The Star Trek movie franchise continues in good hands with Insurrection, the ninth installment (third with the Next Generation cast) in the series. In its long history, Star Trek has given us a quest for God, encounters with gods, death and reincarnation, secrets of the soul and the revitalization of an extinct species. Now, it offers a literal Fountain of Youth -- an entire world where people grow younger, stronger and, apparently, friskier.
The film has its bucolic beginning on a non-industrial planet, where invisible Star Fleet and Son'a personnel are in the midst of a secret survey mission. Data (Brent Spiner), on loan from Enterprise, disrupts their cover in a violent act of seeming madness. Meanwhile, the Enterprise crew is in the midst of a series of diplomatic and other mundane missions -- dull stuff compared to their old save-the-galaxy exploits. "Remember when we were explorers?" Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) asks plaintively before yet another formal reception. Meanwhile, Worf (Michael Dorn), still on assignment with Deep Space 9, makes a coincidental visit to his old shipmates, just in time to receive the message that Data's gone wacko.
They embark to the homeworld of the Ba'ku in the "briar patch," a region of spatial distortions. There, Picard and crew uncover a joint Star Fleet/Son'a plot to steal the planet from its 600 inhabitants in order to gain the secrets of their longevity. And, claiming that the good of the few outweighs the good of the many, they defend the planet from assault in a series of space and land battles.
In Insurrection, the once-rigid Picard continues his long-overdue evolution, going off on dangerous away missions, disobeying orders, dancing a mambo in his quarters and singing Gilbert & Sullivan in combat. How refreshing! He even gains a new love interest, the fetching Ba'ku sage Anij (Donna Murphy).
Another bright patch: the romance between Cmdr. Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), so thoroughly deconstructed during the final season of the TV series, is back on track -- all the way to the bathtub, where an unfortunate side effect is the loss of Riker's beard.
Insurrection introduces us to the Ba'ku, the long-lived, time-wisened race at risk, and the Son'a, the new alien villains suffering rapid degeneration and needing frequent skin-stretching and other cosmetic reconstructions. Their leader, Ad'har Ru'afo (F. Murray Abraham), is thoroughly despicable and he screams real good. Star Fleet's Admiral Dougherty (Anthony Zerbe) is a fairly two-dimensional role, although he is called upon to stretch his character somewhat by the end.
There are even a few handy new additions to the Enterprise accessory list, such as a snap-on captain's yacht and a bridge-level joystick for emergency control situations. It's also fun to watch the Enterprise crew enjoy the benefits of the planet's power, although those benefits are rather unequally distributed; Troi and Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) gain firmer bustlines, while Worf re-enters puberty and gets Klingon-sized pimples. Blind engineer Geordie LaForge (LeVar Burton) regains his sight, and his first sunrise is a particularly good movie moment.
As I write this, the 10th Star Trek film is in pre-production. I have no idea of the next storyline or how long the current crew will continue the series, but I certainly hope they can maintain the excellent standards they've set so far.
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