Star Trek's successor to Gene Roddenberry, Rick Berman, never allowed the poor reviews for STAR TREK: GENERATIONS to upset him; he had been given an 'obligation' to provide a transition film between the original cast's series, and his own 'Next Generation' films, and 'killing' James Kirk freed him to focus on the film he REALLY wanted to make, STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT. And he created a classic, a film that for many fans has become the 'definitive' STAR TREK movie.
From the opening scenes, which re-introduce the 'Next Generation's' greatest villains, the Borg, finally achieving their long-time goal of attacking Earth, and literally tearing Starfleet to shreds, as Picard and the Enterprise are ordered to stand down (Picard had been 'assimilated' once by the cyborgs, and the success of his 'deprogramming' was in question), there was an intensity that 'Trek' films hadn't shown since THE WRATH OF KHAN. When Picard decides to disobey orders and go 'in Harm's Way', you nearly want to cheer! Turning the battle around, the Enterprise sees victory at hand...until they discover that the 'core' of the Borg mother ship has plunged into Earth's atmosphere, and gone back in time. As the crew glimpses a 'changed' Earth, with humanity totally assimilated by the Borg, they plunge after the mother ship, to prevent history from being rewritten.
Quite an opening scene!
The film breaks into two stories, each entertaining. In an era two hundred years earlier, with Earth reeling from internal wars that have devastated much of the planet, Picard realizes that the Borg is attempting to prevent warp drive creator Dr. Zefram Cochrane from ever completing his prototype spaceship, thus denying the galaxy to the human race, and leaving them defenseless against the Borg. As First Officer Riker and most of the series' regulars protect the feisty engineer (first introduced in the original 'Trek' TV series by hunky Glenn Corbett; in FIRST CONTACT, the role is played by James Cromwell, hawk-nosed, antisocial, and hooked on ancient Rock n' Roll music), Data and Picard must deal with the growing Borg infiltration and assimilation of the Enterprise, and the imperious Borg Queen (lovely Alice Krige), who seduces Data with a chance to become 'human'.
Jonathan Frakes proves an excellent director, balancing the action, comic, and dramatic elements with sensitivity and skill. While most of the series' regulars have little to do (a problem that would never be resolved in the 'Next Generation' films), Frakes still manages to give each a bit of on-screen time to at least remind fans that they are present, and he even manages to provide a brief but funny cameo by semi-regular fan favorite Dwight Schultz, as the terminally shy Lt. Reggie Barclay.
FIRST CONTACT has so many memorable moments that it is nearly impossible to pick a single favorite one out. Cochrane's use of Steppenwolf's 'Magic Carpet Ride' as launch music for his guided missile/spaceship...Alfre Woodard's Lily Sloane, hiding in terror from the Borg, but still able to lecture Picard on doing the 'right thing'...'Star Trek: Voyager' regular Robert Picardo in a cameo as his medical hologram character, at a key moment...Data delivering the famous Borg 'tag line'...the Vulcan science party (led, although unmentioned, by Sarek, Spock's father), bemused at meeting the 'new kids on the block' for the first time...this movie has it all!
There is only one major continuity error; the Borg, as cyborgs, depend on their human 'host' bodies to survive (a key factor in the film's climax), yet in one whole sequence they operate in the vacuum of space WITHOUT spacesuits! I cringe each time I see the scene, but I STILL love the movie!
One other key element of the film cannot be praised enough; Jerry Goldsmith's score is one of his finest, combining the best elements of the STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE theme with a sweeping inspirational hymn for Cochrane, and eerie, discordant music for the Borg. The score is so profoundly moving that it could stand alone, as a symphonic work.
Sadly, Berman and company never achieved the same heights with either of the subsequent 'Trek' films, but at least we have FIRST CONTACT, to show that a 'Next Generation' feature could be done 'right'.
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