“They invade our space, and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds, and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn HERE!”
–Captain Jean-Luc Picard
As part of the 30th anniversary celebration of Star Trek, Paramount Pictures has just released the eighth Star Trek motion picture and the second to feature the cast of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” (ST:TNG). The movie is “Star Trek: First Contact,” and it stands on its own as one of the best Star Trek movies in the series. Best of all, you can know absolutely nothing about Star Trek and still enjoy a wonderful ride.
It is obvious that everyone involved with the movie wanted to make this one special — and erase the memories of the less-than-stellar silver screen debut of the ST:TNG cast in 1994’s “Star Trek: Generations.” While “Generations” had its moments, it featured a not-so fleshed out and sometimes confusing script. Happily, “First Contact” features a solid, logical story that’s interesting, exciting, and filled with action.
As the movie opens aboard the starship Enterprise, our 24th century heroes of Starfleet learn that the Borg, a race of malevolent cybernetic beings, have launched an all-out attack on Earth. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) had been abducted by the Borg years ago (in one of the very best episodes of the ST:TNG) and was surgically altered and brainwashed into leading an assault against Starfleet in which thousands of lives were lost. While he has long since recovered from his experience, Picard is still troubled by a tingling connection to the Borg — a sense that they are still trying to manipulate him.
A massive space battle — one of the best in recent film and certainly the best in any Star Trek movie — is fought over the skies of Earth. The Enterprise arrives just in time to watch a Borg ship make a slip into a time travel warp. Suddenly, history has been changed — Earth is now overrun with nine billion Borg — and humanity and all its peaceful space exploration has been annihilated.
With no choice but to try to undo the damage the Borg have done, Picard orders the Enterprise to follow into the time warp. The crew find themselves on Earth in the mid twenty-first century, on the eve of the day when the legendary Zephram Cochrane (James Cromwell, best known as Farmer Hoggett in last year’s “Babe”) created an amazing faster than light “warp” drive system, allowing humanity to reach out and make first contact (hence the title) with an extraterrestrial race — the Vulcans (those nice pointy-eared folks who gave us Mr. Spock).
To make certain this historic event doesn’t occur, the Borg launch a vicious attack on Cochrane’s lab, where he and his assistant, Lily Sloane (Alfre Woodard of “How to Make an American Quilt,” “Heart and Souls”) have been working on the new warp drive “Phoenix rocket” in an abandoned nuclear missile silo.
Casting Cromwell as Zephram Cochrane was also brilliant. Rather than playing him as the nerdy scientist first portrayed by actor Glenn Corbett in an original Star Trek episode 30 years ago, we learn that Cochrane is an alcoholic who built his warp drive in order to make money, not start a new era of peace and harmony in the universe for all of mankind as most people in history have been lead to believe. He is nothing like the great role model history has made him out to be. It’s a brilliant story twist, and makes the character of Cochrane fascinating.
While the Enterprise crew, who revere Cochrane as legendary, are naturally disappointed that such a great historical figure is such a letdown they must still find a way to help him complete his work.
“You’re all astronauts … ” Cochrane says to the crew, ” … on … some kind of star trek.” Even after Cochrane accepts that his visitors from the future are telling him the truth, he refuses to accept his role in history. As one Enterprise crew member tells Cochrane that he went to Zephram Cochrane High School and all the glorious things Cochrane will achieve, the scientist queasily responds, “I have to go the bathroom.” The humorous reactions of Cochrane — and the valiant efforts of the crew to keep him sober and make sure that he takes his proper place in history (particularly the scene of the normally stoic Enterprise crew member Troi knocking back shots of tequila) are wonderful, and provide a nice balance to the horrific events occurring at the same time aboard the Enterprise.
While some members of the Enterprise crew try to right things on Earth, Picard, Lily and the android Data (Brent Spiner) fight the Borg as they attempt to “assimilate” and take over the Enterprise. They watch in helpless horror as Starfleet officers are abducted by the Borg and assimilated in mere moments, their skin punctured by robotic implants, tubes and wires. (Note: The scenes of assimilation earn the PG-13 rating — leave the kids at home because these Borg will cause nightmares).
Data is also captured by the Borg, and meets the ferocious Borg Queen (Alice Krige, star of such television movies as Devil’s Advocate, Donor Unknown) as he and Picard wage a no-holds battle to save humanity and the future.
The second half of the film plays like “Die Hard” aboard the Enterprise, with the crew battling the ferocious Borg any way they can. This is certainly a more violent Trek film than any before, but it’s about time the Enterprise crew got their hands dirty.
As Lily Sloane, Alfre Woodard is terrific; she’s a 21st century warrior who grew up in the aftermath of World War III and knows how to handle herself. She’s also the first actor in ST:TNG who can go toe-to-toe with Stewart’s Shakespearean acting. In an extremely powerful scene (that is very well-acted by Stewart) she convinces Picard that his vendetta against the Borg has become too personal and destructive, much like Captain Ahab in “Moby Dick.” It’s an intense scene, and makes Picard’s ordeal at the hands of the Borg seem more real.
Regular ST:TNG cast member Jonathan Frakes follows Trek veterans Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner by being the latest regular Trek cast member to direct a Trek film. While Frakes has directed many Trek episodes, including “Deep Space Nine” and the new “Voyager,” this is his first feature film and he handles the task brilliantly.
The make-up masters outdid themselves this time; the newly designed/upgraded Borg look great, as they appear to be much more a blend of man and machine then they ever have, and are truly sinister and frightening. The Borg Queen’s makeup is particularly unsettling — she’s a gooey mass of wires and cybernetics, pure evil, and somehow she’s sexy as well.
Musician composer Jerry Goldsmith — who has worked previously on the first and fifth Trek movies (as well as Voyager) has created an impressive score that echoes the best of the Trek films while still bringing new things to the screen.
The special effects sequences — particularly the space battles and depiction of a space-walk on the Enterprise — are top-notch. This is the first Trek movie to use all computer graphics to render the Enterprise and the other ships, and the effort is flawless.
“First Contact” has opened to critical acclaim nationwide, and grossed more money in its opening week-end than any other Trek movie (over thirty million dollars). If “Star Trek: First Contact” is the shape of Trek movies to come, we can be assured that the Star Trek franchise will definitely live long and prosper.