Should I Watch..? 'Star Trek: First Contact'
What's the big deal?
Star Trek: First Contact is an action sci-fi film released in 1996 and is the eighth film in the Star Trek film series. The first film to not feature any cast members of the original TV show, the film follows the Next Generation crew as they attempt to prevent the Borg from wiping humanity off the face of the Earth via the nefarious method of time travel. Directed by cast member Jonathan Frakes in his big-screen directorial debut, the film also stars Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Alfre Woodard, James Cromwell and Alice Krige. The film was hailed by critics as a return to form for the franchise, being both an exciting action adventure while still examining themes such as obsession, revenge, loyalty and friendship. Audiences agreed and the film went on to earn in excess of $146 million worldwide, the most of any Star Trek film until 2009's reboot Star Trek. Today, it is regarded as the best film featuring the Next Generation cast and one of the best of the film series.
What's it about?
Six years after being assimilated by the Borg, USS Enterprise captain Jean-Luc Picard still suffers from nightmares about the experience as well as hearing the collective in his mind. Contacted by Admiral Hayes, Picard's worst fears have been realised - the Borg have sent one of their massive cubic spaceships to Earth and the Federation are ill-equipped to defend themselves. However, due to Picard's past involvement with the Borg, Starfleet order the Enterprise to patrol the Neutral Zone instead of engaging directly with the enemy. After hearing the near total destruction of the Federation fleet engaging with the Borg, Picard disobeys his orders and proceeds to Earth at maximum warp.
Rescuing former colleague Worf from the Defiant and organising a successful assault on the Borg cube, they witness a single Borg sphere launch into Earth's atmosphere and initiate a time-travel manoeuvre in an attempt to prevent humanity from making 'first contact' with alien life and easily taking over the world. On instinct, Picard and the Enterprise follow the sphere back in time to try to repair the damage the Borg have caused to the space-time continuum. But it may appear as though the Borg have more than enough tricks of their own to stay one step ahead...
Captain Jean-Luc Picard
First Officer William Riker
Lt. Comm. Data
Lt. Comm. Geordi La Forge
Dr Beverly Crusher
Counsellor Deanna Troi
The Borg Queen
Brannon Brega & Ronald D. Moore*
Release Date (UK)
13th December, 1996
Action, Adventure, Drama, Sci-Fi
Academy Award Nominations
What's to like?
It can't have been easy following on from the eternally popular films featuring the original crew of the Enterprise but Frakes have delivered a film that pleases not just hardcore fans of the show but also newcomers attracted by a fresher-faced cast. The film stays true to the character of the show by including some thought-provoking dialogue such as Cochrane's response to being told his legacy to the almost sexual interplay between Data and the Borg Queen. In between these moments, the film engages in several action scenes between the beleaguered crew and the Borg who look much nastier and deadlier than they ever did in the show. They really belong in a movie, their vast ships filling the screen and their cavernous interiors stretching beyond limit.
Stewart, freed from the shackles of playing second fiddle to former captain William Shatner in previous movie Star Trek Generations, uses all of his Shakespearean gravitas to deliver a performance we've rarely seen in the TV show. Picard has gone from being a diplomatic captain to a genuine man of action and still has time to show off those impressive acting muscles, especially alongside Woodard who makes an impression as "guest star". Cromwell's alcoholic rogue is also a welcome change of character from the buttoned-up norm we get from this lot and has most of the film's humour. The story doesn't confuse newcomers too much by requiring in-depth knowledge of the show but it does contain plenty of references and in-jokes for fans to enjoy such as the unexpected and welcome appearance of Robert Picardo as the holographic doctor seen in Star Trek: Voyager. The humour might not be as funny as you may hope but given the inherent darkness of the Borg and the horror etched onto the faces of those assimilated, it is a welcome distraction.
- The USS Defiant, the ship Worf battles the Borg cube in at the start of the film, was introduced in the series Star Trek: Deep Space 9 specifically for the purpose of fighting the Borg. However, its fleeting appearance here was the only time the ship was ever shown for its intended purpose.
