Star Trek: First Contact

[This review contains big honking spoilers.]

"This is no time to argue about time! We don't have the time!"

Much like The Wrath of Khan for the Original Series, First Contact is pretty much the perfect Next Generation movie. They even did something similar by taking a story from the series and successfully expanding it to big giant movie size. Bravo.

There are two distinct plot lines in this movie, completely different but equally important and strongly connected. I love how they contrast the violent conflict and brutal action on the ship with  history being made below in a natural, woodsy setting on Earth.

So let's start with the action on the ship.

"The Best of Both Worlds" is one of the top Next Generation stories, and the Borg were their creepiest and most powerful villains. Even though they were terrifying and nearly unstoppable, they captured the imagination because they were so pitiful at the same time. I was always aware that the Borg consisted of victimized humanoids trapped and suffering inside those horrible, mutilated bodies. Like Picard once was.

Patrick Stewart was a huge crush of mine during the run of Next Gen, and his Jean-Luc Picard was never better than in this movie. It was so smart of them to pair him with Lily, played by the wonderful Alfre Woodard. She brought humanity and a little comic relief to the Borg part of the story by functioning as an emotional touchstone for the cold, angry, and obviously terrified-but-hiding-it Picard. As they walked through the ship corridors full of Borg together, she showed the fear that he could not. She was the one who pointed out that the body he was treating like a disgusting piece of meat was one of his own ensigns, which he, of course, knew.

I loved how Lily connected with Picard so quickly and completely that she could see what was wrong with the decisions he was making, to the point where she caused him to change his mind about the biggest decision of all. It was also moving that, right after Picard apologized to Worf and told him he was the bravest man he'd ever known, Picard walked right into Engineering and confronted his biggest fear -- for the sake of an android.

Alice Krige was awesome as the slithery, sexy Borg queen. Her establishing shot was gruesome and unforgettable, her make-up spectacular, and her scenes with Data were terrific and seethed with robotic sensuality. The Borg Queen took Data to the metaphorical mountaintop and offered him his heart's desire, and it was just wonderful that, in a movie about the destruction of the human race by cyborgs, it was Data's humanity that saved the day. I also loved that it was the Borg's organics that ultimately defeated them.

Meanwhile down on the planet, a plot that could have been silly, predictable comic relief turned out to be quite touching. James Cromwell rocks in pretty much anything, and he's such a strong actor that his role as Zefram Cochrane balanced Stewart's as Picard. In fact, Cochrane was like the anti-Picard -- a man who said he had no interest in saving the world or making history, but who ended up doing just that. Cochrane is very funny, but he's not a one-dimensional character because Cromwell made us see Cochrane's feelings of inadequacy in his refusal to acknowledge his own genius, in his embarrassment and even shame that all of these people from the future saw him as one of the greatest figures in human history when he saw himself as a mercenary alcoholic. It's a reminder of how we tend to idolize great figures in history without considering the fact that they were all flawed human beings.

It's lovely that in the end, the great man rose to the occasion, even with a four-alarm hangover. It's even lovelier that a nuclear missile ushered in an age of peace, and that the first alien species that humans ever encountered were the Vulcans. (As Cochrane was introducing the Vulcan emissary to rock music, you could almost see Mr. Pointed Ears having second thoughts about humans.)


Along with the brilliant decision to cast Cromwell, Woodard and Krige, we also got Neal McDonough doing a nice job in the relatively small part of the unfortunate Lieutenant Hawk; Michael Dorn (Worf) returning from his stint on Deep Space Nine, along with the Defiant; Dwight Schultz as Reg Barclay; Ethan Phillips, who played Neelix on Voyager, as the maitre d' in the holodeck scene; and Robert Picardo in a gem of a scene as the Holodoc.

Bits and pieces:

-- Stardate 50893.5, six years after the first encounter with the Borg, and central Montana, April 4 and 5, 2063. This was the first adventure of the gorgeous Enterprise E. Also loved the new uniforms. The music was original, and pretty wonderful.

-- Nice moment with Picard and Data touching the Phoenix. Very human, and a nice set-up for Data acquiring "flesh."

-- The character of Zefram Cochrane was introduced in the Original Series episode "Metamorphosis," where he looked entirely different. And by the way, you'd think that everyone in the 24th century would know what Zefram Cochrane looked like.

-- Marina Sirtis's drunk scene is my favorite Troi scene, ever.

-- The opening scene with Picard's nightmare included some fascinating eye symbolism; the visual went from Picard's eye penetrated by the Borg (and I think we can all agree that eyes are the most vulnerable part of the human body) to the huge Borg ship in the shape of an eye. And Geordi got cool-looking artificial eyes. About time. I always hated that visor.

-- The holodeck scene was sort of unnecessary, but it wouldn't be Next Gen without a holodeck scene. And Nicky the Nose actually lit a match on his nose. How cool is that?

-- How did the Vulcans miss the Enterprise E firing? You'd think that would be a lot more noticeable than the Phoenix.

-- This movie was directed by Jonathan Frakes. Who knew the second in commands would turn out to be such great directors?

Quotes:

Holodoc: "Please state the nature of the medical emergency."
Crusher: "Twenty Borg are about to break through that door. We need time to get out of here! Create a diversion!"
Holodoc: "This isn't part of my program. I'm a doctor, not a doorstop."
Crusher: "Well, do a dance! Tell a story! I don't care! Just give us a few seconds!"
Holodoc: (to the Borg) "Ahem. According to Starfleet medical research, Borg implants can cause severe skin irritations. Perhaps you'd like an analgesic cream?"

