Star Trekking VIII: First Contact

Posted: July 8, 2014 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews, Retrospectives

*Review contains spoilers

first contactWritten by Daniel “PG Cooper” Simpson

I wasn’t very fond of Star Trek: Generations, but I had hopes that the following “The Next Generation” entry, First Contact, would be a lot better. The film is generally thought of as the best film of “The Next Generation” era. Plus, it featured the iconic Trek race of the Borg, and I was excited to finally see them on screen. But before going into the film, I did something I didn’t think I would, at least until I had finished “Star Trekking”; watch some episodes of the tv series. Specifically the TNG two-parter “The Best of Both Worlds”. I’d been told that I probably wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy First Contact without having seen them, so I, somewhat reluctantly, gave the episodes a whirl. Well, I’m glad I did because not only were the episodes really damn good, but they also gave me a better understanding of the new crew, the Borg, and generally amped for First Contact. So after all of that build up, I can finally look at the film itself.

The Borg, an alien race of cyborgs bent on assimilating all life and cultures, have entered Federation space and are moving towards Earth. Though Picard is initially instructed to stay out of the battle, he and the Enterprise race in at the zero hour, dealing critical damage to the Borg’s ship. However a smaller ship is launched from the Borg cube which ends up travelling back in time to the mid-21st century on the day before humans made first contact with the Vulcans, a moment which would eventually lead to vast breakthroughs in all eras for humanity, along with the forming of the Federation. the Borg plan not only to stop this event from occuring, but to assimilate the planet, turning all humans into Borg drones. Picard and his crew stand ready to fight, but they become vulnerable when the Borg infiltrate The Enterprise and begin taking over.

Star Trek: First Contact gets off to a bit of a rough start. The whole element of Picard being sidelined could have been interesting, but he disregards the order so quickly that it never really mattered. The scene where Picard chooses to disobey is supposed to be an epic little moment, complete with Data commenting, “To Hell with our orders”, but it’s so early in the film that it falls flat. After that, we get what is actually a pretty cool space battle between the Borg Cube and a host of Federation ships, but it is unfortunately cut short by Picard, through a psychic link with the Borg, knowing exactly where to shoot to destroy the Borg Cube. How anti-climactic, the Borg Cube which was so mighty and threatening in “The Best of Both Worlds”, and here it is so easily disposed of.

Still, once the film transitions to the 21st century, things do improve quite a bit. The bulk of the film is spent on the Enterprise, where the Borg have situated themselves, and the fight for control of the ship which follows. This stuff is really good. There’s a lot of tension throughout and it’s really enjoyable to watch Picard and the others try to fight there way through, particularly as the Borg begin to adapt and the crew’s weapons gradually become useless. It’s a unique scenario for the Star Trek films, one which is very reminiscent of a monster movie, with a group of people trying to survive the onslaught of deadly creatures. The story also leads to some creative and varied set-pieces. Additionally, this is the most impressive Star Trek film in regards to special effects. Now, obviously this one was utilizing more advanced technology than the films that came before, but even if each film is judged purely in relation to it’s contemporaries, First Contact still edges the others out. While previous Trek films were impressive, they were generally upstaged by the production values of comparable works like Star Wars, Alien, Blade Runner, and Aliens. This is not the case with First Contact, which features great art direction, stunning space battles, and excellent make-up which is true to the original Borg design while enhancing it. The film as a whole has a very professional feel, which is all the more surprising given that this was Jonathan Frakes’ (who also plays Riker) directorial debut, at least as far as theatrical films go. Kudos to him for being able to handle so many varied elements so well.

For all it’s spectacle, First Contact still places value on characters and themes. The heart of the film has Picard, a character usually defined by his level-headed and calm thinking, in a position of rage and hatred. In addition to knowing the devastation the Borg can cause, Picard has a personal vendetta for his assimilation years prior. Throughout the movie, Picard is driven by violence, at times making reckless decisions in the name of hurting the Borg. It’s like a reversal of The Wrath of Khan, where the hero is the vengeful force driving things instead of the villain. There’s also some interesting stuff going on with Data, who has always tried to become more human (at least according to this film, I’m assuming it’s true of the show as well). Through assimilation, the Borg are offering Data just that, and watching his temptation grow is rewarding as well.

Much as I wish I could wholeheartedly endorse First Contact, there are a number of elements which hold it back. Namely that while Picard is fighting the Borg on the Enterprise, Riker and a few other crew members are aiding Dr. Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) on his first spaceflight which leads to contact with the Klingons. This subplot has a much lighter tone than the main story and a lot of the tension is diffused when the focus comes here. What’s more frustrating is that this subplot is actually pretty interesting and features a fun turn from James Cromwell, but I’m so much more invested in the Borg storyline that I end not caring about what goes on on Earth. The climax is also disappointing, as the suspense is needlessly drawn between Picard, Data, and the Borg Queen. It all goes nowhere and ends up being a big waste of time. I’m also not entirely sure how I feel about the Borg Queen. Alice Kirge gives a good performance, but I miss the collective intelligence from “Best of Both Worlds”. A more conventional villainous leader is a bit of a letdown, and what of the ending? After the Queen is killed all of the other Borgs on the ship are destroyed. Is that the end of the Borg once and for all? If so, that’s kind of a lame way to go, not to mention cheap.

I have reservations about First Contact. I wish there was more of a balance between the two stories and the film also a fair share of plotholes. But the good stuff here, namely the action, effects, themes, and main story, are all pretty damn good. On the whole, this is a very enjoyable movie in spite of some fundamental problems. Will this end up being The Wrath of Khan of The Next Generation films? Given that I don’t think this is anywhere near as good as that film, I kind of hope not. Still, if this is the best they can do, they could have done a lot worse.

B

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