With the second of the Four STNG films came the promise of a greater threat. Not only had the Borg returned, but their mission was to destroy the Federation before it was even created. Exploring a time period that has only been mentioned previously in Star Trek lore, we finally get to witness the events of the first meeting between Human and Vulcan. Arriving in theaters on November 22, 1996, this is Star Trek First Contact.
Stardate 50893.5 First Contact
Still dealing with the pain from his time as Locutus, Captain Jean Luc Picard must face his own fears when the Borg return and succeed in wiping out humanity. Only by travelling to the past will Picard and the crew of the newly christened USS Enterprise NCC 1701-E be able to face an invasion from a most deadly foe.
(note, this is a full breakdown of the film to remind you of the events. if you want to skip to the commentary, I won’t be offended.)
The film opens with a nightmare. The Borg have returned and they have captured Jean Luc Picard once again. Trapped within the massive cube, Picard is faced with the fear of becoming one with the collective once again. Waking from his nightmare, he is struck once again with a second panic as a Borg tendril rips from his flesh. Jean Luc awakes again only to get a call that the Borg are once again invading Federation space. Although Starfleet is mobilizing an armada to face the oncoming threat, the Enterprise is ordered to patrol the Neutral Zone instead of joining in the fight. It appears that Starfleet has lost faith in the Captain of the Enterprise and do not wish him to be involved with the battle having once been captured by the enemy.
As they continue their mission of patrolling the Neutral Zone, the Federation engages the Borg and it is soon clear that the armada is doomed. Ignoring orders, Picard commands the USS Enterprise to intercept the armada and defend the planet Earth from the invading forces. Upon arriving, they find the battle has already reached the planet but they also find an old friend Captaining the USS Defiant. Just as Worf is about to go down in a blaze of glory, (Prepare for Ramming Speed!) the Enterprise rescues his crew and he joins them on board. Picard, apparently still somewhat connected to the collective, instructs the fleet to fire on the Borg cube resulting in the explosion of the massive ship. Just as the ship explodes, it releases a sphere that begins travelling toward Earth. The Sphere creates a temporal vortex which causes them to assimilate the planet sometime in the past. Caught in the same temporal wake, the Enterprise follows the sphere back in time.
Upon arriving, the Borg sphere begins firing on a small settlement that appears to be the location of something called ‘The Phoenix’. The Enterprise arrives in time to see the bombardment and manage to destroy the sphere. It seems that they have arrived not long after the third world war and just a day before Zephram Cochran launched his ship which initiated first contact. Desperate to discover if the Borg have succeeded in preventing the very event that led to the foundation of the Federation, Picard and his senior staff beam to the surface to try and save history. Within moments of finding the intact Warp-Ship, someone begins firing on Picard and Data. Data quickly jumps down to deal with the situation only for the woman who was firing to pass out due to radiation emanating from the Warp-Ship. Crusher beams the woman aboard to treat her leaving Picard and his team to repair the ship. As LaForge prepares his Engineering team, Picard and the others continue their search for Zephram Cochrane.
Back aboard the Enterprise, two crewman begin performing maintenance in Engineering only to find themselves assimilated by stowaway Borg. Just as the Borg assimilate the crewman, Picard senses their presence from the planet below. Contacting Worf, Picard learns that the environmental systems are on the fritz and he immediately returns to the Enterprise with Commander Data. Upon returning, he realizes what is happening. The Borg are slowly assimilating the Enterprise to continue their mission. Attempting to contact Riker, the Enterprise’s systems begin to fail. Data quickly locks out the computer before the Borg can take over. It is now a race for their very lives.
Picard and his team begin moving through the ship hunting for the Borg Invaders. Within moments they find Crusher and her staff and get them to safety. She informs them that the woman from the 21st century has gotten away and may be in danger. Before long they find the Borg and boy have they been busy. Having already assimilated most of Engineering and it’s staff, the Borg are well on their way to taking over. Just as they get deeper into the new enemy territory, the Borg take notice and adapt to the teams weapons. Things get even worse when Data is captured before Picards eyes and he can do nothing to save his android officer. The Borg are clearly ready for this attack and it isn’t long before Picard realizes they are outnumbered and outgunned. Ordering their retreat, he is soon separated from the the others. Finding himself alone, he soon encounters Lily the woman from the 21st century. Data awakes to find himself trapped in a Borg alcove deep in the Engineering section. Surrounded by Borg, he watches as they attempt to break into the Enterprise computers. Suddenly, a voice interrupts the silence, it appears that the Borg have a leader and she has every intention in getting what she wants.
