Star Trek: First Contact

Star Trek - First ContactSynopsis: They call themselves the Borg-a half-organic, half-machine collective, with a soul purpose: to conquer and assimilate all races. Led by their seductive and sadistic queen (Alice Krige), the Borg are headed to Earth with a devious plan to alter history. Picard’s last encounter with the Borg almost killed him. Now, he wants vengeance. But how far will he go to get it? Co-Staring Alfre Woodard and James Cromwell and bursting with spectacular special effects, Star Trek First Contact is on action film that “has it all”

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Star Trek: First Contact 8.5

eyelights: Patrick Stewart. the Borg Queen. its balance of action and suspense. the score.
eyesores: Zephrim Cochrane. the crew’s disregard for the Prime Directive. the amount of alcohol use. Deanna. the CGI.

“They invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds and we fall back. Not again.”

I’m a ‘Star Trek’ fan. And by ‘Star Trek’, I mean the original series, not ‘The Next Generation’, ‘Deep Space Nine’, ‘Voyager’ or ‘Enterprise’. The characters of ‘Star Trek’ and their adventures (though flawed at times) resonate with me more than pretty much any other science fiction series.

But I have grown to love the ‘TNG’ crew. Though their first season wasn’t inspired enough to keep me watching, I later became a fan with their second, third and fourth seasons (sadly, I haven’t yet seen the others); the writing was tighter, less derivative, and the performances were stronger.

The same could be said for the ‘TNG’ films: Although ‘Generations‘ showed potential, the final result sort of limped its way to the silver screen. Like ‘TNG’, which could easily have been killed off after one season and relegated to obscurity, it’s a wonder that producers gave it a second chance.

It’s a good thing that they did: ‘First Contact’, like the second season of ‘TNG’, showed the creative forces behind ‘Star Trek’ finally getting their mojo on; the cast was playing for keeps, the basic plot was more interesting, the script was stronger, and its overall construction is superior.

Interestingly, it also found a new director in Jonathan Frakes, who had helmed ‘TNG’ episodes, but was making his feature film debut here. It would be easy to speculate that his understanding of what made ‘TNG’ work and his enthusiasm for his first outing contributed to ‘First Contact’s success.

Honestly, I wouldn’t know. I’m just sayin’.

Whatever the case may be, all I can say for sure is that it was a hit, both with critics and with fans, becoming the most successful film in the franchise since 1986’s ‘The Voyage Home’, a decade earlier. And it remains to this day one of the most popular entries in the “Star Trek’ film franchise.

‘Star Trek: First Contact’ is set aboard the newly-commissioned Enterprise NCC-1701-E, during an attack of Earth by the Borg. Though they were instructed to patrol the Romulan Neutral Zone, to prevent their long-time enemy from sneaking through while Starfleet is distracted, Picard joins the battle.

With an experienced hand, Starfleet is able to fend off the Borg – but not before they launch a sphere to Earth. The Enterprise naturally tries to catch up to them, but get caught up in a time vortex with the Borg, sending them back in time to April 4, 2063, just before Earth’s historic first contact.

Now, not only do they have to stop the Borg from changing the future, they have to get back to their own time.

Somehow.

‘First Contact’ is an imperfect “Star Trek’ motion picture. While it’s thoroughly enjoyable, and is accessible enough that even non-Trek fans can effortlessly appreciate it, there are aspects to it that might ruffle the feathers of purists: The Borg themselves, for instance, and the Prime Directive.

  • The Borg: For me, the problem with the Borg was how easily defeated they were at the onset. It was a bit too quick for my taste: the weakness is basically on the outside of the cube. Really? Just there, on the outside, exposed? That’s almost as bad as the Death Star’s weakness. Almost.

For most people who have an issue with the Borg in this picture, their reason is that they’re supposed to be a collective, with each individual being equally important and all working in tandem towards a common goal. Except that, in ‘First Contact’ they introduce the concept of the Borg Queen, and some people (including one of my best friends) feel that it completely rewrites the Borg – now it’s one person with the rest of the Borg being an extension of that person. They liked the collective and it’s no longer a collective.

For me, it wasn’t an issue: I saw the Borg Queen as an expression of the collective, not as a ruler of the Borg. So, although it was surprising to see her introduction, I wasn’t fazed by it. Add to this the fact that she is at once creepy and sexy, and I was actually rather captivated by her. She’s a mix as devilishly delicious as Morticia Addams, but in Cenobite-like gear and without the latter’s romantic quality and the infectious naiveté. So you could say that I’m quite a bit of a fan of the Borg Queen, actually. Purists be damned.

I’ve heard, however, that in ‘Voyager’ the Borg Queen plays a larger part in the show and that she is played up as the actual queen of the Borg. Whereas there is ambiguity in ‘First Contact’, apparently that was later tossed completely out of the window. That’s crap, and I’d be on board with the fans for dissing this change in the collective.

  • The Prime Directive: Firstly, let me start by saying that I’m of the mind that anything but the most insignificant changes in the past alters the future. So when the Enterprise goes back in time, even though they stop the Borg’s attack, I believe that the damage the Borg did (whether it be human casualties or affected infrastructure) changed the course of events enough for the future to be altered. Of course, the Enterprise crew couldn’t do anything about it – in my estimation, it’s just a lapse by the film’s screenwriters.

But then it gets sloppy: The Enterprise crew transport to Earth and start mingling with the people there. The problem with this is that, again, they’re altering the course of events: even by doing the mildest task to help, they are having an effect. Except they’re incredibly involved in trying to bring back on course a rocket launch that had been hampered by the Borg attack – so they’re deeply invested in the events. That means that they have tons of contact with the people there and can influence their current and future actions.

Okay, okay… so again, they have no real choice if they want to ensure that the launch takes place. But, again, I think that there should be repercussions in their reality, which has now been changed inexorably.

