In late November of 1996, I took my non-Trekkie sister with me to see the new Star Trek movie, “First Contact.” I salute my sister for her open-mindedness since 1994’s “Star Trek: Generations” received a lukewarm response, despite my own fondness for it ( In defense of “Star Trek: Generations”). For “First Contact,” we went to the only stadium seating theater in my old neighborhood at the time (stadium seating was a new thing in the mid-1990s). To my surprise, my sister really enjoyed the movie. “First Contact” was not only a de facto sequel to The Next Generation’s “Best of Both Worlds” two-parter, but a genuine crowd pleaser as well (Star Trek hadn’t had one of those since “The Voyage Home” ten years earlier). I also remember a few non-Trekkies at work singing its praises as well (“I like that Star Track movie with the bionic zombies!”)
I was also grateful to have seen the movie at a time when most homes didn’t yet have internet access, let alone Rotten Tomatoes. The only spoilers I’d read beforehand in magazines such as Starlog and Cinefantastique was that the story involved the Borg and time travel to the mid-21st century (which seemed like a million years away back then). In November of 1996, I was just shy of my 30th birthday, and in a very different place in my life. For this retrospective, I pulled out my digital projector and 80” collapsible screen to view this classic Star Trek film on a ‘big screen’ once more, at the tender age of 53 and as an old married dude…
To quote Zefram Cochrane, the creator of warp drive, “Engage!”
*****BORG CUBE-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!!*****
The film opens aboard the new Enterprise-E, with Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) still very much haunted by the trauma of his abduction and physical alteration (assault) by the Borg six years earlier. The Borg are a race of soulless cybernetic drones who scour the galaxy in search of people and technology to add to their “collective.” Picard’s nightmare-within-a-nightmare is mercifully broken by a call from Starfleet Admiral Hayes (Jack Shearer) who informs Picard that a Federation colony has been destroyed by the Borg, and that a single Borg cube is once again on a direct course for Earth, the very heart of both Starfleet and the Federation.
Picard gathers his senior officers for a briefing; First Officer Will Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton), Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) and android Operations Officer Commander Data (Brent Spiner). Picard tells them of the new Borg threat, and even as Data calculates an intercept course, Picard tells them they’re not going. Admiral Hayes is worried that Picard’s past assimilation by the Borg makes him “an unstable element” that might somehow compromise the safety of Starfleet’s forces. Riker is incensed, but agrees to obey the Admiral’s order to patrol the Romulan Neutral Zone instead.
Note: Picard would have many more dealings with the Romulans later on, as we learn in “Star Trek: Picard.” In fact, Picard’s boundless advocacy and empathy for the Romulans (after a supernova devastates their home system) is one factor that leads to his eventual resignation from Starfleet. One could argue the Romulans will play an even greater role in Picard’s life than the Borg. Picard’s lingering vendetta against the Borg also seems to negate his earlier experiences with “Hugh” in “I, Borg.”
After sensor sweeps of the Neutral Zone reveal precisely jack and squat, Troi calls the captain and tells him that Starfleet’s forces have engaged the Borg. There is a haunting scene on the bridge as multiple cries for help are heard from the Starfleet vessels, which are being pummeled by the single, monstrous Borg cube. Picard abruptly cuts the comm traffic, and tells his bridge crew that they’re going to violate Starfleet orders and join the battle near Earth. Data, speaking for the crew, says “To hell with our orders.” The Enterprise then hits maximum warp for Earth…
Note: The distance between Earth and the Romulan Neutral Zone used to be a formidable obstacle. In the original series, communications between the Neutral Zone and Earth took days, even with subspace radio, making realtime communication impossible. Nevertheless, the Enterprise-E manages to fly from the Natural Zone to Earth while Starfleet forces are still engaged in battle with the Borg cube. Either the Enterprise-E has one hell of a new warp drive system, or the physical space between Earth and Romulus shrank considerably, since subspace radio is supposed to be much faster than warp drive.
Arriving at near-Earth space, the Enterprise swoops in and rescues the scrappy battleship USS Defiant, on loan from Deep Space Nine and under command of the Enterprise’s former tactical officer, Commander Worf (Michael Dorn). Once rescued, Worf serves at his old station while Picard instructs Data, and the remaining Starfleet ships, to target a seemingly non-vital system aboard the Borg cube.
Hitting the small target obliterates the cube, but not before a large, spherical object is first ejected. The sphere is a smaller version of its cube mothership, and it begins to displace the space directly ahead of it, creating a ‘temporal vortex’. The Borg backup plan is time-travel.
