The last Star Trek film I own (for the foreseeable future, the last I’m likely to own), this is another of the more well-regarded Star Trek films (see: that rule about the even numbered ones). As with others, I realized quite immediately that this, too, was a film I had seen previously. I used to watch both Star Treks in my (extreme) youth, The Next Generation still airing, but with the original series buried in an incomprehensibly late time slot, giving it a greater allure. Of course, the films were also familiar to me, and at the time there of course were only the original cast films, and it really pumped up my interest in that cast. At some point, in contrast, my interest in Next Gen waned, then flagged, then flopped. Something bothered me–perhaps the rumblings of my later approach to things, disinterest or dislike magnified by conflict–in this case “Star Wars vs. Star Trek.” I had a greater appreciation for the variety of lifeforms that appeared in the former series, beginning to get more and more annoyed at how minimal differences between lifeforms were–a wrinkled forehead, pointed ears, so on and so forth, versus some shapes that weren’t even humanoid. Something bothered me about the ultra-sleek, clean, clear, colour-separated appearance of that show, eventually mostly forgetting it to the ages–my youth not allowing me to see the reason for those minimal differences, nor to appreciate the less effects-driven nature of things.
First Contact gets its name from the fact that it surrounds the events of the first contact with extraterrestrial life in the Star Trek universe–Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) has designed the first warp drive, catching the attention of passing aliens who come to investigate, launching the world that eventually becomes the Star Trek universe. The reason they end up at this event–obviously backward in time–is the appearance of a Borg Cube near earth, which re-awakens Jean-Luc Picard’s (Patrick Stewart, of course) memories of being assimilated and becoming Locutus of Borg, and a desire for vengeance. When Picard follows a distant internal signal telling him the Cube’s weakness, the ship is destroyed, but not before launching a pod which shoots backward in time to assimilate earth and prevent the future from ever occurring. Now the crew of the Enterprise-E must both help Cochrane to keep his schedule and initiate first contact, as well as save the Enterprise from the gradual assimilation of the Borg.
The cast, as per usual (Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Marina Siritis, etc) meets their marks and fills their characters, the straight-laced soldier of Frakes’ Riker, the peculiar, curious Data for Spiner, the excitable geek of Burton’s LaForge, so on and so forth. I’ve got to note, I did recall seeing Geordi without his visor before, but did not realize (or, I suppose, forgot) that he was eventually visor-less. Anyway, it’s half action film–curiously, they flipped the script and decided that Stewart would have the action half instead of Riker–and half in the vein of The Voyage Home–an antagonist-less playful romp to maintain good, decent, honest things. The action side of things, being Borg-associated, is actually rather dark, and a bit scary. The relentlessness, mixed with the callous absorption of individuals without any belief in loss at this is rather disturbing. Alfre Woodard as Lily Sloane, the sole representative of the 21st century on the Enterprise during this escapade, becomes a voice of reason to the increasingly vengeance-minded Picard, while the foil for the away team is Cochrane himself, an alcoholic with a taste for 60s rock and roll and no interest in bettering the human race, despite their high opinions of him and hindsight praise. It takes that lovely conceit of the fallable nature of man that hides, likely without exception, behind any famous figurehead, hero or historical figure. It can be slightly overbearing at some moments, but generally works quite well. Frakes directs (his feature film debut, but he’d been in the chair for various Star Trek series episodes) with a good sense of balance, keeping both stories moving, getting strong performances and never losing the pacing, atmosphere or tone of either story. Indeed, the quality of the even-numbered films–despite my occasional disagreement with the flaws of the odds–holds true here.