- Dorn, Spiner, McFadden and Frakes have all cited this film as the best one featuring the Next Gen cast. Sirtis, who was barely used in First Contact, claimed to have enjoyed filming the previous film more but conceded that this was the better film.
- The character of Zefram Cochrane first appeared in the original Star Trek TV show played by Glenn Corbett in the 1967 episode 'Metamorphosis'. Cromwell's character, however, is much older than Corbett was when he was on the show and is clearly from Earth and not Alpha Centauri, as stated in that episode. It is unclear whether they are the same character or not.
- When Lily points out to the Borg Sphere, Cochrane believes she is pointing to the constellation Leo. One of the stars in the Leo constellation is Wolf 359, the site of a cataclysmic battle between the Federation and the Borg in the Next Generation series. It occurred in the same two-parter episode that saw Picard assimilated and turned into Locutus Of Borg as briefly shown in this film.
What's not to like?
As much as I enjoyed the film, there were several things that were nagging away at my attention throughout and after the film had finished - somewhat abruptly, I felt. While certain characters get their moments to shine in the film, the likes of Troi and Dr Crusher are largely forgotten about while Picard, Data and Cochrane get much more screen time and narrative dedicated to them. What's worse is that Data also had a significant subplot in the previous film - couldn't one of the female cast members have a juicy story-line to sink their teeth into for once? The time-travel plot-device also felt like reheated leftover - both Generations and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home uses the same device and to be honest, it didn't feel as wondrous and miraculous as it might have once upon a time.
Another issue is familiarity with the cast - because most of the film's audience will have watched at least some of the TV show, it's inevitable that some of them will consider the film to be a big budget extended episode and it's hard to argue otherwise. Yes, the Borg have had a makeover and the effects are smooth and polished compared to the model work seen in the show but the new ship doesn't inspire you the way the old one did. Even the talk about initiating the ship's self-destruct sequence had a stench of deja-vu about it, stripping away the dramatic implications of such an act. It feels harsh to point these faults out because, at the end of the day, First Contact is a great film that manages to balance action, horror, sci-fi and comedy in a way that the very best Trek movies always do. But it just lacks a spark of genius to set it apart from its stablemates and that's a real shame.
Should I watch it?
It is the best film featuring the Next Generation crew but First Contact feels a long way from the highlights of the film series like The Wrath Of Khan and The Undiscovered Country. The film is a deft blend of sci-fi action, philosophy, horror and humour that deserves to be recognised and makes this as enjoyable a film as the series has produced. But it's poor treatment of some cast members and repetitive plot fail to disguise the fact that the film feels like a special episode of the show, despite the new effects.
Great For: anyone who thinks Trek films can't do action well, Stewart reminding us of his background with the RSC, Borg fans (the baddies, not the tennis player)
Not So Great For: Marina Sirtis and Gates McFadden, anyone sick of Spiner stealing the spotlight, theoretical physicists
What else should I watch?
The reason I refer to this as the first 'proper' Next Gen film is because despite taking over the reins of the franchise midway through Star Trek Generations, they still had to deal with the black-hole-like ego that is the ham William Shatner, still clinging on to Kirk with white knuckles and gritted teeth. The film benefits from improved effects over the TV show and veteran baddie actor Malcolm McDowell (not to mention Whoopi Goldberg who is noticeably absent from this film) but alas, the following films couldn't quite maintain the series' standards. Star Trek: Insurrection was a terminally dull exercise that failed to excite and by the time Star Trek: Nemesis arrived, the series was financially in free-fall.
Following the cancellation of TV show Enterprise, the franchise meant into an imposed hiatus until reboot specialist J.J. Abrams delivered a... umm, reboot called Star Trek, cleverly serving as both a prequel and introduction of a completely new timeline. Chris Pine took over as Kirk, Zachary Quinto popped up as Spock and self-proclaimed King Of The Nerds Simon Pegg supported as Scotty. Critics loved it but I felt that the film concentrated too much effects and action instead of story-telling - I couldn't tell you what exactly it's about and it's been followed up by two sequels - Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond. The future, however, remains uncertain. Rumours persist of a forthcoming film possibly directed by Quentin Tarantino but frankly, this seems about as likely as me getting a food replicator installed in my kitchen.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox