One of my criteria for judging the Star Trek movies has been whether they feel cinematic or are essentially feature-length television episodes. Star Trek: Insurrection falls into the latter category: its special effects are so-so, its allegorical political agenda is obvious, and several of its action scenes are indifferently staged.
And yet, I found myself giving in to Insurrection‘s modest charms. Perhaps it’s my increased familiarity with the Next Generation crew, but they seem much more comfortable this time out. This is hardly classic Trek, but in its own unassuming way it works, and even manages to surprise in spots.
Insurrection opens with Data violently malfunctioning on a mission to observe the bucolic, deceptively simple Ba’ku people. The crew of the Enterprise is tasked with repairing him, but Picard grows uneasy by the Federation’s insistence that he and his crew vacate the planet immediately. In attempt to understand why Data went haywire, the crew decides to stick around and learn more about the Ba’ku.
The Ba’ku are like a community of Benjamin Buttons; they become more attractive as they age, thanks to some strange radiation particles on their home planet. They’ve also rejected technology and are fighting to maintain their culture and traditions while living in concert with the natural world (in other words, they’re like a cross between the Amish, Native Americans, and a commune of hippies). And the mysterious properties of their planet cast a spell over the Enterprise crew, who overcome physical disabilities (Geordi can finally see with his own eyes) or catch a case of Spring fever (after a long layoff, Riker and Deanna get back together). Picard is hardly immune to such proceedings, and finds himself powerfully attracted to Anij (Donna Murphy), a beautiful, wise Ba’ku woman.
It’s not a bad setup; plenty of folks, from Ponce de León to Indiana Jones, have been inspired, for various reasons, to find sources of life-restoration. The Son’a people, who have also been monitoring the Ba’ku, have their own motives; this fleshy, reconstructive surgery-prone race believes it can prolong its existence with the magical powers of Ba’ku. The leader of the Son’a, Ru’afo (F. Murray Abraham), seems almost desperate to be restored by this particular fountain of youth.
As Picard and Data probe the area, they discover a strange Federation vessel, one that contains an exact holographic recreation of the Ba’ku village. Picard realizes that the Federation and the Son’a are working together to blast the Ba’ku off their planet and harvest the minerals. Picard confronts the ranking Federation officer, Dougherty (Anthony Zerbe), who knows he’s violating Starfleet law but feels it’s for the best. Ordered to leave the area, Picard and his crew go rogue, leading the Ba’ku out of the village to avoid forced removal. However, Ru’afo has designs on capturing and/or killing the Ba’ku to get them out of the way.
As an allegory, Insurrection lacks urgency. I was stuck with a recurring question throughout the film: is it not possible for the Ba’ku to share their planet’s regenerative powers? I mean, it’s a pretty big place, and there are only 600 people in the community; it seems kinda snobbish, especially since the radiation particles could do plenty of good for the galaxy. (I’m reminded of Spock’s mantra: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”) Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not an advocate for relocating native peoples in the real world. Of course not. It’s just that Insurrection‘s central conflict doesn’t exactly inspire the moral outrage that it should.
In addition, the movie’s action scenes are noticeably clunky, especially when compared to First Contact. There’s a sequence in which Son’a warships attack the Ba’ku village, and it seems like all the extras are sent flying from explosions about four seconds after the torpedoes hit.
However, as a formulaic Trek movie, Insurrection is surprisingly watchable. As Ru’afo, F. Murray Abraham brings the same weaselly menace that made his Salieri so appealingly vile in Amadeus. And the Next Generation crew members have grown on me; in particular, I find Worf’s (Michael Dorn) unflappable demeanor touching, and Data’s mechanical sincerity is much more appealing when his emotion chip is disabled. And Picard’s relationship with Anij is poignant; it’s an old cliché that love makes time stand still, but Anij is the living embodiment of such a sentiment. Who wouldn’t want that?
Anyway, Ru’afo beams hundreds of Ba’ku, and eventually Picard, aboard his ship, with the intent of forcibly removing them. There, it is discovered that the Son’a and the Ba’ku are of the same race, but the Son’a embraced technology and violence. Picard appeals to the better instincts of one of Ru’afo’s henchmen, who realizes the error of his ways. With the help of holographic technology, they are able to fool Ru’afo, destroying his mineral harvester and killing him in the process. Then, the healing begins, as the Son’a are welcomed back by the Ba’ku, and the Enterprise crew bid a very fond farewell to the planet.
If Insurrection lacks the mystery and wonder of Darren Aronofsky’s underrated (and in some ways, similarly-premised) The Fountain, it’s still satisfying as an extra-length TV episode. It may be that my expectations were low, but I am genuinely fond of Insurrection, despite its flaws.
Tomorrow, I’ll get reacquainted with the Romulans in Star Trek: Nemesis. I know this isn’t a fan favorite, but is it as bad as my Trekkie friends say?