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WARNING: Spoilers abound for the newly released film "Star Trek: Insurrection." If you wish to rebel against those spoilers, I recommend you avoid the rest of this article.  In brief: Good, reasonably light entertainment with just enough moral ambiguity to be interesting. Definitely worth matinee prices.  "Star Trek: Insurrection" Story by Rick Berman & Michael Piller Screenplay by Michael Piller Directed by: Jonathan Frakes

Ah, here we are. Another two years, another Trek film. This one's certainly a change of pace from 1996's "First Contact"; how big a change it is and how good a thing it is will have to wait until after the usual (well, usual for me and TNG) synopsis. So, here goes; if you want to skip it, look for a second line like the one just below.

========== We begin on a peaceful, agrarian world. The planet's inhabitants, the Ba'ku, lead a quiet, peaceful existence, full of chores, games, and play, unaware that they are being observed from an archaeological "duck blind" maintained jointly by the Federation and a race known as the Son'a. The team observes the Ba'ku, and all is well -- until the peace is broken by abrupt phaser fire coming from nowhere. Holographically concealed team members run amongst the Ba'ku, trying to locate the problem; eventually, they find that the problem is an erratically behaving Lieutenant Commander Data. The head of the Starfleet team orders Data to stand down, but he ignores her, rejecting attempts to bring him in by force. Eventually, he strips out of his holographic concealment, takes a weapon from one of his now-unconscious pursuers, and fires at the duck blind's holographic projectors. The blind is exposed for all the Ba'ku to see...

Light-years away aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, Picard grouses while being fitted for his dress uniform. Tired of diplomatic responsibilities ("putting out brush fires" while the big guns conduct Dominion negotiations), he muses to his crew, "Does anyone remember when we used to be explorers?" After being pleasantly surprised by Worf's unexpected arrival and unpleasantly surprised by the unexpectedly short stature of his diplomatic guests, Picard gets a request from Admiral Dougherty for Data's schematics. Picard hears of Data's apparent malfunction, but no more: Dougherty is uncomfortable with the idea of the Enterprise joining in, citing "environmental concerns" in the Ba'ku region of space. "Just get me Data's schematics," the admiral suggests, "I'll keep you informed." Picard thinks for a moment, then orders Geordi to set course for Dougherty's position while en route to their next scheduled mission (which is, of course, in the opposite direction).

On the Son'a flagship, Dougherty consults with Ru'afo, the Son'a leader. The Son'a, a sterile, dying people, continually rejuvenate themselves with genetic and cosmetic treatments, a process Dougherty finds distasteful. Ru'afo is amused by Dougherty's self- restraint in turning down Son'a pleasures, while also annoyed at the way in which "Federation procedures" have placed his mission in jeopardy. Dougherty starts to explain the Federation position anew, when suddenly the ship is rocked by phaser fire. The Son'a search, and find the culprit: a Federation scout ship piloted by Commander Data.

As the Enterprise enters the Ba'ku region of space (one known as the "Briar Patch"), Picard orders Riker and Troi to study the situation there, particularly the Son'a. Meanwhile, Worf displays a tricorder Geordi has modified which, while only functional at short ranges, should be sufficient to shut Data down.

Over the next two days, Riker and Troi conduct their research, learning that the Son'a are essentially petty thugs and criminals. They wonder about this, but also seem surprisingly flirtatious for people who are now longtime friends rather than lovers.

On the second day, Worf is rudely awakened by a page from Picard. "I don't know how they do it on Deep Space Nine," he notes dryly, "but on the Enterprise, we still report to duty *on time*." Worf, crestfallen, hastily apologizes and rushes to duty.

As Picard waits for Worf, he finds himself hailed by Dougherty aboard the Son'a ship. Dougherty is none too pleased to see Picard, but fills him in on Data's recent attacks, noting as well that the Ba'ku now hold both Starfleet and Son'a personnel hostage. Picard earnestly requests that the Son'a refrain from sending their assault teams for 24 hours. "If our first attempt to capture Data fails," he vows, "*I* will terminate him. I should be the one to do it. I'm his captain, and his friend." Grudgingly, Dougherty agrees, on the condition that the Enterprise then leave the area at once. Picard and Worf immediately leave in a shuttle.

