Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, F. Murray Abraham, Donna Murphy, Anthony Zerbe, Gregg Henry, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Michael Welch, Mark Deakins, Stephanie Niznik, Michael Horton
(out of 4)
WARNING: Some spoilers ahead.
Star Trek – Insurrection, aka Star Trek 9, begins with a malfunction of the android Data (he seems to malfunction a lot). This causes him to mess up the Federation party held on the Ba’ku homeworld, which shows an idyllic existence for the 600+ inhabitants who live there. Data exposes a cloaked “duck blind” facility to the inhabitants, proving that they were being watched. In this case, the watchers are Federation personnel and a group of aliens called the Son’a, who are in constant need of genetic manipulation and surgical techniques to keep themselves alive. (They kinda look like the plastic surgery disasters from the Terry Gilliam film Brazil). Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), in the middle of a meeting with new Federation allies, is called away with the rest of the crew of the Enterprise E to capture Data (Brent Spiner) and figure out what the hell is wrong with him. This involves a shuttle craft sequence where Picard and Worf (Michael Dorn) talk Data down by singing H.M.S.Pinafore by Gilbert and Sullivan to him (a nod to the story Runaround in the novel I, Robot by Isaac Asimov). It’s soon revealed that Data was shot by a Son’a soldier because he stumbled upon a cloaked ship that was intended to transport all Ba’ku off their homeworld, against their will. What’s even more startling to Picard is that Vice-Admiral Dougherty (Anthony Zerbe) is involved, and he’s acting on orders of the Federation council.
Star Trek Insurrection begins strongly, with a fun scene involving Data’s malfunction. Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there once the storyline becomes apparent. What we have is a planet (owned by the Federation, however that works) in a section of space nicknamed the Briar Patch, where a dangerous nebula, energy fluctuations, and “metaphasic radiation” could make things very perilous for starships. At the heart of this system is a world with rings that produce this metaphasic radiation, which gives its inhabitants increased mental capacity and long life. It’s Utopia, the fountain of youth, and it’s obvious why the Son’a are interested in it. But since forcing a group of people from their land is wrong, Picard and crew decide to go against orders and stage an insurrection, defending the Ba’ku against the attacking Son’a, led by the murderous Ad’har Ru’afo (F. Murray Abraham). In the meantime, Picard falls in love with Anij (Donna Murphy), who teaches him to “live in the moment”, Geordi’s eyes grow back, Riker shaves his beard and fools around with Troi, Worf gets a large pimple, and Crusher and Troi discuss how firm their boobs are. It’s my guess that after the dark, action-packed Star Trek: First Contact, Berman and company decided to go with a lighter story this time around, thinking that audiences would want something different. I’m not sure why they came to that conclusion, but hey, I don’t get paid the big bucks by Paramount.
The movie at least has enough sense to explain why the Ba’ku must be moved (the procedure to collect the radiation from the rings will also render the planet uninhabitable). Picard, naturally, will draw parallels with the forced relocation/slaughter of more than a few Earth cultures. But at the same time, Rick Berman and Michael Piller play fast and loose with Federation facts. Would the Federation council really begin partnerships with a dangerous group like the Son’a, throwing Federation values down the toilet? Would Data really decide to leave his emotion chip at home before going off on a mission? (It would seem that Berman and company don’t want Data having emotions anymore – hence his apparent regression to more android-like behavior – why else would a boy need to teach him how to “play”?) Would the Enterprise really leave the bad guy to be killed heartlessly without trying to beam him out? As for the themes of immortality – well, I suppose that dropping the aging cast into a storyline about return to youth seems like an obvious thing to do, but how many times have we seen this played out in previous movies? I should also note here that Star Trek Insurrection is the first Trek film that uses 100% computer effects (no models), and it shows – the space shots are way too cartoony (but the holodeck/hologram sequences are ok).
Speaking of aging, it becomes more apparent with each movie that, with the exception of Stewart and Spiner, the cast of TNG are not really big screen material, and the story as a whole, while not bad, still seems underwhelming for a major motion picture. I think it would have made a great TV two-parter, but that’s the problem with these TNG flicks – I keep wondering how much better they would have been in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Star Trek Insurrection borrows from all sorts of earlier Trek – Star Trek 2 (nebula fight), Star Trek 3 (the crew disobeying orders), The Way To Eden (Eden metaphors and rejection of technology), Star Trek 5 (the crew being affected emotionally as well as another Eden story), and all the previous Trek movies that featured a heavy (there must always be a heavy now – no imagination). Then it wants to depict the non-indigenous colonists walking the Trail of Tears, which is too heavy a notion for what boils down to – as one IMDB commenter exclaims – “a minor, questionable and extremely boring treatise on international property rights.” The question is – did anybody bother to ask the Ba’ku if they wouldn’t mind moving off the planet so that everybody in the galaxy can partake in some of that regenerative radiation that they’ve been taking advantage of for 300 years? And how exactly does the Federation stake a claim on a planet already populated with people anyway? The good news is that Frakes’ direction is at least assured and that this is a better movie than Star Trek 7 and Star Trek 5. The bad news is that the odd-number curse is still in effect.
– Bill Gordon