A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 329 – Star Trek: First Contact

Star Trek: First Contact – January 23rd, 2011

Another night, another Star Trek movie. But tonight? Tonight is a really really good one. It is, in my opinion, the best of the Next Generation movies (though I have yet to see Nemesis, I’ve heard enough to stand by my opinion) and I think it easily stands next to Wrath of Khan and I’ll get to why in a moment. It’s well done on so many levels and it’s an utter joy to watch it again tonight.

This movie came out when Andy and I were dating. I don’t remember when I first saw it, though it’s likely we saw it in the theater together. Andy thinks we probably did and he’s probably right. I just remember loving it. I remember thinking it was fantastic and miles ahead of the first TNG movie. It had everything I could want from a TNG movie. Plenty of screen time for my favorite characters, fantastic bad guys, history, action and just the right amount of humor. Part of this – a large part – is that it’s solidly written and plotted. There are two major storylines going on as part of the larger plot and they’re handled well and balanced perfectly.

Of the two storylines – Picard and the crew on the Enterprise dealing with the Borg invasion and Riker and the crew on Earth getting Zefram Cochrane’s ship ready – I like the Picard plot best. But the Cochrane plot is fantastic too, largely, I think, because it’s handled with both humor and admiration. Cochrane turns out to be nothing like what Riker, Troi or Geordi expected. He’s a heavy drinker and easily discouraged who turns out to have started the warp drive project with hopes of selling the technology and retiring somewhere tropical. The crew’s reactions to him (and his reactions to them) are comical, yes. But they still know that regardless of what he appears to be, he’s also a genius and the man who managed warp drive, making possible the world they know. And when the Phoenix makes the jump and they turn around to look at Earth, James Cromwell as Cochrane has this moment of awakening, realizing that what he said he wanted and what this actually means aren’t the same thing at all. The ending, with him playing Roy Orbison for the Vulcans and pouring them shots, shows he hasn’t changed that much, but that moment in the cockpit makes me believe that his aims have. And the crew’s reactions to being a part of this history they’ve known and revered for years are wonderfully played by all. They’re clearly in awe of the situation, but frustrated by the reality of it. It’s all just so very nicely done and I have to credit the writing, directing and acting, because any of the three being off would have ruined it.

Really, though, it’s the Picard and Borg plot that makes me truly love this movie. I’ve always found Picard to be a compelling character and his arcs in storylines like The Best of Both Worlds, I, Borg and Starship Mine (and The Inner Light, which I think is the best Picard character story ever) as well as his interactions with Data in Measure of a Man and The Offspring lay some solid groundwork for his character here. With the Borg attacking Earth, using a temporal vortex to go back in time and disrupt first contact so as to be able to assimilate the Human race, you can see all of Picard’s motivations. With the Borg involved there’s no way it couldn’t be personal for him. And that gives the whole movie an immediacy and intimacy that I love. Yes, it has a big space battle and it has a sweeping scale to the plot, but the series made Picard’s relationship with the Borg so painfully close that it’s the perfect thing to use to give the movie a character-driven plot. As I said, it stands with Wrath of Khan for me and I think the personal involvement of the captain of the Enterprise is a big deal there. It’s an important note in the overall scheme of things.

There are some fantastic moments in this movie. Picard’s conversation with Lily (played amazingly by Alfre Woodard), with the Moby Dick quotations and his breakdown in the face of realizing just how personal this all is to him? It’s one of my favorite Trek moments of all time. Patrick Stewart can get away with quoting Melville and shouting about drawing lines and it works for him. It works for Picard. There’s some fantastic stuff between Data and the Borg queen as well, tying into Data’s quest for more humanity. And on the other end of the spectrum there’s Geordi and Cochrane and every interaction they have. Geordi’s clearly got a bit of hero worship and Cochrane’s freaked by the whole idea of becoming a hero to be worshipped in the first place. It adds a warmer human connection to the movie than the cold and angry Borg and Picard bits. All in all, it’s just plain wonderfully done, with fun cameos and good action to round out some truly great Trek storytelling.