As the sphere enters the vortex, the crew catch a quick glimpse of an Earth already assimilated by the Borg, with polluted brown seas, a thick yellow atmosphere and continents fully encrusted in technology. Picard, still able to ‘feel’ the Borg collective’s thoughts, instantly realizes that the sphere went back into Earth’s past and assimilated the planet before the existence of Starfleet and the Federation. With no choice, Picard orders helmsman Lt. Hawk (Neal McDonough) to lay in a pursuit course into the collapsing temporal vortex and follow the Borg sphere back into time…
Note: The image of a “Borg-ified” Earth is deeply unsettling; its mud brown seas and filthy green-yellow skies also serve as a stern, if near-subliminal warning against the dangers of runaway climate change and over-industrialization at the expense of our planet’s fragile ecology. I remember going to Star Trek conventions and seeing fan-made artwork for sale depicting “Borgified” skylines of New York City, which are even more disturbing now, as they included the since-destroyed Twin Towers of the pre-9/11 World Trade Center.
We then cut to Bozeman, Montana of the year 2063. The human race is slowly recovering from a worldwide nuclear war, which has killed over 600 million people worldwide. In a ramshackle town built near an old nuclear missile silo, we see drunken engineer Zefram Cochrane (James Cochrane) walking home from a local watering hole with his assistant Lily Sloane (Alfre Woodard), who reminds him to sober up for the following morning’s flight of their prototype warp ship, the Phoenix. The still-sober Lily then sees a strange object in the sky, which begins firing on the town! The deadly UFO is the orbiting Borg sphere, whose mission is to destroy their warp ship prototype from making “first contact” with an as-yet-unnamed alien race. Taking cover, Cochrane and Lily survive just long enough for the Enterprise to arrive through the vortex and obliterate the distracted cube with quantum torpedoes. Scanning the bombarded town, the Enterprise crew realizes that the historic ‘flight of the Phoenix’ may be in jeopardy. Picard puts together an away team wearing period-appropriate clothing, in order to maintain the Federation non-interference directive.
Note: The clothing of the 21st century doesn’t look very different from the paneled styles clothing we see in other future eras of Star Trek, except for a heavier reliance on sheepskin and wool, as well as more earthy colors. I assume that organic materials such as cotton and wool were easier to cultivate after a war which presumably knocked out much of Earth’s manufacturing machinery. The crew of the Enterprise-E also have new uniforms in the film (black with gray quilted shoulders), which later become the uniforms for Deep Space Nine (from mid-5th season till the end of the show) as well as the last two TNG-era films, “Insurrection” (1998) and “Nemesis” (2002). “Insurrection” would also unveil a white top dress version of this new uniform, too. Deborah Everton is credited with the costuming of “First Contact.” Everton also worked on James Cameron’s “The Abyss” (1989), and Ron Moore’s 2003 rebooted pilot miniseries of “Battlestar Galactica” (2003).
The Enterprise away team, consisting of Picard, Riker, Data, Troi and Dr. Crusher take a look at the complex to find that many of the base’s personnel are dead. Picard orders La Forge to beam down with a full engineering team to assist in repairs to the Phoenix. They also learn that the Phoenix prototype (mounted on a Titan missile) has taken some damage as well, resulting in a radiation leak. Before they can continue with their diagnosis of the Phoenix, they are fired upon by a machine gun-toting Lily, who assumes the group are spies sent from the “Eastern Coalition”. An apparently bulletproof Data (?) disarms Lily before she collapses from radiation poisoning. After diagnosing Lily, Crusher immediately stabilizes her, and inoculates the away team against radiation. Crusher then takes Lily up to the Enterprise for further treatment promising to keep her sedated in order to maintain the Prime Directive. With Crusher and Lily beamed aboard, Picard and Data are alone with the damaged Phoenix, built upon the remnants of a former nuclear missile. Data muses on the irony… a former weapon of mass destruction being repurposed to usher in a new era of peace. The formerly-assimilated Picard suddenly ‘hears’ new instructions from the Borg collective, meaning some of the drones from the destroyed Borg sphere may have survived. Fearing the worst, Picard and Data beam back up to the Enterprise…
Aboard the Enterprise, Picard and Data arrive at the bridge, where Worf reports that communications have been cut off with Engineering and deck 16. Picard orders Worf to post security checkpoints at every access way into deck 16, realizing that a few surviving Borg, without a ship of their own, may be trying to assimilate the Enterprise and its crew as well. Communications with the surface are suddenly cut, and Picard is unable to contact his away team on Earth. With La Forge down on the surface helping Cochrane, some of his remaining engineering team on the Enterprise are already been assimilated by the Borg (the first two are taken in a claustrophobic crawlspace scene that is very reminiscent of Capt. Dallas’ demise in 1979’s “ALIEN”).
Note: This is where the tone of the movie shifts a bit, as it moves from sci-fi adventure to sci-fi horror as the Borg begin to ‘infect’ the ship. Even the lighting is subtly changed from bright to shadowy as the ship’s corridors and engine room are assimilated by the Borg ‘space zombies.’ With the post-World War III survivors down on Earth, there’s even a bit of post apocalypse story in the film’s DNA as well. One of the reasons “First Contact” may have been such a crowd pleaser is that it appeals to fans of multiple genres; action, sci-fi, and even horror (my sister’s gateway into the film). “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” managed this same feat ten years earlier by deftly blending ecologically minded sci-fi with classic fish-out-of-water comedy.
Meanwhile, the Enterprise’s sickbay is being threatened by invading Borg, and Dr. Crusher is forced to evacuate her patients into a connecting Jeffries’ tube crawlspace to flee undetected. In desperation, Crusher activates the Emergency Medical Hologram (Robert Picardo), which she uses as a distraction in order to buy some escape time for herself and her patients. The hologram comedically ‘stalls’ the unseen Borg invaders by offering them “an analgesic cream” for irritations around their cybernetic implants.
Note: No offense to Gates McFadden, but even in his brief cameo, “Star Trek: Voyager” cast member Robert Picardo effortlessly steals the scene as the Enterprise’s Emergency Medical Hologram; another version of the character (software?) Picardo plays on his own series. And, of course, the “Jeffries’ tube” is named after original Star Trek production designer/illustrator Matt Jeffries, the man who helped design both the interiors and exteriors of Kirk’s USS Enterprise.
Back on Earth, Riker is looking for Counselor Troi, whom he finds ‘blended’ at the local bar after doing tequila shots with Zefram Cochrane. Even though she’s utterly plastered, Troi has the presence of mind to tell Riker that Cochrane didn’t buy their cover story, and that they should consider telling him the truth. Cochrane then swaggers in, insults Riker, turns his jukebox back on, and continues dancing drunkenly as poor Troi passes out. In short, Riker has his hands full.
Note: The movie’s many comedic moments (despite the gravity and horror of the situation) is arguably another reason for its box office success. Sci-fi films have an unfortunate tendency to take themselves a bit too seriously at times, and it’s refreshing to have a sci-fi film with a few well-earned laughs as well. The humor in “First Contact,” much like “The Voyage Home”, springs organically from these buttoned-up characters trying their awkward best to fit into another time period, not just behaving badly, or flinging one-liners at each other (I’m looking at you, “Star Trek: Lower Decks”). Deanna Troi’s scene in the bar is easily the single funniest moment in the entire movie. Marina Sirtis really plays the hell out of it, too.
Back in uniform, Picard and Data coordinate with Worf and the Enterprise’s security forces to try and assess the Borg threat to the ship. Armed with phaser rifles, Picard advises his security team to avoid direct physical contact, as the Borg can assimilate others by releasing nano-probes through tubules in their fingertips. Picard orders that any assimilated crew members be killed immediately, bitterly adding, “Believe me, you’ll be doing them a favor.” Data suggests that if they reach the engine room, their goal should be to puncture the plasma coolant tanks, which could liquify the Borg’s organic components, thus killing them. Proceeding to the partially assimilated deck 16, they discover a network of alien wiring and tubes ‘growing’ into the walls, like giant cobwebs of a cybernetic haunted house. The android Data begins to feel palpable fear. Picard curtly suggests the android deactivate his emotion chip. Data complies, and his face becomes instantly unreadable. Picard replies, “There are times when I envy you.”
The Borg go on the offensive and several of the security team are injected with nano-probes. One of his men cries to the captain for help… sickly gray veins grow on his face as nano-probes spread through his system. Picard instantly kills the young man before his transformation into a Borg can be completed. Data breaks a drone’s neck, and tosses it into a squad of other drones, knocking them over like so many bowling pins. Before he can continue, the door opens behind Data’s feet, and he is pulled under the partly opened doorway into the engine room. Picard is forced to flee as others of his team are assimilated. Deck 16 is lost.
