I think it a fair statement to say that the first cinematic voyage of the crew of the Next Generation wasn’t as auspicious as it could have been. Thanks to some sci-fi, timey wimey, jiggery pokery in order to cram in the smirking dad-bod of William Shatner to make the change over official, Star Trek: Generations felt bogged down with matters that firmly pushed almost the entirety of the crew (save Patrick Stewart’s painfully rational Jean Luc Picard) into the back ground in favour of villians enacting doomsday plots in place of getting grief counselling and Kirk going for a relaxing ride on his horse…
Bluntly put, the fans of ST:TNG deserved better – but then, if you think about it, having a false start is sort of a Star Trek tradition.
The original cast spluttered initially onto the big screen in the notoriously dull Star Trek: The Motion Picture only to score a franchise best with Wrath Of Kahn a few tears later. If only there was an established Next Generation villian that could come along a give the series a boot up the warp drive…
The Borg, a species that assimilates other races into bio-mechanical collective, has finally decided to take a punt at absorbing the earth, but while Starfleet gird their loins to meet the giant Giger-esque rubik’s cube of the Borg ship in battle, Picard and the Enterprise find themselves assigned to patrol the Neutral Zone. The reason for this is that Picard himself once found himself coming down with a nasty case of Borg assimilation (he got better…) and so understandably has been dreading this day – but upon hearing that the battle is going poorly he predictably ditches his orders and charges into battle to wipe out his robotic nemesis once and for all.
However, once the tide has been turned, the Borg – slippery buggers that they are – have a rather epic plan B in place and they launch a secondary craft that promptly vanishes back in time in order to screw up the human race in the past but due to them leaving a temporal back door open, the Enterpirse follows them back to the year 2063.
The Borg’s plan is to thwart the moment earth finally cracked warp drive travel and subsequently achieved first contact with and alien species that ultimately leads to the forming peaceful Federation but after the Enterprise manages to stop even this, things start to get a little complicated…
As half the team heads down to earth’s surface to find that the man responsible for creating a future utopia is a aggressive drunk who is ravaged by self doubt and copious spirits, the other find that the Borg have managed to beam aboard the Enterprise and have begun to make the place more like home. While Riker, Troy and Geordie work to keep the future on track, Picard and the rest of the crew fight to stop the locust like Borg spreading through their ship like ticks on a dog – but what is their interest in Data? Is there something about these emotionless, metal bastards that hasn’t been revealed until now?
Ironically, like the Borg, the best Trek installments have always assimilated other genres into its collective to achieve the best results. The second movie grafted a submarine war movie feel onto its central, Shakespearean rivalry while the fourth chucked in time travelling comedy and the sixth was a political thriller; but for First Contact, the motion picture debut of Jonathan Frakes (William T. Riker himself), the Next Generation crew find themselves tussling with a science fiction version of the living dead – hell, at one point someone even describes them as bionic zombies… Once again, this adapting of other movie’s traits proves to be a winning formula and First Contact still stands as not only the best of the Next Generation’s four movie output by far, but also is one of the better Star Trek outings that exist.
Much like Wrath Of Kahn, it trades on a previous storyline (Best Of Both Worlds Parts 1 & 2, in case you were wondering) to pump gravitas into its plot and Picard’s Ahab-like obsession with eradicating his cybernetic enemies due to his time spent as one of them serves as the spine of the whole film – unsurprising considering Stewart is famously a fan of the literary lunatic. Also well served by the movie is Data, inarguably Spock to Stewart’s Picard who, thanks to his robot nature, is targeted by Alice Krige’s suitably icy Borg Queen who has a slinky eye on Brent Spiner’s fan favourite character. Although, did we really need to know that Data is anatomically correct and programmed in multiple styles of lovemaking, especially since the Queen seems more than willing to teach him the Reverse Borg-Girl position…
Also adding to the cast is Alfre Woodard’s gutsy Lilly, a 21st century woman who finds herself on the Enterprse and becomes Picard’s conscience when his kill-crazy antics start edging into mania and James Cromwell is obviously having a great time as portraying future idol of the Frederation Zefram Cochrane as a rock and roll loving womaniser who is utterly unprepared for the adulation some of the star struck crew members hurl his way.
Admittedly, this means the rest of the cast have to jostle for screentime but all make the most of their limited screentime. Troy gets blasted on tequila, Worf employs some epic snarling, Riker gets to employ some Kirk-sized smugness and Geordie even gets to ditch his visor in favor of some bitching cybernetic eyes; and there’s even space for the odd, fun cameo (Voyager’s Robert Picardo FTW).
Director Frakes obviously understands Star Trek (he fucking should, he was in 176 episodes), and while the movie sometimes feels a bit episode-y, he’s savvy enough to include some “big” movie moments to give matters the appropriate scale. There’s the short but sweet opening battle against the Borg, the occasional, awesome shot of the robotic, uber-baddies (a scene where the pitch black is cut through with their funky head lasers is a doozy) and best of all, Krige’s Borg Queen has arguably the best entrance in any Trek to date as her head, shoulders and robotic spinal column are lowered down from the ceiling to join with her waiting body.
As great as First Contact is, there’s a bittersweet feeling to be had when you realise that the old school Trek movies don’t get this good ever again, not before before J.J. Abrams Kelvin timeline rebooted everything back to life – but like I say, at least First Contact rocks and it’s great fun to settle back once again into the captain’s chair and enjoy.
After all, resistance is futile….