Evil Is Only Skin Deep In 'Star Trek 9: Insurrection.'
By James DiGiovanna
DECEMBER 21, 1998: THE LEGENDARY SEXUAL prowess of the Star Trek fan (whom I prefer to call a "Trekkie," the term "Trekker" clearly having been invented by the same language commissars who brought us "differently beautiful," "gravitationally challenged" and "unbreakable comb") is no urban legend: Those who have experienced the extreme delights that pass when pointy ears are tickling their thighs know what I'm talking about.
There's nothing that turns an ordinary dermatologist or C++ programmer into a Svengali of sensuality like immersion in the geekertronic future of über-nerd Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek. So, of course, it is with lubricious anticipation that I awaited the "coming" of Star Trek 9: Insurrection, which promised to be the most salacious cinematic experience since William Shatner himself directed the unforgettable (believe me, I've tried) Star Trek 5: The Final Frontier.
ST9 exceeded all licentious expectations by actively acknowledging that sex appeal is what makes the United Federation of Planets so much better than their enemies, the Cardassians, the Borg, the Dominion and the Hyde Committee. Basically, come the 23rd century, we as a people must learn that any alien race with more than five forehead ridges or a deformed nose must be evil.
In ST9, the evil people are so evil that they require constant plastic surgery. The opening segment includes one of the unpleasant Son'a (the race of bad and ugly aliens) having the skin on his face hideously stretched by a slave race of beautiful plastic surgeons. Seriously.
The Son'a have enslaved two other races, and are planning vengeance against a small colony of aliens who are so damn good looking that they make the Son'a sick with envy. See, the beautiful people are also good and peaceful and highly spiritual and disciplined and...oh, the list just goes on and on, but it can all be summed up non-verbally by the razor-sharp lines of their chins and cheeks, and by their futuristic ability to perfectly apply lipstick to already perfect lips.
So anyway, the Bak'u (that's the pretty people) live on a planet bombarded by metaphasic radiation. That must be bad, right? Well, if you think that then you haven't read enough comic books: radiation makes you stronger, faster, and most importantly, prettier. The Bak'u, thanks to their daily dose of metaphasions (or whatever metaphasic radiation is made of) are essentially immortal. Imagine, if you will, a planet where you look like Brad Pitt or Rebecca Romijn on your 300th birthday! The Bak'u are so pretty and New Age that they don't even use technology. They actually bake their own bread, weave their own clothes (making them look like something you'd find at a Phish concert) and build their Southwestern-style houses from scratch. For the Bak'u, it's all about loving the earth and showing off their chiseled, but not ostentatious, bodies.
To try to catch up in the beauty department, the Son'a have their race of slave plastic surgeons, lots of drugs and genetic alteration therapy, all of which leaves them looking like a cross between Keith Richards and Phyllis Diller. In contrast, down on the planet of the Bak'u, the female members of the crew of the enterprise discover that exposure to the environment gives them spontaneous breast lifts. Once again: seriously.
So, the Son'a, plastic surgery disasters from the future, decide to steal all the metaphasic radiation from the Bak'u, destroying their overly delightful planet in the process. Then the Son'a can harness that radiation to prettify themselves.
But wait: for some ill-explained reason they need the Federation to help them do it...and, besieged on all sides by incredibly unattractive aliens, the Federation agrees! They want the pretty potion, too, and are willing to violate the Prime Directive to get it.
Of course, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, who is the only bald person in the future, is opposed to this plan; and he and his multi-racial team of do-gooders plan to put a stop to it. Along the way, they must discover the source of the Son'a/Bak'u rivalry, fall in love with locals, and get a bad case of Klingon acne. Yes, some of them must ugly-up in order to preserve beauty. It is this kind of deep irony that keeps the Star Trek franchise on the same level as the finest works of Nabokov, if they had been written by Sydney Sheldon.
Perhaps the greatest moment of irony, and the most telling and metaphoric moment of the film, comes when an evil Federation officer, who sought prettiness at the cost of home-town values, is killed by having an unnecessary facelift. Death by plastic surgery is, of course, the cruelest and most symbolically rich way to die.
ST9 works on another literary level as well, that of the extended metaphor. The Son'a are clearly the plastic-surgery enhanced, amoral, technology-obsessed denizens of some future Hollywood. The planet of the Bak'u is the 24th-century equivalent of one of those small Montana towns whose population is rapidly being displaced by movie stars seeking to get away from the rat race that they themselves set in motion. And the Bak'u are the beleaguered residents of this Bozeman of the future, trying to stave off the inevitable destruction of their natural utopia by autograph hounds, paparazzi and drug-addled ex-childhood stars.
Will the future world of beauty and horrendous, hippie-inspired fashions survive? That depends on revenues for this ninth installment in the second longest-running movie franchise (the Bond films, where pretty spies have to kill ugly, foreign spies, is still in the lead). So if you want more Star Trek, please go see ST9, that we may continue to look forward to a future of profitability for the fine people at Paramount Pictures, who, after all, have mortgages and doctors' bills to pay.
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