Judge Eric Profancik refrains from making any jokes about how that title relates to Trekkies and females.
Our reviews of Star Trek: First Contact (published July 28th, 2000), Star Trek: The Next Generation Motion Picture Collection (published October 19th, 2009), and Star Trek: The Next Generation Motion Picture Collection (Blu-Ray) (published September 28th, 2009) are also available.
"We are the Borg. Lower your shields and surrender your ships. We will add your biological and technological distinctiveness to our own. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile."
"Borg? Sounds Swedish."
If you were to conduct a random survey, you would discover that the majority of people like First Contact, the eighth movie in the amazing Trek franchise. Even those who don't pay that much attention to the land of Trek usually find themselves enjoying this movie, and why not? It has fantastic acting, fast-paced action scenes, a nice dash of comedy, memorable characters, and quality special effects. It's exactly what one is hoping to find when looking to be entertained by a movie.
Facts of the Case
"A group of cybernetic creatures from the future has traveled back
through time to enslave the human race, and you're here to stop them?"
The day that Jean-Luc Picard has been dreading for six years has arrived: The Borg have begun an invasion of Federation territory. While the fleet is dispatched to intercept and stop the Borg cube, Picard and the Enterprise-E are sent to the Romulan Neutral Zone to keep an eye out for any opportunistic advances from those pointy-eared ne'er-do-wells. Picard's crew is stunned that the flagship of the Federation isn't being called into the fight. Commander Riker questions his Captain and learns that Starfleet is wary of having the previously assimilated captain in the midst of this important battle.
But as the fight begins, Starfleet takes a pounding and Picard realizes he cannot stay on the sideline. Defying orders, he takes the Enterprise to Earth to fight the Borg. And he arrives in the nick of time to take charge of the crippled fleet and give pinpoint instructions on how to destroy the cube. The cube disintegrates under the intense barrage, but a Borg sphere ejects with just seconds to spare. Picard charges after the sphere, which creates a temporal vortex and disappears into it. Watching in horror, the crew of the Enterprise sees Earth transform into an assimilated world: All nine billion humans on the planet have been turned into Borg. Quickly realizing what happened, Picard orders the Enterprise to follow the sphere back in time, to repair whatever damage has been done.
The Enterprise emerges from the temporal anomaly ten years after World War III to see the Borg sphere firing weapons on a missile complex in Montana. A few quantum torpedoes later and the sphere is destroyed, but not before the Borg surreptitiously beam to the Enterprise. On the surface, we meet Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell, Babe), the man who history tells us will discover warp speed on Earth. It turns out that he is about to test his warp ship, which will lead to Earth's first contact with extraterrestrial intelligence. The Borg want to stop first contact so the Federation will never form and the Borg can easily take over Federation space. But Jean-Luc Picard and his crew will not allow the Borg to do this. They intervene and work to help Cochrane test his ship. Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, Data is captured by the Borg and we learn that there is a Borg Queen (Alice Krige, Chariots of Fire) who controls the hive mind. At all costs, the Borg must be destroyed before they can contact their home world and bring in reinforcements to assimilate Earth.
Can Picard and the Enterprise crew stop the Borg and help Zefram Cochrane make that first, historic warp flight? Only time will tell.
"And you're astronauts, on some kind of star trek?"
I remember a few years back when Voyager was in its early seasons, my friend David loved to say, "I know what the next Trek series should be. It should be Star Trek: Borg." I would always shoot down his idea, saying, "But, Dave, how many times can you watch the Borg assimilate another world? It's going to get boring fast." That never stopped David, and he continued to clamor for this series for some time. And, in time—or right around that time—First Contact hit the big screen (and Seven of Nine also came to be soon thereafter).
Secretly, I loved his Borg idea, even though it would never work and would never happen. But, those Borg, they are really an awesome creation. When they came up with the idea of the hive collective, a race hell-bent on conquest, lacking any moral compass, the writers hit pay dirt. For Star Trek, these nasty Borg were the antithesis of all things this rosy vision of the future tried to represent. And, in the first few appearances on The Next Generation—"Q Who?" and "The Best of Both Worlds"—the Borg were the ultimate villain. They could not be bargained with, tricked, or defeated; they could only be temporarily slowed down. The Borg turned out to be an incredibly appealing adversary for Picard and the Federation. Was it just the single-minded determination to assimilate that I loved? Maybe it was their ability to quickly adapt to any situation? How about their odd fascination with ships based on geometry and not aesthetics? Maybe it was their collective voice that sounds so menacing? No, maybe it's just Locutus of Borg.
