Star Trek: First Contact
Best Trek film yet. File under: damning, faint praise.
Ahh, Star Trek films. Don't you just love them? In all probability, no, you don't, and you're bang on the money in that assessment. Even fans of the hopelessly optimistic far flung space travesty say that half of the silver screen versions, either the even or odd numbers as rumour would have had it if I'd had the inclination to actually check, suck with a harsh vigour. Frankly, they're being a bit generous in that assessment. I mean The Wrath of Khan was pretty good in it's Moby Dick In Space sort of way, and you got to play scream-a-long-a-Kirk (altogether now, 1, 2, 3, KAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHNNNN! Fabulous.). The one where they're all gooning around in 1980's Earth has its moments, mainly due to Checkov's uniquely accented stylings. The rest? Pfft. Given the horrible, horrible mess made during the 'handover' to the next generation crew of, er, The Next Generation in erm,Generations it's a minor miracle that a fully fledged TNG outing was ever made. Nontheless, here it is, and contrary to all expectations it's not an unmitigated disaster.
Now, this is particularly surprising because the ratio of halfway decent episodes to complete pish during Next Generation's seven series was so low that any episode you enjoyed could be safely ignored as a statistical anomaly. For every well observed or just plain interesting concept introduced there's about eight centred on Data talking to his cat or Wesley Crusher's homework eating the ship. It always had one ace up its sleeve though, The Borg. While the Trekkie universe has never been in short supply of races to kill / be killed by, the cybernetic menace of the pasty faced wire merchants was something of a minor masterpiece in character design. A hugely advanced, seemingly unstoppable assimilation machine hell bent on stripping the human race of everything that makes it human? Mercy! That's a spicy meatball! Mama Mia! It'sa me, Mario!
Ahem. Well then, let's see. What could you possibly be looking for from a TNG film? The Borg? Check. Chunky space battles? Check. Phaserfights? We gots phaserfights. A reasonably believable, as these things go, and interesting backdrop for all of this to play against? Present and correct. Some reason for Deanna Troi to exist apart from the two she keeps attached to the front of her chest? Well, you can't have everything, can you?
What you've got here is this - Da Borg cube dispatched to crush Earth has finally arrived, leading to that space based bruhaha we spoke of earlier. Having been forewarned and forearmed of this, we kick their shiny metal butts. Yay, us! Being the absolute rotters they are, before being blown to smithereens the Borg fire off a dohickey that goes back in time to conquer us at a more convenient time, just after World War 3 before any of this faster than light nonsense was active. It's up to the Picard & Co to follow it and make sure the future happens the way it's supposed to.
What's supposed to happen is the first Warp speed flight by Zephram Cochrane (James Cromwell) which leads directly to the titular first contact with those pointy eared Vulcan fellas, ushering in a new era of happiness and shinyness. Or would have done, if the craft hadn't been pummeled by Borg phaser fire. While Riker, Troi and Geordi's engineering detail is landed with the duty of fixing up the ship and convincing an understandably freaked out and drunk Cochrane to go through with his original plan, there's trouble a-brewin' up in orbit.
Seems some of the Borg beamed over to the Enterprise and are busy setting up home in the engineer department. Oh noes! Still, it gives Data a chance to be tempted my the dark side, Worf a chance to growl menacingly and club things and Picard an opportunity to go all 'this time it's personal', channeling Brucie's vest clad Die Hard antics. That'll get them Borg telt, won't it? Won't it? WON'T IT?
Of course it will, they've done another two films since this was released. That surprise may be spoiled for you, as if it was ever in the slightest doubt in the first place, but perhaps a greater surprise is how well this holds up after what is, in showpiece movie terms at least a practical eternity. There's a few exceedingly ropy looking effects (Data jumping down a few stories onto a platform early doors being a particular nadir) which I can only assume to be down to blowing all of the budget on the impressive but sadly brief Borg / Federation rumble early on. Probably the right decision, in the balance. I believe it was Plato who first said "Show 'em an impressive space battle first and they'll forgive most effect glitches later". Ahead of his time, that Plato bloke, I'm tellin' ya.
Effects aside, judging it strictly in the 'Star Trek Film' category, or even the slightly broader 'sci fi film' category, First Contact works because it's a decent application of the Trekkie universe that doesn't let anal retentitiveness get in the way of the fun, and is populated by decent-to-great actors in roles that are, by this point, second nature. I suppose there's little point describing how these roles play out, as I think it's safe to assume a reasonable degree of familiarity with how TNG goes (or went, I suppose). I further suppose the minimal efforts in character introduction count against it for some hypothetical person with no background knowledge of the series, but the same hypothetical person would in all likelihood have no interest in the film so let's call it a moot point and sweep it deftly under the carpet. It would, at any rate not be the sort of film that would make them rush out and buy the DVD box sets or stick a Cornish pasty on their forehead and go to a convention as a Klingon.
In a nutshell, First Contact pretty much gives you the distilled best bits of the eight years of telly. A fistful of action, a chance for Patrick Stewart to do his Mr. Angry act after years of calm reasonableness in the face of adversity and even a healthy dose of post-apocalyptic cynicism to dilute the more ludicrous aspects of the series' techno-utopian tendencies. It's all well paced out by director/Commander Riker Jonathan Frakes, drawing on his experience directing a few of the TV episodes to produce a roundly decent first feature outing. To coin a rather useless hominim, if you like this sort of thing then this is the sort of thing you'll like. It's the telly show but bigger, bolder and well, better. Which is as much as you could hope for, really.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.
Jonathan Frakes (Commander William Riker)
Brent Spiner (Lt. Commander Data)
LeVar Burton (Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge)
Michael Dorn (Lt. Commander Worf)
Gates McFadden (Commander/Dr. Beverly Crusher)
Marina Sirtis (Commander Deanna Troi)
Alfre Woodard (Lily Sloane)
James Cromwell (Dr. Zefram Cochrane)
Alice Krige (Borg Queen)
Robert Picardo (Emergency Medical Hologram)
Dwight Schultz (Lieutenant Reginald Endicott Barclay III)