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Non-Review Review: Star Trek – First Contact

I love it when the movie channels have an unexpected treat for me. Like coming home from work on Saturday and finding Star Trek: First Contact playing in high definition on Sky movies. Also known as “the only good Next Generation movie”, the film stands the test of time well and is – thus far – the only movie in the franchise that all my family can agree on. It is awesome.

"You're all astronauts... on some kind of... Star Trek?"

"You're all astronauts... on some kind of... Star Trek?"

Famously using the cybernetic villains The Borg before they became crap (thanks a lot, Star Trek: Voyager), the film benefits from several key factors: having a solid villain that anyone familiar with modern movies can relate to; giving awesome actor Patrick Stewart something to work with; actually making light-hearted comedy in a minor B-plot work; and including some fairly straightforward but deep themes within a science-fiction narrative, with kiss-ass action sequences.

First things first. The Borg are zombies. to anyone unfamiliar with the franchise, that is the easiest and most logical way to describe them. They walk, they don’t run. They are fairly ineffective individually, but move in groups. they have no concept of individual identity, nor fear of destruction. They infect others, turning them into mindless drones – as they get stronger you get weaker. It’s something straight out of a horror movie. It helps that the makeup is fantastic. The skin looks dead and the body horrors (arm replacements, eye sockets) are horrific. They are monsters, and there are lots of them. In a franchise that gets villains wrong far more often then it gets them right (look at the latest film for an example of a weak villain), these creatures are interesting and compelling.

They also give Patrick Stewart some drama to deliver. That is the problem with the later installments in the series – they are too focused on giving us Picard, man of action. Stewart is beyond middle-age at this stage. He is, however, a stunningly amazing thespian. Milking the character’s history with these monsters (neatly laid out in a two-minute prologue), the film gives us a whole heap of drama. It’s Moby Dick in space. With zombies. How can you get better than that? There are scenes here where Stewart literally sizzles with his costars – we feel his anger and his rage in a way that is completely naturally. He has been violated. He was made powerless. He is now in a position to exact a long and bloody revenge and he won’t be made to look weak again.

That’s not to say that Stewart is the only talent here, but he’s the best and he’s given material within his league. It was a pleasure to watch these scenes on television and it’s a pleasure to watch these scenes here. The regulars are in good form, each playing to their strengths. Data is as sweet and charming as ever, brought to life be Brent Spiner. Jonathon frakes (doubling as director) has always been better with lighter material, so heaidng the B-plot here suits him perfectly. Marina Sirtis similarly shows comedic flair. Michael Dorn has been playing his character for over a decade non-stop (he appeared on a spinoff), so he has Worf down. Afre Woodard is always a joy to watch and works well with Stewart, whereas James Cromwell may be the best non-villain supporting cast member to appear in the franchise.

Which brings us to the B-plot. It’s kept as a fairly small B-plot, but gives us the roots of the Star Trek universe, as arising from the first man to travel faster than the speed of light. Only he drinks. alot. He thrws empty bottles and he pees. He’s a man who would seem least likely to change the world, but he will. Still, how do you face up to being the most important figure in history? It’s a nice question that isn’t answered in too serious a manner. Cromwell gives us a Cochrane who is all-too-human, but not to the point of being a charcature. The only reason anybody would want to fly faster than the speed of light would be to escape Earth. The B-plot calls to mind the time-travelling elements of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, but with less cheese (no “nuclear wessels”). It also does well not to overwhelm the film – though it gives the film its payoff.

Jonathon Frakes also pops up behind the camera and shows a nice flair. There are several sequences in the film which call to mind a group-under-seige horror film (like Aliens) and a few nice touches as well – a scene where the Borg emerge from the darkness, their implants glowing and multiplying is fantastic. The action sequences – notably a rare trip outside – seem original rather than derivative as so many in the franchise have seemed. Frakes sets up everything well and keeps things clear and tidy. There’s relatively little showing off here – but that’s a strength. With a solid cast and script there’s no need to show off. Though the following film (directed by Frakes) wouldn’t live up to the standard of this outing, I still believe he should have been allowed to direct the franchise’s swansong.

If you’re new to Star Trek and looking for something to ease you in after the latest installment), this is probably the best entry point. I’ll cause a minor controversy for saying it, but I still think that this film is the best of the bunch.

Set phasers for stunned.

2 Responses

  1. Heya,

    This is my personal favorite Trek movie (even if objectively speaking Wrath of Khan is better written and done) because it’s the film I think that most conveys the Star Trek message: friendship and cooperation save humanity, all the while the villain is about ultimate coercion and intolerance and subjugation. In fact to me, the Borg are the real “mirror universe” of the Federation, hence why they’re such effective Trek villains, some of the sloppier Voyager episodes aside.

    The ending is my favorite part (it’s like a more friendly, cooler take on The Day The Earth Stood Still), but I’ve always found it secretly terrifying, that basically the only way humans recover is with the help of a white knight savior (the Vulcans), terrifying only that in reality no such help will likely ever come. Even if experts disagree as to the extent of destruction a nuclear war would actually entail (not that we should ever try!), we’re only going to have ourselves to save unfortunately. What do you think?

    Also Jerry Goldsmiths soundtrack is pure awesome.

  2. Also not sure if you got my last comment, since it’s not appearing 😛

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