Obviously, I love the Borg for a multitude of reasons, but as is the case all too often in Star Trek, the powers-that-be decided that the Borg were too powerful and perhaps a bit too non-Trek. In later episodes, the Borg were weakened in an attempt to give them a face. In "I, Borg" and "Descent," what we knew of the Borg was changed to make them a force that could be reckoned with and possibly defeated. Tossed out the window was the fact that they didn't care about people, just technology. So much for the collective mind and united force; we need "Hugh" so we can relate to these automatons. As with many a previous foe, the Borg were being dumbed-down. We had made peace with the Klingons, so maybe we could make peace with the Borg? The path that the later seasons of The Next Generation created would eventually lead to the elimination of the Borg threat.
Luckily, The Next Generation only ran seven seasons and that path never fully developed. Who knows how weak and useless the Borg would have become. But then the big screen beckoned and First Contact came to be. In the second Next Gen movie, the Borg were brought back because everyone knew they were one of the finest creations of the series. And, oh so very wisely, the softening of the Borg was abandoned and the original, vicious incarnation returned. The thought of Borg individuals and Borg factions was forgotten, and the race of savage cyborgs reappeared. These were the Borg that startled me and captured my imagination all those years ago.
First Contact is certainly not a perfect film, but it works on many levels thanks to its deft combination of action, drama, comedy, and science fiction. Even better, though the film appeals first and foremost to Trekkies, the addition of Lily's character (Alfre Woodard, The Forgotten) allows those with limited knowledge of Trek to keep pace and understand the film. For those of you who watch it, one minute you'll be enmeshed in an intense action sequence, the next a light comedic moment, and then a powerful tour de force of acting between Stewart and Woodard.
But, I'm not telling you something you don't already know, as odds are you've seen First Contact. As such, I need to tell you more about this latest double-dip from Paramount and if it's worth your time and money to invest this second time around. In a word, yes. This is definitely worth the double-dip. Let's start with the transfers. I took out my copy of the original DVD release and reviewed the audio and the video. I couldn't do a side-by-side comparison, yet my observations tell me that Paramount actually did some work in improving both transfers. This "new" 2.35:1 anamorphic print looks to have been cleaned and spruced up. Gone are most of the dirt and that slight touch of edge enhancement from the first release, but added to this one are bolder colors, better detail, and sharper blacks. It's subtle, but this print is just more vivid than last time. Moving on to the audio options, there's a little of the old and something new for you to enjoy. Carried over from the previous DVD is the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The sound design and mix on First Contact is superb, and this 5.1 mix does not disappoint—the dialogue is clean and clear, the surrounds are used very aggressively, and the subwoofer will vibrate your walls. For the collector's edition, a new DTS track was mastered for your aural pleasure. After listening to the old and new tracks back to back, I didn't find too much of a discernable difference, since the original 5.1 mix was so good. I'll (almost) always prefer a DTS track, but in this case the only way to describe the marginal difference is that there is more power in the DTS track. If you don't have DTS-capable equipment, the normal Dolby Digital track will serve you well.
The key selling point here is the abundance of bonus features, as compared to the two trailers included on the first release. Here's a brief rundown of what you'll find on this two-disc set:
On Disc One, along with the movie, are three commentary tracks:
• Commentary by Jonathan Frakes: This is a disappointing track, as it appears that Frakes is new to the commentary game. At first, he's very stiff but loosens up quickly, yet he doesn't share a lot of interesting information—contrary to his assertions. You keep hoping these "main guys" will have great things to say, but they never do. What a shame.
• Commentary by Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore: This track is better, as the two share a bit more information about the shoot. Some of their stories are interesting, while others are not. Also, many of these same stories are repeated later in the other bonus items.
• Text Commentary by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda: Another informative track by the Okudas, but it doesn't seem to contain as much as previous efforts. Additionally, this time it's not just a simple subtitle track. On this DVD, a Borg-themed window pops up with the information. It's a welcome expansion of the Okuda-track.
The rest of the features are on Disc Two and are broken down into six categories—Production, Scene Deconstruction, The Star Trek Universe, The Borg Collective, Archives, and Trailers:
• Making First Contact (19 minutes): A general overview of what went into making the film. It's nowhere near as deep and informative as it should be, and there's too much "Frakes-gushing" going on, but the few behind-the-scenes snippets are interesting (even though you'll see them again in the other bonus items). The most interesting part of this piece is when Patrick Stewart, while praising Frakes, says, "You cannot direct a Trek film with complete ignorance of the series." The grand twist here is how Stewart will praise Stuart Baird, a man who knows nothing about Trek and ended up directing Nemesis.
