30 June 2010

Star Trek: First Contact

Star Trek: First Contact Superior Next Generation Film
By Kristin Battestella

After an ill-received feature film outing in Star Trek Generations, it seemed the crew of Gene Roddenberry’s second series Star Trek: The Next Generation was not destined to make a successful leap to full length features.  Thankfully, 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact took a page from the original Star Trek, brought a memorable villain front and center, and thus gave TNG its best film outing.

Captain Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes, also First Contact’s director), and android Lieutenant Commander Data (Brent Spiner) must again face the Borg-a collective cybernetic enemy that wants to assimilate the human race. The new Enterprise E follow a small Borg sphere back in time to stop the Borg Queen (Alice Krige) from assimilating earth and preventing humanity’s first warp flight. Unfortunately, the crew finds the past is a dismal post apocalyptic time for Earth. Riker, engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) and Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) must convince warp drive pioneer Zephram Cochrane (James Cromwell) to continue with his historic flight so humanity will make First Contact as planned.  Picard, however, was once assimilated by the Borg and has troubles all his own in coming face to face with the Borg Queen.

Star Trek - First Contact (Two-Disc Special Collector's Edition)Long time Star Trek fans and newcomers to the Next Generation spin can enjoy First Contact’s tightly woven and multilayered storylines from longtime Trek  penners Rick Berman, Brannon Braga (24, FlashForward), and Ronald D. Moore (Roswell, Battlestar Galatica, Caprica).  When my husband agreed to a viewing without having seen the Emmy winning Next Generation two-part episode ‘The Best of Both Worlds’-which details Picard’s assimilation into the borg Locutus- I did have to explain a few things.  However, the wonderful, personal crew touches highlight any back-story needed, and the swift pacing from director Jonathan Frakes (Clockstoppers, Leverage) gets us into the situation onboard the starship Enterprise.  Using the big budget cinematic time and scope, First Contact is able to delve and deliver even more than the finest points of the TNG series.  Just like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, First Contact excels in taking its television roots to the next level.  In The Borg, TNG’s created a new staple for the franchise, a terrifying- nay rapacious villain that sought to take away our identity and individuality and substitute collective brainwashing and technological terrors.  Knowing the weight of the onscreen enemy as well as his co-stars’ characters and needs, Frakes strikes a balance between several dramatic arcs, action sequences, and dispersed humor while still leaving room for the guest stars and mission at hand to develop and shine. 

Over seven seasons as Captain Picard, Patrick Stewart (X-Men, Robin Hood Men in Tights ) endeared us to the French diplomat with high standards and Shakespearean charm.  In First Contact, Steward adds more dimension to Picard, crafting a captain with a past and a dark side bent on forceful vengeance blinding him to the needs of ship and crew.  Picard is angry, taking matters into his own hands and spearheading the drama of First Contact.  All this and Stewart still gives us some fine wit and tender moments with several crewmembers, too.  Likewise, Brent Spiner (Independence Day, Threshold) gives new dimension to Data.  Spiner wonderfully handles the irony that an android seeking to be more human can find his ambition via a collective of cybernetic drones.  Data’s ability to turn off his emotions chip is also dealt with in delightful scenes, returning us to the personal heart of science fiction-the humanity.  Alice Krige (Sharpe, Sleepwalkers, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) perfectly matches the big boys with a bizarre mix of class, power, disturbia, and sex appeal.  We’re not supposed to like the Borg Queen, yet Krige captivates us with her allure and uses the basic truths of the collective to her juicy advantage. 

Further guest stars add to First Contact’s multi-dimensional explorations.  Emmy winner Alfre Woodard (The Practice, Miss Evers’ Boys, Hill Street Blues) is exceptional as Lily, a 21st century human caught in between Picard and his battle with the Borg.  This is not the stereotypical hot girl enjoying the fish out of water spaceship fun.  Woodard keeps Lily pissy, strong, and no less lovely with stature and intelligence.  Of several great scenes in First Contact, Lily and Picard’s Moby Dick debate may be the finest in the film.  It is simplistic to equate a ship captain’s revenge to the famed Ahab, yes; but the allusion connects the past and future humans together in a touching, universal theme.  The irony that the space faring and advanced Picard has read the book-since his society does not define human value purely by the accumulation of wealth- and Lily in her desolate, post-war life has not adds to the importance of humanity’s art and individualism in this dangerous mission against the Borg.  Of course, James Cromwell (Babe, L.A. Confidential, The Queen) shines as conflicted engineer Zepfram Cochrane.  Trek history regards the legend with the highest honors, statues, and status, yet the Enterprise crew meets the man here.  And Cochrane is indeed simply a man who drinks, likes girls, and listens to rock and roll.  Cromwell is excellent as the cynical drunkard who is suddenly confronted with the mantle of greatness he has not yet achieved.  The relatable mix of anger, fear of failure, and humor keep Cochrane endearing.  It’s man versus himself at its finest.    

