Sunday, July 12, 2015

Star Trek: First Contact.

The Borg invade Federation space!

THE PLOT

The day Picard has spent the last six years dreading has finally come: The Borg have invaded Federation space, and are on a direct course for Earth!

The newly shaken-down Enterprise E is directed to stay out of the fight, Picard's connection to the Borg regarded as adding "an unstable element to a critical situation." But when it becomes clear that Starfleet's defenses are crumbling, Picard disregards orders and takes charge of the battle. His knowledge of the Borg proves critical, and he succeeds in destroying the Borg cube.

Not before a small Borg sphere escapes, however. The sphere creates a temporal vortex, and the Earth transforms before the Enterprise crew's eyes - Changed from the world they know into a Borg colony. Realizing that the Borg must have conquered Earth in the past, the Enterprise crew pursues them while the vortex remains open.

They emerge in the mid twenty-first century, on the eve of Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell)'s historic first warp flight - the moment that brought humanity into contact with the wider galaxy. They find the Borg firing on Cochrane's home town, clearly attempting to destroy him and undo that vital first contact.

The Enterprise is able to destroy the Borg ship easily enough, and it takes little time for an Away Team to verify that Cochrane is safe. But while the Enterprise's shields are down, a Borg party beams aboard. Now they are steadily assimilating the ship deck by deck, converting ship's systems and crew. As the situation grows ever more dire, Picard is presented with a dilemma: The only way to save history may be to destroy the Enterprise!


Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) and his friend Lily (Alfre
Woodard) see something unexpected in the night sky...

CHARACTERS

Capt. Picard: The experience of having been assimilated by the Borg has left him scarred - something seen before in I Borg - which sets his usually even temper on a hair trigger. As the Borg grow stronger and his own forces are weakened, it becomes obvious that this is not a fight he can win through military strength - But Picard's Ahab-like resolve that "the line must be drawn here" temporarily blinds his reasoning. Critical to the effectiveness of this, the first quarter of the movie sees Picard fully his normal self, which makes it all the more dramatic to see him temporarily lose his rationality in the second half.

Riker: Pulls "B" plot duty, staying on the planet to make sure Cochrane completes his flight while Picard goes back to the ship to deal with the Borg. Jonathan Frakes holds the screen in his scenes and plays well opposite screen stalwart James Cromwell. His best scene comes early in the film, however, when he reacts angrily to the suggestion that Picard can't be trusted to go into battle against the Borg. The history between Picard and Riker comes through the actors' performances even if you haven't seen the series, and Riker's outrage on his captain's behalf is tangible.

Data: Just as the script separates Picard and Riker about 30 minutes in, it moves Data into his own side-plot not long after. This allows Brent Spiner a meaty role, with Data tempted by the Borg Queen (Alice Krige)'s offer to make him more genuinely human than he could ever hope to be on his own. It also means that his role doesn't come at the expense of the other regulars. Worf gets some particularly good scenes opposite Picard in the "A" plot, and Geordi gets some decent material with Riker and Cochrane in the "B" plot.

Worf: This movie was released after Michael Dorn joined Deep Space 9, but at least for this one film the explanation for Worf's presence doesn't come across as labored. He is in command of the Defiant, a ship that was introduced as having been specifically created to battle the Borg - Which means that it makes perfect sense for it to be called into action when the Borg finally invade. Worf gets some excellent material, from the amusing action movie one-liner that made its way into every trailer to the brief but intense exchange in which Picard all but accuses him of cowardice for pointing out that the fight has become unwinnable. Picard apologizes just two scenes later - And, quite correct for who Worf is, it takes a moment for the Klingon to accept that apology.

Zefram Cochrane: James Cromwell, fresh off his Oscar nomination for Babe, gets the high-profile guest role of the film. His Cochrane is a perfect example of the adage, "Never meet your heroes." The Enterprise crew expects to come face-to-face with a larger-than-life icon. They instead meet a very flawed man, possibly an alcoholic, who tries to run away from the destiny Riker and Geordi have told him about. "I built this ship so that I could retire to some tropical island filled with naked women!" he protests after Geordi exults about a statue that will be built to him in the future. "That's Zefram Cochrane, that's his vision! This other guy you keep talking about, this historical figure? I never met him. I can't imagine I ever will!"

