Androids Do Not Have Fun – Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) 4K Ultra HD

You’d think that by its ninth feature film, the Star Trek franchise might have found some sense of consistency or had a clue how to build off the success of its biggest box office hit at the time (1996’s quite good Star Trek: First Contact). Sadly, that wasn’t at all the case. The next big-screen adventure, Star Trek: Insurrection, brought that momentum to a screeching halt. While technically profitable, the movie was a decided disappointment that would ultimately signal a short life for the Next Generation crew’s cinematic career.

Although Insurrection wouldn’t be the last movie for this cast, and isn’t necessarily the worst movie in the franchise as a whole (a title still held by Star Trek V: The Final Frontier), the picture is an underwhelming affair that never justifies its need to be a theatrical feature. The half-baked script feels like it was written as a TV episode – and not even a particularly good one.

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) - Patrick Stewart as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard
Title:Star Trek: Insurrection
Year of Release: 1998
Director: Jonathan Frakes
Watched On: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Also Available On: Blu-ray
Various VOD rental and purchase platforms

The film opens with Data the android (Brent Spiner) on assignment to a remote planet in a difficult-to-access sector of space. Why he’d be on this mission and not on the Enterprise is never once questioned or addressed, but if he hadn’t been, the movie would have no story at all. The entire plot hinges on the contrivance of Data malfunctioning and exposing Starfleet observers to the planet’s small population of supposedly primitive natives called the Ba’ku. Without that incident, the narrative has no conflict to resolve. The Ba’ku people would never know Starfleet was there, and the villains of the story could go about their business without upsetting anyone until, potentially, someone might notice what they’d done years afterward.

Further, considering that Starfleet never really had any intention of observing the Ba’ku at all, I can’t imagine why they would possibly want someone like Data around in the first place. His presence serves no purpose except to foil their plans. How did he get invited to this party?

Fortunately, concerns about Data violating the Prime Directive are averted when it turns out that the agrarian society of pacifist hippies are secretly more advanced than they let on and have already traveled to the stars. They’re not even native to the planet and have no claims to the place other than squatter’s rights.

Nevertheless, despite being ordered to hang back and leave the situation in the hands of the admiral in charge, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) rushes the Enterprise to the scene and immediately starts interfering. By poking his nose into these matters, Picard soon discovers that the planet is actually a Fountain of Youth that allows its inhabitants to live for centuries. The corrupt Starfleet admiral (Anthony Zerbe) has been working in cahoots with a rival alien species to quietly drain the planet of its magical properties. To stop them and help the Ba’ku (who, again, are not actually from this world at all) keep their precious home, the Enterprise crew must disobey orders and face down a superior Starfleet officer – hence the insurrection of the title.

The film is a mess on a number of levels. The script is weak and filled with plot holes. The movie also looks very cheap, with awful 1990s visual effects that have aged terribly. (Insurrection was the first Trek feature to exclusively use CGI for the space and starship effects – no physical models at all.) Returning as director, co-star Jonathan Frakes’ main contribution this time is to keep the tone light and focus on the rapport among the cast. To that end, the picture is filled with strained attempts at humor from start to finish. Picard and Data sing Gilbert and Sullivan during a shuttlecraft chase, Worf (who shows up on leave from Deep Space Nine with no explanation) gets a big pimple on his nose, Riker shaves off his beard, and the Enterprise has a video game joystick controller for space battles. These and other bits of silly nonsense really drag down the proceedings and make the film feel like an insubstantial waste of time.

The main antagonists are a group of aliens called the Son’a, whose fixation with grotesquely excessive cosmetic surgery is a gag borrowed straight from Terry Gilliam’s satirical Brazil. Their leader, Ru’afo (played by Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham under a bunch of rubbery makeup), comes across more petty than menacing. He’ll never rank among the series’ most iconic villains.

For all that, I’d probably have a lot more patience for Insurrection if it had been made as an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Surely, over the course of its 178 episodes, that show suffered a fair number of stinkers worse than this. On TV, this storyline would rate more mediocre than awful. However, being produced as a feature film unavoidably carries expectations that Insurrection is incapable of living up to. On that mark, it’s a dog.

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) - F. Murray Abraham as Ru'afo

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Star Trek: Insurrection was in desperate need of a remaster. While all of the Trek films released on Blu-ray in 2009 were marred by varying amounts of Digital Noise Reduction, Insurrection was one of the worst. The whole movie had a very ugly, over-processed appearance with mushy textures that had been smoothed over with DNR and then electronically sharpened afterward. It looked awful on any large screen.

Thankfully, both the new Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD editions come from an entirely new master based on a fresh film scan (whereas the new copies of First Contact appear to recycle an old film scan but dial back the processing). The new transfer is framed at 2.39:1, rather than the prior disc’s 2.35:1, and has a tiny bit more image on the left and right sides. More importantly, it has as much better sense of detail and looks far less smudgy.

With that said, although the movie starts out with a light texture of grain, that mostly disappears after a while. I suspect that Paramount still used some digital grain management on this entry, but the tools are more sophisticated than they used to be and the results not as objectionable. If not perfect, the improvement is unmistakable.

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) Comparison - 2009 Blu-rayStar Trek: Insurrection (1998) Comparison - 2023 Blu-ray

Unlike the new editions of Generations and First Contact, I don’t find there to be any significant differences in color or contrast between the old Blu-ray, the new one, or the Ultra HD disc. They’re all pretty similar in those regards. The 2023 Blu-ray is perhaps a little flat. The UHD has a small uptick in detail over that and slightly better contrast, making it the preferred option to watch.

Note that all copies of the movie have a number of shots that look vertically compressed. I believe this was an artifact of the camera lenses used during production and is endemic to the film.

The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack is a direct port from the 2009 Blu-ray. It has some very rumbly bass and well used surrounds. Fidelity as a whole is nothing remarkable, though the Jerry Goldsmith score comes across well.

Star Trek: The Next Generation 4-Movie Collection 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

The 4K disc has one audio commentary by Jonathan Frakes and co-star Marina Sirtis, plus a text trivia track that originally appeared on DVD but was omitted from the earlier Blu-ray. The new Blu-ray in the case carries the remaining supplements, all likewise recycled from previous video releases.

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray edition of Star Trek: Insurrection is available either separately or as part of a 4-Movie Collection box set with Generations, First Contact, and Nemesis.


Note: All screenshots on this page were taken from standard Blu-ray editions of the film and are used for illustration purposes only.

One thought on “Androids Do Not Have Fun – Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) 4K Ultra HD

  1. Back in 1998, the VHS (at least the PAL version, unsure about NTSC) release included a mousepad and a 3″ CD containing the main theme. Especially the tiny CD really made me want to pick up said tape (even though I had never seen a Star Trek movie in my life). I ultimately didn’t, but the fact that I vividly remember seeing it in stores 25 years ago means it must have made an impact on young yours truly.


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