Note: The movie’s Borg are subtly redesigned by Emmy Award-winning Star Trek makeup artist Michael Westmore (who’d worked on various Star Trek TV shows and films for nearly 20 years). Westmore augmented his earlier, simpler Borg look to make them more appear decayed and zombie-like. Their outer carapaces now have a slightly organic brown coloring mixed into them, making them appear almost like cockroaches. This is an interesting idea since the Borg were originally conceived of as insectoid during their earliest development, but this approach was ultimately nixed as too cost prohibitive for a TV series. Their LED and laser lights (engineered by Westmore’s son, Monty) also blink in codes, though I’m not exactly sure what they say, or even if they’re readable, due to the film’s editing.
Meanwhile, Data is held prisoner by the Borg in the assimilated engine room, strapped to an interrogation table from which even his superior android strength can’t escape. The android’s emotion chip is off, and he is unable to suppress his apprehension. He then hears a feminine voice, who identifies herself as “the Borg.” Within moments we see a separate head and shoulders attach themselves to a body, which gracefully (and creepily) fuses together into a whole and walks toward Data. The entity is the Borg Queen (Alice Krige), the single unifying voice behind the Collective…the one who brings ‘order to chaos.’ She recognizes Data as being superior to his organic shipmates, and tries to seduce the android into a life as a cyborg, tempting him with patches of biological flesh (and sensations) grafted onto his arm and face. Asking about his sexuality, she then kisses the android…
Note: The character of the Queen is, arguably, the best and worst thing to happen to the Borg. As first introduced in 1989’s “Q Who?” the Borg were supposed to be a faceless hive… no one of them having any authority over another; a nightmarish group-think, utterly lacking in individuality. Then 1990’s “The Best of Both Worlds” introduced the idea of a Borg spokesperson in the form of an assimilated Jean-Luc Picard’s alter ego “Locutus.” Now, we have a Borg Queen who appears to have wanted Locutus (and now Data) as a consort. Yes, the Borg Queen is marvelously acted by Alice Krige, and her H.R. Giger-inspired look is a brilliant melding of makeup and costume design. However, giving the Borg a monarchy also takes something away from their original faceless, nameless, soulless zombielike concept. It’s a tradeoff to give the story’s villainy a face. Apples for oranges, perhaps. For this film, it works. For the Borg’s original concept? Perhaps not so much.
As Crusher and her patients make their way through the Jeffries’ tubes, Lily quietly slips away from the tail end of the group and heads off in another direction, where she (literally) runs into a fleeing Picard and levels phaser at him. The disoriented 21st century woman still thinks she’s a POW of the “Eastern Coalition” and that Picard is a “soldier boy.” After using his patented gift of gab on Lily, Picard gains her trust, and she surrenders her ‘ray gun’ (which was set to ‘vaporize’… yikes). Picard wins her over by showing her the Earth below, made visible through a forcefield window (!). Like Gillian Taylor in “The Voyage Home” or Captain John Christopher in TOS’ “Tomorrow Is Yesterday,” the cynical Lily is given a tantalizing look into a brighter future than her own. This is the part of the film where we begin to feel that old Star Trek optimism shining through once again.
Note: I don’t see why Crusher didn’t assign one of her own medical staff to cover the rear of the evacuation, which would’ve prevented Lily from slipping away unnoticed. Remember when she told Picard not to ‘lecture’ her on the Prime Directive? Yeah, I think she needed the lecture…
Avoiding the Borg by appearing unthreatening to them, Picard takes Lily on a daring plan to lure the Borg onto the ship’s holodeck. Once there, Picard and Lily dress in 1930s evening wear as Picard conjures a holographic nightclub from one of his Dixon Hill novels. The Borg force their way onto the holograph, and make their way past the holographic maitre’d (played by Star Trek: Voyager’s Ethan Phillips). Trying to blend in with other dancing holograms, Picard’s plan is to get his hands on a holographic machine gun, turn the holodeck safeties off, and bag himself a Borg with the intention of recovering one of their neural processors. The processor will give Picard insight into the Collective’s plans for his ship. Picard shoots the Borg, one of whom turns out to be an assimilated member of his own crew. An atypically brutal Picard shows no mercy as he pulls the neural processor from the guts of his dead crewman and plugs it into a tricorder for decoding. Even Lily, a survivor of a brutal nuclear holocaust, is taken aback by Picard’s ruthlessness…
Note: The 1930s club is actually a redressed Union Station in downtown Los Angeles, a familiar locale which also doubled as police headquarters of 2017 Los Angeles in 1982’s “Blade Runner.” Better to redress a practical location than build a giant indoor set for one scene, right? Director (and costar) Jonathan Frakes spent his production budget wisely, giving the film just the right amount of scope and production value to feel even more expensive than its relatively modest $45 million budget.
