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Movie Review

Star Trek: Insurrection

MPAA Rating: PG for sci-fi action violence, mild language and sensuality

Reviewed by: Bill Williams

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
13 to Adult
Science Fiction
102 min.
Year of Release:

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis / Director: Jonathan Frakes

Imagine a place where moments can last for infinity, a place that holds the secret of eternal youth. Now imagine the very government that serves and provides for you undermining its own foundation to possess these secrets, no matter the cost. This is the very core of the new film “Star Trek: Insurrection”, the ninth film based on the popular 1960’s TV series, and the third film based on the successful sequel series “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

In this latest adventure, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, who also serves as the film’s associate producer) and the crew of the Enterprise-E are summoned to an area of space known as the “Briar Patch” to protect a group of colonists known as the Ba’ku from being evacuated from their world by a joint partnership Starfleet Command has sought out with an alien race called the Son'a. Initially called in to investigate the malfunction of Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner), it is Data’s malfunction that leads to the discovery of the Starfleet-Son’a partnership, one that seeks to take control of the Ba’ku homeworld by evacuating the colonists from their home. In turn, with the Son'a’s assistance, an ambitious Starfleet admiral (Anthony Zerbe) and the Son’a commander (F. Murray Abraham) attempt to seize the secret behind the Ba’ku planet: a mysterious “fountain of youth” that reverses the aging process.

Picard is faced with a moral dilemma: will he be bound by duty and stand with the Federation to subjugate the planet, knowing that it means violating their Prime Directive of non-interference, or will he risk his command and his career for what he knows to be right for the Ba’ku? Aided by his command team, Picard risks court martial to protect the Ba’ku.

This is fine and dandy, but that’s where the problem also begins. We’ve seen this plot before too many times. From the original series episodes “Court Martial” and “Devil in the Dark,” to the Next Generation episodes “Who Watches the Watchers?” and “Journey’s End,” this is a frequently-repeated plot in “Star Trek,” so the question becomes: how do they keep the plot refreshing and original?

This time, senior “Star Trek” producer Rick Berman, screenwriter Michael Piller (who formerly worked on “The Next Generation” and co-created “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager” with Berman), and director Jonathan Frakes (Commander Will Riker) have taken to work on various subplots to keep the characters' relationships fresh and anew. Riker and Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) renew their past relationship in the course of the movie. Through the Ba’ku’s “fountain of youth,” Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) gains normal eyesight for the first time in his life and delights in watching a sunrise. Worf (Michael Dorn) goes through Klingon puberty and experiences his worst horror to date—a pimple! And Picard finds a relationship with Anij (Broadway star Donna Murphy), who shows our captain that it’s necessary to experience life’s best moments one at a time.

While “Insurrection” has its share of moments, they are not enough to boost a story with an uninspiring villain. In past Trek films the crews have focused on a single villain with a single purpose, from Khan to an alien probe in search of whales, from a joint political-military conspiracy within the Federation to the Borg. This time, the villains are twofold, and neither Ru'afo (Abraham) and Admiral Dougherty (Zerbe) are inspiring. Only the threat of Picard’s dilemma is more interesting.

The visual effects are good and on-par with what has been seen in “Independence Day,” “Star Wars: The Special Edition”, and “Babylon 5.” In fact, this is the first time in all of the Star Trek films that they have not relied on a model of the Enterprise for the bulk of the effects; the ship and all of the film’s special effects are completely rendered CGI, which allows for some lovely shots of the ship in flight and in battle. But even they are not enough to save this film from its main problem: a strong script. After the wildly successful “First Contact”, it became very hard to come up with a villain, or for that matter a story, that could top the previous movie. And at 102 minutes, the shortest running time of all nine movies, it could have benefitted from a stronger plot but instead focused on the lighter side of the cast mainly.

All in all, “Star Trek: Insurrection” is an average addition to the 32-year-old canon, which would have worked well on TV as a two-part episode of “The Next Generation.” For an alternative to this film, may I recommend “The Wrath of Khan”, “The Voyage Home”, or “First Contact,” stronger films with stronger plots, more action, and more interesting villains to pit against the crew of the Enterprise.

But you don’t need to go to an alien planet to experience eternal life or moments that last an eternity, as we will all share in that incredible wonder when the Lord our God calls us home to be with Him. And then, that will be something worth sharing, and you don’t even need a political conspiracy to hold people back from that.

