PG-13. I am pretty sure that this is the first PG-13 Star Trek film. That's kind of for good reason. With the other entries in the series, I watched the movies with the kids in the room. What scary parts were in the films were pretty ignorable. But with First Contact, it's kind of playing up the alien horror elements that Star Trek usually avoids. I kind of described it as a kid as a PG-13 Aliens. I don't know how accurate that is, but I'm sticking by it. It's got some creature horror things going on. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Jonathan Frakes
It's my birthday! I mentioned in my Please Stand By review that I hoped that I could trick my wife into watching this movie. But you know what's not good for relationships? The answer is "trickery." So I just asked her straight up to watch one of my favorite Star Trek movies without having the safety net of her phone. And because she's a good wife and love me, she did that. She even made it a good chunk of the way through the film without falling asleep. I mean, she did fall asleep. I really have to stress that. But I gave her points for roughing it through a notable portion of the film. She fell asleep right before the Dixon Hill Holosuite section.
I don't know what it is about trying to sell Star Trek movies to people. In lots of my other Star Trek look backs, I point out that the Star Trek films aren't really pure Star Trek. They are meant to be accessible to non-Trekkies while still building upon the fan base that will be addicted to them. You know, like me. When I was a kid and my cousins REALLY weren't into Star Trek like I was, I tried convincing them that Star Trek: First Contact was an objectively great movie. This was 1996. I have learned nothing since 1996. I don't know what it is about Star Trek that alienates (pun intended) other people. Science fiction, as a genre, can be accessible. On the grand scale of accessible franchises, Star Trek weirdly should be able to understood. The characters are fundamentally regular people, sometimes with exaggerated traits. The scenarios are weird, but they mostly handle the situation through ingenuity. Yeah, there's technobabble. I don't deny that Star Trek has its fair share of technobabble. But the characters are fairly charming and you can identify with most of them. The hardest to identify with is actually fan-favorite, Data. But for some reason, these movies don't really click. I can kind of see why someone wouldn't want to get on board for Star Trek: Generations. I mentioned in that review that Star Trek: Generations is kind of the deep cut for the group. It really feels like a continuation of the series, which isn't going to win over new fans. But First Contact is a tonal shift from everything that Star Trek was before. I adore this movie, but it is also probably the cause of why the other movies in the series kind of are terrible. As a standalone piece, it mostly works. (As I wrote that sentence, I can now fight the other side as well. I'll try to do that later.) There is a new Enterprise. The movie starts off with a very scary recap of everything you need to know about Picard and the Borg. The movie just looks different from every other Star Trek film. And on top of that, it actually starts with one of the bigger guilty pleasures of Star Trek: rad space battles. For a guy who will wax poetic about Roddenberry's view of the future, I do like when space ships do the splodey-splodey thing. The thing that might be the most polarizing in the film is the use of a really weird version of time travel, but that time travel strips the film of a lot of the science ficiton conventions. Instead of being a complex world like Star Trek normally deals with, Earth is more basic than it is today. A world war has wiped out most governments. A small group of drunk scientists are trying to make a spaceship out of a missile. How much simpler can it get? I mean, they listen to Steppenwolf, for goodness sake. How much more down to Earth (pun intended) can the movie get? But I suppose, by that argument, I should provide the Devil's Advocate response. Again, I think that Star Trek: First Contact is one of the best primers to the Star Trek universe as it gets. (At least, the main universe.) But here's me stepping back and being my wife / my cousins. Who the heck is Captain Picard and why should I care? That might be the center of my argument.
The film starts off with Picard captured by the Borg. Frakes establishes them as scary, but the film is pivotal on the idea that something massive happened to Captain Picard before this moment in the film. That moment was super traumatic and we're going to play that up so we can get the Moby Dick metaphor throughout. Sure. But you just told me that the biggest moment in this character's life happened before this moment. That instantly kind of throws this film into sequel territory. On top of that, if you didn't know who the Borg were, it would take some catching up to figure out their schtick. The film does a solid job of informing newcomers on who the Borg actually are, but the big "No way" moments really are only for Star Trek: The Next Generation fans. Alice Krige coming down from the ceiling should mean something to all audience members, not just for people who have a thorough understanding of who the Borg are. And maybe the very nature of the Borg, as cool as they are, aren't as easy to swallow as the Klingons. First Contact continues to deliver on the concept that there is a race of creatures out there that should be able to obliterate everything that Star Trek stands for with very little effort. The very concept that the Federation has managed to hold them back is interesting. But this is a payoff for fans. They're scary, sure. But impressive? I don't really know if you could sell that without a TV buildup. Compare that to The Wrath of Khan. I had probably seen The Wrath of Khan a dozen times before I ever saw the television episode "Space Seed." The Khan of Wrath of Khan was the version of the character I knew. "Space Seed" kind of just worked like a prequel to the character for me. It's great to watch, but it is by no means required viewing. Anyone can just watch The Wrath of Khan and be perfectly fine. I think that there's a very strong connection between Star Trek fans and the Borg...that we expect everyone else to get on board. You know what makes the Borg work for Joe and Jane Star Trek Fan? They are creature horror. The United Federation of Planets is all about how alien races may look weird and have different cultural elements, but none of them are actually all that scary. The worst we have are the Klingons (easily argued against...), but they still have a cultural background. There are no monsters out there in space. It's the same thing as Reavers in Firefly. They are something that we can't relate to at all and they are borderline unstoppable.
