Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
Director: Jonathan Frakes
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, Alice Krige
The Next Genners didn’t get off to a good start in Generations did they and when the follow up was announced, the sight of Paramount keeping it in-family didn’t instil much confidence in this one either. So how’s this re-watch gonna stand up? My memory is it’s the best of the post-original crew movies (2009’s re-imagining not included). I’m wary but hopeful…
The Borg! The Federation don’t trust posh Frenchie Jean Luc Picard after his well documented spell under Borg control and require him to sit supping Earl Grey while those loveable organic cyber-beings converge on Earth. Predictably, Picard disobeys orders and rides to rescue the Federation fleet from an utter thrashing, utilising his residual Borgy-sense to sniff out a weakness and destroy the invading Borg Cube. But the Borg has itself a Plan ‘B’; they create a ‘temporal rift’ (think I enter one of those every time I walk in work) and eject a drone ship back in time to assimilate Earth. It’s all rather complicated and I’m not even going to try and explain it, but, Captain Picard orders the Enterprise into the rift to stop the drone putting its thing down. This involves, among other things, protecting Zefram Cochrane, the man who will make Earth’s first historic sub-space flight, a feat that will gain the attention of a certain pointy-eared alien species for the good of all Mankind. Meanwhile, the Borg, along with its slimy Commander in Chief, has infiltrated the Enterprise and the rapidly Borgifying crew is about to render Zef’s iconic blast-off, like resistance, futile. Then Picard turns into Bruce Willis – Welcome to the Plak-tow, pal (one for the nerds – just to show I do research… occasionally)…
Star Trek plus time travel again, can’t say I was infused with delight at the prospect. Early reviews suggested First Contact was a vast improvement on Generations and apparently also gave a few of the originals a run for their money (the odd-numbered ones). My Trekkie mate reckons I saw this at the cinema but I don’t recall the event at all, I reckon he’s got me mixed up with somebody else. Sadly, on the basis of my being impressed by First Contact I didn’t harbour many qualms about going to see Insurrection… and I should’ve had lots of qualms. Lots. First Contact is still telly-size despite the huge opening moments; the testicle-tautening ‘spike in the eye’ attention grabber, the pull back to reveal a vast Borg construct and then there he is, Locutus of Borg! Director/ actor Jonathan Frakes is teasing us though; he immediately identifies the missing ingredients from Generations – action, tension, humour, personality, a good film… So far, so Wrath Of Khan. Frakes also quickly gets DS9’s Woof (Morbius tells me it’s Worf, not Woof, but I don’t believe him) back into the mix, then recaps Data’s emotion chip and sorts it with an ‘off’ switch. With one twitch of his head, Data is funny again.
Ah, but the writers aren’t done with Data (Brent Spiner) or his emotion chip; he’s inputted a ship encryption code the Borg haven’t got a hope of breaking so naturally when presented with an opportunity to snatch him, they do. Hey, it’s not like they can torture him for the codes; enter She-Borg (Alice Krige… and it’s possible Data does). In general, the best Star Trek features a decent bad guy and yeh, First Contact does too, but… erm… it’s the Borg. The Borg is the bad guy, it’s a collective, a hive mind, it doesn’t operate a chain of command. I thought that was the whole point. Frakes takes a gander at Jimbo’s Aliens – he’s introducing a Queen and bollocks to consistency, you bitch. It does lead to an awkward moment with Picard who wags his finger at her and says ‘I remember you now…’ but of course there was no indication of her presence in the series. Does it destabilise the original Borg concept? Dunno, meself, you’d have to ask a Trekkie, but I guess the Borg’s gotta start somewhere, there must be a progenitor… Why not Alice Krige, eh? Obviously, She-Borg switches Data’s feckin emotion chip on again, brings the pain, licks his face, plays with his knob (figuratively, I hasten to add)… the usual stuff if you want to extract information from a tight-lipped android. Krige is ace; she’s horrible, repulsive and sexy at the same time and clearly having a ball with the material. Both she and Spiner work well together.
