Trekking With Tim, Day Eight: Star Trek: First Contact

Editor Tim Ryan finds that resistance to this excellent installment is futile.

Day Eight: Star Trek: First Contact

Only two movies into the Next Generation films, I have little interest in getting in the middle of a good Kirk vs. Picard debate. However, I can say with some confidence that Star Trek: First Contact stands with the best of the franchise. After the tepid Generations, there's an assurance to this installment that is infectious; even if the Next Generation characters are only slightly more fleshed out than the previous film, they inhabit the screen with a greater ease and confidence this time out. First Contact deftly references zombie movies and the Alien series while thoughtfully exploring the fallacies of the Great Man theory of history. It also boasts some of the most imaginative production values in the franchise, and features fine supporting performances.

As the film opens, Picard is informed that the Borg are planning to attack Earth. However, Starfleet Command orders the Enterprise to stand back, since Picard was once abducted by the Borg and may be too emotionally invested with them. However, because the Starfleet is badly outgunned, the Enterprise disregards orders and attacks the Borg ship, destroying it. Before its destruction, the Borg craft releases a smaller vessel into the Earth's atmosphere, and the Enterprise crew is alarmed to learn that the Borg have gone back in time -- specifically, to the day before humanity first achieved warp speed -- in order to conquer the planet. So several members of the crew beam down to Montana, where Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) is putting the finishing touches on his spaceship, the Phoenix, which will transform space exploration forever.

Now, as followers of this series will recall, I initially questioned where the war-prone Klingons fit into the purported utopian vision of Star Trek (my concerns have since been assuaged). The Borg make more sense; by incorporating the knowledge and attributes of humanoids and life forms from across the galaxy, these cybernetic organisms hope to achieve perfection. Even if their methods are sinister, you can see why they believe their mission is just.

They also make for a particularly nasty, invasive enemy. The Borg begins to infest the Enterprise, abducting crew members (who immediately become robotic zombies) and spreading its wiry machinery through the halls of the ship. As the crew attempts to fight them off, they run into trouble; the Borg can adapt rapidly, and become immune to weapons. Worse, they've kidnapped Data.

The set design - and indeed, some of the action sequences -- closely resemble the Alien movies, but it feels more like an homage than a rip-off. The Borg are interesting, original adversaries -- more like bees in their organization than other life forms. The Borg Queen (Alice Krige) is a particularly fascinating piece of work; though the Borg are allegedly a collective, she exerts a singular personality -- one that's both imperious and flirtatious. (She also provides the series' most pronounced erotic charge.) Though the android Data might seem immune to the Queen's cajoling and charms, she finds ways to tempt him -- like giving him skin to make him even more human, something he plainly desires. She has to; he contains vital information about the Enterprise that she needs.

Meanwhile on Earth, the Enterprise crew searches for Cochrane. They find his (to their eyes) primitive craft, and are attacked by Cochrane's confused, terrified assistant Lily (Alfre Woodard). She sustains an injury and is beamed aboard the Enterprise for treatment. Meanwhile, Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Deanna (Marina Sirtis), and Geordi (LeVar Burton) find Cochrane, who, in seeming contrast to his historical stature, is fond of both loud rockabilly and copious amounts of hard alcohol. The officers explain to Cochrane that his ship is the key to saving the world, as well as ushering in a new era of interstellar understanding; naturally, it's quite a bit for the old man to digest, but he agrees to help.

One of the most interesting things about First Contact is the way that Cochrane is handled. It's customary when discussing our heroes from the past to whitewash their human flaws in favor of their accomplishments. This is understandable, since it doesn't matter if Gandhi got up on the wrong side of the bed a few times; the fact that he played a significant role in India's independence and inspired non-violence movements around the world is certainly more significant. However, by stripping our heroes of their imperfections, they become ideas more than people. Cochrane's contributions to humanity are extraordinary, but he's also a drunk and a surly old cuss, motivated by money more than by exploring space. He's irritated at the attention he gets from the Enterprise crew, since he knows himself better than they do. "I don't want to be a statue," he tells Riker and Geordi. However, regardless of his intentions or personal faults, Cochrane's work changed the universe for the better, and he's due more praise than he thinks.

Lily is also a welcome element in the film. It's rare in this franchise that characters react to their surroundings with a sense of awe -- even those rare humans from the past. Woodard is excellent in portraying a woman who's tough, smart, and completely baffled by this strange turn of events. When, on the Enterprise, she looks down upon the Earth from space, it's a powerful moment -- the look on her face is a mix of wonder and fear that surely anyone in her place would feel.

