As Trekkies will tell you, the even-numbered Star Trek pictures have been more or less OK, the odd ones leaden bummers. Star Trek: Insurrection, the ninth feature, finally lifts the odd-number curse. Not that it’s as stellar as Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) or even Star Trek VI:The UndiscoveredCountry (1991). It’s just pleasant. Directed in plain style by Jonathan Frakes (who also appears as the Enterprise’s second-in-command, Riker), this is probably the closest the movies have come to a TV episode–one of the ones in which the Enterprise crew beams down to an idyllic agrarian planet where people knead dough and dress like Stevie Nicks and where the Captain falls in love with a headstrong woman and has impassioned debates about the Prime Directive before the phasers and the photon torpedos come out and things blow up real good.
The agrarians are the Ba’ku, who, thanks to “metaphasic radiation,” live more or less forever, which means their youth have thirty-year apprenticeships and the planet’s needlepoint is of a high order. The bad guys, the Son’a, led by Ruf’afo (F. Murray Abraham) are ugly bleeders with the kind of puffy-muslin skin you see on third-degree burn victims; their favorite pastime is having their dermal layers stretched and their skulls reupholstered. The Plug-Uglies want to harvest the metaphasic radiation particles in the rings around the Beauties’ planet. ‘Nuff said.
There are two classes of Star Trek scripts: the Brannon Braga kind, which feature spatial-temporal gimmicks and Generation X banter; and the Michael Piller kind, which focus on interspecies political coups and earthbound (ground-bound?) ethical deliberations. This is one of the latter, and things do get pokey. But when Patrick Stewart deliberates, people listen. His stalwart Captain Jean-Luc Picard is the perfect mascot for the 23rd century, in which actors no longer sport ridiculous rugs: Stewart seems to have evolved beyond hair.
The only real lapse is a strangely subdued Klingon. Worf (Michael Dorn) has become a regular on the unwatchable Star Trek:Deep Space Nine, which means that he has to be “just passing by” whenever one of these Star Trek: The Next Generation features starts up. It’s worth getting him back on board, though, because no one can utter a line like “I have an odd craving for the blood of a live kolar beast” with Dorn’s mixture of virility and befuddlement. Insurrection boasts the only space battle in film history in which the antagonists sing Gilbert and Sullivan while firing on each other–which is reason enough to go warp factor 9 to movie number 10. The only pressing question: How can they get Picard together with Seven of Nine?
(Click here to read David Edelstein’s review of Shakespeare in Love and Little Voices.)