Picard: "Don't hesitate to fire. Believe me, you'll be doing them a favor."

Troi: (drunk) "He wouldn't even talk to me unless I had a drink with him. And then, it took three shots of something called tequila just to find out that he was the one we're looking for! And I've spent the last twenty minutes trying to keep his hands off me! So don't go criticizing my counseling techniques!"

Troi: "If you're looking for my professional opinion as ship's counselor, he's nuts."

Cochrane: "A group of cybernetic creatures from the future have traveled back through time to enslave the human race, and you're here to stop them?"
Riker: "That's right."
Cochrane: "Hot damn! You're heroic."

Cochrane: "Is he a friend of yours?"
Troi: "Yes."
Cochrane: "Husband?"
Troi: "No."
Cochrane: "Goooood."

Cochrane: "And you people, you're all astronauts on some kind of star trek?"
That might be the only time in any Star Trek series or movie that those words were spoken. Am I right?

Picard: "Maximum setting. If you had fired this, you would have vaporized me."
Lily: "It's my first ray gun."
It's Alfre Woodard's sheepish delivery that makes this so funny.

Lily: "Borg? Sounds Swedish."

Lily: (sees the Borg for the first time) "Definitely not Swedish."

Picard: "We've made too many compromises already, too many retreats. 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 farther! And I will make them pay for what they've done!"

Borg Queen: "Are you familiar with physical forms of pleasure?"
Data: "If you are referring to sexuality, I am... fully functional, programmed in multiple techniques."
Borg Queen: "How long since you've used them?"
Data: "Eight years, seven months, sixteen days, four minutes, twenty-two..."
That was a nice little reference to Tasha.

Riker: "You told him about the statue?"

Riker: "Someone once said, 'Don't try to be a great man. Just be a man, and let history make its own judgment'."
Cochrane: "That's rhetorical nonsense. Who said that?"
Riker: "You did, ten years from now."

Worf: "Assimilate this!"

Data: "She brought me closer to humanity than I ever thought possible. And for a time, I was tempted by her offer."
Picard: "How long a time?"
Data: "Zero point six eight seconds, sir. For an android, that is nearly an eternity."

Vulcan emissary: "Live long and prosper."
Cochrane: "Thanks."

As I said in the opener, First Contact is pretty much the perfect Next Generation movie. Four out of four nuclear missiles,

Billie
---
Billie Doux loves good television, especially science fiction, and spends way too much time writing about it.

9 comments:

Juliette said...

I love this movie. :) That is all.

Iago said...

I saw First Conact on TV recently and it is astonishing how well it's held up since it was released. The SFX in particular still look great, even on a HD TV. Can't think of another film from 1996 that has held up so well.

Alfre Woodard is wonderful. It takes some doing to keep up with an actor as good as Patrick Stewart and she does it with consummate ease. Her confrontation with him when he's refusing to blow up the ship was sensational and I loved how she played the emotions Picard wouldn't allow himself to have. There's a great bit of mirroring there with Picard's envying Data's ability to turn his emotion chip off.

The surface stuff was great but at times you were left agape at just how naive the Enterprise crew could be. The name of Cochrane's ship, the Phoenix is a lovely little touch: humanities leap forward coming out of a former nuclear weapon.

Best line for me was the awesome little in-joke:

Riker: [about the Defiant] Tough little ship.
Worf: Little?

Anonymous said...

This is the only pre-reboot movie I won't let my 9 year old watch at all. In the other ST movies there's certain scenes I won't let her watch, but I feel like First Contact might be too intense period.

I don't think the Borg are any worse looking than monsters she sees in other movies, but it's their lurking, around-every-corner, zombie walking, actions that I'm worried are too much.

What do the rest of you think? Am I being overprotective?

Mark Greig said...

Now why couldn't the other Next Gen movies be as good as this one?

Billie Doux said...

Anonymous, I totally get it. The Borg are unsettlingly scary. You're not being overprotective.

Mark, I agree. I'm going to review the other two because I'm (I'll admit it) hung up on that completion thing, but possibly not for awhile. The fall season approaches!

Kathy said...

Such a good, fun movie!

Kat

Mark Greig said...

If I was in your shoes, Billie, I would hold off reviewing Nemesis for a long time. A very long time. A very, very, very, very, very long time. And then I'd just say "screw it" and review Galaxy Quest instead. It is a much better Star Trek movie.

Dustin said...

This is the only Next Gen movie that felt like a movie and not a really long TV episode.

It's got a great music score as well.

It's pretty funny that the Defiant was crewed by Worf and a bunch of people that we NEVER saw on DS9.

Another similarity to Wrath of Khan is that this movie introduces uniforms that you actually believe a real military-like organization might wear, instead of technicolor pajamas.

Four out of four android skin grafts.

CrazyCris said...

Great review that had me laughing out loud in quite a few spots and now has me reaching for the dvd to put in the player! Haven't seen it in years, but I LOVED this movie! For me the best Trek film of them ALL. :o)
(But I've always been a TNG fan over OS so I would definitely prefer this to the original crew's films or the reboots. Give me Picard over Kirk any day!)