Oh the humanity. It has often been said that a hero is only as good as his nemesis. Just as Holmes needed Moriarty, so Doctor Who needed the Daleks and the Next Generation team needed The Borg. For without undeniable evil and malice, how can our heroes persevere? However, more fundamental than that without the hugely popular adversaries, certainly in the last two examples, the very future of the hero was in question, and by future I mean their continuing success on the TV screen.
1987 saw the resurrection of the Star Trek franchise on television, a medium that had not seen a 'new' episode for twenty one years. For the first two years, the series was not good, with daft clichés, terrible story telling, production and in parts awful acting, not to mention industrial action that caused a prematurely short season two; the future of the Next Generation was in jeopardy. There were however some redeeming features, story arcs were set up, but not explored (Conspiracy & Neutral Zone) and the introduction of a new super villain (Q Who) were high points. When the third season was granted, there was an upsurge in production values and script writing, and the series was turned on its head. When it came to the end of that season the makers decided on a cliff-hanger, and produced what is probably the best cliff-hanger of any TV show ever. The Best of Both Worlds saw the return of The Borg, a cybernetically enhanced race of nameless, faceless, relentless killing machines; their mission to invade Federation space and conquer Earth. In doing so they kidnap Picard, captain of the Enterprise, and make him Locutus of Borg, forcing him to kill and destroy all in his path. And in a move unprecedented in Star Trek before, actually took an episode out to explore the effect this violation had on the character. It is this element that was so cleverly used as the pivotal moments in the Next Generation's second film, Star Trek (8) First Contact.
Once again the Borg threaten Federation Space, make a beeline for Earth in a second attempt at assimilation. They are once again thwarted by the Enterprise, in its new 'E' configuration, but at the Cube's destruction launch a Sphere that travels back in time to change the course of history by assimilating the past. Caught in the 'temporal wake' the Enterprise follows to prevent this and ensure the future of Star Trek itself. These glib few lines neatly tell the plot of the film, but it is so much more that the sum of its parts. Scriptwriters Braga and Moore fresh from their lambasting of the terrible Generations wanted to start afresh, make a Next Generation film 'without the baggage' of Kirk and crew and accessible to everyone not just fans. Although there were many ideas at the beginning, Braga favoured a time travel story, and instead of our present/past he chose our 'future'; more specifically an area of Star Trek past alluded to in the original series episode Metamorphosis, and Zephram Cochrane, the inventor of the Warp Drive. As for an enemy, there was really only one choice; The Borg. So with these elements in place, and after a few script changes the two story threads were set; Riker and crew on the planet surface attempting to make sure Cochrane makes his historic fight in the first warp capable aircraft the Phoenix; while Picard and Data battle the hoards of Borg on the Enterprise.
Director Frakes (Riker) in his first feature film (though he had directed eight of the TV episodes) brought with him a familiarity of the franchise, a cast that knew and respected him and an energy and enthusiasm to make this film succeed; and succeed it does. Undeniably, Stewarts performance as Picard is the highlight of the film, perhaps revenge is not an emotion that 24th century men subscribe to, but this particular one does. His authority on the screen is matched only by Alfre Woodard as Lily who gives as good as she gets in the observation lounge and 'that scene' (”and I will make them pay”). All other cast members give memorable performances, each getting their own little highlight. Special mention to James Cromwell whose portrayal of a Star Trek legend as a man that cannot accept the hero worship pilled upon him is a joy to behold. Production values are first rate too, at 1996, this film was on the cusp of CG. It still had miniatures built of some craft (hurray) including the Enterprise E as well as CG craft, and actually do blend really well together. The Phoenix rocket and plasma at the end are the only obvious CG elements. The Borg to get a face lift too and become much more menacing because of it. We get to see much of the new Enterprise E both inside and out. In fact along with the opening pull back shot in the Borg cube, the walk on the hull of the Enterprise remain the best shots of the film.
There is much to enjoy in this movie, and as much as Braga and Moore wanted to make it accessible, at least a little Star Trek knowledge is needed to fully appreciate it. Warf, for example, was at the time appearing on Deep Space Nine, so references to his absence (and the Starship Defiant) would be lost on anyone not realising that. Plus the stand off between him and Picard on the bridge needs some idea of their past to realise the full gravity of that situation and Warf's reply ”if you were any other man I would kill you where you stand”. There also many other little nods and in jokes about themselves that some might find off putting; in fact watching it again and out of context, as it were, I noticed a lot of material that I adored first time around, but now seemed too self congratulatory. But these are small concerns in an otherwise superb film. First Contact marks the highest point of the 'new' Trek; after it came two lacklustre films (though I actually really enjoyed Insurrection) and though DS9 was to end on excellent form, Voyager was just plodding along rehashing everything we'd seen before until they brought in the Borg and proceeded to ruin their reputation. And then there is Enterprise..... But none of this should detract from what is essentially a fine Sci Fi film, irrespective of the Star Trek name “Resistance is Futile”.
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