A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 | , , ,

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