Star Trek continues to live long and prosper. “Start Trek: Insurrection,” the ninth Star Trek feature film and third film outing for the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (ST:TNG) cast, is a solid action story, featuring a morality tale, humor, and for the first time in a while for a Trek film, romance. In addition, this movie features far more location shooting than any previous trek film, which gives the film a grand scale.
“Insurrection” opens as the captain of the Federation Starship Enterprise, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), learns that one of his officers, the android Data, has apparently gone berserk and taken a cultural survey team hostage on a planet populated by the mysterious Ba’ku people.
Picard and his crew arrive at the Ba’ku planet, where the Federation and another alien race, the Son’a (a nasty looking group) are conducting the cultural survey of this village of 600 people. The Ba’ku are very intelligent and highly developed, but have adopted a simple life on this planet.
The Ba’ku village — filmed in Sierra Nevada and stunningly beautiful — is the most interesting and gorgeous set ever constructed for a Trek film. As the opening credits roll, the camera shows children playing, and a breathtaking view of a rural community built along a sparkling lake, mountains in the background, livestock grazing and simple, happy people living a peaceful life.
But the Ba’ku planet holds an amazing secret: Its inhabitants are over three centuries old. Unusual rings surrounding the planet have created a “fountain of youth” effect. Anyone who goes to the planet will grow younger and live forever.
The Enterprise crew soon learn that the “cultural survey” is only a cover for a sinister plot to kidnap the Ba’ku, exile them from their world, and exploit the planet’s fountain of youth properties for the Son’a, who we learn are an ancient, dying race. The Federation also wants to exploit this special planet, and considers the Ba’ku expendable, and obstacles in the way of progress. Why spare a mere 600 people for a planet that can grant eternal youth to millions? Or billions?
What makes this change of policy so compelling for Star Trek fans is that Starfleet would previously never have embraced such a plan. But we are reminded that the squeaky-clean Star Trek of the original series and ST:TNG have given way to a more gritty, more dangerous universe. For the latter half of the current Star Trek TV series “Deep Space Nine,” Starfleet has been at war with several belligerent cultures — and is feeling the pressure. The glory days of the Federation are over, it seems.
Picard is furious: If an entire people can be forcibly removed, destroying their culture and way of life, when does it stop? How many people before the act is wrong? A thousand? Ten thousand?
“Who the hell are we to choose the next course of evolution for these people?” Picard asks.
For Picard, the principles that the Federation is founded on have to be upheld. The Prime Directive — which maintains that any civilization must be permitted to develop at its own pace — must be preserved. Picard takes a stand, deciding he must put his career and loyalties on the line, and protect the Ba’ku homeworld. Naturally, his entire crew join him in the rebellion.
Making moral choices has always been part of the Star Trek tradition, and the stand-out episodes and movies have been those that stay true to the original premise of the show — entertain the viewers, and have a strong message underneath. Whether the topic is warfare, birth control, drugs, prejudice, or even saving the whales, these are the best treks.
This time around, a benevolent government is being manipulated into doing something evil for a “greater good.” The comparison to many of history’s forced moves of a group of people by one more powerful — such as the American Indians — is obvious.
But there’s also a second underlying message — living in the moment. Picard’s love interest, Anij, asks Picard, “Have you ever experienced a perfect moment in time . . . when time seemed to stop . . . and you could almost lived in that moment?” The Ba’ku have discovered that a single moment in time can be “a universe in itself.” It’s a terrific commentary about the insane pace of modern life — whether it be in the 24th century of Star Trek, or right now in the 20th.
The crew reacts to the planet’s “fountain of youth” properties in many ways; the most amusing is the normally stoic Picard, who forgoes his usual classical music for a rumba, and then begins dancing to the music. The scene is absolutely endearing. The cast’s youthful reactions inject this film with a great deal of energy, and fun.
My one complaint about the film is a scene where Picard pursues Data in a shuttle-chase through the Ba’ku planet’s atmosphere. Unable to reach through Data’s temporary dementia, Picard recalls that Data had been rehearsing a scene from HMS Pinafore and breaks into song. This gets through to Data, who begins singing as well. It’s an embarrassing moment, clearly played for laughs, and the film would be better without it.
Still, the movie will appeal to trekkers and non-trekkers alike. The story is compelling and also fun. With over fifty standing sets and far more location shooting than any previous Star Trek film, the movie feel bigger. The exodus of the Ba’ku at night is pure Cecil B. DeMille. There are space battles, computer generated pets (as in the Lost in Space film), armed conflict and lots of action, and of course, the Enterprise once again gets hammered by enemy fire. Picard has a real love interest, and all the regular ST:TNG supporting characters have interesting roles (including regulars Riker and Troi, who rekindle their previous romance). In fact, it’s very obvious that the cast had a lot of fun making the film — they’ve so grown into their roles that they, for the first time, feel like “real people.” It’s unusual to see Star Trek characters acting so … well … so colorful and animated. The on-screen camaraderie, friendship and romance is very believable. It all makes for an exciting, interesting film.
Joining the cast this time are F. Murray Abraham as the sinister Son’a leader Ru’afo, who won an Oscar for Best Actor as Amadeus. Picard’s love interest Anij is played by Donna Murphy, a Tony Award winner for her performances in The King and I and Passion. Anthony Zerbe, who plays Starfleet Admiral Dougherty, won an Emmy Award for his role on ABC-TV’s Harry O, and has appeared memorably in such films as Cool Hand Luke, Papillon, and License to Kill.
Regular cast member Jonathan Frakes, who did a commendable job directing the previous Trek film, has also directed episodes of ST:TNG, Trek’s “Deep Space Nine,” and “Voyager,” as well as Diagnosis: Murder and University Hospital.
Star Trek remains a profitable franchise for owner Paramount, with films, television shows, books and other merchandize grossing more than $1 billion worldwide. This film’s predecessor, “Star Trek: First Contact,” produced the biggest opening-weekend gross of any of the Star Trek films, and earned $92 million at the box office.
“Star Trek: Insurrection” does the franchise proud, and here’s hoping for a tenth movie installment in 2001!