Star Trek: Insurrection (1998, Jonathan Frakes)

Insurrection

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Federation is observing an oblivious alien race called the Ba’ku. But after the operation is revealed, dangerous secrets are also uncovered…

Regulars: Picard is hosting a diplomatic dinner on the Enterprise when the crisis kicks off. He tracks down a malfunctioning Data and sings Gilbert & Sullivan in an attempt to reboot him. When affected by the Ba’ku planet’s Fountain-of-Youth-like energy, he dances a little jig to some mamba music – that’s enough to make him realise something is wrong. When ordered to leave the system, he chooses to disobey orders and – in a neat dramatisation of his decision – removes the captain’s pips from his collar. Riker and Troi try to do the background research on the Ba’ku situation, but can’t stop flirting. She kisses him with a beard for the first time (he’s the one with the beard), then they share a hot tub while she shaves it off for him. Her TV-show romance with Worf has seemingly petered out at some point. Maybe it ended when he left the Enterprise crew – he was a regular in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine by this point, so we get a knowingly arch moment when Picard bumps into Worf and asks, “What are you doing here?” Because it’s not important, Worf’s explanation is essentially rhubarb dialogue underneath a more important discussion. The Ba’ku influence means Worf later oversleeps and gets acne. Data, meanwhile, initiates the plot when he behaves erratically after being attacked on Ba’ku; Geordie’s optic nerves regenerate, allowing him to see naturally for the first time in his life; and Crusher identifies the invigorating effects the crew are experiencing (but doesn’t seem all that concerned about them – great work, Doc!).

Guests: F Murray Abraham is the lead bad guy, a member of the Son’a race called Ru’afo (what’s with all these apostrophes?!). Donna Murphy plays Ba’ku woman Anji, while Anthony Zerbe appears as villainous Federation admiral Matthew Dougherty. Apparently, Armin Shimerman filmed a cameo as his Deep Space Nine character, Quark, but it was cut from the finished film.

Best bits:

* The reveal of the duck blind.

* Data going loopy while wearing an invisibility suit – the subsequent fight is seen only through certain sections of the duck blind’s window, then Data takes off his helmet so his head (and only his head) is visible to the natives.

* Geordie briefing Picard on the situation while Picard is wearing a silly ceremonial headdress given to him by an ambassador.

* Ru’afo having his skin stapled into place.

* Worf’s shake of the head when Picard suggests he sings to Data.

* Data walking into the lake and along its bottom.

* The reveal of the holo-ship.

* When Picard goes rogue, the other six regulars turn up and insist on joining his mutiny. (Most have changed into Ba’ku clothing, but Riker and Geordie are still in their uniforms. *Completely coincidentally*, they’re the two Picard asks to stay behind on the Enterprise.)

* Troi and Crusher discussing their boobs.

* Admiral Dougherty having his skin forcibly expanded – a scene oddly similar to how Anthony Zerbe was killed off in Licence to Kill.

* The Son’a being unwittingly transported aboard the holo-ship – a cute idea, which is well seeded earlier in the story. (If anything, it’s a shame they work out what’s happened so quickly.)

* “The Son’a crew would like to negotiate a ceasefire,” says Worf, who’s aboard their ship. “It may have something to do with the fact we have three minutes of air left.”

TV tie-in: The movie shares a basic setup and a general tone with a 1989 episode of The Next Generation called Who Watches the Watchers. It’s altogether a tighter, more focused and more interesting experience. Riker and Troi have to go undercover with the Mintakans, a Bronze Age-level society, after the Federation team observing them from a hidden bunker are accidentally revealed and the natives believe Picard is a god. (It guest stars Kathryn Leigh Scott from my mates Joe and Davy‘s Dark Shadows audio series.)

Review: A simplistic story about pacifist hippies and power-hungry authority doesn’t exactly make for cutting-edge drama, and this twee plot is stretched to fill out 100 minutes. Just in case you don’t get the analogy on display, Picard refers to previous ‘forced relocations’ from Earth’s history, then does a Moses impression and leads the Ba’ku on a cross-country hike to safety. That countryside, by the way, is clearly not far from Los Angeles. The majority of Star Trek filming locations are in California, of course – but the first six films felt ambitious and inventive and gave us deserts, cities, tundra, mountains, forests… With the Next Generation team, however, it seems there’s a lack of ambition in that department. And that’s emblematic of the whole movie. It’s often said that Insurrection feels like a two-part TV story cut together and put on the big screen – there’s nothing wrong with that in theory, but it actually does those double-length episodes a disservice. Most were more engaging than this humdrummery.

Five British Tars out of 10.

 

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