The most iconic moment of Star Trek: The Next Generation is inarguably the cliffhanger ending of the Season Three finale, The Best of Both Worlds. The episode sees the return of the Borg, a fearsome cybernetic race dedicated to the assimilation of all organic life. Devoid of individuality, the Borg function as a collective mind, drones in a ginormous hive. The Best of Both Worlds saw Captain Picard captured and assimilated by the Borg, and although he was rescued from the Collective, the scars of that experience continue to be with him throughout the series.
Star Trek: First Contact wisely returns to these scars by bringing the Borg back. Taking place six years after the events of The Best of Both Worlds (and two years after Star Trek: Generations), First Contact begins with an imminent Borg invasion. The Federation fleet manages to destroy the cube, yet a small escape sphere goes back in time, altering history and assimilating Earth in the past. Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E must follow the Borg back in time to the year 2063, the year that Earth first made contact with alien life. Captain Picard and the crew must ensure that first contact goes according to history. If not, then the Borg will assimilate the planet and all will be lost.
Easily one of (if not the) most tense Star Trek films, First Contact utilizes the Borg in terrific and terrifying manner. The Borg don’t kill you; death would be a kindness. The Borg take you and strip you of your individuality, your identity, the very thing that makes you you, and they turn you into a mindless automaton, a drone. They are the most terrifying villains in all of Star Trek because they cannot be reasoned with, they cannot be swayed, and they will not yield. They will stop at nothing to strip away individuality, assimilating everything into their massive collective.
Picard’s past experience with the Borg makes their return particularly challenging for him. Picard is forced to face his past, he is forced to revisit the horror of being part of the collective. He must come to terms with his blind quest for revenge; indeed, there are more than a few parallels to Captain Ahab and his quest for Moby Dick (which the film also points out). Patrick Stewart is absolutely terrific in this role, and he’s also given a great foil in Lily (Alfre Woodard), a woman from the 21st century who is taken to the Enterprise after being injured in the initial Borg attack.
Woodard effectively plays off of Stewart, helping him to see the cost of his vengeance and helping him to regain sight of what is truly important. The film also makes great use of Data (Brent Spiner) after he is captured by the Borg. Data’s character has always revolved around his desire to become more human, and the Borg are able to offer that to him through modification. The conflict that Data goes through is terrific, but it wouldn’t work nearly as well without the amazing Alice Krige as the Borg Queen. Speaking for the entire collective, Krige exudes superiority and a disturbing sensuality, and she speaks for the collective in a way that is both seductive and terrifying.
A decent portion of the crew spends much of the film down on Earth’s surface, helping Dr. Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) finish preparations for his warp flight aboard the Phoenix. This provides a few entertaining moments (drunk Deanna Troi is particularly entertaining), but it doesn’t work nearly as well as the conflict aboard the Enterprise. It’s enlightening and somewhat interesting to see this pivotal moment in history and in the Star Trek continuity, but it all plays out a little bit perfunctorily without much weight or depth.
However, that makes the sequences aboard the Enterprise-E all the more tense and terrific. First Contact’s production is stellar. The terror factor of the Borg has clearly been stepped up from the television series; the design is far more menacing and unsettling. The special effects are expectedly terrific, while Jerry Goldsmith’s score is fantastic. It’s surprisingly quiet and cerebral, but it contrasts quite well with the rest of the intense feel of the movie. Jonathan Frakes steps behind the director’s chair, and he proves adept at maintaining a dark and downbeat mood throughout the film. Darkness pervades the film, and it really lends itself well to creating an intense and foreboding atmosphere.
Star Trek: First Contact is easily the best Next Generation film. By utilizing the Borg, the film recaptures the feel of some of the best and most iconic moments from the television series. Picard’s quest for revenge against the Borg is amazing to watch, and the tense atmosphere of the film is excellent. The sequences on Earth might not look as well, but that doesn’t prevent this movie from being a terrific and engaging film that is both meaningful and entertaining.
Star Trek: First Contact – A-