Viewer Comments
If you like Star Trek, TNG, you’ve got to like this movie. All the characters we’ve grown to love are here, and I don’t believe for a second that the movie is weak. Sad that movies are compared to some arbitrary “masterpieces.” Isn’t there a field for movies that make you feel hope for humanity when you leave a theater? From the opening, beautifully landscaped scenes of the planet, to the end when we know that it is wrong to move people away from where they live for the “greater good,” I just watched the story unfold with my favorite people in Star Trek. It had drama, comedy, excitement, and some violence. I could understand it. Much better than some “masterpieces” like “Ran” and “Citizen Kane.” I guess that’s what makes America great, so many different likes and dislikes. Great movie. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a good review come from anyone who actually has done professional acting. Hmmmmm.
—Jerome Bush, age 46
In keeping with the “Star Trek” tradition, the latest film uses an imaginary futuristic setting to explore some important moral questions in the real world. “Insurrection” raises important historical and moral questions about imperial expansionism and the forced relocation of peoples. Can such an action be morally justifiable? Can a greater good be justified by a short term evil? Is it right for a greater civilization to enforce its will on another culture? The answer for Piccard and his crew is NO, and rightly so. Themes such as these are not always popular with “comfortable” Christians, and do not always leave one with a “warm fuzzy feeling,” but they are valid and relevant moral issues. The film is well made, has a good cast, good special effects, and has great music. One would be fairly hard to please if they did not enjoy it. It would be hard for anyone to find anything morally offensive in it.
—David Young, age 32
Am I the only one out here that takes issue with the whole Star Trek paradigm of non involvement as expressed in the “Prime Directive”? I submit that Colonialism is wrong, but the logic of the PD has at its root a humanistic (a la Rodenberry) slam against the Great Commission—coming from a secular viewpoint that says the greatest evil is an intrusion upon other cultures and belief systems—Discrete cultures are elevated to the sacred and the natural progression and development of culture as becomes another gospel. This is placed in the context of tolerance and respect while it shows all violators of the “Prime Directive as the bad guys—so follow the logic… it flies in the face of going and teaching all nations… think about it…
—Anthony Foster, age 42
…this is #9 we are talking about. the one where two weeks before they were about to release it a head honcho at paramount wanted to change the name of the movie because he had no idea what “Insurrection” meant? this movie sits right beside #5. the one which I almost walked out of the theater on. although this one had nothing about finding God in it it had major character flaws, large plot holes and horrible production values. first they have data malfunction on a mission away from the rest of the crew, so that they could draw the enterprise from where ever it was. then picard acts like a total fool at some ambassadorial party. then worf appears for NO GOOD CAUSE. at least they had a really good reason in first contact. he was in command of the defiant against the borg. I don’t even remember what the reason was in this movie!…
—Alan Tonn, age 29
I walked out of Star Trek: Insurrection feeling really very good about this latest installment in the TNG film series. Considering the number of variables the writers were working against (i.e., limited screentime, needing to produce a film that would make money, and coming off the heels of the very successful First Contact), I feel that Trek writers overcame the pressure by doing this movie in a way they knew would work,that being that they took the characters we knew and loved, and poked a little fun at them. Data, as always, stole the show, and the decision to leave the emotion chip out of the story was very wise (it was ruining thecharacter anyway). Riker and Deanna suddenly have a budding romance again, which makes little sense if you are an experienced trekkie. Last time we knew, she and Worf had something going!! Till he married Dax of course. Patrick Stewart was, as always, very upright and classy. But the film’s early scenes show that even he can be made fun of. Worf’s puberty thing was a little… odd, but what do we know about Klingons? For those of us who have grown up with Geordi for about twelve years now, the scene when he views his first sunrise is priceless. The high point of the movie was definitely that the Enterprise crew were shown as more than one-dimensional characters. Most Star Trek fans eat it up when Picard and Data and the others get a little wacky. This was the high point of the film. I found the villain to be curiously engaging, probably because there is so much mystery surrounding this bad guy even at the end of the film. Perhaps the only true low point of the film is that to thoroughly enjoy requires a knowledge of what’s been happening with Star Trek the last twelve years.
—Chris, age 19
I am a big time Star Trek fan however, I felt that the story line could have been a lot better. I agree that the movie was absent of a strong villain. It was nice to see the Next Generation cast together again but the story could have been better.
—John Traylor, age 33
Having seen the film the day after it opened, without reading any reviews beforehand, I was surprised by all the bad press the film has been getting. Actually, I think it was the best film yet based on the Next Generation cast. Of course, they haven’t done anything that could hold a candle to The Wrath of Kahn or the humpback whale episode, but it had an interesting plot, was entertaining, and had (I think) surprisingly little to object to from a Christian standpoint (understanding, of course, that the whole premise of Star Trek is decidedly non-Christian).
—Tim Blaisdell, age 35
While this is the best movie I’ve seen all year long, only 3 of the 20 or so movies I’ve seen, I watched at a regular first-run theater. That indicates 1998 was a rather weak year. Insurrection rocked. It is the best of the three featuring the “TNG” cast. It was funny, briskly paced, and had a good villain. I was lost a little bit during the movie involving the Collector, but there were very few plot holes. The humor is dead on and I think Patrick Stewart did some Oscar-worthy work in this film, as did Levar and Brent. Once again, Dr. Crusher had just a few lines of dialogue which peeved me. Its PG rating stems from about three or four swear words and a discreet bubble bath sequence(another thing that peeved me: Worf and Deanna were getting close during “All Good Things” and now look!). 9 out of 10 from me.
—Zack, age 17
I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, from start to finish. My friends and I sat spell-bound through it. I was especially pleased with the PG rating. I’m sorry the reviewer was displeased with the lack of a single strong villain, but I really don’t think the movie suffered for it. This is a definite “MUST SEE,” and I will buy it as soon as it’s out!
—Susie, age 46
I felt that this was definitely a worthwhile movie. While it may be lacking in the plot department and certainly won’t win any new converts to the world of Trek, several points in the movie make for some very interesting after-movie and dinner conversation. One of these topics comes up when Picard and the Admiral are talking about moving the people off the planet and killing it. The Admiral says that it is for the greater good (i.e. the good of the many outweigh the good of the few or the one), and Picard retorts that it is still wrong to force the people leave their plant and to plunder it. The Admiral says something to the effect of “it’s only 600 people,” and Picard asks him how many it takes before it’s wrong. It is a powerful statement, particularly to Americans, who hundreds of years ago forced-marched the Native Americans west into the deserts. While Star Trek can tend to get a bit “preachy” on certain subjects, at least this time they made a point without preaching it or taking an ultra-liberal stance on it. Let’s hear it for the good guys!
—Jon N., age 21