How do you follow up killing off one of the greatest men to wear the rank of Starship captain? For Star Trek, you bring in the franchise’s most hated and feared villains, and take them to a level you never could have reached on television.
Star Trek: First Contact
marks the return of the Next Generation crew to the big screen, and the first time they really get to stretch the legs that being a movie franchise offers. As I mentioned in my Star Trek: Generations review, the one failure Generations has always held for me is that it doesn’t feel like a movie - it looks like a two hour television episode up on screen. All of that changes with First Contact as the crew gets a new ship, new uniforms, and an enemy worthy of the size and scale of a big screen movie.
Director Jonathan Frakes throws the audience quickly into the mix in First Contact, opening with one of the longest pull back shots in film history - starting inside Jean-Luc Picard’s eye and revealing the heart of a Borg vessel. You remember the Borg, right? The malevolent entities who seek out new life and new civilizations and obliterate them, adding their technological and biological distinctiveness to their collective - sort of the opposite of Star Trek’s Federation of Planets if you think about it.
Well, the Borg are back, and after a massive battle over Earth the single Borg cube is defeated, or is it? Quickly we are introduced to the Borg Sphere - an escape shuttle if you will, which is still technologically advanced enough that it’s able to open a temporal rift and travel back in Earth’s history, assimilating the planet earlier on in its timeline. The Enterprise has no choice but to follow the Borg back and the crew finds themselves at one of Earth history’s greatest nexus points - the first use of warp drive and the subsequent first contact with an alien race. However history is more alive than books would lead anyone to believe, and the crew finds warp drive inventor Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) to be less majestic than they imagined. In fact, the man is a drunken capitalist. It’s up to the crew of the Enterprise-E to help repair the damage the Borg have done and convince Cochrane to make his initial warp flight, all while fighting the Borg off who have infiltrated part of the Enterprise itself.
Sound like a lot? It is, and that’s one of First Contact’s greatest strengths. The film hits the ground running and never really stops. We don’t take time to discuss captains getting older or losing command of their ship, or anything like that. Sure, we have some instances where Picard (Patrick Stewart) muses over his relationship with the Borg, but they are brief moments where Stewart’s acting and Ahab-like internal struggle are just as compelling as fire-fights and fist fights with the Borg. In fact, much like Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan before it, the whole Ahab nature of Picard’s character in First Contact makes the movie as a whole stronger.
While I thought this film was the best Star Trek film ever made after seeing it in theaters, over the years its polish has faded a bit. Some of the dialog and situations are weak or tacky and require stretches some geeks just aren’t always willing to make. Note that I said geeks there though - the average film viewer isn’t going to have a problem with Worf (Michael Dorn) appearing by himself on the Defiant, unaware of the ship’s tie to “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and the connection between the captain of that show and the Borg, which would almost require his appearance in this film (which doesn’t happen). It’s the little details that will bother big Star Trek geeks everywhere, but shouldn’t bother normal people at all (and the fact that I pointed out that whole Defiant thing should state which side of that coin I’m on). Besides, the movie really moves forward too fast to think about those small problems until you’ve seen the movie a million times, at which point you’ve had to admit the movie is a good one.
The best thing about First Contact is, as I previously mentioned, it feels like a big screen Star Trek adventure, and one that could not possibly be created on television. The Borg are no longer pasty humans donned in a few devices over a black unitard - now they are made up of numerous races that have been assimilated, and the technology is obviously a part of them. The battles that take place on board the Enterprise E with the Borg feel like a survival for the ship itself because the ship feels larger than a couple of sets. In First Contact we really see the guts of a Federation starship, as the crew fight for every inch (and it feels like in every inch) of the ship.
Accepting the scale of the big screen, and offering a compelling, interesting story, Star Trek: First Contact really does go where no Star Trek film has gone before, or since for that matter. For one picture it turns the franchise into a viable action movie, with enough depth to keep the brainy contingent of the trekkie crowd content. For those who want to believe in the Star Trek curse, it’s an even numbered films, and one of the best films Star Trek has to offer.
Almost all of my previous complains about the Star Trek “Special Collector’s Edition” releases remain true for this two-disc set, although since they are just another cog in the wheel of these collector’s editions, I wouldn’t expect that to be any different.
For those who haven’t read my previous reviews, let me offer a quick recap of my standard complaints. First of all, if all of this material was out there, why did Paramount rip fans off with bare bones editions of the films for their first releases. Secondly, every single extra gets end credits, which means every time you watch anything on the disc you should be prepared to have the last minute be credits. That isn’t as painful on this edition, which doesn’t offer many short extras and no deleted scenes (which is where the end credits became so painful on previous discs).
So, standard complaints aside, the first thing noticeable with this disc is something it does right - the menus and disc interface. Unlike the previous Star Trek films, this movie takes advantage of the movie’s theme, replacing the typical LCARS interface of the disc with something more foreign as the Borg assimilate the menu. It’s a simple little touch, and the menus still operate the same as other Star Trek “special collector’s edition” discs, so it’s merely a cosmetic change, but it’s that type of attention to detail that makes me a big fan of these releases despite their problems.
As with the previous releases, this is presented as a two disc set. Disc one contains the film which looks and sounds fantastic. The movie is accompanied with three commentary tracks - the typical text fact track that has been on all of the collector’s edition releases (which is still a bit obtrusive), a writer’s commentary with Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga, and an actor/director commentary with Jonathan Frakes. The real meat and potatoes of the set though is the second disc, which contains tons of featurettes about the making of the film.
Each featurette is between ten to twenty minutes in length, covering topics ranging from the evolution of the Borg from the television show, Frakes big debut as a feature film director, to the creation of the story, and just about anything you could possibly want to know about Star Trek: First Contact. What makes the inclusion of this information so painful is the big question - why wasn’t it released the first time? Why did Paramount feel the need to bilk their fanbase out of an extra twenty bucks to buy the film twice? As I said before, I’ll be fine with this just as long as Paramount doesn’t decide to release an even better version a year from now, after they’ve finished the special collector’s editions of all the films.
One of the more touching parts of the DVD, and one that feels less motivated by money than other parts of the disc, is a tribute to Jerry Goldsmith, the composer who created the music behind almost half the Star Trek films, as well as the title music for several of the series. Goldsmith was a master musician who passed away last year, and it’s good to see the producers and people behind Star Trek acknowledging his influence on their pictures.
Finally it would almost appear someone at Paramount was listening. One of my biggest complaints about Star Trek: Generations was the absence of trailers, an oversight that actually caused the disc to be recalled and delayed as advertising had listed the trailers as extras that didn’t end up on the discs. This time the trailers are present, both the teaser and the theatrical, as well as another chance for Paramount to grab some more money - a trailer for the Borg Invasion currently going on at “The Star Trek Experience” in Las Vegas. Oh well, at least we got the movie’s trailers, even if it means we have to take the tacked on advertisement as well.
If Paramount would stop their shameless attempts to milk one more dollar out of each and every fan, these DVD releases would be so much better. Instead they are simply great, but with the concern that something better will be coming in the future, rendering the current releases obsolete and squeezing more money out of their fanbase. Come to think of it, Paramount is a bit like the Borg portrayed in First Contact, although (for the moment) fans are at least getting some decent extras for their dollars instead of cybernetic implants. Hmmm... maybe that will be in the next DVD release. After all, resistance is futile.