One of the long running jokes when referring to the original Star Trek movies was the advancing age of the cast members. Pop culture always found a way to take a shot at Kirk, Spock and McCoy’s ages when talking about them running around the galaxy fighting bad guys. So it was, I’m sure, not without a certain tiny bit of irony that the next film in the Star Trek: The Next Generation line of movies would be about the Fountain of Youth.
Star Trek: Insurrection was released in 1998. It has been touted as a call back to the two-part season finales of the series and I can see their point a little. Instead the action-packed opening that we got from Star Trek: First Contact, the opening of this film is more subtle.
Back Story: There is a rule in the Federation that governs everything that they do concerning other species. It is called the “Prime Directive”. The Prime Directive states: No interference with the technological or social structure of any planet that has not attained warp drive or learned of the existence of alien life. This protects the natural development of alien cultures. When Starfleet wants to observe what they have classified as a “pre-warp” species, they usually do so by either augmenting their appearance and blending into the culture to observe first hand or they set up observation stations that are hidden by holographic emitters so that they cannot be seen or heard.
The movie begins with a peaceful village of humanoids. These people live in an environment of peace and calm. They plant and harvest their crops and the children are seen playing and running around. They are known as the Ba’ku. On top of a mountain overlooking the village, A Starfleet observatory is watching the villagers along with an alien race called the Sona while scientists in specially designed cloaked suits move amongst the villagers. The calm is broken by phaser fire. A cloaked figure is seen running away from two other cloaked figures in pursuit, firing weapons. The figure being chased is identified as Lt. Commander Data.
While the villagers are wondering where the phaser fire is coming from and why they can’t see anyone. The research team attempts to subdue Data. Data, being an android with super human strength, easily defeats them, tossing them around the village. The villagers all flee to their homes as Data removes the headpiece from his suit, scaring everyone and showing damage to his neck. He speaks, but not to anyone. He seems to be checking his own systems for damage. He takes a phaser from one of his pursuers and fires at the observatory, exposing it to the villagers.
The Enterprise is on a diplomatic mission to greet a new protectorate species to the Federation. This new species, who only developed warp drive the previous year is being brought into the Federation as allies to shore up support from the recent losses to the Borg and the Dominion.
Back Story: On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a new enemy was introduced: The Dominion. The Dominion are led by a group of shape-shifters known as The Founders and are located in the Gamma Quadrant. The Dominion believe that all species that are not Founders (Solids) are inferior and ruled by chaos and the Dominion brings order to that chaos by conquering all known species using their genetically engineered army called the Jem’Hadar. The Jem’Hadar are bred to only serve the Founders, are ruthlessly efficient killers and are addicted to a drug called Ketracel White, which they can only receive from the Founders.
Starfleet Admiral Dougherty calls Picard to request Data’s schematics in order to find a way to shut him down. Picard sends him the information, but also decides to head to the planet himself to find out what the problem is. Dougherty warns him off because the planet is located in the center of a nebula called “The Briar Patch” because its hard to navigate and does not allow for communication outside of it. Picard ignores the warning and proceeds anyway, entering the nebula and taking the two days it will take to reach the planet.
During their journey inside the “Briar Patch”, the crew begins to exhibit strange behavior. Riker and Troi rekindle the romance they ended almost a decade ago, crew members wounds start to heal and Worf begins to exhibit physical changes that harken back to Klingon puberty.
Riker and Troi also start researching the Son’a and discover that they have been cited on several occasions for using banned subspace weapons and for manufacturing ketracel white for the Dominion, which prompts them to ask why the Federation is working with them.
Picard is contacted by Admiral Dougherty and the Sona leader Ru’afo. Data has been attacking any ship that comes in the area and they are allowing Picard 12 hours to either capture or destroy him. Picard and Worf take a shuttle with a modified tricorder designed to shut down Data’s systems.
Data attacks the shuttle and Picard hails him with no response. Data chases them into the atmosphere where he continues the attack. Picard decides to try to get to Data by engaging him in the last activity he was performing on the ship before he left: a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore.
He and Worf sing the song “A British Tar” and Data joins in, giving them time to dock with Data’s ship and deactivate him. When Picard beams down with a rescue team, he finds that they Ba’ku have not only treated the hostages fairly and compassionately, but that Data is the one who insisted that the Starfleet officers and Son’a crew members are their enemies. Picard explains the Prime Directive to the Ba’ku leader and his compatriot Anij and they surprise him with their knowledge of his technology and the damage to Data’s positronic matrix. They tell him that they explored the galaxy the same way they do. They have warp capability, but choose not to leave their home, which changes the mission in Picard’s mind. He apologizes for their intrusion and returns to the ship with the hostages.