The Borg: As the one TNG villain that worked its way into the consciousness of the general public, it was inevitable that the Borg would be brought to the bigscreen. They are ready-made for the transition, with their horror movie design, their unstoppable nature, and the personal connection Picard has with them. Director Jonathan Frakes does not shy away from some gruesome moments and some startlingly visceral violence. This was the first Trek movie to earn a "PG-13" rating, and it's not hard to see why. This movie also introduces the concept of the Borg Queen (Alice Krige) - something which hasn't gone over well with all fans, but which I think mostly works here. Krige, a very good actress, has a seductive quality which helps to really sell her temptation of Data. She does come across as overly emotional at the film's climax, however, which blunts the inhuman quality that makes the Borg so effective to start with.

Zap the Redshirt! There's a new crew member on the bridge at the start of this movie: Lt. Hawk (Neal McDonough). Hawk actually survives for a lot more of the film than I'd have expected, but he finally does get Borg-ified in the middle of the movie's best set piece. Borg Hawk returns to attack Picard, just in time for Worf to come to the captain's rescue. No one spares him a thought once he's dead - Including the audience, since he was never given any characterization at all during the 60-odd minutes that featured him.



Data is tempted by the Borg Queen (Alice Krige).

THOUGHTS

Star Trek: First Contact was not just a successful entry in the franchise; it was a genuine, mainstream critical and box office hit. This was TNG's shining hour on the bigscreen, with reviewers praising the strength of the cast, the production, and the script, and audiences lining up to enjoy the action.

First contact is unquestionably Star Trek as action movie - But it's definitely not a mindless action movie. The story is carefully constructed, with Picard and the Borg constantly moving to outmaneuver each other. Around the midpoint, Picard draws a couple drones into the holodeck, turning the safeties off to use old-fashioned bullets to dispatch them. This allows him to pull a chip from one of the corpses, providing vital information about the Borg's plans. Throughout, the Starfleet forces have to be very sparing with firing on drones - They know they can only fire a few shots before the drones adapt to their weapons fire.

Jonathan Frakes' direction is superb throughout, and watching this film it's somewhat surprising that he went back to directing television. The movie is highly visual, with several stunning individual shots: The opening pull-back from Picard, as a prisoner of the Borg, moving from Picard the individual to the vastness of the Borg cube he is within; the first shot of Riker, appearing behind Picard in the reflection of the window; Picard, Worf, and Lt. Deadmeat... ah, Hawk moving out onto theEnterprise's hull, tiny figures dwarfed by the enormity of the ship in space. I complained that Generations felt a little too much like a two-part TNG episode. First Contact, by contrast, always feels like a movie.


"Assimilate this!"

Particularly strong is the set piece in which Picard, Worf, and Hawk deactivate the locks on a deflector relay that the Borg are converting for their own use is particularly effective. For the most part, this is not an action scene. The Borg ignore them, as they do most individuals. But there's the constant threat hanging over them of the Borg noticing their actions and intervening. When the drones finally attack, they come agonizingly slowly, the drones having to cross in zero gravity. The slowness adds to the suspense, as the crew members weigh shooting the drones against trying to complete their task - a decision made even harder by the knowledge that every time they shoot, the Borg grow closer to adapting and rendering their weapons useless. The entire scene is fantastically effective, quite possibly the single best-directed action/suspense scene in the entire franchise.

The film also deserves praise for its use of the ensemble, the script using an "A" plot/"B" plot structure to give everybody something to do. Picard, Riker, and Data take the lead in their scenes. Worf and Geordi get decent supporting roles. Only Troi and Dr. Crusher end up feeling sidelined, and even they get a couple of decent moments around the edges. No one is completely forgotten.


The command crew of the Enterprise-E.

Overall, I find myself in firm agreement with the contemporary reaction to First Contact. This is easily the best TNG film, and I'd rank it among the best of the franchise, with only The Wrath of Khan clearly superior to it. A good Star Trek film, and a good science fiction/action movie full stop, entirely deserving of its enormous success.


Overall Rating: 9/10.


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