On Earth, the away team is having a very hard time convincing an overwhelmed Cochrane to fulfill his destiny and conduct his historic flight. Cochrane is leery of the adulation that Geordi and his starstruck team of engineers are giving him for something he hasn’t even done yet (“I don’t want to be a statue!”). As Cochrane tries to flee the burden of his prestigious future self, he is tracked by Geordi (with his powerful new ocular implants) and an impatient Riker, who simply stuns the cowardly scientist with a phaser to gain his ‘cooperation.’ After stopping Cochrane in his tracks, Riker turns to Geordi, “You told him about the statue??”
After analyzing the neural processor, Picard determines that the Borg are trying to turn the Enterprise’s main deflector dish into a subspace beacon for the 21st century Borg in the Delta Quadrant to make their way to Earth for an easy assimilation. Making their way to the main bridge of the ship, Picard and Lily reunite with the rest of his surviving officers, including Crusher (whom Picard chides for losing track of Lily), Worf and Lt. Hawk. Picard determines that he, Worf and Hawk will walk along the outer hull of the starship and stop the Borg’s plan by manually unlocking and releasing the main deflector dish from the rest of the ship. This sets up for a nice action sequence as Picard and his two officers are forced to engage in hand to hand combat with several Borg drones (who are somehow able to live in the vacuum of space without protection). Worf faces off against a drone who slashes at his suit, but Worf manages to slay his opponent with a hidden Klingon sword. Facing imminent decompression, Worf has to think fast…
Meanwhile, Lt. Hawk has been assimilated by the Borg, and he nearly kills Picard (cracking his faceplate) before he is shot by Worf, who managed to stop his own spacesuit from depressurizing by using a Borg’s severed hand as a tourniquet (it’s a wonderfully morbid sight gag). The dish floats off into the void with several Borg riding atop of it just as the beacon activates. Worf, phaser rifle drawn, delivers a line worthy of a 1980s Arnold Schwarzenegger movie: “Assimilate this!” The Klingon fires, blowing the dish and the Borg riding on it straight to hell. *applause*
With the Borg’s plans temporarily foiled, Picard wants his security teams to retune their weapons in a futile attempt to stop the Borg. Ignoring advice from his senior officers, an adamant Picard retreats from the bridge into the conference room. Lily is left stunned by Picard’s refusal to do the obvious thing and destroy the Enterprise. Learning of Picard’s prior assimilation, Lily realizes it’s very simple; Picard wants revenge for what the Borg did to him. Getting the captain back in touch with his better angels, Lily convinces him to destroy the Enterprise, evacuating the remaining crew into the ship’s escape pods. Setting the ship’s self-destruction for a 15 minute silent countdown, Picard realizes he has one thing left to do…he must find and free Data.
Note: When I first saw the film, I noticed the frank, honest manner with which Lily talked to Picard, and I wondered if she was conceived as a Guinan stand-in. Like Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan, Lily is a strong, resourceful, earthy woman who acts as a conscience for the captain when he really needs it. I sometimes wonder if Lily Sloane was written to cover for an unavailable Whoopi Goldberg? Either way, it’s a win-win for the movie, as Lily is a magnificent character and Alfre Woodard is wonderful in the part. A part of me would’ve loved to have seen Lily somehow return to the 24th century with Picard, ala Gillian Taylor in “The Voyage Home”…
The bleak, sad situation aboard the Enterprise-E is contrasted by the optimistic new beginning about to take place on Earth as Cochrane, Riker and Geordi prepare for Earth’s first warp flight. Popping a copy of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” into the ship’s media player, Cochrane is ready for launch. Blasting off from the silo, the Phoenix rattles glasses at the nearby town’s bar as the locals watch the thunderous ascent of the Titan missile into space. The ship sheds its ascent stages leaving a small, cylindrical, twin-nacelle vessel with a small cramped forward cockpit.
Note: Cochrane’s musical tastes seem to be stuck in a very specific period of Earth’s history (the mid-to-late 20th century). It’s like a person from contemporary times who only listened to 1860s Irish folk songs. You’d think Cochrane would like just a few songs from his own century…?
As the remaining crew of the Enterprise are evacuated into escape pods, the Phoenix reaches orbit, and we begin to see a change come over Cochrane as he views his planet from the vantage point of orbit for the first time; the smallness, beauty and fragility of his home planet awes the cynical scientist. The prototype ship begins to increase velocity, inching ever closer to the warp barrier, where it will become the first human-made object to travel faster than light.
