Our reviews of Star Trek: First Contact: Collector's Edition (published March 15th, 2005), 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.
Resistance is Futile.
Desperate odds, an implacable foe, a determined hero, and the fate of the universe come together to produce Star Trek: First Contact, a gripping, thrilling, slam-bang sci-fi action feast. Though bereft of extra content, Paramount gives us a Star Trek: First Contact disc with a superior video and audio presentation.
Star Trek: First Contact had the distinction of being the first true Star Trek film for the members of the Next Generation cast. Its predecessor, Star Trek: Generations still had one foot planted in the Classic Trek/Shatner era, and the distinctive flavor of the new cast was somewhat inhibited by the necessity of fashioning the change-over from Classic to Next Generation Trek. Wisely, the Trek powers-that-be decided to take full advantage of the greater scope afforded by a theatrical presentation and gave us the action-adventure feast that is Star Trek: First Contact. It appears that this lesson has been re-learned by these same powers that be, for the latest rumors are that the as yet untitled tenth movie will be much more akin to Star Trek: First Contact's big-scale space adventure and less like the "TV episode on the big screen" that was Star Trek: Insurrection.
The subtle opening credits of Star Trek: First Contact emphasize the talents of composer Jerry Goldsmith (Alien, Basic Instinct, L.A. Confidential). His main theme is marvelous and complex, managing to be grandly inspiring, yet with a touch of tragic regret, foreshadowing the desperate struggle yet to come.
Suddenly, we get a terrifying glimpse into the personal nightmare of Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), who had at one point been captured by a race of remorseless cyborgs called the Borg and forcibly assimilated into their collective society. He wakes from one nightmare only to learn of another: the Borg have begun an invasion of the Federation, and are coming straight for Earth! Naturally, the Enterprise rides to the rescue to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, but not before their wily foe launches a far more insidious attack. A small Borg ship travels back in time to Earth's distant past, with the object of preventing the first contact between humans and Vulcans that eventually results in the birth of the Federation. No Federation, no enemy to fight the Borg—the ultimate victory. The Enterprise follows the Borg back to Earth's mid-21st century, when civilizations are just beginning to recover from the Third World War, determined to thwart the Borg plan.
Though their small ship is lost, the Borg manage to infiltrate a number of their drones aboard the Enterprise and begin an inexorable conquest of the ship. This Borg attack strands a shore party on Earth, led by Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Lt. Commander Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton), and Lt. Commander Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). These officers had been sent to help insure that the inventor of the warp engine, Dr. Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell), makes the maiden voyage of the first warp-capable human spacecraft (the Phoenix), which in turn attracts the attention of a Vulcan survey ship just passing through our solar system.
On Earth, the difficulties faced by Riker's motley group are quite different. On one hand, the Phoenix, Cochrane's warp ship, was damaged by a Borg attack, so Chief Engineer LaForge must find a way to use his ingenuity and resourcefulness to repair a ship he knows only from his history books. On the other hand, Zefram Cochrane is disturbed by the evident hero-worship of the Federation crew and is visibly uncomfortable with accepting his critical responsibility for the future of humanity. Convincing him to accept his destiny is as vital a task (though more prone to humor!)
Aboard the Enterprise, the situation becomes more grim with each passing minute. The Borg aim to expand their control just far enough to gain access to the Enterprise's main deflector dish, so that they may send a distress signal to the Borg collective of the 21st Century. If they do, the various "youthful" races of the yet-to-be-born Federation will be conquered and assimilated by the Borg with hardly a struggle. Picard, assisted by his android colleague, Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner) fight the Borg to the best of their abilities, but it seems to be a losing cause, particularly when Data is captured by the Borg.
Not being human, Data cannot be simply assimilated into the Borg collective, but the Borg have something else in mind for him. To his surprise, Data finds that the Borg have a leader who is totally different than the usual Borg drone. The Borg Queen (Alice Krige) is a smooth talking, bizarrely erotic seductress who aims to exploit Data's deep desire to become more human to win him over to her cause. These evenly matched adversaries play a deadly serious game of cat and mouse while Picard searches for a way to throw off the Borg's tight control of his beloved ship.
