It’s a Classic: ‘Star Trek: First Contact’

Looking at some of the best pop culture offerings in film, TV and comics…

“And you people, you’re all astronauts on some kind of star trek”

First Contact - Picard

Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) must face his most lethal enemy in ‘Star Trek: First Contact’ (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Year:  1996

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, James Cromwell, Alfre Woodard, Alice Krige

Director:  Jonathan Frakes / written by:  Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga (story by Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga.  Based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

Captain Picard and his crew pursue the Borg back in time to stop them from changing the future by preventing Earth’s pioneering warp-flight and historic first contact with an alien race…

In review:  why it’s a classic

The finest big screen outing for the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation and one of the overall best Star Trek films, Star Trek: First Contact is an exciting science fiction action adventure that proved a hit with fans and critics as well as general audiences, becoming one of the most financially successful Star Trek features – surpassing previous champion Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

Star Trek: First Contact sees Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E once again faced with their cybernetic foes, the Borg, who travel back in time to the year 2063 – a decade after Earth’s devastating Third World War – to avert the first flight by warp drive inventor Zefram Cochrane and contact with visitors from Vulcan – an event that unites humanity and sparks a more hopeful future that will lead to the formation of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets.  Pursuing the Borg back to the 21st Century, the Borg vessel is destroyed by the Enterprise but not before its complement of drones transport into the bowels of Picard’s ship and begin taking control.  As Commander Riker and his away team work to ensure Cochrane’s warp flight occurs as scheduled, Picard must fight to prevent the Borg’s seizure of the Enterprise and their plans to destroy the future.  Star Trek: First Contact ties back to The Next Generation’s classic two-parter “The Best of Both Worlds” (read the review here) in which Picard was abducted and assimilated by the Borg and informs the character’s arc, although it isn’t necessary for casual viewers to have seen it as it’s all explained via Picard’s opening nightmare sequence and some neatly placed exposition.

First Contact - Cochrane

James Cromwell as Zefram Cochrane (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

As Picard, Patrick Stewart is as superb as ever in the role and there is a lot of range for the character in First Contact as the usually noble and disciplined Picard grapples with his traumatic history with the Borg and the Ahab-like anger towards his enemy which begins to override his judgement as a Starfleet captain.  Stewart shares great rapport with his co-stars, particularly Brent Spiner’s Data who is also given a great deal of focus, his loyalty to Picard threatened when he is captured by the Borg and manipulated by their Queen.  Played with a sultry and sinister menace by Alice Krige, the Borg Queen expands the mythology of the cyborg race, an individual voice within the singular Borg Collective whose purpose is to bring “order to chaos” within the hive mind.  James Cromwell provides a wonderfully spirited performance as Zefram Cochrane, a man worshipped as a historical figure by the Enterprise crew who they quickly learn is flawed and prone to drinking too much.  Alfre Woodard is equally great as Cochrane’s assistant, Lily, who has numerous standout scenes with Patrick Stewart – particularly her heated exchange with Picard as his fury against the Borg verges on vendetta, snapping him into realisation with a poignant reference to Moby Dick.  Given his duties as director, Jonathan Frakes’ Commander Riker has less onscreen presence in comparison to Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner but still plays an important role.  The rest of the regular TNG cast are all given their moments within the story – Marina Sirtis’ inebriated Deanna Troi serving up a dash of levity – and luckily First Contact allows for Michael Dorn’s Worf (who at this point had joined the cast of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) to rejoin his former crewmates for their adventure.