Back on the planet it appears that Counselor Troi has found Zephram Cochran and he is… well, less than the hero they think they know. Riker finds the two of them drunk and causing a scene in a local bar. It seems that Zephram doesnt think the Phoenix survived and really doesn’t seem to care. Determined to get Cochrane to realize his importance, Riker tells the man what is going on. Riker spills it all, First Contact with the Vulcans, the Federation, everything. Nothing like violating the Temporal Prime Directive is there? It takes some convincing but, reluctantly Cochrane agrees to do his part in the history of the universe…although it doesn’t seem his is completely convinced.
In Engineering, Data encounters the one who is the Borg, the Borg Queen herself. She begins to manipulate Data using his emotion chip against him. Soon she reveals that she is grafting human skin onto his body. Using this new sensation, she begins to torture the Android Commander through pleasure. It may not be long before Data breaks.
Meanwhile, Picard tries to explain the situation to Lily who only wants to leave the ship. Picard reveals to her the truth of the matter, explaining that they are aboard a starship and, without her trust, they will not survive. Before long, she gives in and realizes that this bald man isn’t so bad afterall. Picard takes Lily through the ship avoiding the Borg (is that swedish?) and soon find themselves forced to walk through hallways filled with the assimilated remains of his former crew. The Borg have taken much of the ship and it is only getting worse. Picard realizes that he has a chance to take out the Borg but he needs an older weapon to do the job.
Using the holodeck to recreate a Dixon Hill novel, Picard grabs a tommy gun and begins to fire into the crowd at the invading Borg. He soon loses control and kills the Borg in a fit of range. He then approaches one of the dead Borg and digs into its chest to find a neural processor. As he does, Lily notes that it was one of the Captains own crew. Picard hardly responds to the revelation having become so determined to kill this intruder.
Finding what he was after, they make their way to the bridge, where they are greeted by Worf and some of the surviving crew. Picard informs them that he has learned that the attacking Borg plan to contact the existing Borg in this time period and assimilate Humanity once the reinforcements arrive. The only way to stop them is for them to disable the Enterprises deflector dish so that the Borg can not use it. This means, much to Worf’s dismay, leaving the ship and taking a stroll on the outer hull.
Back on Earth, Zephram is having a difficult time dealing with his future legacy. It seems that everyone around him looks to him as a hero and he can’t understand why. After encountering a starstruck Reginald Barclay and a doting La Forge, Cochrane finds himself under too much pressure to complete his foretold task and decides it is time for him to depart. As Cochrane attempts to run away, Riker and LaForge realize what they must do and stun the fleeing legend. Without him, there is no future.
Meanwhile in Engineering Data breaks free and begins to fight for his life. Just as it looks as if he is going to escape, one of the Borg attack his now flesh covered forearm causing Data to double over in pain. Chiding him for his protection of his new skin, the Borg Queen lords over her prisoner. It is clear that he is within her grasp and the two embrace just as Data mentions that he is indeed, fully functional.
Worf, Picard and Lieutenant Hawk suit up and begin their attack on the Borg who have started working on the deflector dish. After releasing the dish into space, they discover that they still need to break it’s connecting tether. It soon becomes clear that it will be impossible to stop the Borg without a fight and, in the scuffle, Hawk is assimilated. As Worf is distracted by the other drones, Borg-Hawk attacks Picard and just as he is about to kill the Captain, Worf saves the day by finishing Lt Hawk. In the end, Picard releases the deflector dish, preventing the Borg’s plan from occuring. At that exact moment, the Borg Queen senses what has happened and tells Data that their plans have changed.
The Borg have rallied and it appears that the only answer is to destroy the Enterprise in order to win. Picard refuses to listen to reason even when Worf tries to convince him otherwise. Furious, the Captain storms into his ready room determined to beat the Borg and save the ship. Lily chases after him and tells Picard that he is a mad man, and compares him to Captain Ahab himself. His White Whale has returned and now he has a chance to destroy them forever but, no matter what, he will not lose his ship doing so. Lilly continues to provoke the Captain causing him to lash out, breaking the models of the Enterprise on the wall. It is then he realizes that he has indeed become Ahab and the Borg will only destroy everything he cares about if he doesn’t stop. He then gives the order to evacuate the Enterprise and sets the ship to self destruct. Just as he is about to depart the ship for the final time, he hears Data’s voice in his head, begging for help.
