“How many people does it take admiral, before it becomes wrong? Hmmm? A thousand? Fifty thousand? A million?”
Captain Jean-Luc Picard questioning Admiral Dougherty’s attitude about forcibly relocating 600 Ba’ku villagers
The ninth Star Trek film, Star Trek: Insurrection, isn’t well regarded by fans and even the people who made it. However, it does have some merit. In fact, as our contributor GEO would say, here’s what’s great about Star Trek: Insurrection:
Still looking? Don’t bother. There isn’t anything great about the film.
It opens in a quaint pastoral Mediterranean-looking village on an unnamed planet. The townspeople are a simple and content lot who tend to their fields, bake bread and live a quiet existence. But they’re monitored unnoticed by Starfleet personnel and mummified-looking aliens in a duck blind. They’re also tracking an invisible person who turns out to be the android Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) who has gone rogue. Other cloaked officers try to stop him from reaching the village, but the android reaches it. The villagers become aware of them, especially after Data removes his invisible suit and shoots at the invisible monitoring station, making it visible to everyone.
Meanwhile, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is hosting a reception onboard his ship, the Enterprise-E, for new members of the United Federation of Planets. He runs into his old Klingon friend Lt. Commander Worf (Michael Dorn) who apparently dropped by the ship to visit. Worf at this time was a regular character in the show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) but it’s never really explained what he was doing on the Enterprise-E.
Picard gets an urgent message from Admiral Dougherty (Anthony Zerbe) who is requesting Data’s schematics and informs him of the android’s behavior. He adds that Data took hostage the Starfleet observers along with the Son’a, the aliens working with the observers. The captain offers to send his ship over to help but Dougherty discourages this since the planet they’re on is in a perilous region of space nicknamed the Briar Patch. It got that name from its volatile gases in the system’s nebula that creates anomalies like poor communication.
His interest piqued, Picard has the Enterprise-E go to the planet anyway. When they arrive, Dougherty is with the Son’a leader Ru’afo (F. Murray Abraham) on the Son’a’s command ship, which was just attacked by Data in a scout ship. Picard and Worf quickly leave their ship in a shuttlecraft and are in turn attacked by Data’s ship near the ringed planet. Both vessels enter the planet’s atmosphere during a cat-and-mouse chase. Over the radio, Picard engages Data to an embarrassingly dumb musical duet based on a Gilbert and Sullivan musical. This distracts the android long enough for Worf to board his ship and deactivate him with a modified tricorder.
Afterwards, the Enterprise-E crew arrive at the village to free the hostages. They’re surprised to find that the so-called prisoners are treated as guests and are free to leave. Picard meets one of the villagers, Anij (Donna Murphy) and a few others. They’re the Ba’ku and despite their primitive appearance are actually a warp-capable society who are up to date on science and technology but choose to live a simpler life.
Back on the Enterprise-E, Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (Levar Burton) informs Picard that Data’s positronic brain was damaged in a firefight, which is why he was acting strangely. Data, now repaired, is activated. The android doesn’t remember much of what happened to him, so him and Picard go back to the planet to investigate. Anij and other Ba’ku, including a young boy named Artim (Michael Welch) who previously encountered Data, join them. They discover a cloaked rectangular ship that is really one large holoship that can recreate any environment inside of it. The ship has a recreated Ba’ku’s village, meaning that the villagers were to be transported there while they slept and fooled into thinking they were still in the village. The mystery just deepens.
Picard and his crew begin experiencing strange reactions to being on the planet, notably that they are getting younger. Worf breaks out in acne, First Officer William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) rekindle a dormant romance and most dramatically Geordi regains his eyesight. The scene where Geordi looks at a sunrise for the first time in his life was his best moment in all the films thanks to Burton’s quietly emotional acting.
Anij explains to Picard what is going on. The Ba’ku left their ruined planet centuries ago and resettled in the current world. The metaphasic radiation from the rings of the planet rejuvenated them, which explains the Ba’ku’s youthful appearance. Anij and many others are actually centuries old thanks to the rings. The Ba’ku’s world is an actual Fountain of Youth, which is why Starfleet and the sickly Son’a are so interested.
Meanwhile, Dougherty demands to know why the Enterprise-E is still in the system since they recovered Data and freed the hostages. Picard confronts him about the Ba’ku and the planet. The admiral and the Son’a are working together to mine the planet’s rings for its metaphasic particles. The Son’a have the technology that Federation doesn’t possess to accomplish this task, but the planet will be left uninhabitable, which is why they want to relocate the Ba’ku. In the end, both partners will benefit; the Son’a will be able to quickly cure themselves and the Federation will develop new medical sciences. Picard is disgusted over this plan because it violates the principles of the Federation. Dougherty argues that he has the approval from the Federation Council and the mining will lead to significant medical advances. Picard challenges the admiral but Dougherty holds his position and angrily orders Picard to take his ship and leave the system.
Later, Picard goes to his quarters and begins removing his uniform. The next time he’s seen, he’s wearing civilian clothing in the captain’s yacht attached to the Enterprise-E and is gathering weapons and equipment to help the Ba’ku. His senior crew show up and elect to back him up regardless if their careers are jeopardized.
