Star Trek: Insurrection

  • star_trek_insurrectionYear:  1998
  • Director:  Jonathan Frakes
  • Series Rank:  #10
  • Year Rank:  #121
  • Oscar Nominations:  none
  • Nighthawk Nominations:  none
  • The Enterprise Crew:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Gates MacFadden, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn
  • Villain:  F. Murray Abraham, Anthony Zerbe

In 1989, Anthony Zerbe was a lackluster (though suitably creepy) villain in what turned out to be one of the best James Bond films (and certainly the most under-appreciated).  The actor seemed born to play a villain – he has an inherently untrustworthy look about him (ironically, right after watching this, we watched him in an old Mission: Impossible episode and I said the same thing – even when he was young he looked untrustworthy).  So why have him play the admiral who, it turns out, is in league with the villains?  Why would anyone have believed differently?  More importantly, why have him in the film at all?  The character, although an admiral, is basically ignored by everyone who he gives orders to, including Picard, Riker and the primary villain, Ru’afo.

Ru’afo is a member of a race called the Son’a, apparently a villainous race although before this film we’ve never heard of them in the Star Trek universe.  That’s typical of the problem of this film.  That race would have worked well in an episode of the show and that’s the story with this whole film.  What it really is, is an episode of the show pushed out to feature length.  The story of the film is that a race of eternally young called the Ba’ku (god, those apostrophes are really annoying) who have rejected technology.  The secret of their youth is in the rings of their planet.  The Federation is observing them, in the hopes of using the rings to help save the Son’a race (though, with the Son’a being a vicious race, apparently the only reason the Federation will help them is so they can also get the secret of eternal youth).  The Enterprise refuses to go along with this and so set out to help save the Ba’ku, while also fighting against the So’na.  As I said, this would be a strong idea for an episode, but some of the things the film does to push it out to feature length are just terrible and they drag the film down to the lower levels of ***.

Almost all of the problems with the film are in the writing (with one exception, below).  First, there is too much made of the whole paradise thing where you become young, and it adds to an inconsistent tone to the film.  The filmmakers wanted a more humorous tone, similar to Star Trek IV, but they never maintain the tone and so you get small moments of humor (many of which don’t work), followed by more serious things.  Second, they bring in a kid and while that results in more growth in Data’s humanity (continuing the theme from the last two films), it also means we get an annoying kid, including that most annoying of tropes, when a kid endangers things by going back for his pet.  The person who goes to rescue the kid is Anij, a Ba’ku woman that Picard falls in love with and that’s the biggest problem with the plot.  I am all for romance in the film, and the developments in the relationship between Riker and Troi is one of the best things about the film.  I am also all for having a relationship for Picard, provided that relationship is with Beverly Crusher, who he has a history with and who, in an alternate future shown in the final, brilliant, two-part episode of the show involved them getting married.  Why bring in a random woman for Picard to suddenly fall in love with when Beverly is right there?  It’s a terrible decision and it drags down the film.

But that’s nothing compared to what F. Murray Abraham does.  Abraham plays Ru’afo, the primary villain.  If it’s not as bad a performance as Sean Connery in The Avengers or Jeremy Irons in Dungeons & Dragons, it still is in the same range and a contender among the worst performances of all-time by an Oscar winner.  He overplays every scene, helped on by the bizarre makeup.  Whenever he is on-screen things just crash and burn.

The film isn’t a complete waste, partially because Jonathan Frakes does a solid job directing, partially because of great character moments (among the best: Riker’s line “I’m through running from these bastards” and the moment when the So’na see Riker headed towards a collision course and say to Worf “He wouldn’t” and the way Worf responds “Yes.  He would.”) and partially because this crew, while they weren’t together as long as the original crew (25 years from the first episode to the final film for the original, 15 for this crew), actually spent far more time together (99 more episodes of the show more than makes up for two fewer films) and always have great chemistry together.  But this film, sadly, showed that the filmmakers behind the scenes were running out of ideas for what to do with this new crew.  There would only be one more adventure for them, but at least they would wrap it up in two great ways before it was all over.