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Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Star Trek: First Contact

Star Trek First Contact title logo DVD
Written by:Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore|Directed by:Jonathan Frakes|Release Date:1996

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm going to go through the 8th Star Trek film: First Contact, aka The One with the Borg in it. Not to be confused with the episode First Contact, which doesn't have even the slightest bit of Borg in it. The movie was nearly called Star Trek: Resurrection, but Alien: Resurrection went and stole that title. Someone was apparently fond of the sound of it though, as the next Trek film was called Insurrection.

Here's another fact for you: First Contact just turned twenty today, as it was released in November 1996, during Trek's 30th anniversary. Deep Space Nine celebrated by compositing its crew into The Trouble with Tribbles, Voyager celebrated by putting Janeway into the 25th anniversary film The Undiscovered Country, and here Next Gen is celebrating by... sending the Enterprise back in time to meet a boring guest star from one of the most forgettable episodes of the Original Series. Seems like now would've been the time to have the epic crossover with Kirk's crew, but they tried that already and blew it.

1996 was when Star Trek began to reach its peak as a Marvel-style shared universe with Voyager reaching its third season, DS9 hitting season 5, and Next Gen shedding its TV sets to become a true movie series. It didn't shed its TV creators though, as writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore returned to provide the script. Also Riker actor Jonathan Frakes took the helm, beginning the Star Trek tradition of the ship's first officer getting to direct two of the movies.

Anyway my writing will contain SPOILERS for First Contact and the episodes and movies preceding it, including DS9 up to season 5 and a certain episode of the Original Series. I might even mention that this film led to the Borg showing up in Voyager, the uniform switch-over in DS9, and the premise of Enterprise, but other than that I'll keep quiet about what came after. This far, no further.



Whoa, I'd forgotten that the movie opens with an epic sequence depicting the immense size of the crew that worked on this movie. I had to sit through over two minutes of credits before I got to this pull back shot of the Borg cube!

Also I don't like the theme. Well okay the theme's great, some of Jerry Goldsmith's best work for the series, but it feels like it belongs in an entirely different movie. One without cybernetic alien zombies, a drunk inventor and time travel. They should've saved it for the opening titles of Star Trek: Enterprise.

But after all those credits and the out of place theme there's this endless pull back shot demonstrating the size of your average Borg ship. Most Trek films establish scale with a 'here's a big thing, look how small it is next to the even bigger thing' exterior shot, so it's nice to see them do something different here. And at the heart of it is Captain Jean-Luc Picard, because for the first time in a Star Trek movie we're getting a flashback to events that took place in a TV episode.

The Best of Both Worlds (1990)                          |                            Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
It's gone back six years to The Best of Both Worlds, where the captain was kidnapped and transformed into Locutus of Borg. Seems a bit weird that a hive mind would start naming individual pieces of itself, but there's a bit of an explanation for that later in the movie.

The make-up doesn't match how Jean-Locutus looked in the series exactly, though it's definitely close enough. They got the important bit right; if only humanity could realise how much more efficient we could be if we all bolted laser pointers to the sides of our face. The mismatch is excusable though, as it turns out that this is all just a dream!

But when Picard wakes up he finds a Borg implant bursting out of his cheek! They definitely didn't used to be able to do that in the TV series! And they can't do it now either as this is part 2 of the same dream! Psyche!

He finally wakes up for real when he gets an urgent call from an admiral with disturbing news. Picard already has a fairly good idea what it is though (hint: the Borg are back).

Due to the events of Star Trek: Generations (Picard gave Riker the keys to the Enterprise and he let his girlfriend crash it into a planet) the crew have a shiny new widescreen ship this time around. The Enterprise NCC-1701-E is the most advanced and powerful Federation starship and amazingly it's already out doing stuff instead of sitting parked in a Spacedock around Earth waiting for a crisis like the ship usually is in these movies.

Speaking of crises, an unstoppable Borg cube is heading directly to Earth right now and Starfleet needs every ship they have to defend the planet from certain doom... except for the Enterprise, which has the equally important job of keeping an eye on the Romulans or whatever. Starfleet pretty much just wants to keep Picard out of the way due to his prior experience with the Borg (ie. basically commanding the enemy ship last time this happened) and they're far too polite to order Commander Riker to take the captain's chair in his place (despite the fact that he saved Earth last time this happened).

So the crew hang around on their new chocolate flavoured bridge and listen to the screams on the radio as their fleet is taken apart by the Borg cube.

I'm not really a big fan of this bridge to be honest; it's so cluttered, with free-standing consoles sticking up all over the place. The Original Series bridge was just a circle around a recessed area separated by railings and Next Gen's TV bridge had a clear shape with that giant horseshoe at the back, but this looks like a 'bring your own lectern' party. And those U-shaped consoles at the front are awkward too; who wants to have to swivel their chair around to press a button? I love the blue under-car neons though.

