Sunday, November 01, 2009

Retro Review - Star Trek: First Contact

Of the 3.5 Star Trek Next Generations movies (Generations is a bridge movie and only counts as half), the best Next Generation movie is clearly First Contact and quality goes down from there.

I've watched First Contact on Blu-ray now 4 times (hey a baby that doesn't want to sleep and being immobile from surgery leaves you with a lot of time on your hands). That includes all 3 audio commentaries. I think I am ready to finally, after nearly 13 years, put my feelings to bed on this film.

Not the Story I Wanted
When this film came out on November 22, 1996 (easy fact to drop in, First Contact is currently the only movie poster in my TV room), I was incredibly hyped for it. The Next Generation TV episodes Best of Both Worlds Part 1 & 2 where clearly the best of the show. If they just remade those episodes with movie quality sets and effects, it would have made an awesome movie.

That is obviously not the direction they went. What I expected was a sequel to Best of Both Worlds where the Borg come in force to take over the Federation. I imagined something like the Enterprise-E still being built in act 1 while the Borg invade Federation space and assimilate something big and shocking like the Klingon home world, symbolically replacing the original best Trek bad guys with the new best Trek bad guys. Then Picard and crew take the E out at the beginning of Act 2 with a smaller to medium size armada to stop another assimilation, nothing critical yet, but the ship isn't ready. The Klingon ships in the fleet, overcome with revenge and grief, stop following orders and coordinating their attack, everyone is destroyed except the E and a few Klingon ships. The E is damaged, but retreats before any critical damage is done. The E is meant as the Federation's Borg stopping ship. It's clear then the Borg are on their way to earth, and the E needs its full compliment of Borg stopping weapons. Then in Act 3, the Enterprise with every ship left in the Federation fleet, as well as old enemies and now allies like the Romulans, gather en masse to destroy the Borg ship. I didn't have character beats specifically in mind, but that was the general outline I had in mind back in 1996. That's not what we got.

It's clear listening to the Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore commentary on the First Contact Blu-ray that budget is the primary constraint to something like I was expecting and even hampers what is seen in First Contact. Even within the constraints of the budget, some things are just wrong with the story we get, and none of the audio commentaries address them.

Bad Time Travel Story
Whenever any story uses time travel, the danger is always that it's difficult to follow and just a little thinking about it will unravel any logic about its use. The Terminator movies have this problem, and sadly First Contact has this problem as well. If the Borg intended to go back in time and stop first contact, but they failed, why not try again until they succeed. Why would they need to travel to earth at all to travel back in time, just travel back in time in their own space and then travel to earth and assimilate it. Presto, no Federation. In fact, the Borg can take over the entire universe this way with no resistance. If a small ball ship can open a time travel worm hole, it can't be difficult.

It's also clear from the Bragga/Moore commentary the time the Borg go back to was arbitrary. It was originally going to be the middle ages, but then they set it at First Contact to be a kind of origin story of the Federation, which is nice to see, but making it all fit together sacrificed the Borg as being the smart and scary villain they originally where.

Bullshit Opening Sequence
OK, not the opening sequence, the Picard double-dream is pretty badass. Nope, I am talking about once the Borg are known to be heading toward earth, Starfleet doesn't want the Enterprise in the fleet. Totally crap, the audience knows within seconds, that this is a total contrivance that will be undone in a few minutes. There is absolutely no drama in it. Well, Picard listening to opera is a nice character move, but you could easily have that part when in warp as Picard prepares for this Borg confrontation.

Borg Stay on the Enterprise
Once the Enterprise destroys the Borg ball (all too easily, seriously 3 quantum torpedoes), them beam onto the Enterprise. Why not beam some Borg onto earth to take out Cochrane's first contact ship? Isn't that what they are there to do? Taking over the Enterprise is done for what reason? So they can get home? Surely the humans on earth are less capable of offering any resistance. The Enterprise isn't carrying anything like Marines, the Borg could have still easily assimilated earth.

With these problems, the best things going for First Contact are the characters' stories, the Borg queen, and the humor of meeting and steering Zefram Cochrane into making first contact. For that, the quality of Frakes' direction, production values, and the too brief and small space battle, I give Star Trek: First Contact the following rating:

3.5 Inner Exceptions