannons, transport disruptors, holodecks, tricorders, ramscoops, mithrion gas, subspace weapons, and warp-core ejections.
That was disappointing.
Where the classic series pitted Spock’s cold logic against McCoy’s fiery human-ness, where The Wrath of Khan drew a sharp contrast between Khan’s vengeful mania and Kirk’s middle-age anxiety, where even the unsatisfactory Next-Gen movies Generations and First Contact brought Picard’s burden of grief and trauma into focus; Insurrection utterly failed to deliver any kind of profundity or insight into the personal universe of Star Trek. A romantic interest for Picard and the “reconciliation” between the two brother races do not count.
“Macho-geeky.” That was the word I came up with to describe Star Trek: Insurrection. It’s true: all these techno-cool gimmicks came came into play, not only as Deus ex Machina devices to forward the plot, or as justification for a huge effects budget, but also to draw in the fans who love to hear things like, “Activate the ramscoop! Eject the warp core! Fire tachyon burst! Synchronize deflector shield harmonics!”
It made money, I’m sure, and gave Trekkies and Trekkers alike something to talk about, but did it uplift the deeper human dimension of Star Trek which I used to love?
If that’s what Star Trek is made of these days, then give me back the old green model Enterprise with its cardboard sets and papier-mache props and campy acting. I’ll take Captain Kirk’s interstellar soap opera any day.