Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

D: Jonathan Frakes
S: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, F. Murray Abraham

Routine ninth entry in the long running movie cycle, the third featuring the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation and the closest to an episode of that series so far, which is not a good thing. A peaceful planet is threatened by mauradering aliens working in conjunction with the Federation, desperate for allies following the Borg and Dominion wars. When android Data (Brent Spiner) goes inexplicably out of control and begins assaulting Federation troops observing the locals, the Starship Enterprise under Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) arrives to assist. Upon discovering a sinister conspiracy, the crew disobey orders and stand with the planet's population against the Federation and its allies.

Since the sensational death of Spock in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the Star Trek movies have endeavoured to present cataclysmic events worthy of big screen treatment: the destruction of the Enterprise in The Search for Spock, the trip to 1980s earth in The Voyage Home, the search for God in The Final Frontier, the departure of the original crew in The Undiscovered Country, the introduction of the Next Generation crew, the death of Captain Kirk and the destruction of the Enterprise D in Generations (where all the stops were pulled out), and the Borg invasion in First Contact. Each time, with varying overall results, successive writers have managed to come up with something which works on the big screen scale required. This time however success has eluded them, and this dramatically thin, completely inconsequential tale would barely have filled a television hour, let alone does it make for an entertaining motion picture. Despite the premise of rebellion and some recurrent themes of rejuvenation and rebirth, there is a feeling of tiredness here which stems from simply having nothing of interest to say.

Director Jonathan Frakes does what he can with lacklustre material. The cast go through the motions with as much interest as they can muster under the circumstances, with Spiner taking the lion's share of 'moments', closely followed by Michael Dorn as the fearsome Klingon warrior Worf (whose presence in the story the writers do not bother to explain even so much as they did in First Contact). Among the character developments are the regeneration of blind engineer Geordi LaForge's (LeVar Burton) natural eyesight and a rekindling of the relationship between Troi (Marina Sirtis) and Riker (Frakes). Obviously, the idea underlying all of them is that new life can be restored to something which seems dead, but it really doesn't carry across the board in such a deeply ordinary film. This is continuity, not rebirth, and this film is roughly on the level of a mediocre episode of the TV show.

Series devotees will probably enjoy it, especially those loyal to The Next Generation in particular. But there is really no good reason why this particular story was told at all, and it seems a waste of time, talent and money that it was made as a film. The constant references to the Dominion give a tantalising insight into what might have been suitably dramatic material for big screen treatment, but as is, there is not even enough to sustain what is one of the shortest big screen sci-fi films in recent memory. There are also several lazy lapses in plot and exposition, with a predictable twist and many slow, uninteresting dramatic scenes in between action moments which have no real tension. The film does not even bother to elaborate upon the disease which drives its villains (headed by a game but ineffective F. Murray Abraham), and gives little room to Anthony Zerbe as a Federation Admiral to become convincing. Of the regular cast Gates McFadden suffers worst as Dr. Beverly Crusher, given virtually nothing to do except turn up, and Stewart has been toned down from the more impassioned character of the preceding two films to something closer to his TV incarnation.

Ultimately this is a workmanlike time filler destined for mass video consumption which is strictly for fans and will not win any new ones. It seems that the odd number syndrome has struck again, and with the end of the TV series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and reports of backstage bust-ups and cast conflicts which abounded during the production of this film, one wonders what form Gene Roddenberry's vision ofStar Trek will take in the third millennium.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.