Undaunted by the fact that all the odd-numbered Trek films have been rubbish, the Next Generation cast return again to battle with ethics and aliens in the ninth theatrical outing for the Star Trek series. And in contrast to the dark First Contact, Insurrection is a kinder, gentler Trek, with most of the action taking place on a bucolic planet populated by cloyingly happy aliens. There are still plenty of galactic shoot-outs and CG-fuelled effects to satisfy Trek fans. But this is a definite, deliberate dip into touchy-feely territory: a little less action, but a larger chunk of plot.
While First Contact matched the Enterprise against The Borg, this centres on a planet populated by a gentle people, the Ba'ku. The Federation has dispatched an undercover survey team, led by the android Data (Brent Spiner), to discover the secret of their long lifespans. Data mysteriously goes haywire, revealing the existence of the observation post, and the Enterprise crew disregard their orders to go to the aid of their long-time plastic pal.
Enter the villains: a dying race called the Son'a, whose latexy mugs look like they've been modelled on an elephant's rear-end. These intergalactic arsefaces are very interested in a planet that holds the fountain of youth and they're willing to do anything to take over the Ba'ku world, including genocide. It's an intriguing face-off: the gracefully ageing Enterprisers versus a desperate alien race led by Oscar-winning actor F Murray Abraham, who turns in a winning performance in the nemesis role.
Even though it's tempting to think that when you've seen one imminent warp-core breach you've seen them all, actor/director Jonathan Frakes knows how to push all the right buttons. Like an extended episode, Insurrection is a blast of TNG nostalgia, peppered with in-jokes and references that hark back to both the previous films and the various TV shows. And if First Contact lacked a little passion, this makes up for it with a few romantic interludes: one a relationship between two crew members, the other involving Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and a rather fetching extraterrestrial. And while some of the self-referential gaggery may soar mile-high over non-fannish heads, the film still squeezes out enough dramatic tension to interest the average viewer.
As usual, it's a simple case of good versus bad, moral versus immoral. Right is might in the Star Trek universe and the final outcome is rarely in doubt. After all, despite the fact that the film-makers would like us to believe that anyof the principal characters could actually bite the bullet (or the phaser blast) at any moment, every Trekker knows that only bit-part security officers die in Gene Roddenberry's fantastic future. You can't off a major character if you want to get Star Trek 10 wrapped in time for Christmas 2000.
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It's Star Trek meets Oil Of Ulay in an enjoyable addition to the series. Non-fans may find the corny live-and-let-live philosophising heavy-going, but a good villain and excellent space battles spice up what is a good, if a little unspectacular, sci-fi flick.