On board the shuttle, they eventually lure Data out of hiding, then find themselves being fired upon. An attempt to beam him off proves unsuccessful -- then Picard, realizing that one of Data's last acts before leaving the Enterprise was rehearsing for an upcoming Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, calls up the lyrics to a song and begins singing to Data over subspace. He succeeds in distracting Data (with Worf's help) long enough to sidle up right below Data's ship, then attaches docking clamps. Data attempts to shake them off by heading directly for the planet's surface, but they manage to hold on. Worf blows the hatch, and deactivates Data just as the android is lunging at him. Their mission is complete.

Even with Data comfortably in hand (or rather, in stasis), however, Picard shows no interest in leaving. He moves to the Ba'ku village to rescue the hostages, only to find everything completely peaceful. Children are at play, adults are involved in animated conversations, and the "hostages" are feeling fine and particularly well-treated. Picard meets briefly with two prominent Ba'ku citizens, Sojef and Anij, and is shocked to find that they understand technology very well: they've simply refused to make it a part of their daily lives. They have warp capability, Anij acknowledges, "but where can warp drive take us, except away from here?" Chagrined over his intrusion, Picard arranges for the "hostages" to depart, then takes his leave.

Picard briefs Dougherty on the situation, establishing that the cultural interference caused by Data's actions was minimal. Dougherty commends his actions (surprising, given his repeated urgings that they leave at once), then orders the Enterprise out within the next twelve hours, saying that he and his people have to stay for a little while to clean up "a few loose ends." Picard mulls over this...

... while Troi finds herself receiving an unexpected visitor: Riker. He playfully notes that he needs some counseling, but makes it quite clear that lying down on the couch is only the beginning of his interest. They flirt, then kiss -- and then Troi pushes Riker away with a sudden "Yuck!" "Yuck? I kiss you and you say 'yuck?'" Apparently, his beard carries no allure for her.

An oddly distracted Geordi finishes repairing Data, then fills Picard in: he had memory engrams damaged by weapons fire, which caused his ethical subroutines to override everything else. Apparently, all he could do was tell right from wrong -- which begs the question of why he fired on the duck blind and told the Ba'ku that the team was their enemy. What's more, Geordi is quite certain that Data was damaged by a Son'a weapon, despite their claim that they didn't fire until they were attacked. Something's not adding up; they wake Data, explain to him the situation, and ask him what he last remembers from the mission.

Following his recollections, they proceed anew to the planet's surface, where Sojef leads them to his son Artim. Artim leads them to the lake where he was playing at the time the battle began; en route, he seems very wary of Data, who is disheartened by the boy's fears. He realizes that as an artificial life-form, he is the absolute personification of what Artim's entire culture has rejected.

While Picard and his team proceed, Riker shares a bubble bath with Troi, who shaves off his beard. In the middle of this, however, Dougherty calls to ask (with no small amount of annoyance) why the Enterprise hasn't left orbit yet. Riker demurs, then wonders afterwards why Dougherty is so concerned. Dougherty, meanwhile, is having more and more trouble restraining Ru'afo, who wants to ensure that the Federation allows them to complete their mission.

Data scans the lake area and finds odd neutrino emissions from below the lake surface. He proceeds to enter the lake and submerge himself to locate the emissions' source. Artim watches, shocked. "Can he breathe underwater?" "Data doesn't breathe," replies Picard with some amusement. "Won't he rust?"

Data emerges with the answer: he releases the nearby dam's floodgates and lowers the lake, revealing a cloaked Federation ship. When he and Picard take a raft out to investigate, Anij insists upon coming along. Together, they find that the ship is little more than a gigantic holodeck, currently projecting an exact replica of the Ba'ku village. They realize that Data may well have been damaged to keep this ship's existence secret, and that the ship's only purpose can be to deceive the Ba'ku while relocating them off this world entirely. After repelling a brief attack, Picard and Data beam back to the Enterprise, where Picard angrily asks Worf (sporting a surprisingly large pimple) to debrief the Son'a hostages a second time. As the usual activity aboard the ship resumes, Data is surprised to see Riker clean-shaven. ("Smooth as an android's bottom, eh, Data?") Picard calls Dr. Crusher and finds that the former hostages are in fact in better health than ever. He returns to his quarters, calls up some music (a mambo, of all things), then begins to unfasten his uniform -- only to find that his collar is now loose once again, as if his neck had lost many of its previous wrinkles. He looks at himself once more ...

