Star Trek Insurrection (1998)

Director: 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

Wartime breeds many things, questionable alliances among them. “Star Trek” has been given the chance to reflect this a few times in its history, and one of those times was in 1998’s “Star Trek: Insurrection.” At the time, the TV series “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” saw the Federation deeply embroiled in a conflict with the Dominion, a militaristic collection of hundreds of races from the Gamma Quadrant of the galaxy (and at least two from our Alpha Quadrant). The Federation was losing the battle… in part due to its depleted forces, the result of the Borg attack in “Star Trek: First Contact.” The questionable alliance in this movie is with a race called the Son’a, the only Alpha Quadrant species capable of synthesizing the drug needed by the Dominion’s foot soldiers, the Jem’Hadar. As one of our heroes asks, why would we form an alliance with a race that is facilitating our enemy? Good question.

In 2375, on a planet in an area of space dubbed the “Briar Patch,” members of Starfleet along with a Son’a delegation are covertly observing a humanoid race called the Ba’ku. Everything is going smoothly until the android Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) starts to run amok, attacking his fellow observers before removing his suit and helmet (which had been keeping him hidden from the naked eye) and revealing the secret Starfleet observation post to the Ba’ku.

Naturally, Starfleet’s not too happy about this. Admiral Dougherty (Anthony Zerbe) contacts the Enterprise to inform Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) of the situation, but expressly states that the Enterprise herself need not interrupt their busy schedule. As Data means a lot to his crewmates, the Enterprise heads to the Briar Patch anyway, leaving the Admiral flustered. Dougherty and the Son’a leader, Ru’afo (F. Murray Abraham, in a reliably good performance) stand ready to terminate Data. Picard won’t stand for it, and insists that he be given the chance to subdue his friend first. For some reason (that being Paramount’s wish for a lighter tone than in “First Contact”) this included the use of a few bars from “HMS Pinafore” as a distraction.

Gradually, it is learned that Data had been shot to protect a big secret. It is also learned that the Ba’ku, although they have the appearance of a primitive society, are in fact extremely learned in the ways of technology, and were once a space-faring species. But they have shunned things like phasers and computers. It is also explained that those among them who have reached puberty are much older than they appear. None of this makes much sense to the crew, until they start noticing peculiar changes in themselves: Geordi (LeVar Burton) is able to see without the use of ocular implants for the first time, an old romance between Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Troi (Marina Sirtis) is playfully and passionately reignited, and Picard is startled by the disappearance of old scars.

Starfleet, it turns out, has been made aware of the regenerative properties in the rings around the planet inhabited by the Ba’ku, and that’s why they and the Son’a are here. They mean to forcibly relocate the Ba’ku. The argument is made by Dougherty that being able use the Fountain of Youth-like radiation to help billions of humans, Son’a and others excuses the resettlement of 600. Picard wonders how, with all of humanity’s technological advancements over the centuries, we still find ways to continue making the same grievous mistakes of our ancestors.

What none of them realize is that the Son’a have more on their minds than prolonging their lifespan. It turns out that the Son’a are really exiled Ba’ku, petulant children come home to punish their parents. Ru’afo has allowed his hatred to fully overcome him, and means to take things a step further. Fearing death, he doesn’t care if he kills all of the Ba’ku in order to get what he wants. He even kills Dougherty when the Admiral becomes more of a hindrance to his plan. In order to stop him, Picard appeals to the conscience of Ru’afo’s best friend Gallatin (Gregg Henry). When the danger is over and Ru’afo is killed, the remaining Son’a are reunited with their Ba’ku family in order to begin the healing process.

As I’d indicated, Paramount was looking for something with a lighter tone this time around. As youth was a theme here, it makes sense that Data’s part of the plot would include learning what it means to be a child. While these moments range from cutesy to downright silly, the rest of the movie’s ‘humor’ is mostly cringe-inducing. Juvenile humor can work when given the right setting. But a “Star Trek” production should never, under any circumstances, include a boob joke. Never.

There are other things this movie does which make no sense. Worf shows up… and it’s never really explained why. Isn’t he needed on Deep Space Nine? His biggest contribution is the massive pimple next to his nose. Picard strikes up a bit of a romance with a Ba’ku named Anij (Donna Murphy), and that’s all fine. But there is that one scene where Anij apparently displays some sort of ability to slow time down so one can literally ‘live in the moment.’ To make matters worse, when Picard asks exactly what the audience is asking (“How are you doing this?”), all he gets is “No more questions.” In other words, just go with it! But, I say, then why go to the trouble of showing us this if you’re not going to explain it? “No more questions.” *Sigh* Okay, fine.

There’s a great movie hiding underneath all of the silliness, but “Star Trek: Insurrection” never quite manages to find the right balance. I wouldn’t call it a bad movie, but it’s also not a particularly memorable one. Some critics have said that it would play just fine as a two-part “Star Trek: The Next Generation” TV episode. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that it’s highly derivative of several existing TNG stories, chiefly the plots of “Who Watches the Watchers?” and “Journey’s End.” It has important points to be made about Earth’s brutal history of forced relocation, which are then overshadowed by goofy, out-of-character moments from the main cast. This failed attempt to recapture the magic of “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” would send the series back to its default of trying to recapture the essence of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”. Whether or not one approves of the direction of the last few movies since, that is the true legacy of “Star Trek: Insurrection.”

  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    Well written, well stated, Charles!

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