Star Trek: First Contact was released in 1996 and it’s the first film of the saga to focus exclusively on the crew led by Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). Written by Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore like Star Trek: Generations two years before, and directed by Jonathan Two-Takes Frakes, it’s considered by many to be the best film of The Next Generation era. In my opinion, not unlike the previous film, it’s a mixed bag… But we’ll get there! Let’s start with some plot.
After six years of absence, the Borg are back. They’re launching an attack on the Federation with a single Cube that proves to be a sturdy adversary against many Starfleet vessels gathered to stop it. The stunning new Enterprise E is not among them, though, following orders to hold back due to his captain’s past as Locutus (see The Best of Both Worlds, TNG Season 3). When things go wrong, Picard saves the day, but a Borg probe gets launched towards Earth and into a time vortex. The Enterprise is the only ship capable of following it to undo the tremendous damage it could do in the past…
As I anticipated above, I don’t fully appreciate this movie. I find the first part unbearable. Then, I like one of the two stories which unfold in the 21st century, namely the one on Earth with Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell), but I find irritating the part on the Enterprise with the relentless executioner Picard. Let me explain.
The first part of the film has such big plot holes that I hardly believe it came out of the minds of Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore:
- When the Borg invade Federation space, why does Starfleet wait until they are right outside Earth to engage them?
- And why keep Picard away, do the Admirals really fear he could betray the Federation? And why should he do something like that? Among other things, it turns out to be an extremely stupid move: Picard single-handedly disintegrates the Borg Cube in 5 seconds, perhaps it would have been better to invite him to the party from the start!
- Then… Worf (Michael Dorn – were Sisko, Dax and the others busy with baseball?) is about to go kamikaze with the USS Defiant, a warship DESIGNED to fight the Borg? Well done, Worf!
- And why is the Enterprise only concerned with the Defiant, given that at least another dozen ships are in a similar situation?
- But above all… Couldn’t the Borg send their probe back in time light years from the battle, and go quietly to the Earth of the past to change the future? Why waiting to be slaughtered by the Federation fleet led by Picard?
Ah, I feel better already. And then after such a stupid start the film can only get better, right? It does: the part in which Cochrane aided by Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Troi (Marina Sirtis) and LaForge (LeVar Burton) must make the first warp speed space travel (leading to the title’s first contact) is simply fantastic.
Unfortunately, the part on the Enterprise with the Borg invasion and Picard, Worf, Data (Brent Spiner) and the fish-out-of-water Lily (Alfre Woodard) is not quite as good. It’s all big phaser rifles, one liners as if it were the Eighties, Picard dressed as John MacLane telling everyone not to have mercy and kill all the already assimilated crewmen… WTF!? If they had done the same with him, he would’ve been dead long ago! He was saved from being Locutus of Borg, so why doesn’t he allow others to be saved as well, killing all the unfortunate comrades who fall into the hands of the Borg?
Well, despite everything I said, I’ve watched this movie multiple times and there are many scenes that I do appreciate. I like Frakes as a director, he made many interesting choices in terms of subjective shots, fish eyes and wide angles, Dutch angles, and he gave a horror touch to the movie which fits well with the Borg modifying the bodies of the humanoids they manage to assimilate. Plus, rock and roll addict Cochrane is amazing, and it’s nice to see how the character differs from the expectations of our Enterprise heroes (and those of the audience based on the TOS episode Metamorphosis).
The special effects are very good, both in terms of Borg characterization (the Queen played by Alice Krige is as great as she is creepy) and in space battles, and I’m including the zero gravity fight outside the Enterprise hull. There’s even Robert Picardo as the Emergency Medical Hologram saying “I’m a doctor, not a doorstop“, how couldn’t I appreciate such a thing?
But… but this TNG movie again denies everything that the series had built in its seven seasons! Picard was not a violent avenger, and here he’s portrayed as a sort of Captain Ahab on a personal crusade, something really negative for a character who had always preferred dialogue to the use of force. The figure of Ahab had already been used in Star Trek but usually for antagonists and the like: think of Khan in Star Trek II (1982) or Commodore Decker from The Doomsday Machine, also from TOS. The one time Kirk behaved like Ahab, the story didn’t convince at all (see Obsession).
So here’s a different character for no plausible reason, if not the ego of Patrick Stewart who wanted to have fun with guns and doing everything himself in the movie. The same goes for Data, once again experiencing emotions like in Generations, unlike during the seven years of TNG during which we learned to love the character! And then why did Geordi visor disappear, without even an explanation?
In short, I understand that First Contact is considered the most successful TNG film for its mix of action and humor (and that’s what the actors themselves say at the conventions when they talk about it), but honestly I don’t particularly like it. I don’t even understand why it was decided to do another time travel adventure after the one of the Nexus in Generations!
I conclude by saying that if you’re looking for two hours of well-shot and entertaining action with some horror bits and you don’t care about having good characters or a plot that makes sense, First Contact can be a good way to spend your evening. I spent myself several evenings watching this movie, but I can’t help but notice its flaws in a honest review such as this one. Ciao!
PS: funny that Cochrane says “star trek” in a dialogue!