... and knocks on Anij's door. "How old are you?"

He discovers that the adult Ba'ku are up to three hundred years old, and haven't aged a day since they set foot on this world. The planet's rings generate "metaphasic radiation," which continually regnerates everyone's genetic structure. Picard finally realizes the reason for the Son'a's interest in the planet, warns the Ba'ku that their way of life is in jeopardy, and vows to stop the conspiracy by exposing it. He walks with Anij and talks of living in a single perfect moment rather than planning for the future or reviewing the past. She gently tells him of the trust he engenders, which is unusual for one "so young"; so bemused, Picard walks on until he meets Geordi -- Geordi, who is watching the sunrise with *real eyes*. The planet has regenerated his optic nerves, and in case it doesn't last after they leave, he wants to see a sunrise the way everyone else sees one.

Later, Picard receives Dougherty and Ru'afo, both angered at Picard's presence and his refusal to release Ru'afo's men. Picard counters by revealing his knowledge of the holo-ship; Dougherty in turn asks Ru'afo to leave. Ru'afo leaves, but not without condemning Federation "blunders" and threatening the Enterprise if his men are not returned.

Picard threatens to go to the Federation Council before he lets Dougherty move the Ba'ku, but is in for a rude awakening: Dougherty is acting on the Council's orders. He tells Picard confidently that the Prime Directive doesn't apply, as the Ba'ku are not indigenous to this planet, and that the planet's radiation can be used to help *billions* of Federation citizens. He realizes the Son'a's shortcomings, but as they possess the technology that the Federation needs to unlock the planet's potential, they are now partners -- and they've handled thugs before. Picard appeals to principle, but is rebuffed, told that it's only six hundred people. "How many people does it take before it becomes wrong? A thousand? Fifty thousand? A million? How many will it take, Admiral?" Dougherty, incensed, flatly orders Picard to leave the Briar Patch at once, telling him that by the time he files a protest, the deed will already be done.

Picard orders the ship to prepare for departure, then leaves for his quarters. Once there, he calmly and quietly removes his rank insignia: first one pip, then another, then another, then the last.

Gallatin, the Son'a first officer, returns from the Enterprise to meet with Ru'afo. Gallatin feels uncomfortable at what they are about to do, but is told not to forget "what they did to us" and that in a few days victory will be theirs.

Aboard the captain's yacht, Picard beams aboard Federation materiel, and is then surprised to see his crew waiting for him. They anticipated his actions, and are ready to descend with him to help the Ba'ku resist. Picard tries to order them away, but Riker rebuts, "No uniform. No orders." Picard, realizing he's beaten, orders Riker and Geordi to take the Enterprise out of the Briar Patch, after which they can contact the Council and put a human face on the tragedy they've condoned. As they prepare to leave, he assures his first officer, "We'll hold out as long as we can."

Ru'afo, informed of the yacht's descent to the surface, decides not to wait until morning; he orders the Son'a shuttles to take everyone off the surface that night. "If Picard or any of his people interfere ... eliminate them."

On the surface, the Ba'ku hastily evacuate their village for the mountains, where ore deposits will make detection and transport virtually impossible. Picard explains some of their plans to Sojef, but then the Son'a shuttles start appearing, firing on the transport inhibitors keeping them from beaming the Ba'ku away.

As Picard and crew try to fight back, enough transport inhibitors are destroyed to open some gaps in their defenses, and many Ba'ku are beamed away, including Sojef. Artim is knocked down and nearly trampled in the ensuing panic, only to be rescued from the melee by Data...

