This review was first published in Frontier: The Australian Science Fiction Media Magazine Issue 5 December 1996.
At a certain point in Star Trek: First Contact, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) declares: “A line shall be drawn here!” And so, it appears, the line was drawn for Star Trek itself: produce a successful, critically approved film that attracted old and new audiences or face the film franchise closing down completely.
Fortunately for Star Trek fans they delivered. First Contact is exactly what Generations should have been – action packed, face paced, exciting, involving, and features The Next Generation cast as we’re used to seeing them – as friends and compatriots facing the universe together.
There is no fancy, useless opening for the TNG cast in this movie. Instead, the film plunges straight into a Picardian nightmare as our beloved Captain finds his dreams haunted by his time aboard the Borg ship (see the season two-parter “Best of Both Worlds”). It is during these first few minutes that we realise this Trek film is not going to pull any punches and live in a dreamy past; instead, it is going to be up front, in your face and with an edge not seen in Star Trek since Wrath of Khan. Everyone remember how they squirmed when the little bug crawled into Chekov’s ear? Plenty of moments like that in this film. Precious screen time is also not wasted – as it was in Generations – on explaining to the audience what is going on. Rather it is assumed the audience knows such or if they don’t, they will figure it out for themselves soon enough.
Star Trek is almost always at its best when it combines liberal doses of humour with its dialogue. First Contact is no exception. Even in the middle of dire circumstances, Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes) find the time to repartee with Worf (Michael Dorn). Even more humour is obtained from a liberal sprinkling of cameos that will send Trek fans into a “hey that’s so-and-so” frenzy.
The biggest problem of all Star Trek incarnations seems to be the excess of “technobabble”, and as First Contact was written by Brannon Braga (the so-called “king of technobabble”) the expectation was there would be liberal doses of the creative double-talk. It is gratifying to find that First Contact is largely free of the mouth-twisting techese and when it is found, it appears in very small doses that pass over quickly. The biggest techno-trick is, of course, the time travel setup, of which everyone seems a little to blaise; in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home it was a real effort of the Enterprise crew to make a time travel trip and involved great danger. In First Contact it appears they just need Chief Engineer Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) to fiddle with the engines and “make it so”. It is unfortunately that this convenient wrap-up gives the last moments of the flim that “we ran out of episode time” feel, but this is mainly overcome by the wonderful scripting and performances that have come before.
Jonathan Frakes has proved himself to be an excellent director of Star Trek for television, and it is good to see that the faith Paramount had in him to bring First Contact to the big screen was not misplaced. Being an actor himself, Frakes obviously shares a distinct bond with the other actors that gives him an advantage in the director’s chair.
Die-hard Star Trek fans disappointed by Generations shall be brought back to the fold by First Contact, and with any luck a whole new collection of fans will be made. First Contact is to Generations what Wrath of Khan was to The Motion Picture – a breath of life, a vision of hope for fans that the series will mature and continue to a long time to come. And if they following films are as good as First Contact, that future is assured.