[box cover]

Star Trek: First Contact (Special Collector's Edition)

1996's Star Trek: First Contact was the eighth big-screen descendant of the original TV series that had premiered thirty years before. It was the first movie starring only the Next Generation crew, which by then had been warp-speeding in syndication and reruns for 9 years. So perhaps we can forgive everyone involved if by now it all feels, well, mechanical. The Next Gen movies lack the emotional naturalness and guileless heroics of the best Old Cast features. They instead feel as banal and formulaic as superhero comics, where each familiar character is imprisoned within the narrow walls of his or her established template. First Contact is no exception. However, this entry in Paramount's lucrative subgenre makes being derivative a virtue by revisiting The Next Generation's most popular two-part blockbuster ("The Best of Both Worlds") and "re-imagining" a one-shot character from the original series, while simultaneously cribbing notes from big action flicks and Back to the Future. It robustly apes James Cameron's Aliens, even down to the head villain, played with kinky boo-hiss relish by Alice Krige, who appears to be channeling equal parts Cameron's Alien Queen and Marlene Dietrich.

Earth is attacked, again, by the semi-synthetic Borg. The starship Enterprise's Capt. Picard (Patrick Stewart), who once was "assimilated" by the all-conquering hive-mind, has more than a bone to pick with his old enemy. So he and his loyal crew join the fierce battle, using his unique insight into the Borg to save the day — until a surviving Borg probe slips into Earth's past and Borgifies human history. The Enterprise trails the probe back to the war-ravaged 21st century, to the place and time where Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) will launch the first warp-drive ship and inaugurate that final frontier by making First Contact with extraterrestrials. On Earth, the crew must convince the drunken Cochrane to carry on with his history-making plans. Meanwhile, the Enterprise is being assimilated by the Borg. Resistance is, as always, futile. It's up to Picard, prodded by newbie spacer Lily (Alfre Woodard), to bellow "The line must be drawn here!" and shoulder the big guns like an English Bruce Willis. But Cochrane's date with destiny is further threatened when the Borg Queen (Krige) puts on the black-rubber fetish body, straps down Mr. Data (Brent Spiner), and tempts the android to sedition with "physical forms of pleasure." Apparently in the future "natural male enhancement" is still advertised as the key to career fulfillment.

The awkwardly bifurcated plot punches right along with a number of fun "sci-fi action" scenes. The visual effects are first-rate, Jerry Goldsmith's score is properly grand, and the TV show's cast and trappings stretch out comfortably on the big screen's vaster canvas. There's plenty to like in Cromwell's reluctant, self-interested space pioneer, a revisionist flip of the original series' squeaky-clean TV version played by Glenn Corbett. Patrick Stewart quotes Moby Dick in the expected poignant scene.

But like the Borg, First Contact is more automaton than human. Neither the directing (handled well by cast member Jonathan Frakes) nor the screenplay takes any chances on such loose cannons as spontaneity or genuine cleverness. Every element on the screen hits its mark, yet there isn't even a facial expression that doesn't seem storyboarded. Time-travel was a threadbare gimmick in the series long before this movie came along, and the TV show's initially frightening Borg start losing their fearsomeness with the introduction here of the concept-muddying Queen. Stewart gets saddled with the sort of forced histrionics that runs counter to his real strengths. With an indulgence that makes the usual guff about "chronoton particles" and "Captain, we appear to be caught in a temporal wake" sound like Arthur Miller, the script's worst line — "You're astronauts on some sort of star trek" — isn't saved by coming from the best actor, Cromwell, who fortunately recovered the following year to hit stardom in L.A. Confidential.

Because the Star Trek franchise, whether on the big or small screen, rarely learns from its own successes, the Next Generation flicks never again throttled up the thriller bombast with as much gusto as First Contact. Nonetheless, while this one's the popular favorite of the Next Gen features, would it be watchable if it wasn't a Star Trek movie? It probably doesn't matter. For a cash cow as big as this one, remonstrance is futile.

*          *          *

Paramount's two-disc "Special Collector's Edition" of Star Trek: First Contact continues the family tradition with a great-looking movie tricked out with audio tracks that make Trek completists spill their chips bowls in pleasure. This is arguably the best-produced DVD so far in the Star Trek line, and one of the best all around for home-theater digiphiles. The 2.35:1 anamorphic video transfer significantly upgrades the previous bare-bones DVD edition with color, contrast, and especially definition that are nearly state of the art. The DD 5.1 audio is quite fine, and even that's bested by a rich, assertively immersive DTS audio track that could be used as a sales demo for the format. (A DD 2.0 option is here too.)

Disc One also delivers two audio commentary tracks. The first comes from director/actor Frakes, who sounds so uncomfortable and/or ill-prepared that the track is lackluster and skippable. Much more lively is the second track, by writers Brannon Braga and Ronald Moore. Pop-up text annotations by Michael and Denise Okuda overlay trivia and production information, but in a visually annoying format that makes actually enjoying the movie a chore.

All that plus, of course, the second disc loaded with watch-once fanzine featurettes made from new and archival talking-head footage and clips. They're organized into categories: The first, Production, holds 80 minutes' worth of material in seven menu items covering story development, design, and some location shooting, and showcasing a dull making-of featurette. The items under Scene Deconstruction lift the hood off three visual-effects moments, "Borg Queen Assembly," "Escape Pod Launch," and "Borg Queen's Demise." The Star Trek Universe pays tribute to composer Jerry Goldsmith, traces "The Legacy of Zefram Cochrane," and momentarily rises above the conventional with a good deep-thoughts piece, "First Contact: The Possibilities." Under The Borg Collective we get a history of the Borg in the various Star Trek series, an interview with Alice Krige (who evidently treated the Queen as if she were doing Tennessee Williams), and a look at Borg fashion and makeup tips.

Finally, Archives includes an extensive library of storyboards, a gallery of design art, and the film's various trailers. There's also an Easter Egg that's not worth bothering about. Two-chambered keep-case.

—Mark Bourne



Back to Quick Reviews Index: [A-F] [G-L] [M-R] [S-Z]

Back to Main Page