Meanwhile, aboard the Son'a ship, Dougherty refuses to allow a Son'a assault team, insisting instead that he be allowed to talk to Picard. Ru'afo refuses, noting with scorn that the Federation is *old*. "In the last twenty-four months, it's been challenged by every major power in the quadrant: the Borg, the Cardassians, the Dominion. They all smell the scent of death on the Federation." That, he continues, is why the Federation accepted the Son'a plans; they want a new lease on life. "Well, how badly do you want it, Admiral? Because now there are hard choices to be made." Fortunately, Gallatin comes up with an alternative: isolinear tags would allow those on the surface to be transported. It's a viable plan -- but only if the Enterprise is intercepted before it reaches the edge of the Briar Patch. Ru'afo sends ships to intercept it, with Dougherty's blessing...

Back on the surface, Artim talks to Data, wondering what it's like to be a machine, only to be surprised in turn to find that Data often wonders what it's like to be a child. They talk of many things, and Artim eventually tells Data that "If you want to know what it's like to be a child, you need to learn to play." As the exodus continues, Picard accepts Worf's advice and gives the Ba'ku a rest break. He and Anij sit and talk of future plans; then, with surprising boldness, he asks why she's never married, warning her that he's always been attracted to older women. She somehow slows time, and they inhabit that perfect moment for as long as they can.

On the Enterprise, the crew detects Son'a pursuit and keeps running. When they refuse to answer Son'a hails, the Son'a fire on them; despite the threat to the ship that full impulse would create, they go to full impulse and run like hell, then hide in a nebula to use the Briar Patch "the way Br'er Rabbit did."

Picard and Anij rejoin the rest of the encampment, and see Son'a shuttles descending. This time, the shuttles carry drones -- and before Picard realizes what's happening, the drones fire tags into several people, who are then beamed away. Hastily, he orders everyone into a nearby cavern while he and his crew remain behind to battle the drones.

In the nebula, the Enterprise moves towards the border of the Patch, but find that the Son'a have fired a subspace weapon banned by the Second Khitomer Accord for its unpredictability. The weapon creates a subspace tear which threatens to engulf the Enterprise, and they have no choice but to eject their warp core, as it draws the tear like a magnet. The core is jettisoned, then detonated, and the ship is safe -- but Riker now goes to his third plan: on the attack. "We're through running from these bastards."

He orders Geordi to start collecting metreon gas with the Enterprise's ramscoop, as the hope is to collect enough of the volatile gas to go on the offensive. Once all is ready, he manually steers the Enterprise towards the Son'a ships, then blows out the ramscoop and runs just as they open fire and are destroyed in the subsequent explosion.

Back on the planet, Picard and company lead the Ba'ku through the cavern to newly discovered caves which are deeper in the mountains. As the evacuations continue, Picard and Crusher examine an unconscious So'na officer after a brief fight; Crusher is taken by surprise at the readings she obtains...

Artim, in search of a treasured pet, runs back to the original cavern as the Son'a begin firing on it. As soon as Anij realizes he's missing, she gives chase; upon hearing of that, Picard goes after them both. He arrives just in time to get Artim to safety, but he and Anij are then caught in a cave-in as the mountainside takes a direct hit.

Data, Worf, and the others quickly scan the area and detect two life signs, one very faint. Deciding not to risk further damage by firing into the rubble, they begin moving it manually. Meanwhile, a reasonably sound Picard urges a badly wounded Anij not to let go, to find the strength to extend this one last moment until help arrives. He loses himself in her eyes, then recovers himself to find that the others have come through and that Anij's condition has stabilized.

The group finally reaches the far end of the cavern, Picard carrying Anij all the way -- and they see five drones looming in front of them. Picard places Anij down tenderly, prepares to fight -- and is abruptly caught in the middle of the battle by a dart. He disappears just in time to see Anij do the same...