Also they've got Neal McDonough at the helm, with dark hair! I had no idea who this guy was last time I saw the movie, but now I know him as Dum Dum Dugan and Damien Darhk. If he was playing a character with alliterative Ds here too that'd would've been perfect, but sadly he's called Lt. Hawk.

Picard soon gets sick of hearing casualty reports and decides to disobey orders and ride to the rescue, while there's still a Starfleet left to court martial him. They really shouldn't have given him the flagship if they didn't want him to kick ass.

So we get to see the movie's warp drive effect and it's very... subtle. We've left The Motion Picture's light show way behind at this point.

Cut to the fleet, where Federation ships are doing their best to explode with dignity in the face of such an overwhelming opponent. Including the USS Defiant from Deep Space Nine!

The Defiant's so tiny! Cool shot though.

Unfortunately Sisko, Kira, Bashir, Dax, O'Brien, Odo, Nog, Garak, Jake and Quark are all too busy to make a cameo, so it's just Worf and an unnamed helmsman on board. Shame really, as the Defiant was designed by Sisko to be his instrument of vengeance after the incident where Locutus killed his wife. If the two captains were ever going to share a movie, this would've been the time for it.

Hey, it's Adam Scott at the helm! I have no idea who that is, I just know he's been in... stuff.

I'm kind of getting the feeling here that the director didn't feel the Defiant sets were built for movie resolution, as he's hidden the bridge with smoke, dark lighting, debris and tight camera angles. They could've filmed this in someone's lounge and you wouldn't be able to tell the difference.

I also get the feeling that composer Jerry Goldsmith really likes his Klingon theme, as he's using it for Worf right now. Personally I think it should be saved for when the Klingons show up and doing Klingon things, not for the Starfleet officer who happens to be Klingon. Could you imagine Jean-Luc Picard getting a French theme when he commands the Enterprise?

Speaking of Starfleet, I guess their uniform change was universal, as Worf's got the grey shoulders too. That means this film has to take place about halfway through season 5 of DS9, a little bit ahead of my rewatch.

With the Defiant kind of wrecked, Worf orders ramming speed, presumably intending to take the Borg cube out with a close range anti-matter explosion rather than a bit of metal hitting it. But then the Enterprise swoops in and beams the crew aboard, leaving Deep Space Nine's hero starship to drift away somewhere safe instead.

Wait, how did they beam them out without lowering the shields?

Yep, that's a Borg cube alright. Not sure about that Federation fleet swarming around it though. Whenever other Starfleet ships turn up in Star Trek they're always designed to be absolutely unmistakably not the Enterprise, so there's some weird ugly shapes out there.

Also that's not a viewscreen they're looking at, it's a hologram that gets projected in front of the wall when they want to look outside (or at something other than a beige wall). I guess the producers wanted to make it really clear this time that it's absolutely not a window. Which raises the question of why they were all staring at a wall before the screen was turned on just now.

Picard apparently still has some kind of weak telepathic contact with the Borg hive mind (that's what triggered his dreams earlier), so he uses the whispering in his head to figure out that the cube has a weak point and orders the fleet to blast the area with everything they have.

Star Trek: First Contact - Teaser Trailer
Even USS Voyager joins in, hitting the cube with a series of devastating phaser strikes.

Hang on, this doesn't happen! The movie's teaser trailer was lying to me! Seems that they didn't have any visual effects finished at the time so they went and filled the trailer with any shot they could find of ships fighting the Borg in the TV series. Though now that I think about it, Voyager didn't actually encounter the Borg until the following year.

The trailer also has the Enterprise D flying around, which must have made people think that the crew were getting a new ship basically identical to their last one. I mean it wouldn't be the first time (or the last).

And that's a Borg ship getting blown up in a straight fight! Well okay it was like a dozen ships vs. one (plus the Millennium Falcon's flying around in the background in one shot), but they're still far less invulnerable than they used to be. Star Trek: Voyager would later build on this to fully explore the concept of the Borg being total pushovers.

The fuzziest Falcon cameo until Revenge of the Sith
It's just a shame the cube explosion looks too much like a model getting blown up with the flame tinted green afterwards. I mean I've never seen a metal cube that big explode in space before, I've got no real world point of reference to judge it by, but compared to other spaceship explosions in movies this feels fake to me.

Oh that sphere on the left is the Borg escape pod by the way. But unlike regular escape pods, this one's designed to escape into the past and ruin all of history.

Seriously look at that, the entire Earth has become a gigantic Borg metropolis in a blink of an eye. The movie doesn’t mess around. The crew have already finished the epic space battle and lost Earth to an invasion and it’s only ten minutes in.

