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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 5/11/99



Star Trek: Insurrection
1991 (1999) - Paramount Pictures

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Star Trek: Insurrection Film Rating: C-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/A+/C

Specs and Features

103 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, Amaray keep case packaging, 2 theatrical trailers, behind-the-scenes featurette, film-themed menu screens, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), English & French (DD 2.0), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned


Here's the story space cadets. Smack in the middle of the Federation, there's this dangerous area of nebula and gas-filled space called the Briar Patch see... and smack in the middle of the Briar Patch is this little gem of a world. The place is an idyllic paradise - green, lush, temperate... and oh, did I mention that if you life there, you never grow old? Well it seems that there's some kind of special radiation in the planet's rings that rejuvenates living cellular tissue, making the planet a virtual fountain of youth. And on this world, live a nice little race called the Ba'ku - all 600 of them - who have decided to give up the technology of their past, and live in harmony with nature.

Now then, it turns out that there's another race called the Son'a - a dying race - that desperately wants to harness the radiation of the planet's rings to save themselves. And they'll share the technology with the Federation... isn't that nice? Here's the problem - the Son'a are nasty little sons-of-you-know-whats, and their plan to harness the healing radiation, will make the planet inhospitable for generations. So a secret plan has been devised to relocate the Ba'ku without their knowledge. In short, Starfleet Admiral Dougherty, who is in charge of the project, has made a deal with the devil, and is about to break the Federation's most sacred principle - the Prime Directive of non-interference with the development of less advanced civilizations.

Fortunately, our old android pal Data has been helping to study the Ba'ku, and when he stumbles onto the Son'a plan, he gets shot and goes nuts. Admiral Dougherty calls Captain Picard, aboard the good ship Enterprise, for the plans to deactivate Data. But Picard and crew are suspicious and decide to handle the matter themselves. The Enterprise arrives to locate and repair Data, and soon makes discoveries of their own. Can Picard and company stop the Son'a, and get word to the Federation of what's really happening before it's too late? Well, if you don't already know the answer to that question, you've never seen an episode of Star Trek.

A lot of reviewers trashed this flick, and I think unjustly. No, this isn't loaded with full-impulse action, and no, there are no Klingons, Romulans, or Borg (oh my!). But at least the whole Federation isn't in great peril (which seems to happen so often in Star Trek that I'm surprised there's a Federation left anymore). And neither are there freaky Klingon woman with busty breast plates, or sexy half-robot Borg Queens. You know what I mean - the kind of Trek hokum which is so often thrown in to give the mostly-male fans a woody. No, this is a film about ideals. This is Star Trek which examines its principles, and has its characters forced to make a choice - betray Starfleet, or betray the very beliefs they hold most sacred. And, as I mentioned, Picard gives another great speech.

Before you get too excited however, there's still plenty to cringe about. For Star Trek: Insurrection swings a bit too far in the other direction. There are lots of nice little character moments here: we see Riker and Troi finally heating things up between the sheets (OK, we don't actually see that, but you know what I mean), we see Georgi finally seeing a sunrise with his real eyes, and Data's reaction to Riker having shaved his beard is very funny. All of this is great for longtime fans, but there's SO much of this, that anyone who isn't a Trek fan will bore in a hurry. And do we really need to see Worf with nasty Klingon zits, or hear Troi and Crusher talking about how their boobs are firming up? Yikes, man.

The problem here is not with second-time director Jonathan Frakes - he is clearly very capable, and keeps the action going as best he can. And the problem isn't the plot, which is solid. The problem here is the writing. There's just not much dramatic tension - the ratio of true drama to sap is too imbalanced. I think that's the fundamental problem with Star Trek in general these days. Rick Berman and Michael Piller have lost the ability to keep Star Trek fresh. That's why Voyager and Deep Space Nine both bite in my opinion, and why the ratings have dropped through the basement on both shows. They've just gone to the well of tried-and-true plots a thousand times too often. They've spread themselves too thin (Paramount's fault if you ask me) in the effort to maximize profits from the cash cow that the Trek franchise has become to the studio. I mean, I can think of a dozen cool directions I'd like to see Star Trek taken, but instead, the studio just keeps on adding a new set of breasts to the cast, creating new, funny-looking aliens-of-the-week, or conjuring new super-threats for the Federation to war against. And in so doing, they lost my interest (and that of a majority of the fans) years ago.

OK, that's my Trek rant - let's talk DVD quality. Paramount has wisely seen fit to return to anamorphic widescreen with this DVD, and the quality improvement is significant. This DVD simply looks terrific. The color is excellent, and these films are always vibrant, colorful celebrations of production design. The contrast and detail are also both excellent. My only complaint is that Paramount didn't switch back to 16x9 for DVD sooner, so that Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country could have been so enhanced. Oh well.

What really impresses me most about this DVD, however, is the audio. I don't know who handles the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio work for these Trek DVDs, but they deserve a major pat on the back - you can almost always count on them to be excellent. Star Trek, as science fiction, really lends itself to an immersive surround sound experience, with lots of directional panning, abundant use of the rear channels, and deep bass. Insurrection is no exception - this is a terrifically fun 5.1 audio mix. You'll hear the screech of phaser fire all around, and starships will swoop in behind you, past you, and every which way. Very, very cool.

To round it all out, you get a couple of limited extras, namely the film's teaser and full theatrical trailers, and a very brief behind-the-scenes featurette. We're talking about 5 minutes only. I'd love for Paramount to include a gallery of production artwork on these discs, with sketches of the ships and costumes, or a look at the CGI work. Insurrection was the first Trek film to eschew the use of physical models of the Enterprise, in favor of a completely computer-generated starship. It would have been cool to see how it was designed and rendered. Still, this is more extras than we've gotten on most other Paramount DVDs thus far, so beggars can't be choosers.

I like what they tried to do with Star Trek: Insurrection, I really do. They just fell short of the mark. There's not nearly enough dramatic tension to support the story. Still, there are lots of funny character moments, and if you've been a fan of the series for long, you really appreciate some of them, even if others drive you nuts. What action there is, is generally solid, and there are some good performances. And I can't complain about the DVD quality at all - it's excellent. If you're not a fan, you might have a tough time with this film. But if you think you'll enjoy it even a little bit, and don't expect too much, this is a perfectly nice way to spend a couple of hours on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com




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