Despite being ambivalent about his place in history (and getting liquored up beforehand), Cochrane is able to get his ship off the ground, with Riker and Geordi onboard. As the Borg continue to envelop the Enterprise, Picard tries to determine the best way to halt its advance -- and prevent the Borg from destroying the Phoenix. After some soul-searching, he ultimately orders that the crew abandon the Enterprise -- and that the ship be set to self-destruct. As his crew heads to Earth in the ship's escape pods, Picard stays behind try and save Data. When she finds the Borg Queen, she taunts Picard with intimations that Data is now on her side, but she seems wounded; why didn't he want to stay with the Borg when he was assimilated? (It appears even cybernetic lifeforms aren't immune to the charms of a man in uniform). On her command, Data cancels the self-destruct mechanism and launches torpedoes toward the Phoenix. But they're way off the mark, and the Queen is furious, realizing too late that Data has not joined the Borg collective. Data ruptures a pipe, and destroys the Queen's organic matter in one of the best bad-guy killings in the franchise.

Cochrane completes his historic warp flight, and the next day, now safely back in Montana, he and his fellow citizens are visited by a strange craft. In a sequence that owes a bit to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the craft's doors slowly open to reveal -- Vulcans! They give Cochrane the Vulcan greeting, which he, like many after him, finds really hard to do. As the credits roll, Cochrane tries to get the Vulcans to boogie to some Roy Orbison, an effort that's doomed to fail.

First Contact benefits greatly from fine work by Cromwell, Woodard, and Krige, as well as a distinctive look and feel. The crew's personalities come into sharper focus here, and the film sets up a scenario that non-cultists will have no trouble enjoying. I'll admit I was a little skeptical of the Next Generation crew, but First Contact has won me over -- I'm looking forward to what's next for this group. Tomorrow, I'm on to Star Trek: Insurrection. Can Picard and the gang deliver once again?



A Lapse In Reason

Nick Haskell

O god if you though Generations was bad just wait until you watch Insurrection its like a really long bad episode.

May 4 - 06:05 PM


Daniel Klein

hate to agree, but you're in for a hard fall. Everything they got right in 'First Contact' they shoved up their @ss in 'Insurrection.' Boring, preachy and dull to look at. It was like a drawn out episode-- a bad one. I remember back in the day someone making fun of ST5 saying 'At least when TNG rips off an episode of TOS for their plot, they rip off a *good* one.'

...not every time. This was boring as ****. I even enjoyed 'Nemesis' more than this.

May 4 - 06:18 PM


That Guy

First Contact really is an A movie. Well done in every way. The Borg really are the greatest Star Trek villain, not even the Klingons could turn the heroic captain into Starfleet's arch-nemesis.

Insurrection is certainly not the same. I found it to be a bit bland, though not like Motionless Picture. There's not a lot to hate but not a lot to like about it. And Nemesis just plain sucks.

May 4 - 06:09 PM


Daniel Klein

hate to agree, but you're in for a hard fall. Everything they got right in 'First Contact' they shoved up their @ss in 'Insurrection.' Boring, preachy and dull to look at. It was like a drawn out episode-- a bad one. I remember back in the day someone making fun of ST5 saying 'At least when TNG rips off an episode of TOS for their plot, they rip off a *good* one.'

...not every time. This was boring as ****. I even enjoyed 'Nemesis' more than this.

May 4 - 06:18 PM

Donkey P.

Donkey Punch

"Tomorrow, I'm on to Star Trek: Insurrection. Can Picard and the gang deliver once again?"

No they can't. Insurrection sounds to much like erection, except this big one is limp...

May 4 - 06:21 PM


damv bat

This was a very good movie and nemesis did not suck it did not work like Khan but alot better than generations and insurrection

May 4 - 06:23 PM

Joe F.

Joe Fiore

Nemesis did indeed suck. It was the worst of the 10 films by far.

May 5 - 06:11 PM

Victor D.

Victor De Leon

ST-FC is completely amazing from beginning to end! I used to even own it on Laserdisc! Good write up Tim! But you are in for a bit of a transporter failure with the next installment. It's TNG lite for the crew and all with Insurrection...

May 4 - 06:31 PM


Curtis Sponsler

First Contact is my favorite NextGen flick. I love the Alien look-and-feel, and the tightening of the Borg back-story. My only gripe was the alteration of the original episode concept: for once there was an adversary well beyond the heroic capabilities of Star Fleet. This is what drew me into the original Q-wrought event was that: finally, there was an unbeatable entity threatening the Enterprise crew (and all Trek worlds); kind of like a modern army rolling over a prehistoric clan would. It was also a really creepy episode repleat with new VFX and music. But as time and episodes progressed, humans once again persevere... At least the solution to beating the Borg ended up being really cool in this movie.

Die Insurrection, die!

May 4 - 06:32 PM


Mike Saxton

Pretty sure First Contact is my favorite, and I honestly think it's a little better than Wrath of Khan. Picard's tantrum in the meeting room is my favorite Trek moment ever. Nobody else could've delivered that scene like Patrick Stewart did. My favorite score of the Treks as well.

Think of Insurrection as the lighthearted side adventure to First Contact's dark and epic tone, and I think you'll find some enjoyment out of it. It showcases the relationships between the crew the best of all the TNG films IMO.

