Thursday, May 16, 2013

Star Trek: First Contact

Star Trek: Generations ended up becoming a pretty big hit for Paramount and proved that the crew of The Next Generation were definitely a bankable commodity. Of course a sequel was planned almost immediately. Rumors were rampant that the movie could feature Q as a villain, conclude the Vulcan/Romulan reunification storyline from the series or just be about a new villain altogether trying to cause havoc in the universe. What all fans wanted to see was The Borg, and in the end that was what we got.

After Picard (Patrick Stewart) and the crew of the Enterprise-E assist in the destruction of a Borg cube attacking Earth, they follow an escape pod that has travelled back in time to allow them to assimilate the planet in the past. Not only must they stop their most deadly enemy from carrying out their ultimate goal, but ensure that a historic event occurs that will change the planet forever.
I know I’m going to catch some flack for my opinion of this entry in the series, but here we go. I don’t find Star Trek: First Contact to be as superawesomeamazeballs as everyone else does. There were some choices made that I just can’t accept and some of the developments I find lame and lazy. I’ll explain.

Firstly, I find the whole concept of the Borg Queen a bad idea. I really liked the fact that the Borg from the television series were leaderless and all worked together as one entity. Their need to constantly assimilate other life forms, which would take away their sense of self and replace it with a slightly communist “greater good” mentality, is frightening. Turning them into zombie worker bees serving a clearly individualized Queen seems contradictory and completely softened their threat level in my eyes. I’m not saying that the perfectly cast Alice Krige is horrible in the part, far from it. I thought she deserved an Academy Award nomination for turning what could have been a completely one-note villain into something appealing and creepily sexy. I just don’t like the fact that the writers felt the need to change the Borg for the big screen. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And what’s worse is that this change polluted anything involving the Borg from this point on. Every episode of Star Trek: Voyager where they were featured was absolute shit, the series finale included. Thanks Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore for ruining the best villains in Star Trek history!
My other issues are minor, like the Borg just so happen to nest in the part of the ship where the one thing that can kill them all is located, Data can now suddenly switch his emotion chip on and off at will (wasn’t the point of introducing that subplot in Generations that he has to learn to live with the constant flow of feelings?) and Picard now has the ability to hear the Borg in his mind (he had encountered the Borg many times since being assimilated and that plot device was never established). All these little things, when added to my dislike of the Borg Queen pussification, just becomes overwhelming whenever I watch this flick. I’m a diehard Trekker and to me some of this stuff is inexcusable and stupefying.

Not all of it sucks though. Patrick Stewart just tears down the walls of awesomeness as Picard. We see him slowly becoming consumed by his hatred of the Borg and his need for revenge you can see seeping into every fiber of his being, from the way he walks to his subtle facial expressions. When he explodes in his office I always sit in complete reverential silence to allow that absolutely brilliant scene to play out. Sure it goes into Star Trek II territory with all the Moby Dick references being thrown around, but it’s such a well written and marvelously directed scene that it floors me each time I see it. I could watch Patrick Stewart read the Battlefield Earth script aloud and I would be absolutely riveted.
Brent Spiner makes up for all his craptastic shenanigans in Generations with his measured performance here. He somehow makes his scenes with the Borg Queen work despite the fact that she should never have been included in the first place, his allegiance swap is mostly believable when you see what he is being offered in exchange for his loyalty is all he’s ever wanted. Personally, I was just happy he wasn’t being used as comic relief and comic relief only.

Most of the cast all have a purpose in the story and get a great moment or two to shine. I loved that LeVar Burton was able to do away with the VISOR so we can finally see his eyes. His scenes with James Cromwell’s Cochrane are genuine and his idolization of the character comes across well. Marina Sirtis gets some funny comedic moments when she gets drunk in order to gain Cochrane’s trust. Michael Dorn gets some of the best moments of all. We see Worf commanding the Defiant, smacking down Borg left and right and even showing his resourcefulness during his spacewalk scene. Shit, he even threatens to kill Picard after he disrespects him in public. Unfortunately Gates McFadden just kind of pops up now and then to remind the audience that she’s in the movie.
Jonathan Frakes pulls double duty playing Second-in-Command Will Riker and directing the film. His role is noticeably scaled back to allow him to work behind the camera more effectively, but when he’s on screen he’s the same likable man-whore we all remember him being on the show. He previously directed a number of the better episodes in the series, as well as some on Deep Space Nine. The fact that he was so readily handed the reigns of the franchise (it took a couple of films before any classic cast member was allowed to do so) so early on proved that he earned the trust of the producers, and he does have the talent to back it up. He has a great eye for spectacle and knows when to focus on getting the best performance out of the actors when necessary. Everyone stepped up their game in this installment thanks to his direction. Dude’s talented.

The action scenes are fantastic. The Borg dogfight at the top of the film is short but sweet. We get to see a whole slew of new starship designs and most of them get blown up real good. The suspenseful corridor scenes all work and the spacewalk scene is a flat out geek orgasm. All the FX are top notch due to ILM and the return of composer Jerry Goldsmith to the franchise was very welcome (his main theme is one of the greatest pieces of music I’ve ever heard). The design of the Enterprise-E is rad too.
I’m torn on this one. There’s a lot to like but there are too many serious gaffs for me to overlook. It’s definitely better than Generations, but not by a whole hell of a lot. This sequel is more disappointing than anything else and sometimes that can be worse than it just being a bad film in general.

2.5 out of 5

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