First Contact - Borg Queen & Data

Data (Brent Spiner) is manipulated by the Borg Queen (Alice Krige) (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Star Trek: First Contact thrills with a number of notable action sequences and set-pieces, the highlights including the first act’s space battle against the Borg ship, Picard and his crew’s attempt to halt the Borg’s infiltration and assimilation of the Enterprise and Picard and Worf’s (along with Lt. Hawk, in an early screen appearance by Neal McDonough) excursion onto the ship’s hull to prevent the Borg’s conversion of the main deflector into a means of summoning reinforcements.  The film boasts a great script (from returning Star Trek Generations screenwriters Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga) that has plenty of action, drama, humour and heart and it’s easy to see why it appealed to a wide audience.  It’s a generally pacey adventure that doesn’t sacrifice an enjoyable science fiction story or memorable character moments.  The Borg are a dark threat and the stakes are high yet First Contact maintains the hope and optimism for humanity’s future envisioned by Gene Roddenberry that is the nucleus of any classic Star Trek story.

Having helmed numerous episodes of The Next Generation (as well as Deep Space Nine and Voyager), Jonathan Frakes makes a confident jump to the big screen and keeps First Contact engaging and entertaining.  The production design is excellent and gives it a pleasingly grand, blockbuster feature film look.  The new Enterprise-E is another superb, sleek starship design from illustrator John Eaves that melds the iconic Matt Jeffries concept with that of The Next Generation’s late Enterprise-D.  Likewise, Herman Zimmerman’s interior sets are an appropriate expansion of his previous work.  The new Giger-esque biomechanical look for the Borg courtesy of Michael Westmore makes them an even scarier and formidable enemy and would rightfully earn the film an Oscar nomination.  To top things off, Jerry Goldsmith (with contributions from his son, Joel) provides a classic music score, another career best for the composer that elevates all of the excitement, emotion and atmosphere of the film – the beautifully majestic main theme on par with that of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Star Trek: First Contact is simply a great big screen Star Trek entry that’s not only enjoyable for fans but for casual viewers as well and represents a high point for the franchise as an entertainment enterprise (pun fully intended).

Standout moment

Discovering that the Borg plan to use the Enterprise’s deflector to contact reinforcements, Picard leads a mission on to the starship’s hull in order to stop them…

Geek fact!

An early concept for the film had the Borg travelling back in time even further to the Renaissance period and would see Data become Leonardo DaVinci’s apprentice!

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Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Flashback: ‘Star Trek Generations’

It’s 25 years since the cast of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ transitioned to the big screen…

ST Gen a

Captains Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Kirk (William Shatner) unite to save the galaxy in ‘Star Trek Generations’ (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Year:  1994

Starring:  Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Malcolm McDowell, William Shatner, James Doohan, Walter Koenig

Directed by:  David Carson / written by:  Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga (story by Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore & Brannon Braga.  Based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

What’s it about?

Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise must stop an obsessive and dangerous scientist from causing the deaths of millions as he searches for a way to return to a mysterious extra-dimensional realm…

Retrospective/review

With Star Trek: The Next Generation completing it’s highly successful seven year run on television and the original Star Trek crew’s big screen voyages concluded with 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country it was time for the torch to be passed.  Production on a seventh Star Trek film, in which the newer Star Trek cast would make their silver screen debut, commenced almost immediately after work had wrapped on The Next Generation’s series finale with Star Trek Generations releasing in cinemas in the fall of 1994.

An enjoyable and fun science fiction adventure, Star Trek Generations facilitates a meeting between William Shatner’s Captain Kirk and Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard whilst also incorporating smaller cameo roles for two other classic Trek characters – Chekov (Walter Koenig) and Engineer Montgomery Scott, a.k.a. “Scotty” (James Doohan).  The story begins in the 23rd Century as Kirk, Chekov and Scotty are guests of honour aboard the newly commissioned successor to Kirk’s ship, the Enterprise-B.  Her maiden voyage is interrupted by an incoming distress call from the Lakul – a transport ship ferrying El-Aurian refugees to Earth, amongst them future Enterprise bartender, Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg).  Discovering that the Lakul is tangled in a mysterious energy ribbon with destructive tendrils threatening to tear it apart, the Enterprise (under the command of Captain John Harriman, played by Alan Ruck) risks all to save the refugees – including Captain Kirk, seemingly lost when the Enterprise’s hull is breached.

Flashing forward 78 years to the 24th Century, Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D investigate the attack of a deep space observatory.  Recovering the only survivor, the El-Aurian scientist, Dr. Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell, star of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange), Picard soon learns that Soran, along with Guinan, whose race has a life span many times greater than humans, were rescued during the Lakul incident and that the energy ribbon encountered by the Enterprise-B is a recurring phenomenon known as the Nexus, a gateway to an extra-dimensional realm were one’s fantasies and dreams are realised and time has no meaning.  Soran, in cohorts with the Klingon Duras sisters Lursa and B’etor (Barbara March and Gwyneth Walsh, respectively, reprising their villainous roles from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), in exchange for providing them with a powerful new weapon, plans to draw the Nexus to him by destroying stars and threatening the lives of millions.  With the stakes set high, Picard is soon confronted with Soran on the planet Veridian III before being swept into the Nexus, leading to an encounter with a legendary Starfleet captain once thought dead…James T. Kirk, offering Picard his only hope of stopping Soran.

ST Gen b

Malcolm McDowell as Soran (image credit: Paramount Pictures).

Although they may have felt encumbered by a laundry list of requirements for the film (the essential ingredient being a Kirk/Picard team-up), screenwriters Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga – who also wrote the TNG series finale (the feature length “All Good Things”) took their knowledge and experience as former writers on The Next Generation to construct an entertaining narrative that gets the job done, providing some decent character moments together with an imaginative and action-packed science fiction story, under the capable direction of David Carson, himself no stranger to the franchise having helmed fan-favourite TNG episode “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine series premiere.  Generations also boasts a music score from veteran TNG and Deep Space Nine composer Dennis McCarthy, particularly effective during Picard’s scenes in the Nexus where the music has an appropriately wondrous, mystical quality to it.

Focusing on the acting performances and characterisation, there’s a lot for fans to appreciate.  Beyond the obvious delight of having Kirk and Picard onscreen together, both William Shatner and Patrick Stewart are given a reasonable amount to chew on.  Stewart’s Picard suffers the tragic accidental deaths of his brother and nephew (his scenes with Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan are also a highlight, as they always where in TNG) before his later experience in the Nexus which presents the noble starship captain with the dream of an idyllic family life at Christmas time and a renewed sense of faith as he unites with Captain Kirk to save the day.  Despite only appearing in the opening and closing acts of Generations, Wiiliam Shatner is still given enough time to prove his worth as his meeting with Picard invokes a realisation that the fantasy the Nexus offers just can’t compare with the reality of risking all for the greater good.  The horse-riding scenes also allow Shatner to combine his real-life enthusiasm for the equestrian with his defining and most iconic screen role.

James Doohan and Walter Koenig are a pleasing addition to the opening of Generations and along with Kirk, a comforting sight, yet although William Shatner is afforded a larger role, this is still very much a Star Trek: The Next Generation film – with Brent Spiner’s Data particularly well-served as the Enterprise’s android experiments with emotions allowing him to experience a range of feelings and human concepts, from humour and joy to fear and regret.  The always excellent Spiner rises to the occasion with ease and its unsurprising that Data becomes such a key player in the subsequent Star Trek films.  As the central villain, Malcom McDowell delivers a decent measure of threat, Soran’s desire to revisit the Nexus driven by the yearning to see his dead wife and children.  It’s something touched upon but sadly not fully explored but does however provide the character with some depth and the script furnishes McDowell with some memorable lines, such as “they say time is the fire in which we burn” which has something of a literary and philosophical quality to it.

Of course, the biggest surprises of Generations (spoilers…) are the heroic – but highly controversial – death of Kirk (reshot after test audiences were underwhelmed with the original scene, in which Soran simply shoots Kirk in the back), truly marking the end of an era and the destruction of the Enterprise-D to make way for a new and more big screen friendly U.S.S. Enterprise for the sequels.  Both elements help to supply Generations with a suitably tense and gripping finale and an emotional farewell to a beloved character.  Whilst Star Trek Generations is not on the same level as perennial favourites Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, it’s still a fitting first big screen outing for the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation which would lead to the superior and popular sequel, Star Trek: First Contact.

