Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Movie Review: Star Trek First Contact

    I’m not just a contrarian when I say that Wrath of Khan (generally considered the best of the franchise) is not my favorite.  This movie is.  Though the argument could certainly be made that First Contact is the Next Gen cast’s Wrath of Khan.  If Khan is Kirk’s great nemesis (I would argue he isn’t, but…) then the Borg is/are certainly Picard’s, and here he battles them on operatic, cinematic proportions.  But unlike Wrath of Khan, there’s actually a lot going on here, including time travel, the first warp-ship launch, a Borg invasion, and the temptation of Data.

    Unlike the weak and silly Generations, this film takes the cast of The Next Generation into a real cinematic adventure.  It’s grand in scope, dramatic, funny, scary, action packed, and with some really top notch guest actors, yet still plenty of time for the main cast to get their moments in the sun.  And I think it manages to get at the heart of Star Trek, the heart of Next Gen especially, and the heart of the Borg.  Like the best of the original cast movies, this features a strong relationship between the crew, especially Picard and Data, with some early hints of the triangle that would include Worf.  It made the Borg scary and alien again.  I reject the idea that the so called Borg Queen made them too human.  In fact, I’d say it made them even more alien.  As she warns, you’re thinking too three dimensionally.  She isn’t a being, not a single thing or even a program, not a leader; she is a personification of the essence of a species.  The Borg is a collective, a mass mind; she is an aspect of that mass mind.  As my face is not me, only what you see of me, she is the face of the Borg.  And the malevolent, invasive sexuality she oozes reminds you that on an interstellar/civilization scale, the Borg are like rapists, forcibly blending with those they find, and taking everything from them.  But they are also the dark reflection of ourselves, the worst case scenario view of what we could become, the ultimate consumers who have abused technology to the point that they’ve become monsters.  Unlike so many straight-up anti-science messages in the Trek films, the Borg still feel like a warning, not a condemnation.

    The look of the film is impressive, with good effects, excellent costumes and set design, and good cinematography.  The acting is great.  James Cromwell manages to inject uncomfortable amounts of humanity into his Federation hero.  So often, when you look at the lives of famous people (explorers, presidents, etc.) they seem like one dimensional characters.  But the reality is they were people, like anyone else.  Gandhi was a racist.  Richard Francis Burton liked to bone.  Hitler liked Disney films.  I like that Zefram Cochrane was  a genius inventor motivated by making a buck and retiring to a tropical island, not some staid, stiff upper lip historic caricature.  Patrick Stewart gets to Shakespeare the hell out of half this movie, spitting out lines from Moby Dick, hissing insults, and bellowing rage.  His normal cool is broken by the memories of what the Borg did to him, what they represent.  Like a 70s exploitation film, he’s a rape victim on a quest for revenge, the bloodier the better.  But this is Trek, and Picard is the ultimate Trek hero, curious, honorable, intelligent, compassionate, and ultimately just.  I can’t really talk about the actors in this film without giving a special shout-out to Alice Krige, who has that same devil-woman magic Lena Olin has.  Even under all that latex and Vaseline, with her voice alone she can worm her way into my brain and make me do things.  Were I in Data’s place, I know the choice I’d have made.  She delivers all the menace and allure of a classic femme fatale, giving the Borg a gut-level terror they hadn’t possessed since the introduction of that blasted Hugh (CURSE YOU, HUGH!!!).

    Like the best Trek movies before (Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home), First Contact is a completely watchable film, even if you’ve never watched an episode of the show.  Sure, some things won’t have the emotional resonance, but a new viewer shouldn’t be lost.  It’s like I’ve said on numerous occasions, first make it a good movie, second make it a good Trek movie.  For an example of what not to do, Star Trek V is a good Trek movie, but a bad movie.  It’s heart is in the right place, but nothing else is.  I’ve made this argument before, too.  First Contact should have been the first Next Gen cast movie.  Generations, besides being a crappy movie, acted as a ‘send-off’ by the original cast for the new cast.  But Picard and crew had already enjoyed seven seasons (that’s four more than the originals).  They didn’t need a send-off.  First Contact is a much stronger start.  And, I would further argue that the next film should have been an alternate universe story (with them traveling back to the wrong timeline at the end of First Contact), possibly some sort of Mirror Universe tale.  With their third movie being something along the lines of Insurrection, a light hearted and fun story.  This could have echoed the trilogy within the original cast films (II, III, and IV), and given a much better arc for the Next Gen crew.  Also, Data should have died at the end of First Contact.  Totally.  None of that B4 BS.  In the aftermath of the loss of Data, perhaps a triangle of Picard, Worf, and Riker (or Crusher) could have been forged.  Anyway, that’s all hindsight complaints.  The movies are what they are, and Generations and Nemesis exist.  Nothing I can do about that now.  But at least the Next Gen cast, like Pierce Brosnan as Bond, got two good movies.


Eat it, Ensign Lynch!

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