I love the way you can see the altered present through the effect and the unspoiled past through the portal in front of them. Apparently this is one of those time travel vortexes which protect anything caught in the wake from changes in the timeline, so the Enterprise is now the last remnant of a Federation that never existed. Bloody good thing Picard disobeyed orders really.

Meanwhile, in the past, James Cromwell and Alfre Woodard discover that their little shanty town in the forests of Montana is getting demolished from orbit, as buildings start exploding around them.

This is Zefram Cochrane and he's kind of a big deal in Star Trek's mythology as he's the guy who invented warp drive and ushered in the utopian space-faring future of humanity. Basically it would be a bad thing if he died here before his first warp flight. Fortunately the Borg sphere's weapons are absolute crap, so the whole forest wasn't wiped out in the first hit.

The new Enterprise on the other hand is able to get shit done, as it swoops in and obliterates their sphere with a single volley of torpedoes. We've upgraded to quantum torpedoes in this movie by the way, which mostly means that they're blue instead of red. They still make things blow up when they hit them.

Cochrane has shown up once before in an episode of the Original Series called Metamorphosis, played by a younger actor. If you stare at them long enough you may almost see a resemblance. Funny thing is, he's 230 years old in the picture on the left and in his 30s on the right (the guy lived through World War III so it's no wonder he looks a bit rough).

The role was basically written for Cromwell, but it nearly went to Tom Hanks until they found they couldn't work out the scheduling. So if you ever visit the parallel universe where Jack Lord played Captain Kirk, Edward James Olmos was Picard, and Eddie Murphy played the whale expert in Star Trek 4, you should look out for that.

In the very environmentally minded Voyage Home, Spock determined that they were in the 80s by the amount of pollution in the atmosphere. This time though Data figures out they're in 2063 by the amount of radiation, as the vortex has put them only a decade after World War III and things are a little bit 'Fallout' down on Earth right now.

There's two things about the Borg's plan that make no sense to me, but fortunately they cancel each other out:
  1. Why didn't the Borg do the time travel bit first so there'd be no ships to oppose them along the way?
  2. Why did the Borg go back in time and assimilate the core planet of the technologically advanced Federation before they'd formed the Federation and developed their advanced technology? It's like a farmer going back in time to dig up his seeds.
Seems to me that the Borg fully intended to invade Earth in the present, but after losing a second cube to Starfleet they decided that was enough and jumped back in time to soften up the other Federation races by ending their alliance before it began. No Earth and no Federation means no Starfleet. The Borg on the sphere didn't pick a date and target at random, they deliberately came here to stop Zefram Cochrane getting the attention of an alien race and making first contact (which is why the film's called First Contact and not First Flight).

So Picard personally leads an away team to assess the situation, wearing period-appropriate clothing to blend in, and beaming down in plain sight because fuck blending in.

Star Trek: Generations introduced a new cylindrical looking transporter beam, but First Contact's sparkles are more like the old effect in the TV series. There's none of those blinding lens flares I like, but it's plenty sparkly and I'd say it's one of the better transporter effects.

It's no long before Picard and Data find Cochrane's warp ship, the Phoenix. It might appear to be in perfect condition but it was damaged in the assault somehow so now the Enterprise crew have just 48 hours to get it back into shape and launch it into space or else the aliens won't be around to see it.

I love this missile silo set by the way, it's utterly convincing. Mostly because it's entirely real. They just stuck a fake fiberglass nose cone on top of a real Titan II missile. I've never understood how a bunch of WWIII survivors in a crappy little town in the middle of a forest managed to build a spaceship inside a missile silo, but now I'm thinking that it was mostly built elsewhere and then brought here for the launch. Everyone in this town probably came out here to work on the warp drive project as scientists, engineers, bartenders etc.

There's no sign of Cochrane, but his friend Lily Sloane is at the bottom of the silo, holding them back with machine gun fire. So Data jumps down several floors, gets shot and says hi. She faints into his arms, but not because of the shock. Dr. Crusher discovers she has radiation poisoning so they beam her to the Enterprise, with Picard and Data close behind. He's been hearing the Borg voices again and that is not a good sign.

So now Picard, Data and Crusher are back on the ship, and Riker, LaForge and Troi have beamed down to the planet instead. Poor Worf doesn't get to visit Earth at all, but then he's not even part of this crew so he should be grateful they're even inviting him to meetings.

There's strange things going on with the air conditioning on deck 16 (about two thirds of the way down the ship), with the temperature being set to match a Borg ship. This is a bad thing for two reasons: it means the Borg beamed aboard while the shields were down and those Borg have already taken over main engineering. Or maybe they beamed over while the shields were up, after all that's how Worf got here.

Data locks out the main computer with a code so the Borg stowaways can't use the Enterprise's own weapons to nuke the Phoenix site from orbit at least, but that doesn't stop them from roaming the ship and it's not long before they're hammering on sickbay's door. So Dr. Crusher gets Lily and the other patients into the maintenance tunnels and sets up a distraction... the EMH hologram doctor from Voyager!

