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Non-Review Review: Star Trek – First Contact

Star Trek: First Contact caps off the thirtieth anniversary celebrations with one eye to the past and one eye to the future.

The second film to feature the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation is surprisingly nostalgic in places. The script makes several rather blatant nods towards Star Trek II: The Wrath of the Khan, perhaps the consensus pick for the best Star Trek feature film. It marks the return of a memorable antagonist from the parent series, serving as a direct sequel to a particular episode and pitting the lead character in a battle of wills against an old opponent. More than that, it builds upon a rich tradition of the franchise riffing upon Moby Dick.

"This scene is going to seem really ironic when they launch Star Trek: Enterprise."

“This scene is going to seem really ironic when they launch Star Trek: Enterprise.”

However, there are other major influences. Most notably, the film leans quite heavily upon Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. In both films, the Enterprise crew film themselves sent back in time to save Earth from an alien threat, resulting in comedic misadventures as the characters interact with a supporting cast native to this time period. Most analysis of First Contact tends to focus on The Wrath of Khan parallels, as they dominate the primarily plot. Nevertheless, the secondary plot draws heavily from The Voyage Home.

More than that, the feature film draws heavily upon the existing Star Trek mythos. The movie is a direct sequel to The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, recognising that two-parter as the moment that The Next Generation truly came into its own and stepped out from under the shadow of the original Star Trek series. Even beyond that acknowledgement of franchise history, First Contact does not take the crew back in time to the present day or a historical event. It takes the crew back to the point at which the future of Star Trek truly begins.

"Mister Worf, I'll be damned if I'm going to let Star Trek: Deep Space Nine out-badass me."

“Mister Worf, I’ll be damned if I’m going to let Star Trek: Deep Space Nine out-badass me.”

Still, while the movie is constructed as a definite celebration of the past, it also serves to define the future of the franchise. The template for the remaining Rick Berman years can be found in this feature film. The success of the action and adventure beats in this instalment undoubtedly informed the emphasis on such elements in Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis. The final two films in this particular iteration of the franchise owe a lot more to this particular film than to Star Trek: Generations.

Even more, the impact of the film reached well beyond this set of characters. The other three television series were all heavily shaped and defined by this particular feature film. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine inherited a lot of the look and feel of this film, with the crew swapping out into these grey uniforms with Rapture. The Dominion War would use a lot of the ships designed for the combat sequence towards the opening of the scene. Some of the other production design also bled in, including the space suits in Empok Nor.

No time like the past.

No time like the past.

Star Trek: Voyager would inherit some of that production design as well, including the space suits in episodes like Day of Honour or Demon. However, the film’s biggest impact on that particular series was the renovation of the Borg. Brannon Braga would seize upon the idea of the Borg as a recurring threat, setting them up in episodes like Blood Fever and Unity mere months after the release of the film. The Borg would serve as the basis of the big third and fourth season two-parter, Scorpion, Part I and Scorpion, Part II. Alice Krige would appear in Endgame.

In its own way, this film also signals the end of the Berman era. The arrival of the Vulcan ship in the closing minutes serves to set up the premise of Star Trek: Enterprise. James Cromwell would make the torch-passing cameo in Broken Bow, reprising his role as Zefram Cochrane. The idea of doing a prequel television series that charted the origin of the franchise feels very much rooted in the (critical and commercial) success of this iteration of the film franchise.

"Captain, when the Borg promised you a pound of flesh, it turns out that they meant it literally."

“Captain, when the Borg promised you a pound of flesh, it turns out that they meant it literally.”

On the audio commentary, writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore speak of the thirtieth anniversary as “the peak” of the franchise. After all, it seemed like the celebrations would last forever. First Contact was just one small part of a whole season of television that marked the best that the franchise had to offer. There was a wide selection of material, including episodes like Trials and Tribble-ationsFlashbackFuture’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II. Following all of those, First Contact was really just the cherry on top of a very delicious cake.

However, the issue with First Contact as “the peak” is quite simple. From this vantage point, the audience can survey the entire Berman era. First Contact is positioned so that the audience can see the metaphorical beginnings of the Star Trek franchise, but also the makings of the end of this particular iteration. From the peak, there is only one direction.

"Just checked Rotten Tomatoes there. Still the best in the series. Don't make me put on Nemesis, Mister Worf."

“Just checked Rotten Tomatoes there. Still the best in the series. Don’t make me put on Nemesis, Mister Worf.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Kir’Shara (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

The fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise is renowned for its focus upon continuity.

That is as true of the Kir’Shara trilogy as of any other episode. The script is saturated with references and nods to the rest of the franchise, tying together thirty-eight years of Vulcan continuity into a cohesive narrative structure. The Kir’Shara trilogy ties together everything from the Romulan schism in Balance of Terror to the symbolic importance of Mount Seleya in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock to the story behind the IDIC symbol that had first appeared in Is There in Truth No Beauty?

A short and not-so-prosperous future.

A short and not-so-prosperous future.

However, what is most striking the Kir’Shara trilogy is that the episode’s continuity really doesn’t fit in a very rigid way. Although the Kir’Shara trilogy is nominally about explaining how the secretive and distrustful Vulcans of Enterprise became the iconic and well-loved aliens associated with the rest of the franchise, offering an epic three-part story about Archer and T’Pol singlehandedly saving Vulcan society by putting them back in touch with the values espoused by the legendary Vulcan philosopher Surak. (Surak had appeared in The Savage Curtain.)