And then it gets sloppier: the Enterprise crew not only interact with the past, they actually provide some of the people with information about the future, which completely changes the way they will approach the world from that point onward. Almost everyone who encounters Zefram Cochrane tells him how important he is to human history and the scope of the adulation for his achievements. They also let people see and use some of their technology, which is 300 years more advanced then their own. This is a huge breach of the Prime Directive.

So, basically, the Enterprise crew are being idiots and changing the future.

Except that, magically, they don’t: upon their return, all’s well – as though nothing ever happened.

(Again, I blame the writers.)

And then there are all the other minor details:

  • The Enterprise NCC-1701-E: I know that the NCC-1701-D was destroyed, and it was likely just an excuse to redesign the ship. But I’m not a great fan of this new model; I can barely recognize the Enterprise now. And, frankly, bigger isn’t always better.
  • Data is bulletproof: Lily shoots at Data and he suffers no damage. I obviously never watched ‘TNG’ enough to find out that he was bulletproof. Still, he would suffer some damage (if only to his uniform), you’d think, or the ricochet would damage nearby objects. Nope. Not here.
  • Zefram Cochrane: Although Jonathan Frakes says that James Cromwell “nailed” the part of Cochrane, I think that he must be the most annoying character in the whole Star Trek franchise: he looks goofy, he’s morose, petulant, fickle, and is an unrepentant drunk. And, further to that, he’s not at all like he was originally portrayed in ‘Star Trek’. Now, I understand that there was a story to be told here about celebrity worship, how we sometimes make people larger than life, idealize them in ways that wouldn’t hold up to scrutiny – if our bias allowed us to scrutinize. But, seriously, there could have been a way to explore that without making the character so grating.
  • Deanna gets drunk: OMG. WTF. Not only does Deanna drink with Cochrane to befriend him, which is the dumbest thing ever, but you’d think that all her years as an empath would have provided her with better tools for getting through to someone. So lame. And further to that, Marina Sirtis’ portrayal was absolutely horrendous. I mean, it’s embarrassingly bad.
  • Data’s emotion chip: Alrighty, then: not only can Data suddenly turn off his emotion chip (I’d be curious to know who did the upgrade on him), but he does it by cricking his neck. Seriously? A highly-sophisticated machine like this has to crick his neck to switch a function on or off? I’m not even going to get into the wear and tear and potential long-term issues of such a method. Le sigh.
  • Big guns: A century prior, in ‘Star Trek’, Starfleet used phasers – some no greater than the palm of one’s hand. Here, they use… rifles! You’d think that the technology would improve over time, but no! And telling me that they’re more powerful makes no sense because, in that future, a rifle of that size would obliterate a small planet. No, what it is is that our gun culture doesn’t allow us to imagine a small team going to fend off an enemy without something bulky and macho in hand. Gosh… it’s a ridiculous sight in such cramped quarters. But, you know, big guns, dude! Woot!
  • Data gets caught: For some reason, the Borg slide a door up by a mere foot and a half, grab Data by the ankles and slide him under the door. It’s like something out of a cartoon, not a precise combat maneuver. Let’s not forget that the doors open sideways on the Enterprise, not upwards. And how is it that Data didn’t react, anyway, given the speed at which he thinks? It’s pure BS.
  • “Some kind of star trek”: ARGH! Need I say more?

But let’s anyway: does this exchange make sense to you?

Cmdr. William Riker: “But unless you make that warp flight tomorrow morning before eleven fifteen, none of it will happen.”

Dr. Zefram Cochrane: “And you people, you’re all astronauts on… some kind of star trek”

Man, what a failed wink at the audience. It’s like they wrote Cochrane’s line first thinking that it might be clever (It’s not!) and then tried to work it in. Poorly.

  • Data’s skin graft: Why is his real flesh yellow? I mean, it looks even less real than his fake skin. And what happened to it after they defeat the Borg? Did they put his synthetic (bullet-proof) skin back on? Or leave the real flesh on? If so, how does his body nourish that patch of live flesh?
  • Really crap CGI: There are probably other instances, but man… the Vulcan ship looked like garbage. There’s something to be said for using models, folks….

Somehow, though, these things don’t bother me much; I enjoy the movie without worrying about the minutia. ‘First Contact’ finds a nice balance between the time spent on Earth 2063 and the Enterprise. It’s not to say that this time is even. It isn’t. It’s just that the balance is the picture pitch-perfect.

It’s also anchored by a commanding Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard, who has always been terrific in the part but really took control for this outing – there is no doubt who is steering the ship. And film. It’s what’s made a superstar of him (a quick look at his filmography supports that assertion!).

Frankly, in this movie, it’s impossible not to be riveted to your seat when he’s on screen.

And this time, the main cast is generally good, with everyone upping their game after their lacklustre turns in ‘Generations’. Meanwhile, Alice Krige is utterly mesmerizing as the Borg Queen, ably filling the gap whenever Stewart isn’t on. Alfre Woodard is also quite good as Cochrane’s assistant.

Oh, and be on look-out for Robert Picardo’s hilarious turn as the Emergency Medical Hologram.

Another surprising character in the picture comes in the form of Jerry and Joel Goldsmith’s score, which incorporates the ‘TNG’ theme with nautical music, the Klingon theme, the strings from V’ger, and many other elements. It’s a truly excellent score – one of the best, if not the best, of the series.

For me, ‘Star Trek: First Contact’ restored my faith in the franchise, which had been stumbling along ever since ‘The Final Frontier‘. And it transitioned the franchise from the original crew to the ‘TNG’ crew, which finally showed that they were ready for the big time – especially Patrick Stewart.

It was to be the most successful of the ‘TNG’ motion pictures.

Date of viewing: August 18, 2016

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