first_contact_3Welcome to Reel Rewind, a semi-monthly column in which I’ll take a look back at some of my favorite films, bringing along artists that I can’t get enough of. We’ll team up for some fun collaborations and bridge the gap between film appreciation and art. Because we can’t get enough Trek, Matt Ferguson and I are looking back at the Next Generation films. Make it so!

Year: 1996
Director: Jonathan Frakes
Writer(s): Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga
Region of Origin: U.S.
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: PG-13
35mm, Color, 111 mins

Resistance is futile. Though variances of those three words have been spoken throughout all types of popular culture, it’s never sounded quite as formidable as when uttered by the sinister, cybernetic Borg. If Khan is the most ruthless and cunning villain any Enterprise has ever encountered, the Borg may be the most chilling. Fittingly, Star Trek: First Contact is one of the darkest, most horrifying Trek films so far. And yet, despite it’s relentless pace and bleaker tone, the film remains a tribute to everything that Trek should be. With the Enterprise-E trying to prevent a plot threatening the very existence of the Trek universe, the story is a celebration of the series’ sense of adventure, exploration and most importantly, it’s underlying sense of hope.

When the virus-like creatures known as the Borg initiate an attack on Earth, the newly minted Enterprise-E and her crew are forced to stay sidelined for fear that Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s (Patrick Stewart) previous captivity and assimilation might only complicate matters and endanger Starfleet. Knowing his knowledge can provide a tactical advantage, Picard and crew disobey orders to join the battle in it’s final moments, with both Starfleet and the Borg fatally crippled. As a last stand, the Borg travel back in time to the moment of humanity’s first contact with alien life, in order to prevent the Federation and Starfleet from ever existing. Spared from the paradox by riding in on the Borg’s temporal vortex, the Enterprise has one last chance to make things right before their entire way of life and the fate of the known universe are lost forever.

Ironically, compared to the previous feature-length installments of the series, First Contact has a lot in common with the new J.J. Abrams reboots in terms of trying to please both diehard fans and a general audience. It’s unusually action packed, offering plenty of diverse set pieces, a smart Die-Hard-on-the-Enterprise premise and a villain that feels uncompromisingly invincible. From the opening chaos of the Borg dogfight, to the tension-filled desperation amidst the hallways of the Enterprise, an upside-down zero gravity sequence and a few other surprises, the film is on the go from the very start. Even the inclusion of a darker vengeance subplot and some of the most grotesque and gruesome scenes ever seen in a Trek film add to a sense of grittiness that pervades most films today.

first_contact_2But (and this is a very big but), despite all of it’s similarities to Abrams Trek, the film unquestionably rises above the very problem that seems to plague and in some ways cripple the newer films. Here, the descent into doom, gloom and spectacle are kept in check and used as a precise tool for revealing the very foundation of what Trek is about —  hope in exploration and diversity in mankind. As such, the plot cleverly and wonderfully looks both forwards and backwards into Trek mythology with inspiring and refreshing aplomb. What could’ve been an empty, action packed adventure is instead a very character-centric tale of sacrifice, friendship and bravery. Presenting it in an irresistible package is the gorgeous production design by Herman F. Zimmerman, the return of composer Jerry Goldsmith, who beautifully echoes his work from the original series, and a script that clicks like clockwork, keeping our pulses going without ever losing sight of the heart that glues the franchise together.

Though the Next Generation team still can’t compete with the original Shatner crew, the story at least gives them all satisfying roles, fixing one of Generations‘ biggest flaws and giving each character a chance to shine while using their distinctive qualities to lend diversity to the story. The Earth-bound team of Riker, Geordi and Deanna is a pleasant respite from the danger of the Borg, as they attempt to ensure that a historic character fulfills his destiny whilst being cut off from the Enterprise. There are some nice moments of humor and chemistry that occur with James Cromwell’s Zefram Cochrane suffering from knowing too much of his own future. Alfre Woodard’s Lily is great, strong female character who, despite being out of her element, gives Picard some much needed perspective. The most pleasant relationship however goes to Picard and Data. The pair’s bond is explored in ways that evoke the best parts of Kirk and Spock, both having their own struggles, but in a way, finding themselves through each other. Data’s thirst to be human is handled exceptionally here, with Brent Spiner delivering an amazing performance as he’s tempted by the insidious Borg Queen.

first_contact_1But let’s talk about the Borg! I’m going to go ahead and claim Alice Krige’s Borg Queen as one of the most lethally alluring villains in all of sci-fi history. As the voice and leader of the hive mind, she ironically lends the villainous creatures a distinct, tragic personality, helping us understand the race like never before. Through her, we learn the reasons of their thirst for perfection and their fundamentally flawed inability to accept individuality. That single flaw is never more tragic than it is here, seen with the Queen’s longing for a companion, a poignant search which seems to contradict her very being as she attempts to “Frankenstein” Data. And let’s not forget the understated menace and vulnerability of Krige’s mannerisms and calm, collected vocal delivery — shivers for sure! There’s a fine line between what the character is required to balance and Krige just nails it with such irresistible charm.

As far as I’m concerned, Star Trek: First Contact is the post-Shatner crew standard. It’s faster, meaner, but ultimately never loses focus of Trek’s core values and purpose, injecting new life into the series and offering substance with our thrills. Resistance is futile indeed, for fans, this is mandatory, periodical viewing, and for the uninitiated, a good primer of Trek’s most exciting and inspiring qualities.

Crome Rating: 4.5/5

And how about this poster from Matt! This thing is perfect! In one fell swoop, he’s captured the visual cue of the character’s fragmented and flawed humanity in a stunningly rendered way. I love that he chose such a traditionally benevolent, almost kind, facial expression, but still captured the character’s unwitting ambivalence with her own existence. The electrical elements make the piece feel dangerous, yet oddly attractive, resulting in a composition that’s brimming with urgency and awe. Don’t forget to check out Matt’s website for more art or follow him on Twitter! You can click on the art below to see it huge as well!

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Also check out our original Trek films retrospective, Star Trek Generations and come back next Friday, August 23, for Stark Trek: Insurrection!

SG