Movie Review: Star Trek: First Contact

© 1997 Dan Heller

Quick Review:
If you're a Star Trek fan, it's a must-see....cuz ya gotta.
If not, but you're a science fiction fan, it's so-so..
If neither, then you might have some problems with it.
(You might be a little lost in the details.)
Me? I liked it... but it's not that simple... :-)

Synopsis: The Star Trek Next Generation Crew finds itself in battle with the Borg (an alien race that genetically assimilates its victims) and ends up following them into a time warp back to Earth in the year 2061. The borg's mission is to prevent Zefram Cochrane from inventing Warp Drive (the ability to exceed the speed of light), which prevents the Earth from developing its technologies, which .... oh, you know this goes...

Basically, there's not much to review. As an eipsode in the TV series, it's *great*. But it's not an episode, it's a movie, so it's not as good as I was hoping it'd be. (On the other hand, maybe they ought to just do movies from now on, and stop the TV series.)

The movie has a lot of interesting ideas, mostly having to do with the characters in the TV series. At its best, the movie follows the tradition of good story telling and human interest issues, like the one Capt. Ahab learns in Mobie Dick. (You can kill yourself in the pursuit of vengence.) It also has a darker tone and attitude -- to the point of cynicism -- on the issue of humanity (through data's quest to be human-like). I found this compelling and intreguing, noting that I've never been one to blindly buy into uppity and happy-ending stories that don't have true human emotional conflict in the process. Finally, the "rest of the best" of this movie concerns well-considered scenery, acting, directing (John Frakes did a pretty good job for being his first movie), and a good, believable and interesting plot development. (It could have been much worse.)

But, these are its best features, and for that, I found the movie quiet enjoyable and certainly worth every penny.

At its worst, however, the main themes of the movie get diluted in plot details, and just fizzle out. Star Trek has historically had messages of hope and humanity buried within the plot. The characters, like humanity, are supposed to improve themselves by overcoming our challenges and conquering our goals admirably. In fact, this was mentioned in the movie more than once. In First Contact, there are several characters having to go through this: Zepfram Cochrane, the guy who invented Warp Drive; Data, the android who's always wanted to be human; and Jean-Luc Picard, the charismatic captain of the Enterprise who, like Capt. Ahab in _Mobey Dick_, must overcome his feeling of vengence and see the bigger picture: saving humanity from extinction.

Zefram Cochrane is a drunk whose only ambition is to make money. Never do we believe he's much of a scientist, so we don't really see him overcoming his obstacles. It kind of happens, but it's too little too late. His character should have been better developed.

The Borg, which had been the best of all evil aliens in the entire Star Trek series, had remained so partly due to their great art design and the hopelessness you feel when confronted by them. You feel this mostly because we know nothing about them -- we see no vulnerabilities, so they are the perfect nightmare, next to living in a Nazi regime. But in First Contact, we meet the Borg Queen, who *is* human ...or is certainly, human-like, complete with a very sensual demeanor, a firm and motivated goal (unlike the robot-like qualities we learned of the Borg in the past), and full of vulnerabilities. Humanity is suppose to conquer the dark and unknown, as represented by The Borg. But now with vulnerabilities they didn't have before, the Borg challenge has a new direction -- instead of overcoming our own shortcomings, we're just going to kill the enemy by focusing on their vulnerabilities. that's ok, but it might have been better had the Borg remained Dark and Mysterious.

Picard certainly has a lot to get over, and we do somewhat feel for him, but his story is too diluted by everything else going on. Data has always had a struggle with his desire for humanity and emotions, but we cut away at the beginning of his dillemma, and never return to his struggle until Picard saves him, so we miss that too.

All of my observations are, admittedly, rather deep for the typical movie-goer, especially on a movie that probably doesn't care about these things. Nevertheless, I mention this stuff because, without all the heavy analysis, the movie still suffers from shallow characters.
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