The rest of the Next Generation cast has precious little time to strut their stuff, but the gang is A okay nonetheless.  Each crewmember has a personal moment to shine, with lovely exchanges between Michael Dorn (borrowed from his subsequent move to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) as Worf and Gates McFadden (Mad About You) as Doctor Beverly Crusher.  Frakes (North and South, Falcon Crest) and LeVar Burton (Reading Rainbow, Roots) have their witty moments humoring Cochrane, and Dwight Schultz (The A-Team) even has a spot as bumbling Lieutenant Reginald Barclay.  Marina Sirtis (Crash, Gargoyles) has a bizarre, comedic drinking scene, too, before getting serious for the big finish. We should know better since he’s a red-shirted Lieutenant, but Neal McDonough (Desperate Housewives, Boomtown) is also a lot of fun as new helmsman Hawk.  

Despite its years and the subsequent better visually designed Trek material, First Contact looks dang good.  The Enterprise E’s design and graphics look like the natural progression between The Next Generation and later series and films.  The glowing, claustrophobic, dark, and even spooky and suspenseful Borg also look wonderfully deadly and dangerous.  You can’t let them touch and assimilate you, yet one can walk among the creepy, zombie like drones until perceived as a threat.   Earth’s post World War III shabby and shanty bleakness is fittingly drab against the Enterprise’s stylized Dixon Hill holodeck glamour, and of course, the upside down spacewalk sequence still looks great.  Yes, everybody’s older and perhaps some things are better looking or too far changed from the style of the series- but advances in film production are understandable.  The fine action and effects of First Contact accent and complete the characters at hand.  The late Oscar winner Jerry Goldsmith’s (The Omen, Mulan) traditional Star Trek music themes also keep things familiar and relatable by swelling at all the right moments-be they personal or spectacle.

Star Trek audiences surely know and love First Contact.  Completists will also take to the sub par follow-ups Insurrection and Nemesis, but The Next Generation is best left on the big screen here. Newer fans from the 2009 reboot should also give this stylized leap a chance- as should non-Trek science fiction viewers.  Understandably, audiences who don’t like the TNG cast will have a tough time here, or maybe the humor and quick pace is out of place for some.  Thankfully, the overall development and far-reaching science fiction themes go beyond the mythos of Star Trek.  Even non-sf fans can find the depths and drama they’re looking for in First Contact.  With only a few moments of innuendo, genre family audiences can certainly spend the night here, too.  Trek lovers can enjoy the Special Collectors Edition DVD for plenty of behind the scenes, commentaries, trailers, and more or upgrade to the new blu-ray release.  For families looking for a quick fix, rental and streaming options are available as well. Introduce yourself to The Next Generation or love it all over again with  Star Trek - First Contact.


Shaun said...

First Contact by far was the best of the TNG movies. It was the most complete Star Trek Movie since Star Trek IV in my opinion. I think unfortunately there was a need for Generations, but I think it should have been the series finale instead of Best of Both Worlds, although that in itself was a great episode. First Contact distanced itself from the television show with a new ship, also basically destroying the Defiant as well. Frakes did an outstanding job directing this movie, and all the actors stepped up there game to a new level. I was discussing Star Trek movies with the ultimate movie geek I work with at DISH, ad we will go round and round about each of the movies except First Contact, it’s the only one that both of us agree is a first class movie. After reading this review, made me want to see the movie, so I was looking on blockbuster @ home to see if it was on one of the twenty movie channels I get with the package, but alas it wasn’t. I found the 2009 Star Trek, which is good in its own rights, but no First Contact until I looked in the DVD by Mail section, so now its on its way so I can enjoy it again, and torture my girlfriend with it. In my own defense she made me watch Highlander The Source last week because she has a thing for Adrian Paul, but from that movie it wasn’t his acting

Kristin Battestella said...

Hi Shaun! Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

I, too, got suckered into watching First Contact again the other day. Indeed it steps everything up from the series and takes it to the next level, the ships, the borg- you never question that we didn't see the Borg Queen before! You pin Generations perfectly, it seems like a supersized what if episode, and some of the two parters were better! My husband and I argue between II and IV, but who doesn't like First Contact, honestly? ;0)

It was streaming on Netflix, but we broke down and got the two blu ray movie sets last year. The 2009 redux is okay, looks nice, but I felt the focus on crew and character was lacking, replaced by the youth and flash. But I know that's just me.

As to Highlander, I have no idea why on earth they bothered with The Source, horrible, horrible! But We do have Highlander reviews here and screen captures of Adrian Paul....just saying. Hehe

Again, thanks for taking the time to visit and leave a nice comment! Always nice to chat with a fellow fan. :0)