Star Trek: Insurrection Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1998

If Picard or any of his people interfere... eliminate them!
Star Trek: Insurrection Poster

The ninth film in the "Star Trek" franchise, "Star Trek: Insurrection", brings the familiar and amiable crew of the USS Enterprise-E for more high-flying adventures. While fans of the sci-fi series may feel at home among the familiar faces, non-Trekkers will certainly wonder what all the excitement is about. Heavy in the allegory and character moments department, "Star Trek: Insurrection" plays out more like a two-part episode of the series. Furthermore, this latest offering has a scope that is certainly a few notches below that of your typical 'event picture' and a story decidedly tamer than their previous outing that had the crew going up against the Borg ("Star Trek: First Contact").

Tell him we received a communique from Admiral Dougherty... it's about Data.

Those familiar with "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode 'Who Watches the Watchers?' will be familiar with the story, which opens on the home planet of the Ba'ku, a peaceful agrarian society. Going about their simple lives, they are completely oblivious to the fact that they are being watched from a hidden observation post a few hundred yards from their village, staffed by a joint contingent of officers from the Federation and an aggressive race known as the Son'a. However, this covert surveillance operation is blown when Lt. Cmdr. Data (Brent Spiner) malfunctions and begins shooting, taking hostages in the process.

Can anyone remember when we used to be explorers?
Patrick Stewart

A few star systems away, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart, who also got to call the shots on this outing as an Associate Producer) receives word of Data going AWOL, and diverts course to assist with the capture of his aberrant officer. However, once the Enterprise arrives, Picard discovers an increasingly enigmatic situation. The head of the Federation surveillance team, Admiral Dougherty (Anthony Zerbe), seems reluctant in accepting Picard's help, while the leader of the thuggish Son'a, Ru'afo (F. Murray Abraham of "Amadeus"), seems to have a hidden agenda of his own. Furthermore, Data has left strict instructions to the leader of the Ba'ku, Anij (Donna Murphy), not to allow the surveillance team to leave the planet.

What you have here is more precious than gold-pressed latinum.

Investigating further, Picard uncovers subterfuge aimed at the forced evacuation of the Ba'ku such that the Federation and Son'a can mine the planet for a life-regenerating radiation that has allowed the Ba'ku to live for hundreds of years. However, when Picard protests against this hostile and illegal action to Dougherty, he is ordered to leave the system. Unwilling to stand on the sidelines and allow 24th-century 'ethnic cleansing' to take place, Picard and his command crew disobey their orders and prepare to defend the Ba'ku from being forcibly removed.

Saddle up! Lock 'n load!
Jonathan Frakes and Brent Spiner

While "Star Trek: Insurrection" is entertaining and is a vast improvement over Picard and crew's first outing in "Star Trek: Generations", it is still a far cry from some of the franchise's strongest efforts, namely "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" and "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home", and even some of the better episodes of "Star Trek: The Next Generation". Lighter in tone than the two previous films, there is very little that elevates this offering above your average episode. The action and space battles are nice to look at, but are hardly outstanding. The story, while an intriguing premise, is rife with missed opportunities and is torpedoed by a deux ex machina epiphany in the third act.

In the event of a water landing, I have been designed to serve as a flotation device.

Of course, the story primarily concentrates on Picard, and this film shows him in a much kinder and gentler light, as opposed to the 'burning with vengeance' persona he exhibited in "Star Trek: First Contact". Of course, Stewart, a classically trained Shakespearean actor, displays his adept thespian skills with great verve, and even gets a love interest in this outing. The other main character, Data, has reverted back to his 'emotionless' days, restoring some dignity to this character, which suffered from the numerous emotional antics of the two previous films. The other major character, Ru'afo, is not very compelling as the film's villain. With a poorly-developed character and all that latex, Abraham's talents do not shine through in this role.

I kiss you and you say 'yuck'!?

As for the other characters, they each get their moments too. Riker (Jonathan Frakes, who also directed) and Troi (Marina Sirtis) rekindle their simmering relationship, Worf (Michael Dorn) suffers through the afflictions of puberty again, including acne, LaForge (LeVar Burton) regains the use of his eyes, and Dr. Crusher's (Gates McFadden) presence is wasted. However, because the focus of the story is on Picard and Data, these distracting token character moments end up being awkwardly inserted and serve no purpose other than to inject some cheap laughs into the film. The most glaring example of this is the Riker and Troi subplot, which seemed to be more of an afterthought than an integral part of the story.

Sing Worf! Sing!
The scenic vistas of the Ba'ku homeworld

About the only standout aspect of "Star Trek: Insurrection" is the allegorical undercurrent of the story, which brings to mind the exploits of another Frenchman of more recent times, General Phillipe Morillon, who served as commander of United Nations Forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1993. At first, he was a good soldier, fulfilling his mandate of reinforcing United Nations policy during the Bosnian war, which was to ensure that humanitarian aid continued to trickle into the besieged country and that the forces under his command did not, under any circumstances, take sides in the conflict. However, as Morillon's tour of duty dragged on, he became increasingly frustrated with the devastation being inflicted with impunity by Serb forces, and the inability for the United Nations to do anything about it.

However, the last straw came on March 11th of that year, when the eastern Bosnian enclave of Srebrenica was on the verge of being overrun by Serb forces. Morillon rounded up a convoy of food and medical supplies and drove through enemy lines, gaining passage by bribing Serb commanders along the way. Upon his arrival, the 75,000 Bosnians trapped in Srebrenica were able to breathe a collective a sigh of relief, having endured the bitter cold of winter, the scarcity of food, the lack of shelter, and the constant shelling by the Serbs, which had abated with Morillon's arrival.

Knowing that the 75,000 people under his 'protection' would surely die if he left the enclave, Morillon decided to raise the UN flag in Srebrenica, putting both his small UN contingent and his own life between Srebrenica's residents and the Serbs. Fearing that the weight of world opinion would weigh heavily against them, the Serbs backed off and agreed to allow a permanent UN contingent to remain in the enclave. However, victory was short-lived, as the Serbs stepped up their attack after Morillon returned to Sarajevo. As for Morillon, he was relieved of his command for taking sides in the conflict, which violated the United Nations' policy of impartiality.

You will return my men or this alliance will end with the destruction of your ship.

Is "Star Trek: Insurrection" a metaphor for the Balkan conflict? Are the Ba'ku Bosnians, and are the Son'a representing the Serbs? With the oddly inserted plot twist near the end, it just might be.

Digression aside, if you are a fan of "Star Trek: The Next Generation", you will most likely appreciate this ninth outing which takes you to a familiar place to visit old friends. However, if you know little of the series and its characters, you might find "Star Trek: Insurrection" a bit underwhelming.

Spiner, Stewart, and Michael Dorn

Images courtesy of Paramount Pictures. All rights reserved.

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