Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Star Trek: First Contact. A Review


The Borg Identity...

Now, I should state for the record that as much as The Borg are admired, I always thought of them as knock-off of the Cybermen from Doctor Who.  There, my conscience is clean. 

Star Trek First Contact is the first Star Trek film to feature the Next Generation cast without tying it in to the Original Series, in short, their own independent feature.  While I felt that it had a rushed, almost chaotic opening, once it settled down and focused on the main story, First Contact had more pluses than minuses to make it a better Star Trek film than most.

The Enterprise has been advised that the Borg, a group of aliens who conquer by forcing assimilation, are on the warpath.  Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), who was once captured and almost assimilated into the Borg with the new name of Locutus of Borg, has been warned to stay out of the oncoming war.  This does not sit well with either Captain Picard or the rest of the Enterprise crew, but obey they do...until the Borg Cube comes perilously close to winning the battle.  Disobeying orders, the Enterprise enters the fray, bringing victory.  However, an orb within the Cube escapes, with the Enterprise in fierce pursuit.

We find that the Cube has travelled into the past, taking the Enterprise with it to the mid-Twenty-First Century, April 4th, 2063 in fact.  A quick scan makes a shocking discovery: the Borg have altered history by assimilating all humanity, with only the Enterprise to stand in its way of total domination.  Now, one might ask, why April 4th, 2063?  Answer is simple: on April 5th, 2063, humanity will have First Contact: it is the day that humans make 'first contact' with aliens, and from that the beginning of time/space travel, the United Federation of Planets, the whole shebang.

In other words, its when Star Trek has its genesis, if you will. 

From here, First Contact becomes two stories: one has the Borg slowly taking control of the Enterprise, attempting to use it ti bring down the spacecraft that will attract the attention of alien surveyors and thus, prevent First Contact.  The other has some of the Enterprise crew attempting to make sure First Contact is made, not easy given that the legendary figure who brought about warp speed, one Zephram Cochrane (James Cromwell) is a dissolute drunk rather horrified at the idea that he could be the father of space travel and that he will be made into a virtual godfigure. 

On that front, we have Number One, Commander Riker (director Jonathan Frakes), Engineer Jordi LaForge (LeVar Burton), and Enterprise Councelor Troi (Marina Sirtis).  On the Enterprise, we have Captain Picard, former Security Chief who at the events of First Contact was Captain of his own ship Defiant, Commander Worf (Michael Dorn), and android Data (Brent Spiner) who has been programmed to become more human.

The bulk of First Contact deals with the Borg storyline.  Here, the Enterprise is being taken over by the Borg, led by their evil Borg Queen (Alice Krige).  In turns seductive and sinister, she attempts to seduce Data into joining her Borg...and getting her hands on the codes Data has that will help her bring down Cochrane's ship and prevent First Contact, thus ensuring Borg conquest.  It is up to Captain Picard, aided by Lilly (Alfre Woodard), Cochrane's assistant/main squeeze, to stop this.  Of course, the difficulty is that Captain Picard, obsessed with destroying the Borg, is running the risk of letting his thirst for revenge cloud his judgment.

In the end, Lilly shows Picard he must turn away to avoid the fate of Moby-Dick's Captain Ahab, and thus with a couple of twists the Borg Queen and her minions are defeated, and First Contact is assured.

My big beef First Contact is that for I'd say the first third of the film I had only one question, "What the hell is going on?"  As a non-Trekkie, I had no real idea about Picard's history with the Borg (apart from the quick opening which threw at us Picard's past with them).  Furthermore, Frakes and screenwriters Brannon Barga and Ronald D. Moore (from a story by Barga, Moore, and Rick Berman) were rushing through a lot of information and situations at warp speed (thought I'd throw that part in).   The appearance of the Borg, the battle with them, Worf now heading up his own ship, the quick victory, the flight of the Borg into the past, what First Contact itself was...for someone who isn't well-versed in Trek lore a lot of this might be maddening.  I figure the Next Generation/Star Trek fans would have all this background info, but for the neophyte it is all done so quickly one can barely make sense of it all.

At one point an incredulous Cochrane asks Riker, "A group of cybernetic creatures from the future have travelled back through time to enslave the human race, and you're here to stop them?"  Here, at least finally we get the whole story (though I was never sure EXACTLY how the Borg managed that neat trick of going to the past, figuring if they could have they would have long before the events in First Contact, or am I being too picky).

However, once the film settles down First Contact becomes a tense siege story with Picard and Company fighting the keep the Borg from taking over the whole ship.  The scenes where Picard, Data, and the crew attempt to fight off the Borg almost deck by deck is filled with beautiful-looking imagery and tense action.  First Contact is if nothing else visually arresting.

A great plus is Krige as the Borg Queen.  She is both evil and oddly beautiful, and Krige plays the part intelligently, knowing that a raving mad-creature would be able to entice anyone.  Instead, the Borg Queen is calm, rational, using the power of persuasion rather than brute force to win Data and/or Picard to her side.  Krige makes for one of the best Star Trek villains.

There are also great performances by the guest stars.  Cromwell shows almost a comic aspect to Cochrane, someone whom I would describe as a working-class hero, one less interested in a place in history than a place in bank books.  Woodard is also excellent as Lilly, one who is able to both show a mix of fear and courage when confronting new surroundings and alien enemies.  Her scene with Stewart as she confronts his blindness and rage at bringing down the Borg is brilliant.

Equally excellent are both Stewart and Spiner.  The former brings the epic intensity of a man on a mad quest (the Moby-Dick allusion is accurate), and the latter has great moments of a being tempted by the one thing he wants: humanity.  The final twists to Data's storyline are both brilliant and shocking, making the climax of First Contact worth the time.

The secondary story of Cochrane's flight seems oddly anti-climatic, not to mention a trife dull.  While Cromwell was great the other characters from the Enterprise save for the hero-worshipping LaForge (who without his distinctive visors is a jarring sight) seemed to get lost in the story.  Certainly both Counselor Troi and Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) weren't a large part of the story, which is a shame that the women were mostly regulated to the sidelines.

For some reason the actual First Contact in First Contact was almost secondary, even virtually inconsequential to First Contact itself (those who actually encounter Cochrane and his group are both not a surprise and a welcome presence).  All the sequences within the besieged Enterprise are filled with tension, action, excitement, and great thought, and for that, First Contact is a strong debut for the Next Generation-centered Star Trek films.   For myself, First Contact was rushed in the beginning to being almost chaotic, but once we calmed down the story settles into a good, solid, exciting film with a great villain.  While I would argue that First Contact is geared more for the Star Trek devotee than those who don't know a Prime Directive from a Prime Meridian, First Contact is on the whole a good beginning to a Next Generation. 


Next Star Trek film: Star Trek Insurrection

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