The Borg, the gallant Federation crew of the Enterprise, and Zefram Cochrane come together in the final battle, with the very existence of the Universe as a prize for the winner.
Many critics might give the acting a dismissive turn, simply because it is Star Trek. There is some evident truth to this belief, for despite the evident talents of Patrick Stewart (L.A. Story, Conspiracy Theory, X-Men) and others in the "Next Generation" and "Deep Space 9" casts, awards and just recognition are shamefully absent. Here in Star Trek: First Contact, Patrick Stewart is again in top-shelf form, though this Captain Picard is more determined and fearsome than usual. As Lily Sloane, Cochrane's assistant who is marooned by chance aboard the Enterprise, Alfre Woodard (Scrooged, Mumford) stands up well to the Borg-obsessed Captain and even sparks some subtle romance, though this a potential distraction, and fortunately remains so.
Further deserving of note: James Cromwell (Revenge of the Nerds, Eraser, L.A. Confidential), whose portrayal of Zefram Cochrane as a wildly brilliant though exceedingly reluctant hero is quite endearing, as Cromwell manages light humor without seeming silly, and Alice Krige (Chariots of Fire, Habitat, The Little Vampire), who manages to come off as eerie and sensual at the same time, which is quite a challenge as the leader of the Borg collective.
The video is a fine presentation, though does not without some minor distractions. I cannot complain in the slightest about the deeply saturated colors, excellent sharpness, fine flesh tones, or perfect blacks. However, I did notice a fair amount of digital edge enhancement (giving sharp lines a "razor" look) and too many blips, flecks, and even hairs for a movie of its recent pedigree. Maybe when Paramount finally gives us a special edition of Star Trek: First Contact they will hire someone to clean the crud off the master before running it through the telecine?
The audio is absolutely top-notch, and worthy of consideration for use as a "show off" disc. Music, special effects, and dialogue are all finely combined to create an entertaining, immersive sonic environment where everything from the loudest explosion to the quietest whisper is faithfully presented. Split surrounds are effectively used to support the action and maintain the appropriate sense of atmosphere, and the LFE channel is well used to support the action with nice tight bass.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Fortunately, the buzz for the DVD release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture seems to indicate that reviews of the Trek movies on DVD can finally stop sounding like a broken record in the area of extra content. Of course, that means that this review of Star Trek: First Contact will sound the same sad tale as the other previous Trek releases. The teaser and theatrical trailers of this film are all that you get. Sigh.
Otherwise, I find little to criticize about the film itself, with one exception. The story takes for granted that the viewer has previous experience with "Star Trek: The Next Generation," at least as far as Captain Picard and the Borg are concerned. The script (by "Next Generation" regulars Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore) tries hard to explain the Borg and Picard's special ties with them, but the average viewer will not get as strong, as visceral, an understanding of the situation without prior knowledge. If you haven't seen many of the "Next Generation" episodes, then do yourself a favor, and try and catch the Borg episodes in particular. It will give Star Trek: First Contact that extra punch!
A couple of related, though much more modest criticisms stuck out at me (as the Trek fan that I am). If you have never seen "Star Trek: Voyager" then you may not understand the quick joke involving the Emergency Medical Hologram (Robert Picardo), or if you missed out on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" you may not fully appreciate the similarly brief appearance by nerd extraordinaire Lt. Reginald Barclay III (Dwight Schultz). On the other hand, if you are fully versed in Treklore, then you are fully primed to take full advantage of Star Trek: First Contact!
An excellent sci-fi action/thriller, Star Trek: First Contact is a must-buy for any Star Trek fan, its limited content notwithstanding, and would be a worthy choice for any collector's library. A pity that Paramount still produces discs with such scant content at a high price point ($30 retail).
Prosecution is Futile. Charges Dismissed.
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