On the Son'a ship, Gallatin takes Dougherty to the brig, where he finds Anij and Picard with a host of Ba'ku. Dougherty makes Picard an offer: tell his crew to surrender, and he won't be court-martialed. Picard will have none of it, welcoming a court-martial if that's what it takes to publicize the atrocity taking place here. In that tense moment, Ru'afo enters, swearing upon receiving the news of his ships destroyed or damaged in battle with the Enterprise. Picard quickly turns, accusing Dougherty of sanctioning the attack: "I wonder which one of us will be facing that court-martial." Ru'afo, however, is tired of waiting: whether the planet remains inhabited or not, he intends to fire the injector into the planet's rings and begin extracting the radiation, a process which will render the world uninhabitable for generations. Ru'afo turns to leave, only to be stopped by Picard's accusation: that he would kill members of his own race and his own family.

Sojef, having learned this shortly before Dougherty's arrival, turns to face Ru'afo, wondering which one he used to be. Ru'afo scoffs that the names Sojef cites, "of those children," mean nothing to him. Those names are a century old; they belong to a group of Ba'ku who tried to take over the colony and were exiled as a result. Anij tries to get through to him, then to Gallatin (originally Gal'na), while Picard tells Dougherty that he's unwittingly brought the Enterprise into a family feud which is now threatening to destroy both sides. Dougherty leaves, dejected, muttering that everything he did, he did for the Federation.

En route back to the bridge, Dougherty finally decides that enough is enough, and he demands that Ru'afo terminate the mission at once. Ru'afo refuses to take orders from the likes of Dougherty, and kills him with a "flesh-stretching" machine used by the Son'a. Ru'afo returns to the bridge and orders the collector deployed. When Gallatin hesitates, Ru'afo repeats the order -- and privately reminds "Gal'na" of how much they both hated the Ba'ku once upon a time. Gallatin deploys the collector as ordered, then goes aft to take Picard and the other Starfleet prisoners to the rear of the ship, where the radiation will kill them.

As Picard is being escorted, however, he appeals to Gallatin's sense of decency; unlike some of the others and especially Ru'afo, he has one. Gallatin tries to resist, but Picard's continued accusations that bitterness has turned Ru'afo into a madman and Gallatin into a coward eventually strike home. He asks what he can do to help, and Picard suggests that Gallatin let him contact the surface, thinking that if Ru'afo doesn't realize what's happening he can't override it.

Ru'afo watches the radiation collector unfold, solar sails spread wide, then detects a single Federation ship coming towards them to attack. He scoffs, deeming Data no threat -- then Data opens fire. As Data continues firing, he contacts Picard (and tells him that Worf is ready for "simultaneous transport"); Picard tells him to keep firing until Ru'afo feels compelled to adjust their shields.

Data keeps firing until the Son'a shoot back, then heads for the surface. Ru'afo watches the screen, enraptured, with only a sudden bright, seemingly harmless flash causing any distraction. He watches the injector do its work, exactly as predicted by the simulations -- and is then startled to hear that radiation levels have not begun to rise. He investigates, and finds that the ship functions are off-line -- because they're not on his ship any more, but the holo- ship. Ru'afo howls in rage...

On board the Son'a ship, Picard and Gallatin greet the newly arrived Worf, then orders him to decloak the holoship and place it in a tractor beam. Ru'afo, in the meantime, concentrates on gaining control of one long-range transporter. When one of his men points out that Picard already has control of the ship, he reacts: "I don't plan on going back to our ship..."

The Enterprise returns to the area and hails Picard; they've succeeded, at least temporarily. Unfortunately, Worf then discovers the bad news: the countdown has recommenced aboard the collector, suggesting that someone is there controlling it manually. The only way to disable the injector is to do it aboard the collector itself. Picard refuses Worf's offer, intending to go himself; after quick advice from Gallatin to avoid igniting the cryogenic exhaust, he beams away.

With two minutes remaining, he arrives at the collector. As he begins climbing towards his goal, Ru'afo sees him and begins firing, but tentatively, so as not to damage the collector itself. With that edge and a well-placed shot, Picard arrives at the injector just as the one- minute margin is reached. With exhaust beginning to vent, he and Ru'afo face off.

Ru'afo threatens him, but Picard is serenely confident: "Are you really going to risk igniting the fumes?"

Ru'afo doesn't respond.

