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— Hugh Grant, Two Weeks Notice

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There is a rule of thumb that says odd-numbered Star Trek movies are bad, and even-numbered ones are good (Insurrection is Star Trek 9). I really hate that rule because at some point it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. People look for flaws in odd movies and overlook them in even movies. Star Trek: Insurrection is, to some extent, a victim of this perception, particularly from that most ubiquitous critic, Roger Ebert.

This time, the film opens on an idyllic little planet with kids frolicking in stacks of hay. Commander Data is part of an invisible crew that’s monitoring the progress of this civilization. Without warning, Data apparently goes berserk, firing on the other anthropologists and exposing himself and the other scientists to the unsuspecting civilization.

Concerned (but strangely, not shocked), Captain Picard ditches a boring diplomatic party and takes the Enterprise to the planet where Data was working. Picard heads out in a shuttlecraft to capture the rogue android.

Sure enough, there was a perfectly logical explanation for his behavior. It turns out that a blow to his head (from one of the other anthropologists, no less) disabled Data’s neocortex, leaving his base programming to kick in. Since his base programming says to protect the innocent, the crew of the Enterprise is left wondering what the anthropologists were doing. Why would Data’s base, unreasoning altruism dictate that he blow their cover?

Turns out the Son’a, the “anthropologists,” were not merely studying the Ba’ku, the planet-dwellers — they were trying to figure out how to steal their fountain of youth. The way to steal the rejuvenating “waters” would involve destroying both the local solar system and the source of the fount. Ordinarily, this would be a space no-no.

But since the Ba’ku, it is learned, are space-age settlers, and not a native, developing culture, the Federation considers them exempt from the protections of the Prime Directive. (For the uninitiated, the Prime Directive was conceived by Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry during the Vietnam War. It says that the Federation cannot interfere with the affairs of developing civilizations). The crew of the Enterprise disagrees. They think this unique culture should be protected. Thus the film’s title: insurrection.

Although this film is actually a mediocre entry into the series, this moral question is worth talking about. Is it okay to move 600 people off their homeland so that billions of other people might benefit?

Boulder County authorities would say yes. The Federation says yes. More influentially, Roger Ebert says yes, and he even got the cast of the film to say yes, although he phrased the question in a way that slanted the responses.

Ebert failed to take into account three key points. One, these billions of lives won’t be saved, they will merely be improved. Two, extracting the youth-water destroys its natural source. Three, there is no guarantee that, once extracted, the stuff can be replicated.

I’d like to propose a comparable, modern-day question. Would it be okay to destroy a rainforest (where some Quaker settlers have been living for hundreds of years), to build a road, to get to a small puddle of something like aspirin? Everyone on the planet can have a little taste, but there’s no guarantee we can synthesize it in a laboratory once the supply is gone.

Seems like a big waste of resources, a situation ripe for corruption, and a rash destruction of something that future generations may be able to better understand and use. Seems like the sane, sensible thing, would be to leave this fountain of youth intact for further study by future generations.

At least, that’s what I think Roddenberry would say.

Aside from the moral dilemma, Star Trek: Insurrection is alright. It wasn’t my favorite, and in fact, Data’s na├»ve antics were starting to get on my nerves. It will probably fade into obscurity, as many of the other odd-numbered movies have.

It’s just too bad that the Star Trek Rule of Thumb had to gain credibility, because it may doom 50% of all future Trek movies to failure.