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By Brad Cook | April 5, 2005

“Star Trek: First Contact” was, sadly, the last good Star Trek movie. Like “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” which made everyone forget the ponderous first film and kicked-started the rest of the series with a rip-roaring adventure story, “First Contact” takes a cue from the past (in this case, episodes from both the original series and “The Next Generation”) for a tale that not only evolves the characters but also puts a new spin on the series’ mythology.

The first movie in the series to feature nothing but the “Next Generation” cast, “First Contact” opens with an attack by the Borg on the Federation. A little-used villain in the TV series, the Borg was a perfect choice as the enemy in this film. The Enterprise helps destroy the Borg cube, but a sphere containing several Borg and their Queen escapes, headed toward Earth. When the Enterprise catches up, Captain Picard and crew discover that the entire planet has been assimilated by the Borg, which headed through some kind of time warp to an era when mankind had no hope of fighting back. Yeah, the sudden appearance of a space-time continuum anomaly, or whatever it is, is convenient, but you just have to go with it.

Picard orders the ship to give chase, and the Enterprise winds up in the year 2063, on the eve of the first warp drive space flight by Zefram Cochrane, whose attempt, we learn, was interrupted by the Borg when they went back in time. Cochrane’s flight is supposed to attract the attention of an alien race that lands and makes first contact with humans, thus setting in motion the events that later created the Federation. In essence, Picard and crew must ensure that Cochrane’s flight goes as planned or, as co-writer Brannon Braga points out in the supplemental materials, “Star Trek” itself will cease to exist. How’s that for a Big Movie Idea?

While the Enterprise does succeed in destroying the Borg sphere, the crew discovers that several of the machine-like aliens beamed aboard the ship with their Queen at the last second and set up shop in the engineering section. Picard actually became one of the Borg during an episode of the “Next Generation” TV series, an event that’s alluded to in a couple flashbacks early in the film. While the Borg Queen wasn’t in that episode, screenwriters Braga and Ronald D. Moore took the liberty to assume that Picard met her during an off-screen moment, a conceit that may rile anal-retentive types but is fine with me.

Another change that upset some fans was the transformation of Cochrane from the good-natured guy who showed up in the original series to a drunk who literally becomes terrorized by the thought that his warp flight will mark a dramatic transformation for humanity. The crew winds up telling him why they’re there, with several of them gushing over his achievements, and that only serves to push him further over the edge. I thought the discrepancy between the two versions of the character was a great way to illustrate how those we lionize aren’t always wonderful people. And Cochrane does have his own arc in the film that sets up a personal transformation, making the other version of his character quite sensible, since he clearly embraces his role in the end.

“First Contact” may not have been embraced by the general public like “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” was, but it’s still an accessible film that thankfully keeps a lot of the techno-gobbledy-gook talk to a minimum. I always hated it when the Enterprise got out of some jam in the “Next Generation” series by reconfiguring the frequency of the ship’s shields to fire anti-matter at the bad guys, or whatever. If you were watching a movie and a character got their broken-down car running again by putting the engine oil filter on the exhaust, wouldn’t you find that a bit ridiculous?

If we don’t fully understand the futuristic technology in “Star Trek,” then the writers are free to make up any solution they like, which means the characters are never really in serious jeopardy: they can just spout some nonsense and get themselves out of trouble. Luckily, there’s very little of that in this film.

The storyline in “First Contact” is helped immensely by the presence of James Cromwell (Cochrane) and Alfre Woodard (Cochrane’s friend, Lily Sloane), both of whom are fine actors. In fact, Woodard and Patrick Stewart do an incredible job during a scene in which Picard has decided to fight the Borg and Lily tries to talk him into destroying them by self-destructing the Enterprise. It’s a knock-down, drag-out argument that may be one of the best scenes in any Trek film.

Jonathan Frakes, who plays Commander William Riker, directed this film, and his solo commentary leads off the supplements on disc one. With a little nudge in the right direction, Frakes could easily become another William Shatner. While he doesn’t have the gigantic chip on his shoulder that Shatner displays in the special features on the previous “Star Trek” Special Editions, he’s still a bit full of himself, especially early in this commentary. Clearly watching the film as he talks, he makes such comments as “Wait for it…Yes!” when one of Jerry Goldsmith’s cues hits the right mood or a camera shot turns out the way he thought it should. He settles down later and relates some interesting stories about the production, but I’d say this one is for die-hard Trekkies only, as is the minutiae-filled text track by Michael and Denise Okuda, whose efforts must be commended, even if I can’t say I care for that depth of detail.

If you’re more of a casual Trek fan, you’re better off starting with the other commentary track, which features Braga and Moore discussing the evolution of the script, the story decisions they made and how they had to massage certain aspects of the Trek canon to make this movie work. Interesting stuff.

Like the earlier Trek SEs, disc two features a cornucopia of featurettes broken into six categories: Production, The Star Trek Universe, The Borg Collective, Scene Deconstruction, Archives and Trailers. I found the first one the most interesting, with its “chapters” devoted to the story, the overall making of the film, the art department, in-depth looks at the missile silo and deflector dish sets, and the changes to the Enterprise from the last film, during which its predecessor was destroyed. On-set and current interviews with prominent members of the cast and crew are present here and throughout the rest of disc two.

The Star Trek Universe section pays tribute to Jerry Goldsmith, who sadly passed away last year after a distinguished career as a film composer, and looks at the Zefram Cochrane character as well as the possibilities of really making contact with an alien species. That last one is typical of the Star Trek SEs, which like to devote a featurette to the real-world implications of an idea presented in that particular film (such as time travel in “Star Trek IV”). Some people don’t care for that idea, but I always enjoy it: I think it’s highly relevant, especially considering that Gene Roddenberry tried to use real science concepts when he created the TV series. The Cochrane segment uses footage from the original series and this movie to compare and contrast the two versions of the character, with comments from Cromwell, Braga and Moore.

The Borg Collective offers three views of the film’s villains: a look back at their introduction during the “Next Generation” TV series, a perspective on the Queen character, and a discussion of the evolution of the Borg costumes, which were, unsurprisingly, very simple in the TV show but more complex in the movie. The Scene Deconstruction section takes an effects-based look at three sequences from the film: the Borg sphere launch, the very cool shot where the Queen’s head and spine are lowered onto her body, and the Queen’s demise (don’t blame me if that ruined the film for you; it’s written that way on the back of the packaging too).

Finally, the archives serve up storyboards from the nightclub, hull battle and Borg fight scenes, as well as a photo gallery with a nice selection of shots. You can also check out the teaser and theatrical trailers for “First Contact” and the trailer for the Borg Invasion ride at the Las Vegas Hilton. Play around with the menus to dig up the Easter eggs scattered around them.

Overall, this is an excellent set for fans of the film. A few reviewers on the Internet have complained about the lack of deleted scenes, but I’ve heard there isn’t much in the way of excised footage from this one. While I enjoy deleted scenes as much as anyone else, I can’t say I really missed them here.

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