Note: Cochrane is clearly a metaphor for Star Trek’s own creator Gene Roddenberry (1921-1991), who was (by many accounts) a substance-abusing skirt chaser who was later deified by fans as a “visionary” who pointed the way towards a better future with his creation of Star Trek. Cochrane is, like Roddenberry, simply a flawed fallible human being with a very good idea. But unlike Cochrane, Roddenberry shamelessly stoked the image of himself as a futurist visionary on the convention circuit (the “Great Bird of the Galaxy” and so forth), and I can’t say I really blame him. Roddenberry was, in the 1970s, an out of work television writer and producer looking to make money. His reputation as Star Trek’s creator was something to trade upon. I can’t say I wouldn’t do the exact same thing if I were in his place.
As the Enterprise’s escape pods are fired off towards the remote and conveniently fictional “Gravett Island,” Picard descends deeper into the bowels of the ship, looking for Data. In engineering, he meets again with the nearly forgotten Borg Queen, whom he vaguely remembers from his abduction six years earlier. Picard insists that her ship was destroyed, and it’s impossible for her to have survived. She admonishes Picard for his now limited thinking (a nice hand waving away of the continuity issue her presence in this film brings to her lack of presence in “The Best of Both Worlds”). The Queen tells Picard she has a new consort in Data, upon whom she’s been grafting patches of organic skin, hair and even an eye (!). Data hacks into the Enterprise’s self-destruct countdown and stops it. The Queen’s seduction of the android appears to be complete.
As a test of loyalty, she asks Data to fire quantum torpedoes at the rapidly accelerating Phoenix, which is just about to break the warp barrier. Data fires the torpedoes…which deliberately miss the warp ship. The Queen realizes she’s been duped, and her android plaything is still loyal to Picard. Thinking quickly, Data uses his mechanical strength to puncture a nearby coolant tank, with immediately floods the engine compartment with noxious, flesh-eating plasma which stays low to the floor…
Note: Wonder why the plasma coolant eats skin and hair, but leaves organic fibers in clothing intact?
As the Phoenix enters warp drive and makes history, Picard is literally hanging on for dear life as he grabs low-hanging cables and tries to pull himself above the dangerous, deadly pool of plasma below. The dying Borg Queen desperately grabs Picard’s ankle, until she herself is grabbed by Data’s now fleshless forearm. Data emerges from the plasma with the organic parts of his face freshly melted off (including his single blue eye). Looking somewhat monstrous, Data yanks the Queen down into the plasma with himself, and Picard swings Tarzan-style to safety on an upper deck, where he activates the room’s emergency ventilation system and flushes the deadly plasma out of the chamber. One by one, the Borg drones under the Queen’s control begin to die off, sparking and sputtering inside their regeneration alcoves.
With the plasma gone and the drones dead, Picard descends back to the lower level of the Borgified engine room and sees the Borg queen’s mechanical spine and skull, still twitching, as she desperately clings to life. In a sudden lethal motion, Picard snaps the still-writhing spine, and she dies. For good, this time (or, at least until we see her in “Voyager” a few years later). Picard sees Data, his patches of organic skin and hair burned away. Both regret the loss of the Queen, with Picard noting she was “unique” and Data lamenting how she brought him closer to humanity than he ever imagined. Data admits to his captain that he was briefly tempted by her offer… for exactly 0.68 seconds. The two officers then leave the engine room to regain control of their ship.
Cochrane’s warp flight has, as before, attracted the attention of aliens from another world who were just ‘passing through’ our solar system; we see a curious crowd gathered toward the bright landing lights of a descending alien starship. As the crowd walks towards the landed vessel, a doorway opens both vertically and horizontally to reveal a single, robed ambassador standing on the ramp. The being has very familiar pointed ears and upswept eyebrows…
As Cochrane stares in disbelief, Riker and the other Enterprise officers encourage him to step forward and take his moment in history. Picard says a heartfelt goodbye to Lily, whom he kisses before discreetly beaming away with the rest of the away team. Lily then walks up to Cochrane, gently squeezing his hand once as a sign of encouragement…
Now, it’s Cochrane’s turn. He walks up to the ornamentally robed Vulcan, who holds up his splayed right fingers and says (in English), “Live long and prosper.” Cochrane raises his gloved hand, and attempts to imitate the gesture, but fails. Smiling self-consciously, he then offers the Vulcan ambassador his open palm to shake, and just says, “Thanks.” First contact is made on April 5th, 2063, as planned.
Using data from their previous journey backward in time, Geordi is able to recreate the Borg time vortex. The crew is ready to head back to the 24th century, where Picard says, “I suspect our future will be there waiting for us.” Maybe…maybe not (see below).
Cochrane then terrifies the Vulcans with liquor and Roy Orbison’s “Oobie Doobie.”
Bursting the Static Warp Bubble.
I once wrote an essay called The issue of Star Trek and its continuity, which detailed how “Star Trek: First Contact” literally changed the Star Trek universe forever. Prior to STFC’s release in November of 1996, there were several TNG/DS9 episodes which depicted the era of Captain Kirk’s 23rd century looking much as it looked back in the 1960s (beehive hairdos, go-go boots, brightly colored interiors, etc). There was also no prior mention of the mid-22nd century’s NX-01 Enterprise anywhere in Star Trek lore (though a ringed starship bore that name according to a plaque seen briefly in “Star Trek: The Motion Picture”).
But after Picard and his crew returned from the mid-21st century? Things were a little bit…different. The technology seen in Jonathan Archer’s 22nd century (Time has been kind to “Star Trek: Enterprise” (2001-2005) was sleeker and less clunky than what we see a century ‘later’ in Jim Kirk’s 23rd. And we never journey to Kirk’s 1960s-looking 23rd century ever again (the last such sojourn occurs in Deep Space Nine’s “Trials and Tribble-ations”, which aired just before STFC debuted in theaters that same year).
Later reboots of 23rd century Star Trek (both the “Kelvinverse” trilogy of movies and “Star Trek: Discovery”) depict a far sleeker and more advanced 23rd century. Admittedly, 2009’s “Star Trek” created a deliberately new version of the 23rd century which had been altered by both Romulan Nero and Ambassador Spock’s accidental arrivals. However, “Star Trek: Discovery” takes place in the original series’ Prime timeline, yet its technology is clearly more advanced than we ever saw in 1960s Star Trek. Of course, the practical reason for all of this has to do with radical advances in filmmaking technology (not to mention CGI) that simply didn’t exist back in 1966. But my personal in-universe explanation for the changes we see in Star Trek: Discovery (and perhaps the Kelvinverse timeline as well) can be traced back to Picard’s noble attempt to repair the Borg-damaged original timeline back in 2063.
Geordi’s team, working directly with Zefram Cochrane, not only “told him about the statue” but also repaired his damaged Phoenix using advanced 24th century technology, all of which is used in clear view of 21st century bystanders. Zefram Cochrane was a smart guy; he had to take mental notes of the shiny new technology being used. We also know from “Star Trek: Enterprise”’s Borg episode “Regeneration” (2002) that Zefram Cochrane casually mentions both the Borg and the Enterprise-E crew during a future Princeton commencement address, so it’s possible some of the graduates (and guests) in attendance were subtly influenced by that address as well (Captain Archer certainly remembered it). In short, STFC is the movie that upgraded the entire look of the Star Trek universe; not just for the 2001 prequel TV series “Enterprise”, but for all future movies and TV shows going forward as well. Granted, this is only my personal head canon for the changes we see in the new Star Trek movies and TV shows, but it fits like a glove. It also explains other continuity nits between older and newer Star Trek as well.
Over the past couple of decades, I’ve attended many sci-fi/fantasy conventions, including multiple pilgrimages to San Diego Comic Con and Star Trek Last Vegas. Sadly, due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve gutted my entire convention schedule for this year, and I won’t return till there’s a reliable vaccine or treatment, but that doesn’t mean I can’t share a few past cherished memories of seeing and meeting some of the actors and behind-the-scenes talent from “Star Trek: First Contact.”
This was the first time I’d seen Sir Patrick Stewart in person, at a smaller sci-fi convention in the city of Burbank, California. This was in 2013, and Stewart was just delightful; especially when deflecting a very rude attendee’s question regarding Stewart’s pre-release hyping of 2002’s “Star Trek: Nemesis” versus his post-release criticism of the film. Stewart coolly looked at the attendee and said, “There’s a very simple explanation for that, you see…I was lying.” The response stole the inquirer’s thunder, and make him look foolish for wasting his question. The audience applause for Stewart was nearly deafening in that small auditorium. I would later see Stewart in person at the annual Star Trek Las Vegas convention in 2018 when he surprised the audience with an unscheduled appearance, where he announced an early script was being developed for what would become “Star Trek: Picard.” “Star Trek: Picard” is now returning for a 2nd season as soon as current pandemic conditions allow (for details of that announcement, see: Star Trek Las Vegas 2018, Day 4 … a Galaxy-class surprise!).
