Bones retired too soon.

Filming is under way for the ninth Star Trek big-screen outing. And this time the Enterprise crew finds the fountain of youth.

Life being a singularly unfair thing, it's Captain Picard and the relatively frisky Next Generationers who get the assignment. Kirk, McCoy and the aptly named Bones--average age 70.6--are sitting this one out.

Star Trek IX, with cast member Jonathan Frakes doubling as director, began production March 31, Paramount Pictures confirmed Monday. A November release is planned.

All the Next Generation regulars are on board: Patrick Stewart (Picard); Frakes (Commander Riker); LeVar Burton (Lieutenant Commander La Forge); Michael Dorn (Worf); Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher); Marina Sirtis (Deanna Troi); and Brent Spiner (Data).

The "guest" cast includes: Oscar-winner F. Murray Abraham and Tony-winner Donna Murphy (Passion).

The movie finds Picard pitted against his Federation bosses when an alien world's idyllic fountain of youth is threatened, the studio says.

Sounds serious, but the film is invariably described on Trek fan Websites as playing more like Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (the "cute, funny" Trek movie--the one about the whales).

Riker and his psychic friend, Deanna Troi, reportedly get all kissy-face. Even the proper, anti-Kirk (aka Picard) is said to snag a space-bound snuggle bunny on the voyage--the character played by Donna Murphy.

"I hope that when people look back at Star Trek IX, they'll say, 'Oh, yes. That was the sexy, funny one,'" Stewart has said.

So far, none of the rumored subtitles for the flick--Millennium, Prime Directive, Transcendence, included--reflect this get-loose attitude. (Maybe that's why they don't have a title yet.)

Trek IX marks Frakes' second stint as feature-film director. (The first was 1996's Star Trek: First Contact.)

Patrick Stewart is stepping behind-the-scenes on this project, too. In addition to the Picard thing, he'll play associate producer. (That perk and a reputed $9.5 million payday got him to reenlist.)

Trek IX is the Next Generation crew's third big-screen outing. Their aging Enterprise elders--from the Captain Kirk years--last appeared en masse in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in 1991. (William Shatner and a few others also appeared in 1994's baton-passing film, Star Trek Generations.)

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