Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

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Unlike the original series, Star Trek: The Next Generation came to a bit of an unnatural end in 1994 as Paramount decided that, since the original cast would no longer be making any new films, it was time for the new cast to do so.  The result was Star Trek: Generations which, though it suffered a bit from still being in the shadow of the original series as well as being difficult to understand if not already familiar with TNG, was a good beginning.

Star Trek: First Contact shows the movies with the TNG cast coming into their own, with Jonathan Frakes directing (as he frequently did on the television show) and a story a bit more friendly for those that are not deep into Star Trek lore.  To put this movie in perspective it deals directly with the aftermath of the two-part episode "The Best of Both Worlds", which served as the Season 3 cliffhanger with its resolution as the beginning episode of Season 4.  This dealt with the Borg, a collective cybernetic race, engaging in a full-scale invasion of the United Federation of Planets and, at one point, capturing Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and assimilating him.  He is given the name Locutus of Borg.

Picard is eventually rescued and the implants removed, and, on the show, there is a brief time where the post-traumatic stress and his anger toward the Borg are explored.  Being the episodic show it was, rather unlike the season-long story arcs we get now, that was quickly left behind in favor of the usual challenge-of-the-week and character development stories the show was known for.  It occasionally popped up whenever there was a Borg episode, but the Borg they typically encountered afterward were altered significantly by the crew releasing a drone they named Hugh back into the Collective, causing a large section to regain their individuality, and attempts by Data's evil brother Lore to use them to take over the galaxy.  

Picard's experiences come back full force as the original Borg Collective attempts another attack, this time heading straight for Earth.  Because Starfleet Command still does not trust Picard due to his capture he and the new Enterprise E are left patrolling the Neutral Zone to make sure the Romulans behave themselves.  Eventually, however, Earth's defenses are overwhelmed and Picard orders the Enterprise into battle, rescuing Lieutenant Commander Worf (Michael Dorn) and his crew from the Defiant and helping to destroy the Borg cube.  Unfortunately, a sphere exits the cube prior to its destruction and opens a temporal passage.  Caught in its wake the Enterprise is unaffected by the change in the timeline, but they see an Earth radically changed by Borg assimilation.

The passage leads back to 2063, just days before the first warp drive is tested by its inventor Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell), and it becomes obvious that the Borg's actual intention is to prevent the warp flight and thus alter history.  Also, before the sphere is destroyed, drones are beamed aboard the Enterprise and begin assimilating its crew.  While Commanders Riker (Jonathan Fakes) and LaForge (Levar Burton) and Couselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) attempt to help Cochrane achieve his goal, Picard, Worf and Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) must find a way to stop them, while Data (Brent Spiner) is captured by the Borg Queen (Alice Krige).

Not only is Star Trek: First Contact undisputedly the best of the Next Generation movies, but it also one of the best in the series.  Patrick Stewart often lamented that, unlike William Shatner's Captain Kirk, Picard didn't get to do as much fighting and fornicating.  While there is none of the latter this time around he definitely gets to do more than sit back and make clever quips.  However, we also get to see some of Picard's faults, which are called out by a Cochrane's assistant Lilly (Alfre Woodard).  As for Cochrane, there is a bit of retconning (in the original series it was said he was from a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, though now it's proposed that is where he retired), but Cromwell himself is having a wonderful time playing the character.  It is also fun watching the reactions of the Enterprise crew to a genre of music that seems to have been largely forgotten by the 24th century. 

There are some corny parts.  Michael Dorn's delivery of the line, "Assimilate this," just doesn't work at all.  I know it's attempt to add in the wisecracking that was popular in American action films at the time, but it is clear he was uncomfortable with the line, and it is also out of character for Worf.  Compare that to a point where Picard calls Worf a coward and how much tension there is between two well-rounded characters, and it seems like even more of a mistake to give Worf a Schwarzenneger-style line.  Even clunkier is Cochrane name-dropping the entire series; the line goes over about as well as a shuttle craft with a screen door.  Also, the scene between the Borg Queen and Data, which is a callback to the first-season episode "The Naked Now", is unbelievably awkward.  I understand the need to add in some reasoning to why Picard was not just a normal drone and still had an individual designation, but oversexualizing the Queen was a major mistake. 

That doesn't eclipse all the good here - Zefram's first flight, the first contact mentioned in the title, Lily's (and, actually, Woolard's) realistic reactions to the Borg drones and her speech to Picard near the end that brings him back to reality - plus so many other little things, such as Barclay (Dwight Schultz) fanboying Cochrane.  The effects have improved, with a mix of practical and CGI that stands up to this day, and up until Worf utters that stupid line their EVA to prevent the Borg's goal is rather well-done despite the use of sound in space.  The Borg, of course, look infinitely better than they ever did on the show. 

I can see why some fans chafed at the changes in the way some of the characters are presented, but by this point they have already lost the ship they spent seven years on and at least the senior staff, who (save Worf) are still together after that disaster, it makes sense.  Also, while Picard is usually the consummate diplomat and not the hot-head that Kirk was, it is good to see that he has human fallibilities.  It is less "lock and load" as some have suggested and more an overly macho reaction to the one thing, other than losing the ship, that scares Picard the most.  

Audiences responded favorably, with this earning the most money of an of the Star Trek films until the 2009 reboot.  Unfortunately the promise of this wouldn't be fulfilled, but for fans of the show at least one of the films justifies Paramount's decision - although it may have been better just to the let the show run another couple seasons and let it end naturally.  This story would have formed one of the best episodes, but it is also nice to have one last Trek movie from the original series to remember fondly.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Time: 111 minutes
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Bren Spiner, Levar Burton, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Gates McFadden, James Cromwell, Alfre Woodard, Alice Krige
Director: Jonathan Frakes

 

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