"All right. Then I will." This said, Picard fires, ignites the exhaust, and in the billowing smoke distracts Ru'afo long enough to achieve his goal: the injector, in launching, will now destroy itself. With the Enterprise unlikely to make it in time, Picard awaits his fate -- but escapes intact just as the collector explodes. As Ru'afo howls in fury one last time, he and his dream die together.

Some time later, the Ba'ku village is returning to normal: animals roam, chores are done, children are playing, and so on. Riker sees Troi for the first time in days, and wonders aloud if his feelings will remain after they leave this world. "Commander," volunteers Worf, "your feelings have not changed since the day I met you. This place just ... let them out for some fresh air."

Picard and Anij watch as Gallatin, now Gal'na once more, is reunited with his mother. He and Anij share some final words; he wishes he could stay, but the peril facing the Federation cannot let him do so. "But," he adds, "I have 318 days of shore leave coming -- and I intend to use them."

As the Enterprise crew prepares to leave, they call for Data -- who appears in the middle of a haystack, busily involved in a game of hide-and-seek. He accepts his fate, and turns to Artim: "I have to go home now." Artim agrees, but advises, "Don't forget to have a little fun every day." Picard calls the Enterprise: "Seven to beam up." They disappear as Anij takes one last look, then we see the Enterprise depart the Briar Patch.

Fade out. ==========

Whew. Now I remember why I stopped writing synopses; they take a while! Now, back to the show.

I will confess that I went into "Insurrection" with some trepidation. The initial rumors about the storyline ("The Enterprise finds a Fountain of Youth!") sounded more than a bit silly, the ads featured Data spouting stock action-movie phrases like "lock and load," and all the statements about how "Insurrection" would be much lighter than "First Contact" left me with images of "Star Trek IV," which I've always found a bit overrated in the humor department.

As it happens, I wound up pleasantly surprised. "Insurrection" isn't a perfect movie, and it certainly isn't the triumph that I felt "First Contact" was -- but it does seem to capture the spirit of traditional Star Trek philosophies in ways "First Contact" didn't, and provided a stand-alone adventure that, while not exactly epic in scope, is worth two hours of your time.

In part, one could almost say the film succeeds by limiting its own ambitions. In most of the previous 8 Trek films, the stakes have been huge: Earth was threatened on three occasions, galaxy- threatening menaces appeared at least twice (Khan and the Borg), and planets with millions of inhabitants were doomed to certain death. This time, no one's lives were threatened -- even the intended victims of Ru'afo's scheme, the Ba'ku, were going to be relocated rather than killed outright. Ru'afo himself, while somewhat obsessed with his revenge (a theme we've run across before), is still obsessed on a somewhat small scale; his people, as are pointed out, aren't much more than petty criminals. That lowered the stakes of the film somewhat; while it was still a given that Picard and company would triumph, it opened the possibility of an incomplete one.

More importantly, it forced the film to focus at least partly on moral dilemmas rather than on a straight physical threat. There was no shortage of physical danger -- this is a film aimed at the action-movie audience, after all -- but the revelation that Admiral Dougherty actually had Federation sanction for his plan gave Ru'afo's claims some merit. "Deep Space Nine," and to some extent TNG before it, has often cast the Federation top brass as anything from clueless to misguided to simply a bit set in their ways; either way, Ru'afo's reference to the Federation as "old" and citing that its enemies sense the scent of death is an interesting statement. Could we eventually see a situation, either televised or filmed, in which the Federation finally falls, at least temporarily? I personally doubt it, as I think Paramount would fear the loss of its audience -- but it's grounds for interesting speculation and discussion, regardless. (Those who've seen the Federation's growth and sprawl as mirroring that of the Trek franchise will undoubtedly be amused by Ru'afo's statement as well, though for different reasons.)

