Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Written by Brannon Braga & Ronald D. Moore

I was very excited with Star Trek: Generations to find a break from the original series. We got that, but only partially, as some of the old crew popped up in the beginning and Captain Kirk ends up playing a rather vital role in the unfurling of the plot. So what about Star Trek: First Contact? Well, I can say we finally get a whole Star Trek movie where the cast is entirely different. I don’t want to risk sounding un-entertained by the original series/cast. Go back and read my reviews, I enjoyed them. But rather, after 7 and a half films, I’m ready for a fresh start. Generations whetted the palate, but First Contact is the main course I believe, as we get a rocking adventure with a whole new(ish) crew, with the incomparable Patrick Stewart leading the charge.

Some of the stories that have been told by the Star Trek films have showed the type of trekking they’re talking about, but none have been quite as inspiring and inspirational as this one. I’ve called Star Trek the “wholesome” version of Star Wars before because it deals with space exploration, not a story framed within an already lived in “space”. With First Contact, we get the opportunity to go back to the beginning of the grand adventure, the noble trek through the stars (we even get a character to say the phrase “star trek” unironically!) More than any before it, this film feels like the NASA Star Trek film, and I mean that in a great way. A lot of my love of science fiction actually begins with science NON-fiction. Apollo 13 is an easy film to point to, but in general, what boy didn’t dream of becoming an astronaut and exploring the stars? First Contact in some ways, embodies that ambition, and connects it to what Starfleet stands for and how these crew members strive for a better life, a better universe.

In some ways, this feels like The Voyage Home: Part Two, but without the outright silliness of that episode. Okay, so the two are only mildly similar, but I’ve found already that time travel is apparently a popular thing in the Star Trek universe. Even in Generations, the crew spent time on a Clipper on the holodeck. Whether they actually time travel, or just romanticize the past, there is a definite vibe of being reverential of the past in these films. While I passed off the time travel in The Voyage Home as being difficult and not something used very often, the way in which it is portrayed here seems much more convenient. The Borg simply will a temporal vortex out of thin air, and the Enterprise follow behind. Time travel can be tricky, and I usually give things the benefit of the doubt in this situation. I recognize that the time travel here is unlikely, but I’m also not going to throw a hissy fit over it.

Some other minor quibbles would involve the Borg themselves. I get the whole host concept, wherein they are motivated simply to use host organisms to do their bidding, etc. But as a non-series viewer, I know very little to nothing of their history and background. What motivates them? Do they have a simple, base motivation to just take over the universe? Who is the Borg Queen? I know she lays down the law, but who lays it down to her, what makes her the leader, with the ability to think and reason on her own? I think overall I was able to sweep these questions under the rug and enjoy the ride otherwise, especially because the idiosyncrasies of the Borg are fascinating. I quite enjoyed the Lily subplot, being on board the ship. And the other crew are each given just enough to do to stay involved. Each has their own task they’re responsible for in the mission.

Overall, the plotting of this film seems to be much more polished than that of Generations, a film which I thought was very well written but somewhat poorly executed. Putting Next Generation star and veteran television episode director Jonathan Frakes behind the camera seems to steady the delivery of this tale. There is nothing much flashy about the film, but Frakes does well to tell the story as it’s written and get out of the way of himself, which lets the story of human’s first contact with aliens breathe, and ultimately flourish. Of course, the acting has some to do with that, as we once again get a very good performance from Patrick Stewart as Picard, but James Cromwell is also a star as Zefram Cochran, the scientist from 2063 who, after the third World War decimates humanity, develops warp drive technology, attracting the attention of further advanced extra-terrestrials.

I really enjoyed all the interplay between Cochran and the crew, who essentially worshiped him. But his story is very human as well, admitting that he wasn’t looking for a way to unite humanity, et al., but rather was simply looking to make a buck in the rather bleak post-war landscape. I think the film does wonders humanizing heroes, showing the audience that the greatest achievements are attainable, not mythological. The film even depicts a flawed Picard, who was assimilated by the Borg, and must learn to overcome his emotional connection with them (or rather against them). We all learn from one another and our experiences, especially our joint experiences. That is what makes First Contact such a soaring Star Trek film. Wholesome indeed, First Contact is top-notch in how it illustrates the future, the lack of “economy” and money as we know it, the ambition of humanity, the hope to boldly go where no one has before. It works here. This is the pinnacle of that principle.

★★★★ – Loved It

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