I would first meet Brent Spiner and LeVar Burton at San Diego Comic Con in the summer of 2010. Spiner’s humor is wonderfully sardonic (check out his Larry David-esque web series, “Fresh Hell”), and he signed an additional autograph for my sister’s boyfriend as well. Le Var Burton showed great patience with fans, particularly younger fans, whom he related to with the same grace he showed on PBS’s “Reading Rainbow.” I’ve seen both at many conventions over the years, and they never seem to have a shortage of fans at their tables.
One of my favorite Star Trek actors at the conventions is Marina Sirtis. I’ve met her a few times at conventions, and seeing her onstage in front of fans is a whole different experience from watching her as Troi on Star Trek; she owns her audience, often leaving raucous laughter in her wake. Her on-set anecdotes, as well as her refreshingly frank observations about sexism and politics, are absolutely spot-on. No one is more aware than Sirtis of how poorly written her character was during much of the series (often reduced to pedantic lines such as “He’s hiding something”), and it’s nicely karmic to see her pay it all back onstage. Sirtis is a real pistol on social media too, and isn’t afraid to tell some rude so-called ‘fans’ exactly what she thinks. Whenever I’m at a Star Trek convention, I will try to make time to see her onstage. She never disappoints. I’ve also seen Sirtis’ costar and friend Michael Dorn (whom she calls “Dorny”) at many conventions, and the soft-spoken, witty man (both a licensed pilot and a vegan) seems a far cry from his half-savage Klingon persona of Worf. Need to get his autograph as well someday…
At Star Trek Las Vegas 2017, I met First Contact cowriter and Star Trek producer Brannon Braga. Braga cowrote First Contact (and “Generations”) with his former writing partner, Ron Moore (who oversaw the stunning reboot of “Battlestar Galactica”). Braga also co-created Star Treks Voyager and Enterprise, along with executive producer Rick Berman. In 2014, he and prolific producer/writer Seth McFarlane created “COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey”, an extension of the late Carl Sagan’s book and TV series from 1980, which now stars Neil deGrasse Tyson. Braga is currently producing, writing and even directing on McFarlane’s own starship saga, “The Orville”, which will soon be entering production on its third and final season (just like classic Star Trek). McFarlane, of course, also plays the series’ lead, Captain Ed Mercer. “The Orville” is available to stream on Hulu.
2017 was also the year I met two other heroes of Star Trek, Michael and Denise Okuda. Michael Okuda first worked on “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home” as a contributing graphic artist, creating the signature touch screen artwork seen on all starship consoles for the film (“Okudagrams”). Michael and Denise have worked in the art departments of every Star Trek series from The Next Generation through Enterprise, from 1987 to 2005. They also worked on all of the Star Trek movies within that 18 year span, too. As authors, they wrote the famed “Star Trek Encyclopedia” (they literally wrote the book on Star Trek) as well as “The Star Trek Chronology.” On the home video front, they assisted with the meticulous CGI upgrading & film restoration of both The Original Series and The Next Generation for Blu-ray/HD-release. In 2007, they also oversaw the massive cataloguing of screen-used props, miniatures and costumes from Star Trek that went on sale at the famed Christie’s Auction. Michael and Denise Okuda are the folks to talk with if you want the inside scoop on all things Star Trek, both from a fan and insider’s perspective.
At Star Trek Las Vegas 2017, some of the costumes for “First Contact” were on display at the touring Star Trek museum as well, including the post-atomic chic worn by actors James Cromwell as “Zefram Cochrane” and Alfre Woodard as “Lily Sloane.”
To greatly paraphrase Data’s query to Picard, “Does middle age alter your perception of the movie?” To my own surprise, the answer is not so much. The movie is still just as solid and enjoyable as I first remembered nearly 24 years ago. It’s not without its flaws and minor nits, of course (which I examined at length in the above synopsis), but overall it’s still one of the most balanced Star Trek movies, and the most solidly enjoyable of the Next Generation films. It also changed the course of Star Trek forever, as Picard’s 21st century incursion arguably created a slightly different version of the ‘prime’ Star Trek universe, which influenced every Star Trek that followed.
All that, and it goes great with popcorn, too.
Resistance to COVID-19 is not futile.
“Star Trek: First Contact” is available for streaming on CBS All Access right now in the United States, and for rental on Prime Video, YouTube ($2.99-$3.99 US). It can, of course, also be purchased on Blu Ray/DVD via contact-free shipping through Amazon.com, among other retailers.
To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic as well. The current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is nearing 190, 000 as of this writing (that number is increasing daily). So, for the time being, please continue to practice social safe-distancing wherever possible, wear masks in public, and avoid crowded outings as much as possible.
Live long and prosper!