Rated PG - Running time: 1:43 - Released 12/11/98

Over three decades after its inception, Star Trek, the spacefaring sci-fi adventure franchise created by Gene Roddenberry, seems to be heading back toward its low-budget roots. The technical aspects of Star Trek: Insurrection (the ninth in the feature-film series) are somewhat reminiscent of the cardboard sets and plastic toy "phasers" of the 1966 TV show. The story, penned by Rick Berman and Michael Piller, is decidedly hum-drum when compared to others in the impressive Trek annals. And the "second generation" cast is looking decidedly worse for wear. I know this is science fiction, but thick makeup and artificial hair color can only hide so much.

The film starts on an Eden-like planet surrounded by rings which give off age-defying radiation. Its people, the Bak'u, live to be hundreds of years old but still look and feel like college students. Neat, huh? But Ru'afo (F. Murray Abraham), leader of the Son'a, has discovered this and wants to userp the planet. He plans to transplant all 600 Bak'u to another world in a ship fitted out with holographic images of their pastoral digs. According to the plan, they won't realize they've been moved until they start seeing crow's feet in the mirror.

Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) thinks the Bak'u are just a bunch of poor saps, but he soon finds from the beautiful and elderly Anij (Donna Murphy) that they are former spacefarers who have given up technology for good old-fashioned communal living. Under the rules of the Star Federation's prime directive (to observe but not meddle in the affairs of other civilizations), Picard plans to let the situation sort itself out. But since Federation Admiral Matthew Dougherty (Anthony Zerbe) is involved in the Bak'u switcheroo, Picard and his crew [first-mate Riker (Jonathan Frakes, who also directed the film), android Data (Brent Spiner), engineer Geordi (LeVar Burton), half-Klingon Worf (Michael Dorn), Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden), and Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis)] decide to disobey orders and fight for the Bak'u and their peaceful existence.

This story has moral overtones designed for the politically-correct age. The issues of slavery and the abuse of Native Americans are alluded to; Picard's decision to defy orders is based on his belief that the forced relocation of any people is wrong. But while it might make a good ST:NG episode, the story doesn't rise to the epic level that we have come to expect from this series. After they've met God face to face and saved the entire universe from the "Borg," it seems pedestrian to have a story about Picard waggling his finger and saying, "Hey, you leave those 600 people alone!"

Stewart looks great as usual and is impeccable in his familiar role, but most of the other principals were seriously underused. Counselor Troi's mind-reading skill, her purpose for being on the crew, is never mentioned; she's relegated to the status of an expensive set decoration. Since this story does not involve Klingons at all, Worf's main task is getting a case of acne. And although Abraham won an Oscar for his excellent portrayal of Salieri in Amadeus (1984) his Ru'afo simply adds to the long list of forgettable villains in Star Trek movie history.

Director Frakes did fine with his talented cast, but the film contains some unnecessary character business (I can just imagine him directing the scene of himself and Sirtis nude in the hot tub: "Okay, now you put your hand there . . ."). And while Star Trek has never been short of things that make you say, "Now, wait a minute," the fact that spacesuits, zero-G, and language barriers were always ignored by the TV show's producers allows Berman and Miller to carry on in the same tradition, unhindered by science, history, or physics. Hard-core trekkies may applaud, but fans of ST:NG's high writing standards may be disappointed in a franchise that fails to deliver what it has led us to expect. ***½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

See Current Reviews

See FilmQuips Archive