Geek fact! 

It was originally intended that Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley would reprise the roles of Spock and Doctor McCoy in Generations in place of the Chekov and Scotty cameos, but both actors declined feeling that Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was a more satisfactory finale for their characters.

Image(s) used herein are utilised for illustrative purposes only and remain the property of the copyright owner(s).

Flashback: ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’ – “Broken Bow”

Sixteen years before ‘Discovery’, there was another ‘Star Trek’ prequel…

Ent Broken Bow Crew

The crew of first ‘Star Trek’ prequel ‘Enterprise’.

Starring:  Scott Bakula, Jolene Blalock, Connor Trinneer, Dominic Keating, John Billinglsey, Anthony Montgomery, Linda Park, John Fleck, Vaughn Armstrong, Gary Graham, Tommy Lister Jr

Series created by:  Rick Berman & Brannon Braga (based upon Star Trek, created by Gene Roddenberry)

Written by:  Rick Berman & Brannon Braga / Episode directed by:  James L. Conway / 2001

What’s the episode about?

On a mission to return an injured Klingon to his homeworld, the starship Enterprise and her crew are thrust into conflict with an alien race known as the Suliban…

Retrospective

Airing back in September 2001, “Broken Bow” is the feature-length premiere of the fifth live-action Star Trek television series, Enterprise (sans the ‘Star Trek’ prefix, which would be added from the show’s third season).  Created by Rick Berman, the franchise’s head producer (and its guardian following the death of Gene Roddenberry in 1991) together with Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager writer/producer Brannon Braga, Enterprise is a prequel to Star Trek: The Original Series set over a century prior to the voyages of Captain Kirk’s U.S.S. Enterprise and a decade before the formation of the galactic coalition known as the United Federation of Planets.

With “Broken Bow”, the story of Enterprise begins in 2151, almost a century after Earth’s first contact with the Vulcans (as seen in the 1996 feature film Star Trek: First Contact) at a time when the human race has recovered from the devastation of World War III and set their sights on the stars.  With the assistance and guidance of the Vulcan High Command, Earth has begun developing newer and faster starships, the latest of which is the Enterprise NX-01 – the first Starfleet vessel to incorporate the revolutionary Warp 5 engine that will allow humans to head out into deep space on a mission of peaceful exploration and contact with alien races.

“Broken Bow” opens with the crash landing of a Klingon on Earth, being pursued by mysterious alien soldiers from a race called the Suliban.  Wounded during the pursuit, despite the objections of the Vulcan High Command, Starfleet decides to launch Enterprise on a mission to Qo’nos, the Klingon homeworld, and return the injured Klingon – named Klaang (Tommy Lister Jr) – to his people.  It’s not exactly plain sailing however and when the Suliban capture Klaang mid-voyage, the crew of Enterprise are thrust into danger as they set out to locate and rescue the Klingon from his captors.

“Broken Bow” unfolds at a steady pace, its earlier sections taking time to introduce the main characters and the general setting of Enterprise, notching things up once the NX-01 embarks on her maiden voyage.  As the plot progresses we learn that the Suliban aggressors are a cabal of genetically enhanced soldiers, receiving orders from a mysterious benefactor (James Horan), communicating with them from the future and are fighting a ‘Temporal Cold War’ in which various competing factions are attempting to manipulate the timeline in their favour.  Here, the Suliban are planning to incite a Klingon civil war, evidence of which Klaang has obtained and which the Suliban are desperate to recover.

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The wonderfully designed Enterprise NX-01, ready to launch into deep space…

With a desire to return to more character-driven stories, Berman and Braga ensured that they populated Enterprise with engaging characters.  Always their first choice for the lead, Quantum Leap star Scott Bakula is Captain Jonathan Archer, whose father, Henry, designed the Warp 5 engine.  Bakula brings a grounded, believable quality to the role and the flashbacks to Archer’s childhood are a neat addition that bring dimension to the character as we see how his relationship with his father drives his determination as an explorer and pioneer.  The rest of the principal cast comprises Jolene Blalock as Sub-Commander T’Pol, a Vulcan Science Officer posted to Enterprise at the insistence of the High Command, Connor Trinneer as spirited Chief Engineer Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker III, Dominic Keating as Armoury Officer – and dutiful Englishman – Lieutenant Malcolm Reed, Anthony Montgomery as Helmsman Ensign Travis Mayweather, a ‘space boomer’ born and raised on an Earth cargo ship and Communications Officer and gifted linguist Ensign Hoshi Sato.  Completing the crew’s complement are Archer’s pet Beagle, Porthos and the ‘Denobulan’ Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Phlox played with a wonderfully quirky charm by John Billingsley.  The central threat of the Suliban is headed up by the nefarious Silik, played John Fleck (no stranger to Star Trek, having previously guest starred in episodes of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager).  Silik, the Suliban Cabal and the theme of the Temporal Cold War would be revisited throughout the four season run of Enterprise and would prove a compelling and intriguing storytelling component for the series.

Overall, the script for “Broken Bow” is decent, the direction (by experienced Trek director James L. Conway) solid and the cast and their respective characters are instantly likeable.  The Emmy Award winning visual effects are also excellent and hold up well today.  “Broken Bow” boasts numerous exciting action sequences, from the opening cornfield chase to the Suliban’s infiltration of Enterprise and the escape of Archer and his landing party from Rigel X through to the battle within the atmosphere of a gas giant and the climactic face-off between Archer and Silik onboard the Suliban’s ‘Helix’ base.

The show’s production design, by Herman Zimmerman (another Star Trek veteran, having worked on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine as well as several of the feature films) is another strong component, the interior of the NX-class Enterprise given a cramped, submarine-esque layout with a nifty combination of LCD screen technology and physical, switch based control systems that gives the show a slightly retro-futuristic look that acknowledges the advancement of modern technology whilst retaining its place within the Star Trek timeline.  Along with the costume design (the flight-suit style crew uniforms a highlight), props and the ever impressive make-up by Michael Westmore and his team, Enterprise remains as visually appealing as it was over fifteen years ago.

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The Suliban: another example of make-up maestro Michael Westmore’s talents.

Having Enterprise take place before the original Star Trek allows the series to present some fresh takes on the familiar.  The Vulcans of the 22nd Century are not quite as noble as they are in the other Star Trek series and tend to have a condescending attitude towards humans (believing they are not yet ready to join the interstellar community), adding an element of conflict to the show.  Similarly, humans are more fallible making the characters more relatable whilst still injecting them with the drive to learn and improve in accordance with Gene Roddenberry’s positive vision for humankind’s future.  Another notable departure concerns the iconic Star Trek technologies, most of which here are in their infancy or don’t yet exist – the universal translator can be unreliable, there are no shields, phasers are called ‘phase pistols’ and the transporter has only just been approved for bio-transport and reluctantly used by the crew as a last resort.

It’s known that Paramount were nervous about producing a Star Trek prequel series, perhaps fearing that audiences had become accustomed to and seemingly favoured the 24th Century setting of previous spin-offs The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager.  In fact, the studio were even more hesitant about Berman and Braga’s initial concept for Enterprise, where they envisioned a predominantly Earth-based first season examining political and social concerns surrounding the construction and eventual launch of Enterprise and humanity’s first voyage into deep space.

“Broken Bow” is comfortably the strongest premiere of the Berman-era Star Trek series and although Enterprise would struggle with dwindling viewership and gradual loss of interest in the franchise at that point (which sparked the show’s edgier direction in season 3) it’s still an enjoyable, underappreciated chapter in the Star Trek story.

Geek fact!  “Broken Bow” features a cameo from James Cromwell as Warp Drive inventor Zefram Cochrane, reprising his role from Star Trek: First Contact.