18 March 2007 | TimBoHannon
Strong if unspectacular Star Trek film
"We are betraying the principles upon which the Federation was founded," states Captain Jean-Luc Picard 49 minutes into the ninth Star Trek film, "It's an attack upon its very soul." "Jean-Luc," answers his superior, Admiral Dougherty, "We're only moving six-hundred people." "How many people does it take, Admiral, before it becomes wrong," asks Picard in return, "A thousand. Fifty Thousand. A million?"
The above exchange occurs during Insurrection's key scene. The entire first half of the film meticulously builds to this conversation between Starfleet officers. Dougherty (Anthony Derbe) justified his actions because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Picard (Patrick Stewart) sights the Prime Directive, which prohibits interference with other cultures or their natural development. The two officers had remained on a collision course until the moment when something had to give.
The conflict begins during a routine survey. Insurrection opens with a gorgeous panorama of an agrarian village. Children frolic about in the tall grass outside the perimeter. Farmers lift gates to aqueducts, women laugh pleasantly as they slam down their bread dough for kneading and the blacksmith works away. We are treated to long panoramic looks at the restful town and its benign inhabitants, the Ba'ku. Members of a culture survey walk about unnoticed in their isolation suits, invisible to the eye. Director Jonathan Frakes' willingness to take so much time introducing the audience to the setting demonstrates an unusual amount of focus for a movie like this.
The peace is shattered when Data (Brent Spiner) begins acting wildly. He exposes the survey and follows with many more bizarre and aggressive actions. The architects of survey, Admiral Dougherty and the So'na leader Ad'har Ru'afo (F. Murray Abraham) orbit above the planet. Data's behavior puzzles and scares them, and they ask Picard how to destroy him.
Delaying his orders, Picard (Patrick Stewart) arrives and successfully captures Data. Against the wishes of Dougherty, Picard stays to determine why his android became a loose cannon. Picard acquaints himself with Anij (Donna Murphy), a Ba'ku woman who informs him that Data told the Ba'ku that the survey team was their enemy. A short investigation uncovers a conspiracy to forcibly remove the Ba'ku from their planet.
The planet, buried deep in a gaseous cloud called the Briar Patch, has rings that act as a fountain of youth to its inhabitants. Dougherty and Ru'afo believe that the planet must be used for medical reasons, and Picard is forced to make the choice to abandon the Ba'ku or violate his orders.
It is at this point when the film accelerates. The conflict becomes a proverbial chess match between grand masters as the Enterprise crew tries to keep the planet inhabited. Both sides devise as many solutions as they can think of to accomplish their missions. The audience is almost invited to participate as the movie keeps them wondering what the next move will be.
The script shines with an abnormal level of polish. It deftly handles the question of whether an officer should obey orders or stand up for what is right. Almost every line flawlessly captures the writers' intent and communicates them to the viewers with beautiful yet easily understood diction. Every character sounds expressive and well educated. The dialogue is free-flowing and enjoyable. There is even a scene where Picard calms Data with a rousing rendition of "A British Tar." I imagine the production staff had a good laugh when they thought of that one.
The acting is of the highest Trek standards. Abraham, one of the true gentlemen in Hollywood, is exceptionally good as Ru'afo. He is so superior that he has every subtlety mastered. The way his face sneers when he says "Eliminate them," his vocal inflections, his different postures, his mannerisms, the passion and disdain in his voice all point to the work of a true master. Hatred seems to perspire from his every pore. A blood vessel bursts in his face and we can almost see hate flowing out of it. His friend Gellatin (Gregg Henry) is constantly talking him out of more extreme decisions. For Ru'afo, it is personal, but we do not find out why until the final act. He tops it all off with the best scream of anguish and frustration ever captured on film. Ru'afo may not quite be the most effective Star Trek villain, but Abraham's acting is the best in the series. He is not the most prolific actor, but he is arguably one of the best ever.
Sadly, some of the story devices fall flat. In First Contact, the Enterprise was the most advanced starship ever made. Its quantum torpedoes were so powerful that it seemed nigh invincible. Here, however, it is too weak. There is one exchange where it is fighting with two So'na ships and seems badly overmatched. The Enterprise-E was designed to take on small fleets and win. If the Federation could defeat "the Borg, the Cardassians, the Dominion," why can't the crown jewel of its fleet defeat two So'na cruisers? It is even controlled at one point by simple joystick. I never knew flying a 700-meter starcraft was so simple. Redemption does come with the ingenious denouement of the fight. There are also other moments that do not work, and some jokes fall flat.
In the end, Insurrection shoots itself in the foot. It also suffers from following First Contact and the Borg. It is an entirely different production with different goals. It may hurt itself, but in the end it is solid enough entertainment to rate a seven out of ten.