Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

I hate William Shatner. Oh, sure, he was fun at first. Cruising the galaxy, picking up babes. And "T.J. Hooker." Who can hate "T.J. Hooker"? But any honest person would have to agree that by the time of Star Trek: Generations, he had overstayed his welcome and worn out the character of James Tiberius Kirk. Still, it was probably necessary to include the old cast in Generations to "pass the torch" to the "Next Generation" crew. And the movie was a lot of fun. Still, "Star Trek: The Next Generation" had added a weight and dignity to the old saga that the first half of Star Trek's history just couldn't uphold, and it has been time for a long time now for the "Next Generation" cast to strike out on its own.

Well, they've done it, and the results are nothing short of spectacular. A few people I have talked to about my excitement over the new film have told me, "I don't like science fiction." This is a stupid statement. Don't ever say it. First of all, Star Trek is not science fiction. There's no science in it. It's future fiction. All scientific references are fake, contrived, and phrased so that even if you have no idea what they're talking about (they're not talking about anything), you understand the relationship of the supposed science to the plot. So then the movie has to be judged on the same basis as any other film.

The plot is simple yet complex. It does something I love, which is to "backfill" the Star Trek universe's history. In that history, the Federation of Planets was created after World War III, when a scientist, Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell of Babe), turned a nuclear missile into a warp-speed spacecraft. Vulcan "monitors" happened to be patrolling Earth's solar system and monitored the flight, using it as evidence that mankind had evolved to the point that the Vulcans should make contact with us poor primitive folks down here.

First Contact picks up hundreds of years after that. The crew of the Enterprise, alerted to a plot by the Borg (a cybernetic race of marauders who share one consciousness and assimilate whole cultures into their psychic collective before breakfast) to go back in time to stop Zefram Cochrane's flight and take over Earth, head back to stop them.

For those of you who haven't seen the TV series, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) was assimilated by the Borg and narrowly escaped. So he has his own demons to fight. Data (Brent Spiner) quickly becomes the prime target of the Borg because he possesses knowledge they need and presents a unique challenge, as a robot, to their assimilation techniques. Also the Borg "queen" (Alice Krige), thinks he's sexy.

The plotline alternates between the story of fighting off the Borg in Earth's orbit, and Earth, where Zefram Cochrane must make his historic flight to ensure that first contact with the Vulcans takes place and history remains unchanged. James Cromwell is perfect as this reluctant hero who has to meet his fate in an all-too-predetermined way. Steppenwolf's "Magic Carpet Ride" and Roy Orbison's "Ooby Dooby" greatly enhance the Earth portion of the story.

The direction and effects in this film are nothing short of spectacular. The film was directed by Jonathan Frakes, who plays "Number One," William Riker, the Enterprise's first mate. Other Star Trek films have been directed by cast members. Leonard Nimoy directed III and IV, and William Shatner directed V. But nobody's done it like this. First Contact starts out inside of Captain Picard's eye in a sweepingly beautiful sequence, and visually references EVERYTHING, from Metropolis to Aliens to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to the Trek films to Star Wars to Terminator 2 to The Wizard of Oz. And it does it all in a way that is never derivative, highly stylish, and a joy to behold. I didn't want to leave after the movie was over. This world is so real that you feel you could step into it, and its future history is portrayed in a truly striking way. Stewart, Spiner, Krige, Cromwell, and Alfre Woodard, who plays a 21st century Earthling, are all at the top of their form.

Even if you don't like Star Trek, First Contact is a film that moves quickly, understands its aims, never takes itself too seriously, and is a wonderful addition to the Star Trek mythos. It also promises great things for the future.

Links for Star Trek: First Contact

Internet Movie Database Entry

Roger Ebert Review


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