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What's the big deal?
Star Trek: Insurrection is an action sci-fi film released in 1998 and is the ninth film in the Star Trek film series. It's the third film to feature the cast of the Next Generation TV series and depicts the crew of the Enterprise rebelling against the Federation to protect the people of a unique planet. It stars Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, F. Murray Abraham, Donna Murphy and Anthony Zerbe. Directed by Frakes who also directed the previous film First Contact, the film was seen as an attempt to return to the philosophising of the show instead of space-based action as well as retaining some of the show's humour. Despite a mixed response from critics, the film would go on to earn more than $117 million worldwide. However, the film remains divisive among Trek fans and is possibly the least recognised of the Next Gen film outings.
What's it about?
In an area of space known as the Briar Patch, a small community known as the Ba'ku have rejected technology and made a home for themselves. However, they are unaware that the Federation - in conjunction with a group called the Son'a - have installed a undercover observation mission to monitor them. Having been temporarily transferred to assist the mission, an apparently malfunctioning Data turns on his colleagues and exposes the Federation team to the Ba'ku who react in horror to the spies in their midst. Admiral Dougherty, who is leading the mission, contacts Jean-Luc Picard on the Enterprise and requests Data's schematics so they can assess the problem.
Picard, however, suspects that something is up after Dougherty insists that the Enterprise itself is not required. Journeying to the Briar Patch, Picard soon realises that the Ba'ku's planet has unique properties of interest to both the Son'a and the Federation. The planet's rings emit a type of radiation that effectively make the Ba'ku immortal by continuely regenerating their cells. But with Dougherty effectively leading a mission that directly contravenes the Federation's Prime Directive, Picard and his crew must decide whether to risk their futures in order to defend the Ba'ku.
Capt. Jean-Luc Picard
Comm. William Riker
Lt. Comm. Data
Lt. Comm. Geordi La Forge
Lt. Comm. Worf
Dr. Beverly Crusher
Counsellor Deanna Troi
F. Murray Abraham
Adm. Matthew Dougherty
Release Date (UK)
1st January, 1999
Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
What's to like?
It's fair to say that Insurrection is one of the least heralded of the Trek movies but I believe that this is unfair. To begin with, the film offers up plenty to intrigue and enjoy. From the mystery behind Data's malfunction to the unsettling appearance of the Son'a, their faces stretched to near-breaking point, the film's opening scenes tease us with a decent mystery (and when as the last time you could say that?) and suitably evil villains. Even the delightful setting of the Ba'ku village - an idyllic farming community that wouldn't look out of place next to the Shire from The Lord Of The Rings - is built to scale and looks every bit as appealing as you'd hope it is while the dramatic horizon is composed of dramatic mountains and lush greenery.
When the story does start proper, the film suddenly becomes a tense stand-off between the usual suspects and obvious villains - unfortunate the script can't maintain the air of intrigue for too long but the battle scenes are exciting enough, I suppose. Of course, the movie is noticeably lighter in tone than First Contact and even Generations so the action doesn't quite hit the same notes as those films. However, the film has plenty of comedy for fans of the show to enjoy - especially Data who still gets a significant amount of subplot to wade through - while other characters also get a bit more attention. Having been all but ignored in the previous film, Troi and Riker reconnect while Picard's romantic subplot with the Ba'ku woman Anij also gives Stewart something else to do other than firing phasers and arguing with authority. Which is good.
- This film marks the first time since the end of the first season of Next Generation to show Riker without his beard. According to Frakes, this was done purely to satisfy the many written requests of female fans. It also marked the last time he would be seen without a beard as it grew back in time for the next film, Nemesis.
- The film's moral conundrum proved problematic for several members of the crew. Stewart, Frakes and Spiner all admitted that they would have sided with the Son'a if the decision was up to them while Abraham admitted that he had to be "narrow-minded" playing the role.
- Even after shooting started, the film's subtitle hadn't been decided. Among the rejected titles were Stardust, Apostasy, Prime Directive, Sacred Honor and The Resignation.
- Worf wasn't the only character from Deep Space Nine due to appear. Quark (played by Armin Shimerman) appeared in a cameo at the end of the film but his scenes were ultimately cut.
What's not to like?
Sadly, the film doesn't exactly work. The lighthearted touches and frequent attempts at comedy don't always work and also don't fit in with the more serious nature of the debate at the heart of the film, creating an uneven and jarring tone throughout. And while the CG effects of various starships in space allows for more diverse and imaginative creations, they have not dated well as they look less defined somehow than the series' trademark use of model-work. But the worse effects are shown on the planet itself with ugly drones being shot out of the sky with a variety of guns that all seem to shoot the same thing. I also wasn't convinced by the story which starts off so well but quickly begins to fall apart and is vaporised by the time of the film's ending. As Picard and Ru'afo begin the inevitable "final battle", I was wondering what had happened or whether I had missed anything. I felt that the script had written itself into a corner it couldn't escape from.
The film's slow pace also makes it far less enjoyable than previous Trek movies which had been riding the crest of a wave since The Undiscovered Country. The romantic subplots between Picard and Anij and even Riker and Troi never go anywhere of note while Data's subplot about learning how to be a child from the Ba'ku child (played by Michael Welch) feels tacky and unnecessary. And while the cast are clearly having fun, there isn't enough of an energy to make the film feel little more than a two-part episode of the show. As such, it's enjoyable if you approach the film in that mind-set but as a cinema outing, I felt short-changed.
Should I watch it?
Fans of the TV series will lap up this extended adventure which shows the crew back at their captivating best. But for those following the film series, Insurrection does feel a bit of a misfire with uneven tone and a story-line that quickly runs out of dilithium crystal - even with a shortened running time. Nevertheless, this is a quirky and enjoyable romp with familiar faces that is inoffensive enough to be borderline forgettable.
Great For: fans of the TV show, newcomers to the franchise, megalomaniac plastic surgeons, controversial story-telling
Not So Great For: anyone with short-term memory issues, cutting edge CGI, pushing cinematic boundaries
What else should I watch?
The final film in the original timeline (I'll explain in a minute) would be Nemesis which would see the crew into battle one last time against a rogue Romulan clone of Picard, played by a very young Tom Hardy. Sadly, the film proved to be a flop in terms of critical reception and box office takings - in fact, the only way to continue the film series would be a prequel-cum-reboot in the form of JJ Abrams' Star Trek. By creating an entirely new timeline, Abrams' series of films could focus on a new Kirk (played by Chris Pine) and head in different directions. Although the series has been on hiatus since 2016's Star Trek Beyond, rumours persist that Quentin Tarantino would love to direct a Star Trek film of his own...
Of all the Trek-based films to have been released since the first Motion Picture in 1979, only two truly stand out for me. The Wrath Of Khan may look somewhat dated these days but it is a thrilling and tense stand-off between the original crew of the Enterprise and a ruthless and vengeful foe who will stop at nothing in his quest to destroy Kirk. Lastly, The Undiscovered Country is a much under-rated film in its own right, let alone for Trek films. An ingenious plot that acts as an allegory for the fall of the Iron Curtain, effects that still look good today and a memorable performance from Christopher Plummer as the Shakespeare-quoting Klingon general out for blood make the film far more than the sum of its parts and proved that for the original crew anyway, they really did save the best 'til last.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox