Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Review: Star Trek: First Contact

Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Produced by: Rick Berman
Screenplay by: Brannon Braga & Ronald D. Moore
Story by: Rick Berman, Brannon Braga & Ronald D. Moore
Executive Producer: Martin Hornstein
Cinematography by: Matthew F. Leonetti, A.S.C.
Production Designed by: Herman Zimmerman
Edited by: John W. Wheeler, A.C.E.
Costumes by: Deborah Everton
Co-Producer: Peter Lauritson
Music by: Jerry Goldsmith

Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marinia Sirtis, Alfre Woodard, James Cromwell, Alice Krige, Neal McDonough, Michael Horton

1996 / 113min / Rated PG-13 (for some sci-fi adventure violence)

When their attempt to assimilate Earth fails, the Borg travel back in time to prevent Earth's first contact by stopping its first warp drive flight. Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the new Starship Enterprise-E set out to prevent the Borg from succeeding, while simultaneously trying to keep them from assimilate the Enterprise itself.

Following the crossover venture of Star Trek: Generations, it was time for the crew of The Next Generation to make their first solo big screen event. Many questions arose as to whether or not Captain Picard and his crew could hold their own movie without the presence of William Shatner or anyone of the rest of the original cast. Did they succeed? A very resounding yes! Not only does the cast and crew of TNG deliver a solid movie that would become their strongest outing, First Contact would also be viewed as one of Star Trek's best movies period.

After studio interference helped to sink Generations, much more freedom was given to producer Rick Berman and writers Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga. From the beginning, the best decisions they made were to not only use time travel (something they were not allowed to use in Generations), but to also employ one of Star Trek's deadliest villains; the Borg. While the Borg would go on to become overused and "defanged" in Star Trek: Voyager, here the Borg were still frightening and menacing, adding to their great success here.

The story is fresh and near flawless. The writing by Moore and Braga is very tight, and is only heightened by the directing of freshman movie director Jonathan Frakes (doubling onscreen as Will Riker). The plotting is masterful, with a slick pace that barely lets up to breathe. The main plot aboard the Enterprise, following the action of Picard, Data and Worf battling the Borg, is contrasted with the more comical plot of Riker, Geordi and Troi trying to help Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) repair his ship for the first warp flight. The writing, editing and directing is very tight and never lets up. Nothing is visited more then it needs to be, and everything is given enough room to be explored.

The action is the most intense and most violent that has been seen in any Trek production. It's well choreographed and you really feel the intensity of every moment. The action is enhanced by the great score of Jerry Goldsmith, who is assisted by son Joel Goldsmith. Goldsmith's main theme that centers on the first contact at the end of the picture is one of Trek's most rousing and poignant themes, and a personal favorite.

Production design is top-notch. The new Enterprise-E is quite a sight, both in and out, and the cinematography is very appropriate, giving the right amount of shadows and lighting to give a creepy feeling as we wonder what lurks around the next corner. The makeup of the Borg is greatly enhanced from where it was at on the series. They are now even scarier then they ever were on the show. Also very creepy is the montage of the Enterprise being overrun and crew assimilated by the Borg. The special effects are very strong, especially during the battle at the beginning as multiple starships fight the lone Borg cube. It's too bad they didn't have this kind of technology during the series to fight the Borg, because it's truly breathtaking. One of my only complaints is that the battle lasts only a couple minutes before we move on to the rest of the movie.

My other complaint is that while it's an improvement over Generations, the screen time for some of the characters is still rather limited. While everyone is given more to do, the focus is still rather obviously on Picard and Data. Troi and Crusher still aren't given much to do. Even though Troi is given a good scene in which she gets drunk with Zefram Cochrane (Marinia Sirtis' performance is priceless), there's not much else she adds to the plot. And once again, while Gates McFadden's screen time is increased, her contribution to the overall plot is limited. While an improvement over Generations, this is an area in which the TNG films needed improving.

The performances are excellent. The cast of TNG is at their best, particularly Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner. Spiner is given much better material then he was in Generations to fully develop and explore Data's emotions. This is the Data we should have seen in the previous movie. Stewart's Picard is vengeful, but not so much so that we catch on right away. It isn't until he is called out by Michael Dorn's Worf that we realize how angry and bitter Picard is towards the Borg, and it's wonderfully realized by Patrick Stewart. The movie's best scene takes place in the observation lounge between Picard and outsider Lilly (played by Alfre Woodard). It's incredibly powerful, with great writing, acting, direction and music. Everything comes together perfectly to make it one of Star Trek's best scenes.

Praise must also be given to James Cromwell as Zefram Cochrane. Cromwell is able to be funny and serious at the same time. His performance is truly exceptional. His scenes with Jonathan Frakes are also well done, particularly their scene together in which Cochrane expresses his fear and selfishness to Riker. It's well-written and depicts Cochrane as someone who never set out to achieve great things, but ended up accomplishing them anyway. He's the reluctant hero, and Cromwell nails the character.

Alice Krige is frightening as the Borg Queen. While the character turns everything we know about the Borg on its head, here the character works well, especially against Brent Spiner. Their scenes together are electrifying and creepy. Krige is seductive, yet very dangerous and frightening, and her scenes with Brent Spiner's Data are quite enticing, filled with energy and suspense. How she pulls it off is amazing.

First Contact is one of Trek's best outings, especially for the crew of The Next Generation. When the big moment at the finale ends with the highly anticipated first contact, the payoff is earned and powerful. Goldsmith's score shines as the alien ship lands and Cochrane steps forward to meet his destiny. It's easily one of Star Trek's finest moments, which this movie is filled with.

Star Trek: First Contact is the perfect blend of elements that make Star Trek such a success; humor, action, drama, in addition to wonderful characters and great insight into the human condition. It also shows that hope for the future that Gene Roddenberry set out to depict. Every moment is near perfect and is tough competition for The Wrath of Khan. This is a monumental achievement for the Star Trek franchise, and one of its best movies to-date.

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Dave said...

I loved this movie.

Evie said...

This is my favorite Trek movie. Cromwell did an excellent job with his lovable bad boy character. The theme is gorgeous - one of the best Trek themes ever.