I have to feel sorry for Gates McFadden, as she gets barely any screen time as it is in these movies, and now Robert Picardo's stealing some of it! Picardo didn't have to go far to film this cameo though as the Enterprise's sickbay is just a redress of Voyager's set.

There's two small problems with this scene:
  1. Starship doors open automatically when you walk into them, you don't have to beat them down with your bare hands.
  2. Borg leave people alone unless they’re a threat and a bunch of doctors and patients aren’t a massive threat. So why do they want to get into sickbay so badly?
But I have possible answers! Maybe the doors didn't open because they've been programmed not to open for things like Borg, creepy parallel universe aliens and Data's cat. And the Borg want to get into sickbay because only a handful beamed on board from the Borg sphere and they're recruiting. Or perhaps the Doctor's right about their implants causing skin irritation and they're after the analgesic cream.

Meanwhile in Montana, Deanna Troi has located and identified Zefram Cochrane in the bar and it only took several shots of tequila to manage it. So now we get to watch Marina Sirtis and James Cromwell showing off their drunk acting while Jonathan Frakes looks on in despair. Somehow he reminds me so much of Tom Sellock in this scene and I'm not sure why.

Here's an interesting fact about Deanna Troi that blew my mind when I learned it the other day: her irises are entirely black. I've watched seven seasons, four movies and all her guest appearances and I never noticed. Her mother Lwaxana Troi is the same.

Anyway, Cochrane didn't believe their cover story so they're going to try telling him the truth and see how that works out.

On the Enterprise, Picard is leading an assault on engineering with a handful of security officers equipped with phaser rifles that actually look like rifles for a change. The plan is to break open one of the coolant pipes next to the warp core and flood the room with corrosive plasma coolant, killing the Borg by liquefying their organic components.

Somehow this reminds me a lot of the scene in Aliens where the Marines investigate the xenomorph infested power plant, probably because the Borg have transformed the hallways to make into a lair (by covering everything in tubes). I also remember a discussion at around this point in Aliens about how bad things could happen if they rupture the reactor's cooling system, so I hope these folks know what they're doing.

Unfortunately for the Enterprise crew the movie's only halfway done, so their daring raid ends in utter failure (and Data's capture) when they reach the door to engineering and find they can't get the thing open. Oops. Plus the Borg are more dangerous than they expected. They've always had forcefields that reconfigure to protect them against any weapon they've analysed, but they've upgraded their space zombie abilities and can now assimilate you instantly with a single vampire bite injection of nanomachines!

Picard puts this poor officer down with a phaser shot before he can fully turn though, as he understands better than anyone how terrible assimilation is. He knows this as he was once assimilated and then successfully turned back again with no permanent physical effects whatsoever, and this is an important part of the plot.

Anyway Picard opens a panel in the wall and then escapes into the maintenance tunnels alone.

And then he runs right into Lily, who grabs his phaser and makes it very clear that she wants out of wherever he's keeping her. Picard tries to explain that he's not part of the Eastern Coalition (apparently the side America was fighting against during World War III) but she doesn't believe him. It takes a trip to the mysterious 'giant door in the side of the ship' room before she's convinced, as she looks down on the Earth from orbit. The room presumably has second door on the fourth wall leading into a corridor, but they crawl back out instead.

Meanwhile in Montana, the opposite's been happening, as Riker basically tells Cochrane everything, and even has his telescope set up to show him their starship overhead.

“You people, you’re all astronauts on some kind of Star Trek™,” the man realises, shamelessly dropping the title right there in the middle of the film. It should be the worst line in the movie but for me it actually kind of works to characterise Cochrane. The warp engine won't be his only contribution to history, as his words and speeches are going to inspire the people who build the shiny Star Trek future. In fact in Star Trek: Enterprise he basically coins the famous 'boldly go where no man has gone before' line as well. He gets to say "Star Trek" because he's the closest we'll get to an in-universe Gene Roddenberry.

Down in engineering, the Borg are trying a slightly different tack with the captive Data. They can't get the Enterprise computer's encryption code out of him by hacking his systems so they're trying the 'sexy cyborg woman' technique instead. She's like a cross between a Borg and the xenomorph queen from Aliens, so the credits list her as the Borg Queen.

I was wondering how well this shot was going to hold up, with the Borg Queen's shoulders lowered into her body from the ceiling, which then walks away, and it's still absolutely seamless to me. Top quality VFX by ILM. Why her shoulders aren't in her body to begin with is a bit of a mystery, but then this whole character of the Borg Queen is a big question mark. What role does a queen have in a hive mind? Does she control the Borg or is she the personification of their combined personalities? Why did the writers think it was a good idea to have the Borg as villains then take away the creepiest part of their nature?

