‘Star Trek: First Contact’ stands out as ‘The Next Generation”s best big screen adventure

Patrick Stewart battles the Borg in 'Star Trek: First Contact'
Patrick Stewart battles the Borg in ‘Star Trek: First Contact’

Of the four Star Trek: The Next Generation films that have been made, First Contact was the only one that was actually good. It’s not great, mind you, but fun. It also benefits from being far better than its immediate predecessor, Generations, and proves to outshine the ones that followed it, Insurrection and Nemesis.

It’s enjoyable because it has all the things that make Star Trek fun: action, humor and special effects. The story isn’t bad either, if a little simplistic. Although often considered a dark film, it really isn’t. It has some of the most blatantly comedic moments in anyTrek film, with the exception of Star Trek IV.

The story follows Captain Jean Luc Picard and the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise back in time to the mid-21st century. Earth is still recovering from World War III, and the deadly Borg have journeyed to that time period in order to prevent the first warp flight that would cause humanity’s first encounter with an alien species. The Enterprise manages to destroy the Borg ship, but not before the deadly cybernetic beings succeed in damaging the ancient warp ship.

As a result, the crew must race against time to repair the damage and make sure its creator, Zephram Cochrane, successfully completes the flight. However, unbeknownst to the crew, the Borg managed to escape the destruction of their ship and have boarded the Enterprise.

And they’ll stop at nothing to destroy Picard, his crew, and all of humanity.

There is a lot done right here. The action is great, the Borg are cool (although they are later destroyed by overuse in the Star Trek: Voyager series), and the Picard storyline is interesting. And while I’ve been notoriously critical of this film, watching it again made me think perhaps I’d been too hard on it. It really isn’t bad. Perhaps this new found appreciation for it comes from the terrible failures of the Trek films that followed (especially Nemesis, but that’s a whole other rant).

I’ve always had two chief problems with the film, and while I’m not as bothered by them now, they were things that really annoyed me when I originally saw First Contact. The first is the “action” scene on the deflector dish. It’s unique for a Trek film, because it’s a fight sequence that takes place outside the ship in space suits. But the actors all move needlessly slow, that the whole sequence moves at a snail’s pace. The film’s writers, Ron Moore and Brannon Bragga, both echo this sentiment during their audio commentary.

My other major problem was the character of Lily. I understood the concept of having a a 21st century character’s perspective. Star Trek IV did the same thing. However, there is a key scene near the end where Lily confronts Picard when his thirst for vengeance endangers the ship and his crew. This scene would have had much more emotional meaning had that confrontation occurred between Picard and another crew member, most notably Doctor Beverly Crusher (who does little to nothing in this film otherwise). It always disagreed with me that Crusher, who had a close and deep relationship with Picard, would not challenge him when he was clearly becoming blinded by hatred and anger. Instead, this meaningless character comes in and confronts Picard.

Some may consider this a nitpick, but ultimately its one of the main weaknesses of the film for me.

But enough about the movie, let’s talk about the DVD. I really liked the features, although I was a little disappointed with the commentaries, which have generally been my favorite treat on all these Special Edition Star Trek DVDs. The commentary featuring Moore and Bragga is good, although I cringed when Bragga launched into tired excuses about why Trek has experienced a decline in recent years (conveniently blaming the audience and not himself or Berman’s lack of creativity). It is notable, however, that Moore gets curiously quiet during this diatribe.

The last time I listened to Jonathan Frakes in a commentary, who stars in this film as Commander Riker and also serves as the film’s director, he was funny and insightful. Here, he seems a little too caught up in watching the film. He makes sporadic comments filled with filmmaking lingo, but offers little in the realm of behind the scenes info.

The behind the scenes documentaries are actually pretty good. The Jerry Goldsmith tribute is touching, and the “Legacy of Zefram Conchrane” is good. I actually liked the “First Contact: The Possibilities”, which is about the real life efforts to search for alien life. These related documentaries are generally loosely connected to the film, but this one works better than previous ones, and had some bit of trivia that I wasn’t aware of (did you know that Paramount Pictures helped kick start the SETI at Home project?).

The image and sound quality is also excellent. They tried to improve the quality of Generations in its special edition release, but actually went a little too far there. Here, the image is crisp and the sound sharp. Little to no image problems, which was a relief.

Overall this is a well packaged special edition, and the only film of the Next Generation crew to really deserve one.

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