Courtesy Photo
** 103 minutes | Rated: PG
Opened: Friday, December 11, 1998
Directed by Jonathan Frakes

Starring Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Mrina Sirtis, F. Murray Abraham, Donna Murphy & Anthony Zerbe


"Star Trek" movies always translate well to the small screen, and "Insurrection" is in a TV episode mood anyway, so no worries even though the cinematography is definately screen-filling.

Soft-peddled "Insurrection" succumbs to underlying silliness

By Rob Blackwelder

In stark contrast to the television commercials pimping "Star Trek: Insurrection" to non-fans as an explosion-scarred phaser fest akin to "Armageddon" on the Enterprise, the ninth feature in the "Star Trek" franchise is really a soft-peddled affair for loyalists only.

Chunks of screen time are devoted to Trekker treats like android Commander Data (Brent Spiner) buddying up to a 10-year-old boy who teaches him how to play, and formerly blind engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) watching his very first sunrise with tears in his now non-mechanical eyes.

"Insurrection" is "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" for the "Next Generation" cast. In jokes and high-brow saccharine (Data and Captain Picard sing a Gilbert and Sullivan duet) prevail over adventure, and the movie is long on the magical realism and heavy-handed symbolism that make many old "Trek" episodes a little laughable.

Meanwhile in the plot, the Federation has allied itself with the Son'a, an advanced race of severely aged humanoids who all have their skin stretched and pinned back like Katherine Helmond in "Brazil." The Son'a commander (F. Murray Abraham) and a Federation admiral (Anthony Zerbe) are planning to invade an idyllic, ostensibly pre-industrial planet that has fountain-of-youth properties the Son'a desire to restore their health.

For those of you who don't know, this is a major violation of the Fed's Prime Directive of non-interference with less-developed cultures. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) reacts by dramatically removing the pips from his collar and going rouge with the Enterprise crew, beaming down to the planet to protect the unsuspecting utopians.

Once there, there's a lot of hiking around the picturesque Sierra Nevada (doubling for the idyllic planet) and hiding in caves from airborne robotic weaponry follows, while the out-gunned Enterprise engages in starship shoot-'em-up with the Son'a in orbit.

Directed by co-star Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker), who took Trekkers by surprise two years ago when he helmed "Star Trek: First Contact" and turned it into arguably the best movie in the series thus far, "Insurrection" has the same amiable, old-friends atmosphere the original "Trek" cast developed in their later films. Even the stiffest of Enterprise regulars (Gates McFadden as the Dr. Crusher, Marina Sirtis as Counselor Troi) have lighted up and become engaging characters.

But in this outing, too much of the focus falls on character moments that should really be asides. I, for one, am getting a little tired of Data's sympathetic quest for humanity. And the candles and bubble bath scene in which Troi and Riker rekindle their romance while she shaves his beard is a cute touch, but only interesting to those who are just way too involved with these people.

I'm a fan. Really, I am. But this stuff should not come at the forfeiture of plot. I mean, "Insurrection" never even explains adequately the Federation's transgressive alliance with the Son'a. It would have been a simple matter of one line of dialogue stating the Feds tossed aside the Prime Directive because they're desperate for advanced technology in their wars against the Borg, the Cardassians and the Dominion, which have been well-established as precarious in the current "Voyager" and "Deep Space Nine" television shows.

That short explanation could have taken the place of Picard doing the mambo or Klingon Commander Worf's (Michael Dorn) reverse trip through puberty after being exposed to the youth-giving properties of the planet they're protecting.

In the end, "Star Trek: Insurrection" succumbs to an underlying, unintentional silliness that surfaces as small lapses in judgment. Examples: The costume designer puts the crew in new formal uniforms that make them look like Italian waiters, the set decorator creates a Son'a captain's chair that looks like a sofa in a Las Vegas hotel lobby and Riker steers the out-of-control Enterprise with a joystick that pops up out of the bridge floor.

When "Star Trek" starts to resemble "Battlestar Galactica" and "Babylon 5," something is amiss.

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