Then again I suppose they pulled this once before when they turned Picard into Locutus so it's not entirely out of left field.

Elsewhere on the ship, Picard and Lily are trying to slip past some Borg by acting casual. "Definitely not Swedish," Lily correctly observes. She's the audience point of view character for people new to Star Trek, looking at all this weirdness with fresh eyes and giving Picard someone to explain the 24th century to. So yeah this is pretty much a Doctor Who episode right now.

The Borg have apparently met their recruitment quota for the time being as they just leave them alone... until Picard whips out a phaser and shoots the wall. Now it's on!

He lures two Borg drones to follow them into a holodeck (which can apparently dress users in period clothes now) and then changes the chapter in his hard-boiled detective holonovel so that he and Lily have a crowd to blend in with.

It seems like he set this up so that he could avoid the Borg long enough to find the character Nicky the Nose and steal his Tommy gun, but personally I think he's just showing off to Lily. He's got complete control over this physically generated virtual reality, so he could say "Computer, add a Challenger tank with the keys in the ignition," and it would appear instantly.

There's all kinds of things he could've said:
"Computer, create an adversary capable of defeating Borg".
"Computer, create a cage and fill it with 8 foot tall tigers with metal jaws who hunt and eat Borg exclusively."
"Computer, run Batman simulation #47."
But then this is why humanity stands a chance against a technologically superior hive mind I suppose, because they're weird. How is a logical race supposed to adapt to face an opponent who does things like lure them into a computer game to shoot them with real fake bullets?

Though when he does find the gun, his first few shots seem to have been painted on. There's no facial reactions, no shell casings flying out, and he's got an unnatural glow. You can see the muzzle flash reflected on whatever Lily's holding though, which is a nice touch.

But when the camera angle changes we get some proper looking muzzle flash out of the thing and you can tell from the reactions that the thing's making some noise. Well, except for Nicky the Nose who's just drinking and smoking away in the background there; he doesn't give a damn about space zombies or machine guns.

Picard tears the Borg apart with a blend of rage and glee (apparently they hadn't calibrated their force fields for 'Tommy gun') and Lily actually has to stop him from beating their corpses with the butt of his gun. Turns out one them used to be an Enterprise crewmember called Ensign Lynch (not named after Trek reviewer Tim Lynch), but Picard doesn't have time to care right now. He rips a chip out of the cyborg's gut and plugs it into his tricorder to figure out what the Borg are up to.

I can understand Picard being a little angry here but he's ran into the Borg a couple of times since his assimilation in the TV series and it seemed like he'd gotten past his rage. It doesn't feel right to me that he's this ruthless and out of character right now. Then again I suppose he may be overcompensating after his utter failure to win a fight in the last movie.

Back on Earth there's still a noticeable absence of Borg and drama, but Cochrane is getting worn down by all the adulation he's getting from the engineering team here to fix the Phoenix. Dwight Schultz's Lt. Barclay even appears in a cameo to be the starstruck fan who wants to shake his hand and gush over how awesome it is to meet him. But then LaForge makes the mistake of mentioning his statue and that he went to Cochrane High School, and Cochrane bolts for the forest.

Cochrane didn't want to change the world and he doesn't even give a damn about visiting other stars, he made the warp engine to get rich. So I guess the world's not been left trading with bottle caps after WWIII, and someone still has a space program.

But LaForge has traded his VISOR for high-tech contact lenses, and there's no way that Cochrane can escape his gaze when the sunglasses come off and we get a close up of him staring into the camera. I guess the VISOR was considered a security risk after a group of Klingons used it to blow up the Enterprise D last movie.

It's funny though that the film's taken time to draw attention to his new cyborg implants while cyborgs are attacking the Enterprise and there's not a hint of comparison. The film started with someone's eyes being drilled into and LaForge is right here as the positive counterpoint of an augmented human with enhanced vision. Picard's a cyborg too now that I think about it, as he's got an artificial heart.

Anyway the away team chases Cochrane down and Riker drops him face-first into a ditch with a single phaser shot. A shot on stun I mean; they didn't accidentally kill their one hope for fixing the future. This isn't Farscape or something.

By this point Picard and Lily have finally made their way to the Enterprise's bridge through a hatch in the floor (took them long enough to add one), where he reveals to the crew what he learned from the Borg chip. They're modifying the navigational deflector dish to send out a call for 21st century reinforcements so that they can assimilate the Earth in the past! So Picard, Worf and Lt. Redshirt are going to have to suit up and go out there to stop them.

It's taken eight movies but we finally get to see someone spacewalk on the hull. Okay some of Kirk's crew walked on the refit Enterprise in The Motion Picture and a Klingon Bird of Prey in The Voyage Home, but they weren't in space wearing spacesuits at the time so that totally doesn't count.

