Star Trek: Insurrection, the 9th film in the Star Trek filmology, warped into theatres today, to large crowds, several laughs, and a less-than inspiring bang. Although visually as stunning as we've come to expect from the Star Trek series, and packed full of action and humor, this film fails to meet the character standards of the others.
Now, remember: I am a devout Trekker. (No, not a trekkie… to be one of those, I've been told you have to have slept with a cast member. Honest!) I know these films inside and out. I could probably re-write from memory the "bible" that ST filmwriters are given which details the characters, their personalities, their limits, and what they will and won't do in certain situations. It is from this knowledge that my exception with the current film is taken.
The film opens with Data running rogue, and disrupting a Starfleet covert operation. The enterprise is notified when a request for schematics of Data comes in, and Picard takes it upon himself to go off to investigate. It is this which leads him to discover an ill-thought plan that the Federation has been led into by the visually-unpleasant Son'a, a race of genetic degenerates. The Son'a have begun a desperate attempt to gain the bounty the planet, inhabited by the peaceful and seemingly agricultural Ba'ku, holds for them.
The storyline is vaguely reminiscent of the ST:TOS (Star Trek: The Original Series for the uninitiated) plotlines, with Kirk bucking Starfleet authority to do what is "right", but the filmmakers erred in their effort. It was stated by director Johnathan Frakes (Riker) that this film was meant to be significantly lighter than the dark and dimly hopeful Star Trek: First Contact was. In this, the filmmakers tried TOO hard, and placed their characters into situations (at times) where the audience is either left wondering what's wrong with a character (Picard) or wondering what they missed (Riker & Troi).
Let me expand on that. Patrick Stewart smiled more in this film than practically his entire 7-year run on ST:TNG (Star Trek: The Next Generation), and in places where it seemed decidedly odd that he would do so. Gone was the contemplative, determined Picard that many Trekkers have come to respect, and in its place lay a man who seemed perpetually suffused with a misplaced joy. Additionally, we are slapped in the face almost immediately with a Riker/Troi pairing that comes on so strong from the beginning that I was left wondering if the rest of that storyline's plot exposition was left on the cutting room floor with the Captain's final kiss. (Picard's final kill was cut out of the film, btw, at the demand of the production company, much to the chagrin of director Frakes.) Lastly, we are once again presented with Worf on board the Enterprise, with no explanation except Picards out-of-character "Mr. Worf! What the hell are YOU doing here?" As if the Captain would not be alerted to his arrival. Sheah, as if.
In the role of the villain, F. Murray Abraham (Ru'ato) is good as much as he was allowed to be, but his character is never really explained until too late in the film for you to really care, and at that point the plot exposition is almost too cliché to be bothered with.
BUT, lest you think there was nothing in this film I liked, let me talk about the other supporting cast. Levar Burton is allowed to play a Geordi LaForge that has just regained his natural eyesight (for how long, we'll have to wait and see) and is literally mystified at the sight of his first "natural" sunrise. Donna Murphy (Anij) provides the one character in the film whose emotions don't seem to leap out and say "See me? I'm being lighter than the last film!". She is a beautiful woman, and portrays a serenity and a compassion that some have, but not many can translate into the screen.
Finally, there is Brent Spiner (Lt. Data), who once again turns in the movie-stealing performance. Although it seems odd that filmmakers striving to lighten the mood of the film would go back to dealing with a Data bereft of his emotion chip, they did just that, and it worked wonderfully! His ability to be both the straight man and the comic in a given situation was the unsung delight of the film, and it made what would otherwise have been as moderate a Star Trek experience as ever there was, into a film that, while not being as well-done technically or character-wise as its predecessors, is still very entertaining.
I give this film a B. If you're a devout Trekker, you may walk out disappointed, but only the very, very knowledgeable will see anything amiss enough to mar the movie-going experience.