Of course, having an interesting question only goes so far. One thing about "Insurrection" that was frustrating is that, while we saw Dougherty faced with his moral questions, we didn't see any of Our Heroes do so, particularly Picard. Picard had to face the temptation of remaining behind, but there's never any sense that he ever wavers in his convictions as far as the Ba'ku are concerned. If nothing else, some of those arguments about the Federation desperately needing allies and the "new lease on life" that the Ba'ku planet might offer should really have been made to Picard; even if he rejects them, it's important that we see the hero of the piece dealing with those questions rather than relegating them to a supporting character. Not only does it duck the issue slightly, but it makes Picard less interesting; apart from showing a little exasperation here and there, Picard was effectively Captain Perfect all through the film, and there's no bigger source of boredom in the long term than a character who's always right. (Fortunately, seeing Picard also lets us see Patrick Stewart, who as usual has enough screen presence to provide several major cities with power for a year.)

"Insurrection" also chose a less complex storyline than we've seen in Trek film for many a year. Picard sees a wrong and moves to right it, no matter the cost. That's it; there are a couple of twists here and there, primarily that of the Son'a's relationship to the Ba'ku, but there are no time-traveling antics or galaxy-wide political conspiracies afoot this time around. While this does reduce the epic tone of the film, I think it also makes the film substantially easier to make -- and as a change of pace, it works well.

It's also nice that, for once, we've gotten a story that's actually about an idea and the people involved rather than drowning in "event" moments or (worse yet) in technical jargon. In the past year, DS9 has often faltered when it's tried so hard to give a classic moment that it loses sight of the characters beneath that moment; as for Voyager, at least early in its history it spent way too much time on stories whose only reason for existence was a technical point. (I can't speak for recent Voyager, as I haven't watched the show regularly in two and a half years and have no real interest in changing that.) Regardless of series, Trek is at its best when it manages to actually make a point without being preachy -- and in that respect, I think "Insurrection" succeeded admirably. (Even the major twist, the fact that the Son'a were former children of the Ba'ku who left, seems to work insofar as it explains Ru'afo's major obsession.)

Other aspects of "Insurrection" were a little bit more uneven. In particular, the "new, lighter tone" of the film certainly meant the injection of more humor -- and Trek humor can be a very hit-or-miss proposition. Certain characters can get away with flip comments or with wisecracks, but others just look foolish in doing so -- and there's nothing which annoys me more than humor which laughs at the characters rather than flowing out of those characters. (For examples of humor which worked and which flowed out of the characters and situations, try TNG's "Deja Q" or DS9's "In the Cards"; for humor which simply makes the characters look like idiots, try TNG's "Qpid" or almost any DS9 Ferengi episode, particularly "Profit and Lace.") "Insurrection" managed some of the character-laden humor, but also had more than its share of Dopey Character Shtick [TM]. (One good example of the latter is Data overhearing Troi and Crusher talk about how the planet is "making your boobs [firm up]" and then repeating it to Worf. Data can be a little socially inept at times, but he's not *that* stupid -- and frankly, I found the scene a bit unnecessary anyway.)

Sometimes, both the humor and the shtick appeared in the same scene, which made for some serious whiplash. As an example, when Picard thinks of the Gilbert & Sullivan approach to distracting Data, he asks Worf if he knows Gilbert & Sullivan. True to Dopey Sitcom Character form, Worf responds, "No, sir; I have not had the opportunity to meet all of the new crew," or something like that. Ha, ha. On the other hand, it was actually rather entertaining to see Picard lose his usual patient demeanor and just stare at Worf, stunned for a moment at the latter's dense reply. "They're *composers*, Worf," said with just the right tone of voice, was much funnier than Worf's original mistake.

Besides the humor, there seemed a conscious attempt to put in other aspects which didn't fit. For one thing, I thought all the depictions of the Son'a "flesh-stretching" sessions were really just gratuitous. In much the same way that "Dune" faltered when David Lynch decided to spend inordinate amounts of time on Baron Harkonnen's boils, I didn't feel that we needed to see one more example of how slimy the Son'a were in fact as well as attitude. Given the lightness of the tone in other places, the gratuitous gore (in particular Dougherty's death) struck me as far more jarring than effective.

