Reviewed by: Bill Williams
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.