Star Trek Insurrection

(Jonathan Frakes, USA, 1998)


Some Star Trek films feel like real movies, and others seem simply to be typical TV episodes padded out with a few extra plot moves and more spectacular production values.


The big screen instalment prior to this one, First Contact (1996), was one of the best in the series because, under the direction of Jonathan Frakes (who also plays Commander Riker), it had a genuinely cinematic speed and energy.


Insurrection is a more mundane affair. It serves to keep the Star Trek machine ticking over, rather than daring to make a knight's move or two with the given elements. It will undoubtedly please Trek fans (of which I am one) with its humour and occasional bursts of action-packed excitement – but it fails to honour the more philosophical, thought-provoking side of the Gene Roddenberry legacy.


The film begins from a familiar Trek premise. The crew of the Enterprise, led by the redoubtable Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), is called to a planet that resembles Eden – a paradise of learning, peaceful co-existence and (as soon becomes clear) eternal youth. The spokespersons for the Ba'ku preach the abandonment of all technology – which is, to say the least, an odd fantasy for a special effects blockbuster to peddle.


But there is trouble in paradise, both external and internal. The external threat comes from the militaristic meddling of the decrepit Son'a, led by Ru'afo (F. Murray Abraham). Understandably, they want this fountain of youth for themselves. Where the Bak'u are monuments to New Age health and wellness, Ru'afo is a pathetic slave to cosmetic surgery – every day his facial skin is stretched and stapled. Yet, even within the seemingly perfect society of the Ba'ku, there is unrest and dissatisfaction – particularly among (surprise, surprise) “the young”.


Caught in the middle of these clashes of values, Picard and crew must decide whether to intervene and thus alter the natural course of a society's evolution in order to save it. This is the foreign-policy dilemma beloved of Star Trek's creators, a mirror to every crisis of American politics from Vietnam to Iraq.


However, Insurrection goes easy on the allegorical possibilities, and remains largely content to be a stirring action film of the Star Wars variety.


Insurrection most resembles a TV episode in its elegant but lightweight use of sub-plots as counterpoints to the main theme. Since the central storyline grapples with the issues of eternal youth and culture clash, every smaller intrigue or interaction reflects, in a minor key, these concerns.


To this end, screenwriter Michael Piller has devised some fascinating twists for the regular characters: La Forge (LeVar Burton) facing the possibility of attaining normal eyesight; Worf (Michael Dorn) undergoing an enforced “second puberty”; Data (Brent Spiner) receiving lessons on the “spirit of play” from a young boy.


Unfortunately, none of these developments really lead anywhere interesting – just as, in the main plot, the potential romance between Picard and local Ba'ku sage Anij (Donna Murphy) has a lacklustre, indifferent air.


Even the merry apparition which kicks off the story – Data transformed into a violent, berserk subversive – is quickly smoothed over and forgotten. Nonetheless, dear Data still gets the best moment of the movie, when he investigates the effects of physical regeneration on the planet of the Ba'ku by innocently asking Worf: “Are your boobs firming up?”

Trek: Generations

Frakes: Thunderbirds

© Adrian Martin December 1998

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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