ILM were apparently able to use the physical Enterprise model for these shots instead of CGI or a matte painting, so the thing must have been absurdly detailed (this section of it at least).

Down in engineering, the Borg Queen has her drones working on Data, replacing sections of his synthetic skin with human flesh to turn him into a cyborg and tempt him into joining the dark side. He doesn't ask where she got it from. She's also activated his emotion chip (installed in the last film) so that he can't just dispassionately logic his way out of giving a damn.

Look at that table he's on though, he has to hold onto the arm clamps to stop himself from sliding out of them! Are they magnetically keeping his arms in place or something, why can't he just slip his hand out?

Hey he managed to get his hand out!

But he barely makes it a few steps before getting his new skin cut and finding himself paralysed with pain. The Borg Queen tells him that if he doesn't want the skin he can just tear it off, but he's not at his most logical right now and you'd have to be a stone cold Terminator to skin your own arm. So it's back on the table with him.

Then she goes and kisses him!

Out on the ship's hull, Picard's team have finally reached the deflector dish set, finding it swarming with Borg. Picard explains they they have to go around the outside and disable the magnetic clamps for the inner disc, to let it float away from the ship. This all plays out in slow motion of course as space is very thick and hard to move through.

This scene is actually very educational as it demonstrates what the deflector dish is and where you can find one one a spaceship. I'm not sure in 500 hours of Star Trek they ever explained what it's for (it sweeps the path in front of the ship to keep it clear of tiny objects that could pierce the hull) but you've no excuse for not knowing the thing exists after this movie.

It would save a lot of time if they used their phasers instead of this slow motion clamp release business, but they can't shoot the Borg as they're shielded and they can't shoot the beacon as the dish is charged with anti-protons and they could destroy half the ship if they hit it. Hopefully that's only the case when Borg are modifying it, or else this ship design has got problems.

But Picard's a reckless lunatic in this film and the minute he gets into trouble he shoots the dish! Nothing explodes though, so it's cool. The others are less lucky, as Worf gets a tear in his suit and poor Lt. Hawk gets assimilated! Picard has to do some daring wire-work to reach the last clamp himself, pushing himself across the dish with his magnetic boots turned off. And then Borg Hawk appears and smashes his faceplate.

Fortunately Worf does some temporary suit repair with a bit of Borg tubing and saves Picard from getting his helmet stomped by Borg Hawk with a shot from his rifle. I guess his injected nanomachines hadn't built and installed the shield generator yet.

With the inner dish released, the Borg can't transmit anything any more. They just float helplessly into space. Don't ask why they're outrunning the Enterprise, it's probably the anti-protons again. I'm blaming them for the hull above the dish looking more curved on the model as well.

Speaking of anti-protons, Worf decides to see if Picard was bullshitting him by shooting the disconnected dish, which does indeed explode. He ruins the moment by saying “Assimilate this!” first though.

Back on the bridge, the two of them get into a heated argument about it, with Worf arguing that they're in an action movie and should be allowed to yell one-liners and Picard adamant that this is serious science fiction and he should show some restraint.

Actually they're having a row because Worf believes the sensible cause of action is to blow the ship up and run away, while Picard wants to go down fighting. So yeah we've apparently been watching the backwards universe all this time. Either that or Picard... is obsessed with taking revenge!

I think this might have worked better though if it was Dr. Crusher arguing with him as she'd have the crew's safety as her top priority and she really could use more screen time. Sure Worf cares about the crew too, but he seems like the wrong person for this argument, especially after being so willing to sacrifice the Defiant's crew earlier.

Then it's Lily's turn to confront Picard in the briefing room to try to talk him out of his obsessive quest for vengeance, giving Patrick Stewart a chance to do some proper acting.

He starts ranting about enter systems falling and they fall back and it’s kind of undercut by the fact that I’ve no idea what he’s talking about. That never happened! A few outposts and a colony were destroyed but whenever the Enterprise got involved they sorted it out. Still, it was a good speech. There's a reason "The line must be drawn here! This far and no further!" is one of the most famous Picard quotes.

He gets worked up enough to lash out and put his rifle through the glass cabinet in the back, breaking his little ships, including the Enterprise D. He doesn't snap out of his rage yet though, not until Lily compares him to Captain Ahab. A literary reference, Picard's only weakness! He's forced to compare himself to Ahab and decides that yelling "I will make them pay for what they have done!" is perhaps a sign that he's out for revenge.

So he apologises to Worf, gets everyone to the escape pods and sets the auto-destruct sequence. Before he can leave though he hears another voice in his head... and its Data's.

Back in the Zefram Cochrane plot, it turns out that being dropped into a ditch was all the reluctant hero needed to get over his anxiety and he takes the Phoenix into space with Riker and Geordi along for the ride, replacing Lily as his co-pilots. So they get to be an important part of Federation history and listen to 'Magic Carpet Ride' by Steppenwolf, and she got to be chased around by cyborgs.

