“Jean-Luc, we’re only moving 600 people,” says Admiral Matthew Dougherty to Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Picard asks, “How many people does it take, Admiral, before it becomes wrong? Hmm? A thousand, fifty thousand, a million? How many people does it take, Admiral?”
The critical and financial success of 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact led to Paramount giving the green light for another sequel. After the dark storyline of First Contact, it was decided for the new Star Trek film to go in a much lighter direction (even though the original draft of the script would wind up being Apocalypse Now meets The Magnificent Seven). The Apocalypse Now section was significantly reduced to accommodate the Magnificent Seven portion. Jonathan Frakes, who had done a terrific job with First Contact, was invited back to the director’s chair for the sequel. This film marked the first time that I finally got to see a Star Trek film during its original theatrical run (although I was forced to wait a month before I got to see it in January 1999). I would get to see it on the big screen again more than four years later at the Two Boots Pioneer Theater in Lower Manhattan as part of “Star Trek Saturdays” (this was the final film of the retrospective).
1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection picks up two years after the events of the previous film. On a planet populated by a people called Ba’ku, a joint Federation/Son’a survey mission goes wrong when Lieutenant Commander Data is shot and goes berserk. He removes his isolation suit, revealing himself to the natives, and he shoots at the cloaked Federation outpost that had been conducting the survey mission. Captain Jean-Luc Picard is informed of the situation, and has the Enterprise divert its course into the Briar Patch. Picard and Worf go down to the planet and successfully de-activate Data, and later an investigation is launched into what went wrong. Things get complicated as Picard and his crew learn more about the Son’a as well as discover that the Ba’ku have advanced technology but have chosen not to use it in their everyday lives. The metaphasic radiation emanating from the planet’s rings also start to affect Picard and his crew in an unusual way, and when it’s discovered what the Federation and the Son’a are really there to do, Picard and his crew take a stand against them to protect the Ba’ku.
The returning cast (Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, and Gates McFadden) was terrific once again. Stewart had a lot of fun as a more rebellious Picard and Spiner got to continue Data’s journey of exploring what it means to be a living being. The “guest stars” shine as well: F. Murray Abraham (as Ru’afo), Donna Murphy (as Anij), Gregg Henry (as Gallatin), Daniel Hugh Kelly (as Sojef), Michael Welch (as Artim), and Anthony Zerbe (as Admiral Dougherty). Abraham is just wonderfully villainous, and Murphy is terrific as Picard’s wise love interest. Zerbe was also effective as a somewhat conflicted Starfleet admiral.
Frakes did a terrific job in the director’s chair once again. Michael Piller’s screenplay balanced the lighter tone with the heavy drama while harkening back to the original Star Trek series (Piller had dedicated his screenplay to Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry). Matthew Leonetti’s cinematography was terrific once again, this time using natural sunlight to great effect (I especially like the sequence where Geordi sees a sunrise with his own actual eyes for the first time ever). Peter E. Berger’s editing gives the film a good pace, and Herman Zimmerman’s production design is first rate once again. He created the Ba’ku village and redressed previously built sets to create the various Son’a sets as well as the cave interiors. Sanja Milkovic Hayes’ costume designs were excellent; she created new costumes for the Ba’ku, the Son’a, as well as civilian clothes for some of the Enterprise crew members and other alien costumes.
The special effects were first rate (the Enterprise-E was done entirely in CG for the first time). I especially liked the sequences that showed all the gaseous areas of the Briar Patch, and the Metaphasic Radiation Collector was well done. The sound design was excellent, as was Michael Westmore’s makeup design. His alien designs were top notch, particularly for the flesh-stretched Son’a. Finally, there’s Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderful score. In addition to bringing back his Enterprise, Klingon, and family motifs, he introduces a villainous motif for the Son’a that’s reliant heavily on synthesizers and a romantic motif for the Ba’ku that’s so much more orchestral (particularly in the strings section). Star Trek: Insurrection represents what Star Trek is all about while dealing with themes of immortality and the forced relocation of a small group of people to satisfy the demands of a larger group. It is a wonderful addition to the Star Trek canon.