On Earth, it appears that Zephram Cochrane has had a change of heart and is now ready to make history. I guess a phaser stun will do that to you. Riker sits with the famous scientist inside the Phoenix and discusses his future. Cochrane indicates that he has no interest in making history, only making money. Soon, Zephram Cochrane, Riker and LaForge begin their preparations for launch. Blasting some classic rock, Cochrane and his team successfully launch the Phoenix and begin their warp test.
Just as the Phoenix is launching, the crew of the Enterprise evacuate and begin their descent to Earth. Picard, determined to save Commander Data, goes into the heart of Borg territory. There he is created by the Queen herself with her referring to him as Locutus. Picard soon remembers that the Queen had wanted more than a drone from him when he was assimilated, she wanted a companion and a counterpart. When he rejected her, she was furious and also wanted revenge. She now believes she has found her partner in Commander Data and ultimately rejects Picard again. It is clear that Data has been assimilated hands the ship over to the Borg Queen. Data begins to target the Phoenix as it begins its warp test and, fires quantum torpedoes at his target. Then something happens….they miss. Data has been playing the Queen this entire time. Smashing open the a tank filled with deadly gas, Data begins his final play.
Soon, he pulls the Borg Queen in with him where the gas dissolves her biological components. Picard manages to hang from above as the gas dissipates and the Borg drones collapse. As soon as it is safe, Picard jumps down and finishes off the Queen.
Back on the planet, and after the successful launch of the Phoenix, the Vulcan ship touches down and history is back on track. Zephram Cochrane meets with the Vulcan Captain. Using data from the Borg Sphere, the Enterprise heads…dare I say it, Back To The Future.
Is this a ‘Good’ Story:
Wow, what a ride huh? This was quite the doozy of film wasn’t it? It had everything, action, drama, a returning villain, a brand new Enterprise and even a glimpse into the origin of the Federation itself, something that had not really been seen on screen until then. But, even with all of these factors, was this really a good Star Trek film?
The story itself is one of revenge and expectations. Let’s start with the first and Most obvious one, Revenge.
Although it had seemed that Picard had finally gotten past his time as Locutus some six years prior, we soon learn that he has been harboring a deep fear of their return. The Borg took something from him and it was not just his humanity for the short time but, more permanently, his security. At first I questioned this and then I remembered how a violation in my own life has affected me for even longer than six years. When I first moved out on my own, some 20+ years ago, I was soon a victim of a robbery. My apartment was broken into and I had many things taken from me. While no one was hurt, the biggest thing that was taken from me that I never fully recovered, was my sense of security. To this very day, the thought of it occurring again sits in the back of my mind like an angry itch that flares up in the most inopportune time. So, for Picard, that pain of literally losing his humanity to a species of people and then being forced to murder members of the very Federation he so loves, it must be immeasurable. Then, to know, in the back of your mind that those people are still out there, that they are still lurking in the shadows, that would be truly terrifying.
All of this hurt, fear and rage has been building up inside our intrepid Captain for the past six years and, when the Borg return, what does Starfleet do? They put him on the sidelines. Can you imagine how demeaning it would be to be considered one of the Federations most celebrated Captains and be placed on the sidelines due to a horrible experience from your past? What Gall! So, when he finally has a chance to confront the people who violated him all those years ago, it is no wonder that he goes full Riggs on them all. Hell, who wouldn’t? It is not until he is faced with his very code of ethics from the unlikely source of Lily, the woman from the past played by the incredible Alfre Woodard, that he realizes that he is essentially doing to his crew, what the Borg did to him. He is taking away their chance at safety and that is not something he can accept. There is a clever bit of symbolism here as well when Picard breaks his ship collection, it is the Enterprise D that is broken. Having just recently lost that ship to another foe, I have to believe that seeing his former ship crashed once again is partly what pulled him out of his despondent rage. It is a great arc and one that really drives home just how powerful yet flawed Captain Jean Luc Picard really is.
The next topic that is explored is that of expectations. When you admire someone for their deeds, whether it is a historical figure, a Celebrity, or even someone in your own family, you set up an expectation in your mind as to who they are or what they are like in person. Should you ever meet this person, you find yourself either delighted or gravely disappointed in who they are versus what you expected them to be. It happens to everyone and sometimes, you get what you expect, for better or worse. Now, imagine if you found out that you are admired for something you have yet to even do. Better yet, imagine you are practically worshiped for something you have no desire to do in the first place and that something you are to eventually do, literally changes the world.