I really hope Cochrane at least lies about it later and says she went with him, because it would suck to be cheated out of being remembered as the Buzz Aldrin of warp travel. I also hope he worked out a way to get the ship safely back to Montana afterwards as that thing doesn't look very aerodynamic and I doubt there's anyone waiting to pick them up if they ride the command module down into an ocean.

Meanwhile on the abandoned and soon to explode Enterprise, Picard walks to engineering to somehow rescue Data (having zero trouble getting through that door that stumped him earlier), where he meets... the woman the credits will later call the Borg Queen!

Suddenly Picard remembers that she was on the Borg ship with him when he was assimilated all those years ago! The Borg ship that exploded, killing every Borg still on board. She's annoyed he's even confused that she survived certain death, saying that he's thinking three dimensionally. Locutus would've understood!

You see, Locutus wasn't actually meant to be a drone who spoke for the Borg, he was supposed to be the Queen's equal, with individuality! So they gave him the individual name of Locutus... which basically means 'drone who speaks for the Borg' in Latin. But Picard ruined that by fighting his assimilation every step of the way, just like she's ruining the Borg with all this retconned backstory.

You might think that this would be the point where Picard reveals his cunning plan for rescuing Data, but... he doesn't really have one. He could've whipped out a phaser here and shot the plasma coolant pipe, killing all the Borg with flesh dissolving gas like he intended from the start. But nope.

I guess he was hoping that he could improvise something when he got here, and he kind of does, offering himself up for assimilation if the Borg Queen lets Data go. This is a pretty noble move from him seeing as assimilation is literally his worst nightmare, but I'm too distracted by the stupidity of his play that I can't appreciate his heroic sacrifice.

Besides, Data doesn't even want to go. He's gotten even more human skin now and it clearly matches his android facial features so it can't have been taken from a dead guy! So he's going to step in as the Borg Queen's equal in Picard's place and the captain's going to end up assimilated anyway. Hah!

Though first she wants Picard to watch as Data decrypts the computer, disables the auto-destruct and launches torpedoes at the Phoenix.

But the torpedoes miss!

Data had used the drama as a distraction to let him creep close to the warp core, and now that he's in place he… says a one-liner: “Resistance is futile.” Yes, yes, very good Mr. Data, you've truly learned what it is to be human. Then he slams his elbow into a giant green tube near the warp core and suddenly we have a coolant leak! The flesh-dissolving gas fills engineering, dissolving the flesh off any Borg caught in it. Damn, what were the ship designers thinking? If they really had to add pipes full of instant death in the middle of the room they could've at least made them android-proof.

I'm sure Data calculated that Picard was far enough away to have a chance to escape in time though. In fact this is Picard's big chance to have a big climactic action hero moment as he...

... hangs off a cable and waits for Data to pull the Borg Queen off his leg.

With the Borg neutralised, Cochrane is free to take the Phoenix into warp speed. A few seconds later and the Earth is just a tiny blue marble in space.

This scene is interesting as it confirms that the dots streaking by outside ships during warp travel aren't actually distant stars, as it would've taken the Phoenix four years just to reach the star next door. Starfleet ships are much much faster but they're still not fast enough to see stars move like that, so there's something else causing the light show outside.

In engineering, Picard finds that the gas has stripped the Borg Queen of her organic components leaving only a Terminator skull and spine, which he snaps with his bare hands. The Borg are finally dead. Well, this group anyway.

Data's still alive, though he's lost his human skin and he looks like a Christmas decoration with all his exposed LEDs blinking. He admits he was tempted by the Borg Queen's offer and Picard asks him for how long, which I think is kind of a weird thing to ask. It's like he's deliberately setting him up for an android joke.

Anyway, Cochrane makes it back to Earth somehow just in time for those aliens to show up to make first contact...

...and they're the Vulcans! I'm sure they know full well that they're visiting a weird scientist living in the woods rather than the leaders of Earth, but I still feel embarrassed for them for having to endure Cochrane's clumsy demonstrations of human culture.

I mean he pours them a drink and puts 'Ooby Dooby' on by Roy Orbison, which is like the worst song created by humanity. Why not put on the Chicken Dance or Crazy Frog while you're at it and drive them away from Earth forever? Still it could be worse, in the Mirror Universe he... oh sorry, that'd spoil Star Trek: Enterprise

We're right at the end of the movie now, so Picard manages to recover his crew and get the ship back to the future with the minimum of effort or dialogue, and the Vulcans have no idea they were ever there. The movie doesn't actually have time left to show that the future was fixed, they wasted that on the two minutes of names at the start, but Voyager and Deep Space Nine weren't immediately cancelled afterwards so I'm optimistic.


