Revolution No. 9

Star Trek: Insurrection
area theaters

This is for all the lonely people. This is for all the people who've spent a potentially nihilistic night alone at home, sucking the TV for all it's worth, groping for any digital suggestion of humanity and moral structure in the millennial maelstrom of their media-saturated, seemingly pointless American existences. This is for those who've found momentary solace in the firm jawline and immaculate pate of Patrick Stewart. If you've somehow escaped this experience, you're a more clever consumer than I, and you may not dig the new Star Trek flick. If, however, you are part of the Next Generation diaspora, I assure you: Star Trek: Insurrection rocks.

Geez--I sound like a Trekkie. No apologies for that. TNG, with its cheap-ass sets and simplistic morals and frumpy aliens, is something special--among Star Trek spinoffs and TV in general. And all the things that make it so are on display in Insurrection--which is basically an extended TNG episode.

Your favorite Trek clichés are fully intact here, as the crew is reunited to descend on a vulnerable planet of sexy humanoids (the "Ba'ku") and save them from forced relocation by the bad guys. (Oh, when will they ever learn?) The Ba'ku are what my people would affectionately term "fuckin' hippies." These hacky-sackin' honeys wear earth-toned gauze and live in a manicured commune of lawns, veggie gardens, and rotundas; it looks like one of those build-a-civ computer games (or an illustration from a Jehovah's Witness children's Bible).

The Ba'ku have "warp" (the Star Trek equivalent of nuclear capability), but opt for the simple life. And why not? They never die, thanks to some anti-aging radiation from their planet's rings. (Conveniently for the screenwriters, the radiation takes hold only after people have reached physical maturity.) Thus their troubles with sickly, invading "Son'a" people (think of the Ba'ku as space-age Native Americans living above a batch of uranium). Oh yeah, they've also discovered that time, like the hearts of yogis, can be slowed down, and they get their kicks dwelling in "perfect moments," high on consciousness. Dig it.

It just wouldn't be Star Trek if Picard (Patrick Stewart) didn't hook up with a sultry female who teaches him the childlike ways of her people. Unlike Kirk's many Stone Age playmates, however, this one doesn't have a "primitive" accent, and actress Donna Murphy is much older than industry standard, wearing her crows' feet like the most valuable jewels. (God bless Stewart for not needing a 25-year-old.)

The entire crew is affected by this fountain of youth, providing ample opportunity for more TNG shtick--that is, watching the straight-laces unravel. Naturally, Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) get jiggy, for those who go that way (complete with Love American Style-style bubble-bath-and-champagne scene). Worf (Michael Dorn) re-enters Klingon puberty and gets a huge zit on his nose; blind boy Geordi (LeVar Burton) takes off the Devo glasses and the contacts. Data (Brent Spiner) freaks out and becomes a renegade robocop, among other things. (In one scene in a lake, he remarks, "In the event of a water landing, I have been designed to serve as a flotation device.") True to the film's title, Picard removes his Federation stripes and dons a leather jacket (looking swishier with every scene--though that's why we love him!) to do battle for the spirit and the letter of the Prime Directive.

The whys and hows don't matter here. And you don't have to understand exactly how the crew gets in and out of run-ins with the Son'a and their wonderfully grotesque leader, played by F. Murray Abraham. (Do I detect a nod to Brazil in his numerous plastic-surgery scenes?) And if you're looking for hyperimpressive special effects and expensive-looking sets, you'd better wait for the next Star Wars. But that's why this series is special. Thanks to the classically trained Stewart (I imagine), TNG's prime directive has always been dictated by the values of good theater: characterization over costumes; script over sets; acting over makeup. And director Frakes shares these values.

In short, Star Trek: Insurrection is a cute, tight, simple little movie. Now, if you want to get analytical about it, I suppose you could point out the contradiction at the heart of this series: How can a culture based on exploration also hold cultural noninterference as its highest goal? Anthropologists would say it's impossible. Still, both on Star Trek and in the age of the Internet (and of aggressive international marketing of films like this), global cultural convergence, or something worse, is unavoidable. Just as Picard and Co. escape impossibly dangerous confrontations through obscure dimensional manipulation, the series suggests that we can magically maintain our Americanness while allowing others their otherness. It's an impossible dream, of course. But it's a damned insidious one for some--which is why the show that wouldn't die keeps on Trekkin'.

 
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