January 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Star Trek First Contact

January 23, 2011

Star Trek First Contact

Tonight we watch the best of the Next Generation movies. It’s a kind of combination of the best bits of Wrath of Khan – with its single minded and unstoppable foe from the old television series – and a fun time-travel plot as seen in The Voyage Home. It is full of great action, fun humor and thrilling tension. Once again the very existence of the entire Human race is at risk, and only the crew of the Enterprise can save to world.

There is a big epic space battle in this movie, but it is right at the very beginning. The Borg, that evil race of cyborgs that once captured Picard and nearly destroyed the Earth before have returned. If this were any other sci-fi movie the climactic battle with the Borg cube would be the rousing end to the film, but here it’s just the beginning. The Enterprise E returns to Earth to battle the cube and is able to wrest victory from the jaws of defeat at the very last minute. Because of some lingering connection Picard has with the Borg he is able to point our a weakness in the cube and it is quickly dispatched. Just before it explodes though a small sphere flies out of it and with the Enterprise in close pursuit it dives backwards through time.

The Enterprise crew soon understand that it is the Borg plan to kill Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of the warp drive, and thereby stop the first contact between Humans and friendly aliens which would result in the formation of the Federation of Planets. They need to follow that Borg sphere back and stop it from altering history to save the entire Human race.

There are several plots going on simultaneously here. On the surface of the planet there’s Commander Riker, Troi, Geordie and a handful of engineers attempting to repair the Phoenix – Cochrane’s prototype warp capable starship. Meanwhile on the Enterprise the Borg have managed to infiltrate the engineering deck and are slowly taking over the Enterprise from the inside, subduing and assimilating the crew as they go. The Borg Queen, a being we never knew about before this movie who somehow IS the Borg and is present on every one of their ships it would seem, captures Data and begins to assimilate him in reverse. Rather than grafting technology onto him as they do with all their biological conquests the Borg begin to graft living tissue onto Data, bringing him closer to his goal of being more human. Jonathan Frakes does a great job following all these different plots, intercutting between them and never allowing them to become confusing or jumbled. In general in fact I would say that Frakes (who of course plays Riker as well as directing here) has a very straight forward and direct style, which works well with this material. He also does a great job keeping the tension going throughout.

There is a tone to this movie that isn’t really present in the rest of the Star Trek movie series. Part of it comes from the Borg themselves. They are such a wonderfully sinister and unstoppable enemy. The notion of them insidiously taking over the Enterprise deck by deck is treated almost as horror movie material. They are the ultimate conformist boogeymen, and their intrusion into this beautiful, new, shiny Enterprise is terrifying. But more than that it’s the intense performances of the cast that bring this movie to a higher level than other perfectly good but not quite great movies (like Undiscovered Country for example.)

In particular there are several fantastic scenes between Captain Picard, who is haunted and driven by his memories of having been assimilated by the Borg, and Lily Sloan, a human from Cochrane’s time who finds herself on the Enterprise during the invasion. Patrick Stewart is in peak form here and has great material to work with. It’s rare to see the character of Picard so broken, and it results in some fantastic moments. Then there’s Alfre Woodard as Lili, who at first doesn’t understand what’s going on, but very quickly shows herself to be a woman able to stand up to Picard and tell him things that nobody on his crew is able to. The tow of them work so well off of each other that every scene involving them is pure gold.

Brent Spiner also gets a few chances to shine as the conflicted Data. It was a great idea to have his constant quest to be more human become the wedge that the Borg attempt to use to turn him to their side. It’s fun to see Data coping with new emotions and sensations, and his interactions with the Borg Queen are great.

What’s great about this movie is that although it has a lot of fantastic action scenes like the initial space battle and the zero-gravity fight on the outside hull of the Enterprise, it is the intense character drama that really brings the movie to life. The humor of the crew dealing with the stubborn Cochrane on the planet’s surface is fun too, as are the clever cameo appearances of members of the crew of the Voyager. (Robert Picardo reprises his role as the emergency medical hologram complete with his catch phrase “please state the nature of the medical emergency” and Ethan Phillips appears as part of a holodeck program that Picard lures a couple Borg into.)

I’m pretty sure that this was the first Star Trek movie Amanda and I saw in the theater together. It was a wonderful experience. I can still remember going back to the car afterwards with her and both of us exclaiming over how exciting and thrilling the movie had been. It wonderfully captures everything I love about Star Trek in a single exciting package.

January 23, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment