Star Trek Retrospective: First Contact
Back on this. Star Trek First Contact. Not as bad as Generations, but that’s like saying being infested with intestinal parasites is not as bad as catching a flesh eating virus. It’s probably the best of the Next Gen crew movies, but still chock full of idiocy. It is worth noting that two different qualified directors turned this movie down before Jonathon Frakes, known only for playing anti-roll model Commander Riker, took it on. Nothing like giving a completely unknown director a major production job. (First Contact image from the Star Trek T Shirts category).
The whole “what was happening when this movie was made” thing is starting to lose its punch, as we are now close enough to where those events are less retro and more “oh, yeah.” However, I am a creature of habit and so will continue. The year was 1996. I had discovered a number of reasons to get out of Southern California and moved to Santa Cruz, home of the Banana Slugs (they are huge and disgusting) and pot. I was living Three’s Company style with two hot women, one of the women’s daughter, and three huge dogs. Prince Charles and Princess Diana got divorced as Mad Cow Disease rampaged across England. The Taliban came to power in Afghanistan, and Osama bin Laden moves there. Iraq demolishes its biological weapons laboratory. A cyclone in India kills over 2000. A car bomb blows up at a US military base in Saudi Arabia. DVDs are launched in Japan. Windows NT 4.0 and Internet Explorer 3 are released (I use Firefox, mostly). Duke Nukem 3d is released. The first mammal, a sheep named Dolly, is cloned. Butler based search engine Ask Jeeves is founded. Music has been overdosing on suck pills, with popular music including the Spice Girls, Snoop Doggy Dogg, Mariah Carey, Alanis Morisette, Foo Fighters, Lenny Kravitz, Sheryl Crow, Smashing Pumpkins, Rage Against the Machine, and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (those last two weren’t bad, actually). Movies were also really sucking, with Independence Day, Mission Impossible, Twister, the Nutty Professor, Jerry McGuire, 101 Dalmations, and The Rock (again, the last one was good, but most of those kind of sucked). Kind of a blah year, to be honest.
Anyway, First Contact. It should have been great. Next Gen crew, the Borg, and lots of stuff getting blown up. What was the problem? Well, as I have stated before, time travel as a plot device is a terrible tool to write your story around. It is the first resort of incompetent, lazy writers (J.J. Abrams this is going out to you too). The problem is that, while it looks like an easy thing to do, it is actually really hard to pull off. It should also be noted that the TV show producer, Rick Berman, who was kind of responsible for the horrible Generation plot, really wanted a time travel story. I’ll talk a bit more about the whole time travel thing in a little bit.
First, what did First Contact have? Borg. The entire Next Gen crew, including Marina Sirtis still young enough to look kind of hot (she was 40 at the time of filming). Some decent explosions. A tribute to Star Trek canon (again, J.J. Abrams). More Borg. Massive plot holes.
What it didn’t have: the same Picard we all know from the TV series. Instead of the intellectual man of peace for whom violence is a last resort we get a bloodthirsty maniac who’s only goal is to kill all the Borg, in spite of the many times he has spared them in the past. An understanding of the Butterfly Effect or the Temporal Prime Directive. A reason for Worf to have survived the battle and be aboard the Enterprise.
Let’s get into the plot holes and issues I have. The major one, and the reason this film fails miserably as a time travel plot, is the Butterfly Effect. Remember the TOS episode the City on the Edge of Forever where Bones goes back in time and saves the life of a woman, eventually causing the Nazis to win WWII and completely change the future? What effect to you think the Borg raining unholy hell down on the rocket base in the past, killing dozens of people, could possibly have on the future? I guess they managed to kill Zefram Cochrane’s entire flight crew, as they now have to stick Geordie and Riker in there. No way those people would have ever been interviewed, or maybe written a book. Then, to make matters worse, Picard and is crew take the Temporal Prime Directive and use it as toilet paper. Advanced technology is used extensively, including Geordie’s eyes and Data. Just stupid.
As long as we are on it, if the Borg have a time travel device why did they feel the need to fight through the Federation blockade with a single cube and THEN go back in time? Why not go back in time in some remote corner of the galaxy and then, I don’t know, use their warp drive to travel to Earth? Also, what is up with disrupting first contact? Why not go back to the 100 Years War, assimilate the planet, and not have to worry about first contact? Then send another cube to Vulcan and assimilate them. Also, sure Picard managed to stop this one time travel thing, but if there is one thing the Borg is good at it is information redundancy. Why would they not make 100 time travel ships and shoot all over the continuum? See what I mean about time travel as being a stupid plot device? They can travel back in time when it is convenient for the story but at any time it raises awkward questions they forget how to do it. Also, Riker and Troy, the two headed anchor of the Next Gen, give Cochrane multiple details about the future. I think they just wanted to have a big dramatic scene like that.
OK, what happened to Picards brain? How did he turn so bloodthirsty, even with regards to his own assimilated crewmen? Wasn’t he assimilated and repatriated? What about Seven of Nine? Or all the other ex Borg people they kept meeting? Nope. We need to mercy execute them all. I seem to recall Picard being really upset every time a single crew member died, but now he is ready to Kevorkian the lot of them. I don’t really question the moral choice in this situation, but what bugs me is it is so contrary to Picards nature as portrayed by years of Next Generation episodes. Remember when he had the chance to destroy the entire Borg race with a computer virus and didn’t do it? That was after he had been assimilated, by the way. It’s almost like the writers watched about five episodes of the series while stoned off their ass and then wrote the script. I am actually really puzzled by this. Rick Berman and Jonathon Frakes had both worked on the show from it’s inception. Could they not see the massive shift in tone going on here?
How did Councilor Troy, a character not well know for her technical qualifications with modern technology, become qualified to run Mission Control for a 21st century rocket launch? Somewhere during production I suspect there was a serious argument along the lines of “I’m not getting enough screen time, dammit!” Also, didn’t any of the 21st century ground crew never ask “Hey, who is this chick? Also where did Cochrane find two trained and qualified copilots at the last minute? I don’t remember them being at any of the meetings.”
Is Data really bulletproof? Seems like I can remember him taking damage from all kinds of blunt force trauma.
Speaking of flesh eating virus, why does engineering have the coolant that is anathema to all life inside a delicate plexiglass tube that is totally exposed? Seems like you are one forklift accident away from losing your entire engineering staff.
Anyway, there are a bunch of others, and if I had more time I would share them with you in excruciating detail. I’m not saying First Contact is bad, per se. It was certainly better than Generations, and arguably the Motion Picture. Just that it could have benefited from a non brain damaged writer or two.
That’s it. I’ve already blown off enough work to write this today. I will say after my list of best animated movies I went back last night and rewatched Batman Mask of the Phantasm. While watching it I noticed something really important. I was 100% correct when I put that as the best animated movie I have ever seen. You are a fool if you haven’t seen it.
You are also a fool if you don’t follow me on Twitter @NerdKungFu. I don’t tweet a lot, but everyone one of them is a gem. Thanks for reading. Talk to you soon.