The theme of obsession crops up a lot in Trek and continuing the TWOK blueprint Picard gets to try on Ahab as Moby Dick gets an airing in the script. Not so much ‘try on’, he buttons that sucker up and runs out the shop without paying. It’s nice to see Stewart sinking his gnashers into a meatier role; seeing him blubbing away in Generations was quite a shock, to be honest, so First Contact is somewhat of a relief. He’s a man on a mission of vengeance, demeaned and raped by the Borg and he’s having some of that hot payback with a side order of whuppass. He even takes his life into his own hands by calling Woof (Michael Dorn) a coward! All of this culminates in the fantastic scene between Picard and Lily (Alfre Woodard) when she berates him for failing to give the order to abandon ship as the Borg overwhelm them: “The line must be drawn HERE! This far, no further. And I… will make them PAY for what they have DONE!” Love that. Actually, considering Picard strips down to his vest by the end, First Contact almost turns into Die Hard With A Starship. But there’s a mad bit in the Holo-suite when he takes down a couple of Borgies with a good old fashioned Tommy-gun. Eh? “I disengaged the safety protocols; without that even a holographic bullet can kill…” Erm, why? I mean, why would you need safety protocols in a hologram? It’s a hologram. Even a holographic bullet can kill? Oh, those crazy Trekkies…
I was cringing at the first sight of Data, such was the mince made out of him in Generations. Despite the writers (Berman, Braga & Moore again) once more finding him the easiest to scribble for, this time he’s not over-written and the emphasis is on Picard. The film benefits from the 3-story arc; Riker’s posse on Earth, She-Borg vs Data and Picard running around the USS Nakatomi-prise – the various strands feel nicely balanced. Frakes keeps the action moving rapidly, using the Earth segments to give the audience a breather – that is until the Phoenix lift-off when each strand comes together. I’m still amazed how Cochrane (James Cromwell), La Forge (Levar Burton) and Riker somehow fail to notice they are being fired on by the Enterprise. Even more surprising is how the Vulcans only notice the warp signature of the Phoenix, but not the Enterprise. An attempt is made to explain this a little later on, some pap about successfully hiding behind the moon to mask the warp signature but that’s complete bollocks coz, even if it worked, they were flying alongside the Phoenix before that. Like I say, the plot shifts at such a pace you can forgive the dodgier moments.
As for the primitives, James Cromwell is good as Zefram Cochrane. It’s witty to have a character, built up into a legend in Trek, an oft spoken of but never seen hero and when he is finally presented to the worshipful crew… he’s a tool! See, I like that. And I can’t ignore the scene in which he gets Troi (Marina Sirtis) ruined on tequila. Sirtis displays some sharp comic timing, doing a proper drunken babble at one point to finish with a befuddled “What was I saying?” It’s not quite Tono in Obchod Na Korze but it’ll do. The scene concludes with Cromwell thumping the jukebox into action and boogying away while Troi face-plants a table in a pissed-up stupor, much to the disgust of Riker. Brilliant. Cromwell does look faintly ashamed of this clunker though; “You’re all astronauts… on some kind of star trek…” Feckin horrid, that. Alfre Woodard is okay as Lily but I’m not convinced she’s entirely comfortable in a sci-fi setting. She certainly comes alive in Stewart’s ‘Moby’ moment and that’s worth waiting for and there’s also her explanatory defence of wielding a phaser, accidentally set to vapourize Picard – “It’s my first ray gun…” There’s also a promising appearance by Neal McDonough… well, was promising until he got on the wrong end of a Borg implant. Pity, Lt. Hawk could’ve been a decent addition to the bridge crew…
The FX are decent. I’m not happy with the Borg Cube battle, looks like a slightly more expensive season finale episode (but it’s good to see the Defiant in action) and the ‘deflector dish’ sequence just doesn’t grip. If I’m gonna get really picky I’d say everything appears too clean and new, even the ramshackle human encampment. The interior of the Enterprise is spotless; in The Undiscovered Country they managed to work in some wear and tear, scuff marks on the kitchen cabinets – I prefer to see something like that. Even when the Borg take over the ship they’re very neat about the job, the invasive pipes and conduits should be oily, nasty – in the image of She-Borg. Should be like a jungle, y’know? There’s an overall lack of depth to the picture that no amount of creepy lighting can hide, it botches a potentially chilling scene of Borg eye-beams piercing the darkness, seeking out an unsuspecting search party… Hokey, no doubt great on the page but Frakes doesn’t know how to shoot it. Not that I would! I probably wouldn’t use a wide shot, go more claustrophobic, the Borg unmoving, red beams picking out individuals… Never mind, I’m allowing personal preference to muddy my general view of the film; First Contact is hugely entertaining and does a wee-wee on the other Next Gen movies from a very great height.
And then they just create a wormhole and whizz back to the future – ta-daaaa! Ah, bollocks, who cares. Tell you what, though, he’s a twat is Picard, isn’t he. His crew risk life and limb in the series to rescue and put him back together again. He owes Data a rescue, but not the rest of his crew? Gee, thanks a bunch, Captain Slap Head, talk about a short range memory…
Right, and I’m telling you now, the next two are gonna be torture for me so don’t be surprised if there’s a very long wait for these coz I’ll never get through either of them in one sitting.
Troi sloshed: http://tinyurl.com/az4mxsr
ThereWolf, November 2012.