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This review was originally published via The Classical Mess, a Substack I was doing a few years ago before I found out they gave money to bigots.
There’s a crisp, bracing energy to Star Trek: First Contact (1996) that I will attribute to director Jonathan Frakes. Although he was a film novice, Frakes had a clear and deep understanding of Trek after playing Commander Riker in universe for nine years. He also knew which corners to expand to make everything feel cinematic. First Contact is widely regarded as the best movie featuring the “Next Generation” characters and I’d only argue on one critical point where verisimilitude is lacking.
Zefram Cochrane is a historical figure in Star Trek celebrated for piloting Earth’s first warp speed space flight during the 21st Century, a voyage that facilitated our planet’s inaugural encounter with alien life. These events are threatened in First Contact when machine-based conquerors the Borg travel back in time from “the present” (the 24th Century) and murder Cochrane’s flight crew a day before launch. Captain Picard, Cdr. Riker et al race beyond the clock to help Cochrane, who, as it turns out, has more in common with Dennis Hopper than da Vinci. The “joke” about this aerospace pioneer being a rock n’ roll smart ass goes over like mildew. Cochrane is written in a weak and one dimensional way and James Cromwell doesn’t seem right for the part.
“So you’re all astronauts on some kind of star trek?” he asks our heroes at one point, breaking new barriers in cringe (and cheapening a much more clever title reference in “Next Generation’s” final episode). Paramount originally wanted Tom Hanks to play Cochrane. Could Hanks squeeze life into that line? Could he make the billowing fur coat and leather cap work? That getup is like Blade Runner meets “The Golden Girls.”
The meat of First Contact is with Captain Picard. Years earlier he was assimilated by the Borg into their shared consciousness, an event so traumatic it continues to haunt him. Picard’s struggle is pronounced enough that even a few of his contemporaries in Starfleet question his reliability when engaging the Borg. Patrick Stewart achieves the usual excellence as Picard and First Contact gives him a terrific screen partner in Alfre Woodard. Woodard plays Lily Sloane, a gutsy Cochrane associate who through no fault of her own becomes trapped aboard the Enterprise during a Borg attack. Sloane may be overwhelmed by the situation but she isn’t intimidated by Picard. She dishes out some hard truths he needs to hear when the situation starts getting real hairy.
First Contact has another memorable debut from the Borg Queen, who descends upon the Enterprise and takes a special interest in assimilating Lt. Commander Data. Is this surprisingly human Borg really their queen? Does she control their hive mind or does she only represent it? I think the jury’s still out on that. Alice Krige’s portrayal of the Borg Queen is imbued with a thin benevolence that suggests she might not be entirely evil. Spoiler alert: she is.
A poignant ending caps Star Trek: First Contact, one with hope, wonder, and humor. It could have served as the final ringing note for this lengthy film franchise. Lucky for us, First Contact made enough moolah to propel the adventuring forward. I can assure you no one says “star trek” in the final two installments.
This article debuted in February on The Classical Mess, a newsletter I was creating on Substack until I found out they were doing bad stuff.
“Star Trek: The Next Generation” was that rarest of things — a high quality tv show that actually made money, consistently and over a lengthy span of time. Seven seasons went by and figureheads could brag that “TNG” remained “extremely profitable.” They knew the ride couldn’t last forever, though, so the series concluded and the characters graduated to feature films. There was little wait for the “Trek” devoted; as soon as the masterpiece series finale “All Good Things…” wrapped production “TNG” began work on its theatrical debut, Star Trek: Generations. The movie was released just six months after “All Good Things…” aired in 1994.
Generations didn’t need any gimmicks tying it to the previous dynasty of Trek cinema, but they insisted on two big ones anyway. The film begins 78 years in the past where we witness the death of Captain James T. Kirk as he heroically rescues the Enterprise-B from a mysterious and lethal anomaly. That same anomaly, known in universe as the Nexus, brings Kirk and Captain Jean-Luc Picard together at the end of Generations. Together they must thwart an evil scientist named Saron who is trying to bend the Nexus to his whims at the expense of several nearby planets.
It’s explained that if a person manages to get inside the Nexus it will allow them to experience their dream life. That’s what Saron wants, and Picard, whose emotions are brittle in Generations following personal tragedy, will eventually find himself seduced by what the realm might provide. This has all the makings of a classic Star Trek, and a lot of it is quite entertaining, but Generations has trouble striking the right cinematic tone. Like an oversized coat, some of it fits and some of it is lost to exaggeration.
Director David Carson had never helmed a feature film prior to Generations and he only made a handful afterwards. Yes, the scale gets away from him at times and the movie’s lighting is periodically insane, but Carson deserves credit where it’s due. He gives Klingon antagonists the Duras sisters a compelling sendoff. That sequence is perfect and will make you holler whatever the Klingon word is for “oh snap!”
So what does William Shatner’s rug look like in Star Trek: Generations? It’s pretty good. A fine rug to wear the day you die. And through all that running around and all those fisticuffs, it never slips once, boldly staying where real hair used to grow before.
There we were, three fleshy lumps on the couch, the bare minimum of our energies directed toward the television. What else were we to do as we awaited Tom Turkey and all his trimmings? Discuss local affairs? I’m afraid there was just nothing left to say about the bowl of pumpkin-flavored M&Ms that sat on the coffee table before us. Still, we couldn’t suppress every stray thought as BBC America pelted us with reruns of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”
“Is it just me or are all these episodes really Gates McFadden-heavy?”
“It’s just this one, really.”
“Feel like I’m watching Gatesgiving, not Treksgiving.”
“Did you know she was a Muppet movement choreographer for Muppets Take Manhattan?”
“How could I have possibly known that?”
“Why are we watching with the sound off?”
“You think the visuals are bad, imagine the dialogue.”
“God, I wish she’d stop making out with that Kevin Sorbo-looking motherfucker.”
The Satellite of Love this was not, but we were amusing ourselves, doing our best to prevent Roddenberry-induced comas. The steamed bird did not arrive before the episode where our intrepid late eighties space nuts work out some Robin Hood fantasy to save the Captain’s sexy twenty-something personal assistant from the clutches of that nefarious Q, which of course means I had to watch LeVar Burton play a lute in leggings.
The wounds, they won’t heal.