This makes for a very satisfying story within the larger narrative arc of Enterprise, demonstrating that Earth and Vulcan might be more compatable than Ambassador Soval would ever admit. It paves the way for stories like Babel One, United, Demons and Terra Prime. However, it also stands quite at odds with the larger continuity of the franchise, where the Vulcans have consistently been portrayed as secretive and superior. There is nothing wrong with that continuity contradiction, but it is interesting in the larger context of the fourth season.

Homecoming.

Homecoming.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Awakening (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

9/11 forever changed the world.

In doing so, it also changed popular culture. As part of that, it also changed Star Trek. When it comes to discussing the way that the franchise was shaped and moulded by 9/11, there are a number of easy points upon which to focus. The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise quite blatantly positions itself as an allegory for those terrorist attacks, with Archer directly responding to a terror attack upon Earth and seeking to hold those responsible to account. Star Trek Into Darkness evokes those attacks both in its imagery and its conspiracy theory subtext.

Fallout warning.

Fallout warning.

However, the influence is much stronger than any of that. JJ Abrams’ Star Trek touched on the themes of trauma and loss that inform a lot of post-9/11 culture by making both Kirk and Spock survivors of horrific and unprovoked destruction. Similarly, the cosmology of Enterprise had been shaped and defined by those attacks since at least Shadows of P’Jem, reflected in the hostile and paranoid universe suggested in episodes like The SeventhCease Fire and The Crossing or the destruction of the timeline in Shockwave, Part I and Shockwave, Part II.

The fourth season is no less shaped by the War on Terror than the third season had been, even if that influence is less overt. The chaotic asymmetrical warfare of Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II evoke the political quagmire of foreign intervention in the twenty-first century. Home explores responses to traumas both personal and cultural. However the Kir’Shara trilogy is most overt in its War on Terror imagery, paralleling Archer’s journey into the desert following a terror attack with the looming spectre of war.

Have we reached peak Vulcan?

Have we reached peak Vulcan?

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Malibu Comics) #29-30 – Sole Asylum (Review)

The September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Whatever happened to Thomas Riker?

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine receives a lot of credit for its move towards serialisation as a prime-time genre show. It wasn’t a pioneer in the same way that Babylon 5 was or even Murder One had been, but it was was definitely ahead of the curve. Deep Space Nine arguably holds up better today than any of the other Star Trek shows, and part of that is down to the way that the show leaned into serialisation. Actions had consequences, effects lingered after the credits.

Hostage of fortune...

Hostage of fortune…

The show was very much leaning that way in the second and third season, building up plot threads that would pay off down the line. The Dominion had been seeded in the show since Rules of Acquisition. The Romulan and Cardassian pre-emptive strike was foreshadowed by episodes like Defiant and Visionary. In the third season, it became clear that Deep Space Nine was ready to commit to some long-form storytelling, in a way that was unusual for a high-profile syndicated genre show in the nineties.

However, it is tempting to give Deep Space Nine a little bit too much credit. There were points where the show seemed to struggle with pay-off and arc-building. In Emissary, Sisko was tasked with bringing Bajor into the Federation; that never happened. After Battle Lines, Kai Opaka never appeared again. Characters who seemed important dropped into and out of the show at random; characters like Martok’s son Drex, Bajoran First Minister Shakaar Edon, Subcommander T’Rul… and Thomas Riker.

The welcome wagon...

The welcome wagon…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Offspring (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Offspring is an absolutely wonderful piece of Star Trek. In many ways, it is a spiritual successor to The Measure of a Man, the breakout show of the second season. (This similarity was one of the factors that led writer and script editor Melinda Snodgrass to harshly dismiss it as “fairly obvious and tired and stupid” in Captains’ Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages.) Sitting between two of the more epic and sweeping stories in the third season, The Offspring is a touching little story about parenting and childhood, and a nice character episode for Data.

It remains one of the most touching episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation ever produced, and a fitting debut for both future staff writer René Echevarria and soon-to-be-prolific Star Trek director Jonathan Frakes.

Building a loving family...

Building a loving family…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Measure of a Man (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Ah, The Measure of a Man.

It’s the first point in the run of Star Trek: The Next Generation where we’ve reached an episode that could legitimately be ranked as one of the best that the show would ever produce. Even today, the episode remains a favourite of Star Trek fans around the world, and a superb demonstration of what the series is capable of. Almost half-way into the second season, we get a glimpse of what The Next Generation could be, and how it balance its own identity against the proud philosophical traditions of its parent series.

It’s also quite brilliant.

A Data with destiny...

A Data with destiny…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – A Matter of Honour (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation might be a bit rough around the edges (among other places), but there’s still a sense that the show is trying to improve itself, struggling to find its own voice. Most of the first season seemed content to offer a pale imitation of the classic Star Trek show, ignoring the fact that a lot had changed in the two decades since Kirk and Spock took to the air.

A Matter of Honour is an example of The Next Generation engaging the late eighties instead of trying to evoke the lost spirit of the sixties. Taking the “Klingons as Communists” metaphor as far as it could logically go, and serving as a companion piece to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, A Matter of Honour is a tale of deep space détente.

Guess who's going to dinner where?

Guess who’s going to dinner where?

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