Picard orders Riker to take the Enterprise-E and leave the system to contact Starfleet to tell about what is really going on. The captain leaves for the planet in the yacht with Worf, Data and Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden).
On the Son’a command ship, Ru’afo has had enough after discovering that the captain’s yacht left for the planet after the Enterprise-E left. He orders the forced removal of the Ba’ku and to “eliminate” Picard and his crew if they try to stop them.
Picard and his friends help the Ba’ku evacuate the village at night just in time because the Son’a arrive in several shuttlecraft and attempt to transport them. Luckily, Picard and the others brought along transporter inhibiting equipment. They all make a mad dash for nearby hills and caves lined with technobabble minerals that prevent beaming. Unable to beam up the Ba’ku, the Son’a ships leave giving the villagers time to relax in their exodus as Data and Artim strike a friendship and Picard and Anij begin having feelings for one another.
Riker onboard the Enterprise-E has his hands full with Son’a ships that are ordered by Ru’afo, with Dougherty’s approval, to stop the starship from leaving the system and exposing their scheme. This leads to battle set against the colorful Briar Patch and some unorthodox thinking by Riker in fighting the Son’a. At the same time, the Son’a step up their efforts to remove the Ba’ku resulting in a climatic confrontation between Picard and Ru’afo.
Star Trek: Insurrection fails to excite viewers even though the cast and crew try their best. Director Jonathan Frakes ensured that the production and acting were in top form and they were. The special effects, production and the acting were without fault. But this ninth Star Trek film feels like an average two-part TV episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). The main problem boils down to the story itself, which isn’t compelling.
When screenwriter Michael Piller turned in the initial draft for this film, it was supposed to evoke Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, and had Picard hunting down (depending on the draft) either Data or an old friend. That sounded more interesting than the final story. Brent Spiner even wanted Data destroyed and that was supposed to happen at one point. But as usual the studio got in the way. They wanted a lighter, toned film than the previous entry, hence some supposedly humorous moments that don’t add anything like Data becoming a flotation device (don’t ask). The film could’ve done a Black Hawk Down situation where the Enterprise-E is behind enemy lines by itself and the crew has to face down limitless numbers to get to safety. But that doesn’t happen.
The Romulans were also supposed to be the villains in this film. But for some reason they went with these mummified aliens donning space burkas and frankly the Son’a weren’t impressive villains. They’re not especially intimidating and are just a bunch of third-rate thugs. Not even the major revelation about who the Son’a are doesn’t produce much more than raised eyebrows. F. Murray Abraham does the best he could with Ru’afo but as a villain, Ru’afo comes off as a whiny ninny who screams out when things don’t go his way. Not too menacing when compared to the likes of Khan, the Borg Queen or Kruge.
The Son’a have interesting trappings with nicely designed ships and their withered, stretched out faces and might have made passable foes in an episode. But they don’t warrant a movie, especially when the Romulans are around and unused. They also could’ve went with the Dominion, the formidable enemy featured in DS9. They’re referenced several times in the film and it appears to take place around the same time as the Dominion War in DS9. So why wasn’t the Enterprise-E involved in that conflict?
The plot device about the planet’s rings isn’t captivating either. They should’ve upped the stakes and tossed out this silly and lightweight Fountain of Youth gimmick with its technobabble. It would have been simpler and more dramatic if it turned out that the planet had to be mined for a substance used for weapons. Mention that the Federation was losing the war with the Dominion and were getting desperate. This would’ve created more turmoil for Picard since the Federation’s future was at stake. Or the rings’ radiation offered a specific cure for a devastating plague.
This weak premise undermines Picard’s motive for abandoning Starfleet. He’s faced off against rogue admirals before in TNG, and despite setbacks, he didn’t resort to taking off his uniform. Dougherty claims he was acting with the consent of the Federation Council. For all Picard knew, the admiral was lying. The film is subtitled Insurrection but we never see Picard or any of his crew confronting Starfleet aside from Data’s rampage in the beginning. It would’ve been more dramatic if the Enterprise-E fought several Starfleet ships and Picard was hunted. But they only fight with the Son’a. It all amounted to Picard disobeying an admiral who probably would’ve been thrown out of Starfleet for his actions. What was going on didn’t seem dire enough to justify Picard’s actions.
Also, the Ba’ku themselves don’t come off as very likable and deserving of our sympathy. Sure they have a nice tranquil village off in the foothills of California…um…some alien planet. But they’re a bit of a smug and condescending towards offlanders. They’re quick to condemn technology but have no problem benefitting from the Enterprise-E crew’s use of it to help them out when the Son’a start attacking! They’re generally dull and forgettable. Only Anij made an impact and that was because of the nice chemistry that Donna Murphy and Patrick Stewart had. The blossoming romance was one of the few good things about the film, but not enough of it was shown.
Is Star Trek: Insurrection a poor film? No, it’s competently made and not an embarrassment like Star Trek V: The Final Frontier or Star Trek Generations. It just never inspires excitement or wonder like some other films in the series. Star Trek films need to be big epics with high stakes involved and this one didn’t have those qualities.