This is what Zephram Cochrane (played by well known actor James Cromwell) is facing when he learns he is the father to what amounts to a whole new enlightenment of the human race. Without his actions, in the next 24 hours, entire generations of people will never get to experience peace on a scale that he could never comprehend. Not only that, entire civilizations will never be born because humanity never leaves the planet should he not launch something he made just to make a buck. Can you fathom the weight that something like this would have? Of course you cant, no one can and that is the point. This is something that would crush a normal person but then again, this is Star Trek and, unless they were planning to reboot literally the entire universe, Cochrane had to take his flight. To be honest, while this story arc was present, it felt a little rushed. I mean, all it takes to get someone to fulfill their destiny is for Riker to stun them? Really? Okay, moving on.
So, okay, the deeper parts were there but not as fleshed out as they could have been…so what? How was the rest of the film?
Let me give it to you straight, it was awesome. From the moment Picard feels the Borg to the death of the Cenobite like Borg Queen (played by Alice Krige) herself it is a none stop amusement park ride featuring everything you could possibly want from a second Borg invasion. I remember going to the cinema so excited for another adventure with the members of the TNG crew and better yet, we get to see the new USS Enterprise E! To make this even better, when I found out that Jonathan Frakes was directing the film, I could hardly contain myself, this was sure to be a massive hit. I couldn’t have been more right. Not only did this film make a ton of money, it helped to continue the franchise on by inspiring a whole new television series called Star Trek Enterprise. Okay, maybe that wasn’t such a good thing after all. Then again, you can explain the nonsense of Star Trek Enterprise by acknowledging that the events in this movie significantly altered the timeline, so those thing that broke canon in Enterprise can kinda be ignored through that lense. Trust me, it makes that show more palatable.
Gleanings and Cool Bits:
Let’s start with the subtleties before diving into the deeper meanings in the story. One of the things I love about this film is its ability for self reference. No, I’m not talking about the cringeworthy line Cochrane utters about them being on ‘some kind of Star Trek’, I am talking about the subtle bits. Let me explain.
There are several beats throughout that touch on previous events that, if you had not watched the television series you may completely miss them. The first being how Worf arrives on the ship after having already been reassigned to DS9. When this film was first announced, I immediately wondered if they would find some way to incorporate the Deep Space Nine show into the film. Maybe the Enterprise would have a stop over and meet with their Klingon friend, or maybe this would feature the event that lead to Worf’s departure for the Station. I couldn’t have been more wrong and frankly, I love how they pulled it off.
Taking place sometime after Deep Space Nine’s 4th season, Worf, of course, pilots the USS Defiant into battle with the Borg. It’s not like they could have taken the Station to the battle and the rest of the crew were busy dealing with…I don’t know Pah Wraiths? Anyway. It was a cool way to bring him back and it works…Okay, one thing that does bother me though is that there is hardly a mention of this battle on the TV series DS9. You would think with something this important you would at least have had a ‘how did the battle go Worf?’ or something. Heck, at least O’Brien should have made a comment. Ugh.
Another subtle but cool moment is that of Commander Data. There is a key moment where Data literally breaks the neck of a Borg in a similar fashion to how he did it in the 6th season finale Decent Part One. It is in this moment that you get a slight sense of the dangers of his emotion chip that he seemed to turn off at will. On hindsight it also lends into the idea that Data could be corrupted by the Borg Queen and may actually end up betraying Picard. It is a quick but effective moment that only those deeply familiar with the series would pick up and, having just finished writing reviews for the whole series, this is the first time I realized what that scene referenced.
Other fun bits are the cameos from Dwight Schultz reprising his role as Reginald Barclay, Ethan Phillips (Neelix) as the bartender on the Holodeck and, of course, that of Robert Picardo as the ships EMH program. Classic all around.
All in all, this was a darn good film and one that I can certainly watch over and over again. As usual with my movie reviews. Here is the trailer.
Thanks for reading the Retro TV Review, I look forward to discussing the rest of the series with you, one episode at a time every Monday, Wednesday and Friday! Next Review: Movie Edition: Star Trek Insurrection!
If you would like to read more reviews I have a weekly series called Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Wednesday and also a complete review of Star Trek Discovery.
For more retro TV goodness check out the rest of the Retro TV Reviews here.
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Late To The Game 2/18/2019
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