While Star Trek‘s inspirations are often works of literature—which is what makes the franchise so dang geeky—, First Contact is Star Trek‘s homage to iconic sci-fi action movies, particularly Aliens and The Terminator, from the familiar plot points to the icky—if more PG-13—shock imagery to the underlying humanism.
As such, not only does it end up being the tightest and most entertaining of the Next Generation movies, but it’s also the Star Trek movie I have the fondest memories of, especially from the years I memorized more lines from it than any other movie.
Yet, since Generations—the TNG crew’s official first theatrical outing—was met with less-than-positive reception, the writers decided to take First Contact into a more broadly appealing, popcornier direction, which is one reason why the way I can enjoy this movie now is as an action-oriented episode instead of as a standalone experience. The other reason is the way it would introduce a newcomer to Star Trek.
Like Wrath of Khan, this ties back to a plotline from its respective TV series, here the popular “Best of Both Worlds” two-parter where Captain Picard gets enslaved by, and brought back from, the Borg, a race of cyborgs that assimilate members of any species into their literally like-minded collective. After an opening credits sequence that showcases Jerry Goldsmith’s powerful musical score, we jump straight into some literally nightmarish imagery flashing back to Picard’s experience with being assimilated.
…If this Star Trek is aiming to appeal to a wide audience, body horror like this isn’t the way you introduce somebody to a franchise about wonder and humanity, nor is the Captain Ahab parallel similar to Wrath of Khan‘s that now falls on an unusually angry Captain Picard—even to the point where he downright murders a helpless crew member who’s just beginning to be infected by the Borg’s nanobots—the way you introduce somebody to Captain Picard. …Which doesn’t ruin my affinity for the film.
The plotline where the writers have the most fun involves the time-travelling TNG crew trying to convince the drunken pilot Zephram Cochran, played by a priceless James Cromwell, to carry on with the first warp flight, which according to Trek history brings about the titular First Contact, that the time-travelling Borg aim to prevent.
The main thrills involves Picard directly trying to stop the Borg, and even though he’s previously dealt with the Borg in non-lethal ways post-assimilation, the stakes here are too high not to annihilate them, though I’m not sure what to think of Picard treating said killings as relief to those assimilated. On the other hand, the film wants us to see the consequences of his vengeance rather than root for it, and unlike Khan, he’s able to see the error of his whale hunt before it could destroy him.
Not to mention, one set piece puts the holodeck to creative use with a sly callback to the series, and a tense set piece on the Enterprise‘s outer hull is a classic in of itself. One scene even beautifully takes the spotlight of Trekian wonder away from the awe of alien discoveries and puts it on our own planet.
While this isn’t the ideal Star Trek movie, its popcorny approach proved to be a financial and critical success, and its subsequent influence on the franchise helped destroy the franchise until J.J. Abrams brought it back with, well, more popcorn.
And if Star Trek should be full-blown popcorn, this is the way to do it, not solely through its own innovation but as an homage to iconic science-fiction movies, just as the franchise is often an homage to iconic literature. However, if its homage to iconic science-fiction were another Star Trek movie… *cough*StarTrekIntoDarkness*cough*
Of the entries scored by Jerry Goldsmith, who incidentally scored the original Alien, First Contact is the only one that lives up to its own musical score.