Hey, I just realized that Captain Picard euthanized a guy. It's the whole zombie rules. The Catholic Church has to be anti-euthanasia during the zombie apocalypse. I'm not saying that as a negative thing. Soon, I'm going to be getting all kinds of anti-Church email because I side with the Church about zombie infected euthanasia. It's just weird because the movie does treat it like a dark moment for Picard. Lily, a young Alfre Woodard, watches Picard execute one of the Borgified crew members and sits there in horror. Then there's the whole Ensign Lynch discussion. I don't think that First Contact is necessarily going for the conception to natural death argument, but it does kind of acknowledge that Picard is going into some morally ambiguous territory. Picard is the example of the fact that people can be brought back from Borg interference. Now, this is where the "Well, actually..." folks probably step in. It could be argued that because Picard was supposed to be a bridge between humanity and the Borg, the chances of bringing him back were significantly more impressive. (Also, how is Picard reading the Borg collective? Is it a spiritual awareness of the Borg because there's no way that Picard should have any Borg technology running through his system?) First Contact actually builds a solid ethical dilemma. I know that this probably wasn't the fight that the movie was going for. I know that it is mostly a theme that anyone can make the future because Zephram Cochrane is an alcoholic who just wanted to make money. But the more interesting examination is Picard's treatment of his crew once they have been taken. From Picard's perspective, he knows the absolute hell that goes on when someone is infected by Borg technology. Apparently, it has haunted him for six years (unlike that time that he lived an entire lifetime with a recorder and never mentioned that again shy of playing that recorder). He wakes up from nightmares about being infected again. He knows that people couldn't live with themselves and the actions that they would partially be responsible for. Also, if we're playing zombie rules, you are taking down Borg before they gain Borg immunity. Okay, I get all of this. But also, Picard survived! He ended up saving the Federation countless times. He has been an inspiration for many. When Picard guns down all of these Starfleet officers, he's saying that there's no way to save you when, in fact, he has been saved. Heck, think about it. The way that the movie works out, all of the Borg are defeated with one move. Who is to say that those people who weren't in the blast radius couldn't have shaken off the Borg technology? Okay, I'm sure that there's a Star Trek fan who knows exactly what assimilation entails. For all I know, the only reason that Picard survived because he already had a cybernetic heart or something. But it's so bizarre that those people who were on the verge are gunned down. I'm not ducking the moral ground because I would have been hesitant to shoot down fellow crew members, but also the entire history of humanity was on the line. Okay, whatever. It still makes him look bad and I think that the movie knew that.
Star Trek gets a bit corny sometimes. I don't want to admit that. Maybe it is something about the quasi-family-friendly environment. Maybe it is a product of the '90s. Maybe it is the fact that it is forcing television acceptable standards into a cinematic package. But there are things in this movie that I love that my wife thought were horribly corny. But I like that James Cromwell plays Zephram Cochran. Star Trek, like Doctor Who, might have been on the air too long because continuity is a mess, especially when it comes to Zephram Cochrane. Seeing him here as an older man is really interesting. I guess it isn't full on off from the canon because one of the messages of the movie is that we really don't know who historical figures were really like. But seeing Kirk meet Zephram Cochrane and then have James Cromwell play a drunk Zephram Cochrane who dances to Roy Orbison is a little off. But what the Earth stuff provides in the midst of this movie is a fun exhale. The Borg stuff on the Enterprise is DARK. For Star Trek, that stuff is bleak. People getting killed left and right. Even just the color palate is great. The Enterprise is so claustrophobic. Then we go to Montana? Big area of land? Trees? Yes, the movie needs that. And then, the stuff on Earth is light. Riker is joking. Deanna is drunk. Yeah, it's cornball, but the movie really needs a big dose of cornball when people that we should be attached to are being assimilated left and right. What's funny about the whole thing is that the stuff on Earth is the stuff that really is important. That's the future. Considering that Star Trek Beyond was all a tie to the history of Star Trek, I feel like First Contact acts more like an anniversary movie. The birth of the Federation and the ideals of Starfleet are on that planet and we get to take all the pomp and circumstance out of it. I adore that so much. It's a great use of mythology to play with. Is it a bit of a retcon? Sure. But it is also a responsible use of retcon. It shows what happens when a franchise respects its mythology, but isn't slavish to its mythology.
I adore Star Trek: First Contact. In my heart of hearts, I wish my wife liked it too. But I know that this is one of those movies that's really special to me, despite the fact that I will probably be alone on that argument for a while. It's a really fun movie that holds up and still stands as the last great Star Trek film of the old guard.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.