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Stardate 2013 - First Contact (1996)

The Enterprise travels back in time to save the earth from Borg assimilation.

Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Alice Krige, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, LeVar Burton, Gates McFadden, Alfre Woodard, James Cromwell

Against Starfleet orders, the USS Enterprise travels to Earth, where several Starfleet vessels are battling a Borg Cube. The Cube is destroyed but a small sphere escapes and heads towards a temporal vortex, travelling back in time. Realizing the Borg plan to use time travel to change Earth's history, the Enterprise enters the vortex and follows the sphere back in time. Checking the date, Picard (Stewart) discovers it to be April 4th, 2063, the day before Earth first makes contact with alien life. The Enterprise crew track down Zefram Cochrane (Cromwell), the inventor of the warp drive, to ensure his historic first warp flight goes ahead.
With the Original Series' crew finally retired, it came time for the Next Gen bunch to step up. Would they be able to carry on the Trek franchise on the big screen? The evidence of the previous film, 'Generations', would suggest not. It had become evident that, of the cast, only Stewart possessed the gravitas to carry a major motion picture. Most fans' biggest gripe concerned the manner in which Data (Spiner) had been transformed into a highly irritating comic foil thanks to the implementation of an "emotion chip". Thankfully, both of these issues are addressed in 'First Contact'. Picard is pushed to the forefront, making it very much Stewart's movie. Data's emotion chip is disabled early on at his captain's request and the groan-inducing comic situations are cast aside.
The decision to base the first all-TNG movie around a plot involving the Borg was a no-brainer. Ever since the TV series' pivotal two-parter, 'The Best of Both Worlds', they had become most Trek fans' favorite villains. With the Federation signing peace accords with seemingly every former aggressor, the unfeeling Borg became the perfect antagonists. In 'TBOBW', set six years prior to this film, Picard had been held captive by the Borg, who attempted to assimilate him. This element makes 'First Contact' essentially a revenge movie. Explicit reference is made to 'Moby Dick', (a sci-fi cliche at this point), with Picard cast in the role of Ahab. The captain, out of character, allows his personal vendetta to get the better of him, putting those under his command at risk. Stewart shows us just what a great actor he really is, blowing everyone else off the screen.
Allowing cast members to direct had negatively effected the series in the past. The entries helmed by Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner lacked the class of those directed by the legendary Robert Wise and the talented Nicholas Meyer. Many groans were heard when Frakes was named as director but his detractors were left with egg on their faces. The actor does a fantastic job here, making his directorial debut. As Meyer did with 'Wrath of Khan', Frakes changed the entire visual aesthetic of the series, implementing a new, darker look, in keeping with the nature of the Borg plot. The color-coded uniforms are replaced by a more somber grey-toned outfit and the decks of the Enterprise appear as though Starfleet are attempting to cut down on the energy bill.
Cromwell had just become a star thanks to the surprise hit 'Babe'. His character, a drunken genius, could have been the one element which brought the movie down, given the comic nature of the role. Had someone like Rob Schneider been cast in the part, (quite possible in the mid-nineties), the result would have been a horror show. Cromwell handles the comic element in just the right manner, keeping the film out of camp territory.
'First Contact' features one of the most impressive effects shots you'll see in any sci-fi movie. It occurs when we're first introduced to the Borg Queen (Krige), as her head and shoulders are lowered down onto a mechanical body which then walks across the set. Unlike today, when CG is over-used to an annoying degree, the effect was achieved by combining CG with practical FX and reportedly took a total of five months to complete.
After the bumpy start of 'Generations', 'First Contact' inspired a fresh confidence in fans that Trek could continue successfully as a big screen franchise. Sadly, they would never have it so good again.
8/10



Eric Hillis