Picard gives his information to Dougherty, who orders him to rendezvous with the Son’a ship and leave the area. Picard starts to wonder why the admiral is in such a hurry to get rid of them and why he isn’t leaving as well. Geordi finishes his analysis of Data and determines that Data wasn’t damaged before the Son’a started firing at him. He was damaged by the Son’a weapons themselves. His failsafe systems took over and his ethical and moral subroutines kick in which caused Data to only operate under the protocols of right and wrong.
After repairing Data, he and Picard beam back down to the planet and retrace Data’s last known location. Data notices strange readings coming from the lake that feeds water to the village. After draining the lake, they find a Federation ship cloaked. Picard, Data and Anij take a boat over to the vessel and open it up to find an exact replica of the Ba’ku village and valley. Picard determines that they ship is designed to abduct the villagers en masse and transport them to another planet without their knowledge. As Picard and Data wonder why, they are attacked by a Son’a soldier.
When Picard returns to the ship, he begins to notice that there are changes to him physically and emotionally.
He confronts Anij, who brings him to the village leaders. They explain that they are over 300 years old. They came to the planet to escape from war. They discovered that the rings around the planet contain a metaphasic radiation that slows down the effects of aging. Picard explains to Anij about how valuable a resource that is.
Picard and Anij spend time together and he realizes that he cares for her. He finds that the radiation has also affected Geordi by regenerating his optics nerves and allowing him to see without his implants.
Picard confronts Dougherty and Ru’afo about their plans to move the Ba’ku. He is told that the Federation Council approved the plan and that he can file a grievance, but by the time it reaches the Federation, they will have moved the Ba’ku, harvested the radiation from the rings of the planet and render the planet uninhabitable for generations. After he leaves, Picard takes off his rank insignia.
Picard, Worf, Crusher, Data and Troi take the Captain’s Yacht down to the planet and move the Ba’ku from the village to the mountains where they can use the mineral deposits in the rocks to prevent them from being beamed away. Ru’afo and Dougherty send two Son’a ships to disable the Enterprise to prevent them from alerting the Federation to what is happening.
While the away team on the surface hides the remaining Ba’ku in the surrounding caves, Riker and Geordi are fighting off the Son’a, who are using illegal weapons to try to stop them. Riker decides to stop running and take on the Son’a head on. Now I love the bravado of this scene, but the Manual steering column (which is a joystick BTW) is a little much.
The away team attempts to move the villagers again and are attacked by the Son’a. When one of them becomes injured, Dr. Crusher attempts to treat him and notices something in his DNA profile. After reaching the caves, there is a cave-in which injures Anij. Anij uses her powers to slow down time long enough for the doctor to reach and treat her. After they escape the cave, Picard and Anij are captured by the Son’a and transported to Ru’Afo’s ship.
Dougherty arrives and Picard tells him that the Son’a and Ba’ku are the same race. The Son’a were Bak’u who were expelled from the colony after trying to take it over. Dougherty attempts to end the mission and is murdered by Ru’afo. He then orders his first officer to kill Picard. The first officer, who still remembers being amongst his friends and family, is persuaded by Picard to help him. Picard calls down to the planet surface as Ru’afo deploys the collector in order to siphon the energy from the planets rings.
Data attacks Ru’afo’s ship with the Captain’s Yacht, but he is ignored. His attacks cause a disruption in the shields of the ship and as the countdown to the deployment of the collector continues, there is a bright light. Ru’afo ignores it as the collector deploys and the rings start to dissipate. The sensors show no change and Ru’afo starts to wonder why. He realizes that he has been beamed to the holo-ship and the countdown has stopped.
Ru’afo beams aboard the collector itself and restarts the countdown. Picard follows him and makes his way to the upper level to start the self-destruct for the collector. The Enterprise returns and takes out Ru’afo’s ship before rescuing Picard from the exploding collector.
The Ba’ku return to their village and start to mend the rift with the Son’a by welcoming them home. Picard promises to return and they beam back to the ship and depart the system.
One of the things the film suffers from is too many high-minded ideals that cannot be fully explored in an hour and a half and scenes that seemed to run longer are cut short to make room for action beats. Visually, the film looks great and the director Jonathan Frakes (Riker) really makes the viewer feel that they are a part of this world and its scale. The action beats work really well in context with the characters and they all are allowed to have their own moments. Overall, the movie is watchable and has moments that remind me why I love Star Trek. It is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.