CONCLUSION

I was curious to see what I thought of First Contact this time around, as I've never held it in the same high regard as other Trek fans. I mean I've always liked it, but I wouldn't have said it was one of my favourite movies; I'm not even sure it's my favourite Next Gen movie. I think I found it underwhelming and cheap looking, and I was disappointed by the climax, though whenever I've tried to dig deeper than that I got 'Ooby Dooby' playing in my head and had to stop thinking about it.

The film's a bit like a TV episode in that it has a number of separate plots going on that only intersect occasionally. Three of them in fact: Picard and the Space Zombies, Data and the Sexy Xenoterminator Temptress, and Riker and the (Slightly) Reluctant Legend:

There was a period in Picard's life between getting stabbed through the heart as an ensign and getting his ass kicked in Generations where he wasn't reckless and violent, but that's over now. This Picard is an action hero and he's stuck in a zombie movie as the Borg infest his new sleek sports car warship. Zombie movies are usually about the survivors fighting amongst themselves though and that couldn't really work with a perfect Starfleet crew, so they've made Picard obsessed and given him a 21st century human to argue with. I'm not sure I buy his rage coming out so strong now seeing as he's encountered the Borg a few times since his traumatic assimilation, but it led to a great scene in the briefing room so I can't complain. Unfortunately that makes Picard's main antagonist here his own obsessive need for vengeance and his influence on the plot pretty much ends when he defeats it. I'm still annoyed that he had no plan when he went in to save Data.

In fact it's Data who resolves the space zombie plot by resisting the Borg's temptress and giving up his human flesh, which isn't great for Picard's story but works well for his own. Plus it shows that the emotion chip hasn't brought him to the end of his character arc and he's still got room to grow. I'm not so keen on the Borg Queen though. I mean she's an interesting, well realised character, and Alice Krige is great in the role, but I don't think she does the Borg any favours by existing. They were an unstoppable force of nature but now they're just her minions. She might have worked better if she was a new alien with her own race of Borg-like drones... though then the rest of the film wouldn't have worked, and fans didn't pay their money to see not-Borgs.

The final plot is a light-hearted comedy about Cochrane facing the fact that he's going to become famous and respected, and freaking out. You'd think there'd be jokes about the Starfleet characters being fish out of water in the past, or that they'd have to deal with the fact that their hero's not the man they thought he'd be, but the Enterprise crew are actually pretty cool with everything. The drama's resolved by Riker dropping Cochrane in a ditch and forcing him to sober up, and after that he comes around and everyone's happy. Funny how a movie called First Contact pretty much ends immediately after the first contact bit though.

But after rewatching the film I can see why 93% of critics recommended it at the time. Personally I think it suffers from trying to be a blockbuster action film without a blockbuster budget and the action scenes failed to impress (especially that slow motion deflector dish fight), but if you're into watching people dressed up in tubes walking down dark corridors dressed up in tubes, this is what you want. I'd still place it below half the Original Series movies, but it's got an energy and tension to it that Generations doesn't and I definitely enjoyed it. I especially like how it wasn't about Klingons and the captain feeling old for once.

It still totally deserved to lose the Hugo award to Babylon 5's Severed Dreams though.

Strange new worlds explored: 0. This is the only Trek movie where they never set foot on an alien world.
New life discovered: 0. A Borg Queen is still a Borg.
New civilisations discovered: 0.
Boldly gone where no one has gone before: No. Humans have already visited 21st century Montana.
Other ships in range: Loads, but they were temporarily erased by time shenanigans.


Don't hold your breath waiting for another Star Trek movie any time soon, but Sci-Fi Adventures will return with Babylon 5's Grail.

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2 comments:

  1. Twenty years? Yikes.

    I've always liked this one a lot, but seeing its many flaws laid bare, I'm not so sure any more. It's a bit naff, isn't it? And it really does ruin the Borg, or at least paves the way for Voyager to ruin the Borg.

    Even so, I love the argument between Picard and Worf -- even though Worf makes no sense, as you point out -- and Picard's subsequent apology. There's something about the way that Stewart delivers it that does make it seem like a man setting his affairs in order and does more than anything else in the film to sell the idea that maybe Picard isn't going to walk away this time.

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  2. First Contact is the only TNG film (actually only ST film) I've seen in the last couple of years and I thought it had held up quite well.

    I think, more than anything else, because it feels more like a middling episode from mid-season TNG (season 4, perhaps) where they had worked out how to crank out a decent episode every other week that stayed true to the characters, arcs and universe we had come to know. In that way it 'feels' like TNG in the way Generations and Nemesis don't.

    I'd say Insurrection feels like TNG too, but in a forgettable season 7 way, where you might flick on an episode one Saturday morning say "oh bollocks, Data marooned on an agrarian world without even Geordie for weak comic relief" and jump over to Formula TT on ITV 4.

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