• The Art of First Contact (15.5 minutes): An average segment that isn't so much about "art" as it is about ship design.
• The Story (14.5 minutes): Another general overview of the evolution of the story over the script rewrites. The most interesting nugget is the reference to the "three wise Vulcans."
• The Deflector Dish (9.5 minutes): A good segment that shares the most new information in this category. Such a shame they could only build the dish to 7/8 scale.
• From "A" to "E" (8.5 minutes): While the title made me think we'd get a look at the evolution of the Enterprise from A to E, this is, in actuality, nothing more than a review of the various Enterprise-E sets.
• Borg Queen Assembly (10 minutes): The most detailed of the three deconstructions, it shows how this pivotal scene was crafted. Unfortunately, about a good minute of it is wasted showing Data being probed on the "Borg table" in engineering.
• Escape Pad Launch (4 minutes): Just a few quick animatics for the scene showing that nothing much changed over time.
• Borg Queen's Demise (2 minutes): Starting with Krige's performance, we see how layers of CGI were added to make it appear as if her flesh was melting away.
The Star Trek Universe
• "Jerry Goldsmith: A Tribute" (19 minutes): A nice segment giving praise to the man who scored many a Trek film.
• "The Legacy of Zefram Cochrane" (11 minutes): An overview of the man who lit the match that would eventually blossom into the Federation. It reminds us that, sometimes, The Original Series has to be ignored to tell a good story.
• "First Contact: The Possibilities" (18.5 minutes): An interesting segment that talks about SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence). It's good to see them give extra material that is tangential to the theme of the movie.
The Borg Collective
• Unimatrix One (13 minutes): Everything you wanted to know about the Borg but were afraid to ask. This is a good segment for those who don't know the history of these villains.
• The Queen (7.5 minutes): Alice Krige talks about her character and how it turned out to be more than she imagined.
• Design Matrix (17 minutes): This featurette gives a quick rundown of the evolution of the Borg from their initial appearance on The Next Generation to their enhanced look in the movie.
Rounding out the bonus items are some storyboards, a photo gallery, the teaser trailer, the theatrical trailer, and three Easter Eggs.
On the whole, there are two problems with all the bonus items on this second disc. First, there are entirely too many clips from the film used in the special features. I've watched the movie, know it by heart, and don't need to see the same snippets over and over again. Secondly, as usual, there really isn't a lot of new, compelling information here. Some of it is good, and some is cleverly related to the theme of the movie, yet, as with most Trek DVDs, I come out wanting more. Like what? Simple: Where are the deleted scenes? I know they are out there. In fact, there's an entire side story about Lt. Hawk's (Neil McDonough, Minority Report, Medical Investigation—whom I didn't even recognize until he was mentioned in the bonus features!) homosexuality that seems to have been sucked into a black hole. Let's see those scenes and talk about Trek's first gay character! Beyond that, where are the bloopers, gag reels, and other fun material? First Contact is a drama, but it didn't forget its lighter side, so why did the Collector's Edition?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
"They invade our space, and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds, and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further!"
There are many significant plot holes in First Contact that could distract or detract from the movie. While these things drove me crazy in Generations, they didn't bother me here. Yet, if pushed, I would need to ask why there was only one Borg cube attacking Earth. Why not an entire fleet of cubes? That way the Federation would be crushed…but we would never have had this very good movie then.
Thank goodness we did have the movie, for all the reasons stated above and one glaring omission on my part: the Borg Queen. Alice Krige did a phenomenal job of breathing life into this amoral character. Concurrently repulsive and seductive, the Queen is a mesmerizing creation that makes the Borg even bigger, more compelling, and vastly more interesting…not to mention kinda attractive too.
"So much for the Enterprise-E."
I'm a big fan of all things Trek, but I believe it's safe to say that First Contact is a good movie that can be appreciated by anyone—and that's just not my Trekkie-ness talking. There's a little something in it for everyone, whether you need some solid acting, big explosions, or light humor. If you've somehow been punishing yourself and you've yet to see First Contact, then by all means go out and give this one a rental. If you're out there wondering if you should purchase it, I have to say yes. It's a marked improvement from the barebones original release, and you won't be disappointed. Go out and assimilate yourself a copy.
Star Trek: First Contact is hereby found not guilty of overzealous assimilation.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Director Jonathan Frakes
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