May 4 - 06:43 PM


Niall Cavanagh

first contact is the best for many reasons, but there's one reason in particular which makes it the best: PATRICK STEWART

the man elevates the material past whatever was done before and after and his performance in the film is one of my favourites ever..and yes, insurrection is bad but stewart makes it better than final frontier or the search for spock or TMP..

first contact is in my top 5 films of all time..THIS IS STAR TREK AT ITS BEST

May 4 - 06:46 PM

Victor D.

Victor De Leon

ST-FC is completely amazing from beginning to end! I used to even own it on Laserdisc! Good write up Tim! But you are in for a bit of a transporter failure with the next installment. It's TNG lite for the crew and all with Insurrection...

May 4 - 06:48 PM

Victor D.

Victor De Leon

Goldsmith's score is phenomenal! Sorry I posted twice...

May 4 - 06:50 PM

Matthew W.

Matthew Winter

I've watched every episode of every series of Star Trek. I've seen all the movies more times than anyone should admit to seeing Insurrection. My responces to Trek have been very similar to most fans. The even numbers fall between good and great, III's o.k., Final Frontier is a few good moments mixed in with a lot nonsense. That said, I've never been more shocked by the general reception of a movie as Nemesis. I walked out of the midnight showing some seven years ago thinking, boy what an improvement over Insurrection. It wasn't First Contact, but it was pretty good. When I got home and started reading the hate being lobbed at that movie by Trek fans I was astounded. No, its not Undiscovered Country, but its pretty good. It is fast paced, looks pretty good, and the charaters act more or less in the manner we have come to expect. I had a few questions about the villian, but hey, in Star Trek IV they had to appease a giant space whale. We take these things with a grain of salt. I understand people who don't think Nemesis is great, but I truly cannot wrap my mind around all the comments about it being terrible. (And quite frankly I think people who think Nemesis was worse than Insurrection just shouldn't be allowed to talk about movies.)

May 4 - 06:51 PM

greg b.

greg baltzer

I'm one of the few people who actually really liked Insurrection, with the exception of the singing part. I thought Picard really stood out in this movie. It's my second favorite of the Next Gen movies, and probably 5 favorite in the bunch.
1. Undiscovered Country
2. Wrath Of Khan
3. Search for Spock (because it wraps up Wrath of Khan)
4. First Contact
5, Insurrection
6. The Voyage Home (sorry as much as I liked the chemistry, I hated the plot)
7. Nemesis
8. Generations
9. The Final Frontier
10. The Motion Picture

May 4 - 06:56 PM


marshall westbrook

I liked FC a lot, the only thing that detracted was the ******* in the row next to mine that was repeating all the dialogue and guessing out loud(to no one) what was going to happen next, I had to threaten his well being to shut up. This is one of the main reasons I dread seeing the new Star Trek film on opening day, there is going to be 20 of those guys.....

I am also one of the people who thought Nemesis was good. Insurrection was ****e tho, at least the Motionless Picture had novelty going for it.

May 4 - 06:56 PM


Anon Y. Mouse

First Contact is definitely my favorite Trek movie. Can't beat the Borg and time travel!

May 4 - 07:11 PM


scifi mark

this is probably my favorite star trek movie period. The borg are a great villain. Losing your identity and freedom is scarier than actually dying. The movie plays well as a horror/sci-fi flick alien style. As the reviewer said i like how the father of warp speed has many flaws. "I dont even like to fly, I take trains!!!. Also the revenge/moby dick factor is a pretty strong influence in the movie but you really need to see best of both worlds episode to really to appreciate the full effect of this. I only wish the borg confrontation/space battle was longer in the beginning. Other than that give it 8/10.

May 4 - 07:16 PM


Seth Green

The line must be drawn HEEYAH!

May 4 - 07:16 PM


Evan Godbold

Best Star Trek Film to date. Though that may change in 3 days.

Insurrection, not so much...

May 4 - 07:20 PM

ostrigal o.

ostrigal ostrigal

There were some neat easter eggs in this one too, like when Dr. Crusher escaped sick bay, leaving the Enterprise's version of Voyager's holo-doctor to deal with the Borg... or that little guy who played Neelix, greeting said Borg as they entered the Holo-deck.

Having watched all of the TNG episodes, and been utterly frustrated with the Federation's inability to fend off the Borg, I was so pleased to see them kick tail in FC's opening sequence.

...and sadly, this was it. The final two movies were just... underwhelming. Not even Salieri and Hellboy could save them.

May 4 - 07:25 PM

Brian H.

Brian Hof

I suspect Tim may like Insurrection well enough. For everyone comparing it to an episode -- first of all, that's exactly what Tim needs, to see what these characters were like on TV...and secondly, what's so bad about that? It has some nice moments and explores some interesting ideas.

May 4 - 07:42 PM

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