The romantic angle of the film also seemed a little out of place. In particular, I didn't buy Picard's romance with Anij for a second. Anij was a perceptive enough character in places, but I really had no sense of any inner fire in her whatsoever, and I think a certain hard- headedness has always appealed to Picard, given his past affairs. Anij was serene, and calm, and peaceful ... and as a result, infuriatingly *dull*. Time wasn't the only thing that slowed down when those two got together; let's leave it at that.

Speaking of the guest roles, or perhaps more specifically the guest cast, I was surprised by F. Murray Abraham. He certainly didn't do a bad job -- Ru'afo is generally menacing when he needs to be and pathetic when appropriate as well, and is particularly interesting to watch when scornful (as in the scene where he blasts Dougherty for the Federation's dotage). Overall, though, given Abraham's past work I expected something very strong, particularly when he and Stewart got to share the screen. That was something I didn't feel came off appropriately, and that's a shame. (On the other hand, Anthony Zerbe did a marvelous job as Dougherty; I felt a lot more for him, pro or con, than I did for Ru'afo.)

Overall, the film is paced rather well. In particular, I liked the fact that we started off with Data's aberrant behavior and were left to wonder why it had happened. We started off knowing a good deal less than just about any character in the film, and that's a very good thing; it lets us discover the plot rather than simply having it spoon- fed to us. Certain obvious moments (like Picard ordering the Enterprise to the Briar Patch, and Artim heading back to look for his pet) are to be expected, but there seemed to be fewer of those than one often sees. (One particular feint used against Ru'afo towards the end of the film is well foreshadowed, but not especially telegraphed. I liked it quite a bit, which is why I'm not describing it here in more detail.)

For those who just want to know about the space battles, I'm happy to report that the visuals in the movie are quite nice. Paramount has finally moved from model work to CGI for the majority of the film's effects, but apart from a certain fluidity of motion it's difficult to tell (at least to my admittedly untrained eye). Seeing Data partially out of his holographic concealment was a nice trick on the planet, and battle sequences moved along extremely well without getting so chaotic that you couldn't follow what was happening. Lastly, if the background artists didn't use actual Hubble photos, I had the distinct appearance that they used them for references -- the "spacescapes" (for want of a better word) used as backdrops any time we saw space-based scenes were somewhere between gorgeous and breathtaking. Other visuals, such as the Son'a drones, also worked well, though I could have done without Riker pulling up a manual steering column for the Enterprise. That latter seemed a bit too "video-game-esque".

Other small points for trivia fans:

-- Riker and Troi's research on the Son'a turned up that they were manufacturers of the narcotic ketracel-white. Excuse me? Ketracel- white isn't really a narcotic, but it *is* crucial to the Jem'Hadar; I'm rather surprised the Dominion would let them be.

-- Once again, Jerry Goldsmith manages to work in the Klingon battle theme from "Star Trek: the Motion Picture". Listen for it during one of Worf's early scenes on the bridge.

-- DS9 regular Max Grodenchik (Rom) appears in the film as a random alien ensign, and two of the Son'a officers were played by Bruce French (TNG's "The Drumhead") and Joseph Ruskin (an old TOS veteran).

-- Drat. Even though Ensign Lynch was killed in "First Contact", I was really hoping to see him return. I kinda liked the guy; no particular reason. :-)

That about covers it -- which is good, as I've clearly blathered on long enough. If you're expecting an epic, "Insurrection" may not be your cup of tea -- but as a quiet story with some moral questions raised, it succeeds reasonably well. I think it'll have a successful run.

So, some quick wrap-up points:

Writing: The overall story hangs together well; some aspects were jarring. Directing: Apart from dwelling on the Son'a too much, no complaints. The battle sequences in the Briar Patch and Data's initial run amok were particularly riveting. Acting: Abraham was a bit more subdued than I'd have liked, and Donna Murphy did nothing for me, but the regulars were fine and Anthony Zerbe was quite good.

OVERALL: 7.5. A little uneven, but definitely worth it for a matinee run at some point. Enjoy!

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) tly...@alumni.caltech.edu <*> "Jean-Luc, we are only moving *six hundred* people." "How many people does it take before it becomes wrong?" -- Copyright 1998, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

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