6.26.2013

Captain's Blog pt. 35: First Contact

After the receipts of Generations were totaled, Paramount called Rick Berman and told him to start assembling his team for a sequel. Berman ran into Moore and Braga on the studio lot and told them he wanted to do a time travel movie. Moore/ Braga countered with the Borg. Berman said, hey, let's do both. And thus was born:

First Contact
It wasn't so-named right off the bat. At first it was touted as Generations 2. (Ugh.) Then it was briefly Star Trek: Renaissance:

(Moore:) "The story would have found Picard and company searching history for a group of time-traveling Borg. Happening upon a Renaissance village, the crew would hear stories about strange creatures taking over neighboring villages (who of course turn out to be) the Borg. We track them down to a castle near the village where a nobleman runs a feudal society. Data becomes our spy, impersonating an artist's apprentice. He befriends Leonardo Da Vinci, who at the time, was working for the nobleman as a military engineer.

"You would have sword fights and phaser fights, mixed together, in 15th-century Europe. (But) it risked becoming campy and over the top."
Other eras were considered, but the story eventually congealed into the Borg trying to stop first contact between Vulcans and Humans. The idea that the Borg would choose this course of action over just wiping out humanity altogether (say, in its primordial-soup phase) or choose the day before first contact to launch their offensive is a bit wonky. But who cares? First Contact is one of the highest peaks in the whole Trek mountain range. A more succinct version of this blog would simply be "This movie kicks unholy ass. Resistance is futile."

Or, as Spiner pronounces it, "Resistance is feudal." Maybe that was a holdover from the feudal-lord aspect of the original script? I doubt it.
Taking its cues from "Best of Both Worlds" and not from any of the other Borg episodes of TNG, the series most popular villains are re-positioned along the lines of their most obvious genre analog: zombies.

The zombie genre is more popular than ever these days. It was less ubiquitous in the 90s.
One of the best parts about FC is how well it blends a zombie film / monster movie narrative with a more traditional Trek narrative. It's recognizably a Trek film from the very first (and recognizably a TNG-Trek film specifically, something Generations was not.) But the delayed-reveal of the Borg follows the classic "don't show the monster until the second reel" trope, and other bits of genre-fan-service follow suit.
 
 

Some took issue with the addition of a Borg Queen to the hive. I can understand the objection - it alters the organizational structure we've heretofore seen - but it never really bothered me. As the sole representative of unabashed female villainy in the Trek movies, (I'm not counting Valeris) Alice Krige sets a pretty high bar. I'm surprised our reactionary cultural gatekeepers don't claim the movie is misogynistic, come to think of it.

 
Frakes, Moore, and Braga later recalled a sense of "uneasy sexiness" in Krige's portrayal of the Queen. As did Roger Ebert in his review:
"I also admired the peculiar makeup work creating the Borg Queen, who looks like no notion of sexy I have ever heard of, but inspires me to keep an open mind."
Krige was in agony (though never complained) throughout the shoot, as the tightfitting bodysuit gave her painful blisters. The silver contact lens she had to wear could only be worn for four minutes at a time.

It makes perfect sense for the Borg to target Data. (Almost so much you wonder why he wasn't the target back in "Best of Both Worlds.")


The story cuts back and forth between the goings-on planetside, the fight to re-take the ship, and Data and the Queen's experience in Engineering. The sets in particular for this film are beautiful, the Data/ Queen sequence most of all.

 
This bit always skeeves me out a little... I can't be the only one.
Data is thankfully 1000% less irritating than he was in Generations. And much more pivotal to the story. And while this is a fine use of the whole cast, this is definitely Picard's movie. And this is the "Action Picard" for which Patrick Stewart had been campaigning for years.

 

His drive for vengeance and cold fury are played expertly by Stewart, and more importantly, it all makes total sense. Picard has managed to squelch his sense of violation from becoming Locutus, but it is sublimated here into violent release. (And he seems to rid himself of it by movie's end, something which also makes sense to watch unfold.) Even the more over-the-top moments such as the oft-quoted "The line must be drawn here!" business fit comfortably under the Picard-umbrella previously established, as does this sequence in the holodeck:

 
 
 
 

Patrick Stewart is aided and abetted throughout by Alfre Woodard, always a solid presence on-screen.


Says Woodard: "I’m not a Trekkie, but I had a lot of friends who worked on Star Trek. Jonathan Frakes is my godson. I think he’s a year younger or older than me, but we first got to L.A. years ago and I was talking about my godmother, and he said, “I never had a godmother.” I said, “I’ll be your godmother.” He’s called me “godmommy” since then. LeVar [Burton] is a dear friend. So I knew they all did Star Trek, and they knew I never watched it or anything, but we’re close friends, family friends. So when they were going to do the movie and Jonathan got the chance to direct, he said, “I want you to be in the Star Trek movie.” I said, “Okay, give me the script.” I read the script, and it was an action picture. I couldn’t put it down. And I said, “Oh God, I’m so there.” Plus, I was going to work with all my friends, and he was going to direct me."

She also gets two of the best lines in the movie. "The Borg? Sounds Swedish."
(After seeing them in action.) "Definitely not Swedish!"
Picard and Lily are a pleasure to watch. I love that there's no forced romantic relationship, (which might have happened under a different director) and what we get is an organic relationship and burgeoning trust that never once feels false. As Anij notes in Insurrection, the sense of trust Picard engenders is something to behold.

Add "New Guinea" to the phrases/ nouns I want to hear Patrick Stewart say, looped.

Incidentally, Patrick wanted Picard and Lily to be more than friends and hints that the kiss at the end was supposed to be full-on lip lock and not on-the-cheek. It's unclear whether this was cut for BS-studio concerns about the audience, or that Frakes et al felt it would be out of place in the movie. If the former, two words come to mind and they ain't "Whistlin' Dixie;" if the latter, I tend to agree.

 
 

It's uncommon enough that a non-romantic-interest male/female duo makes its way to the big screen in this (or any other really) day and age, but it's downright rare when the sort of relationship that Picard and Lily bring to life acquits itself so well without it. The friendship and partnership that develops (not to mention Lily's woman-out-of-time-ness) are effectively communicated to the audience.

Bottom line is that Lily and the Borg Queen are strong characters, and Woodard and Krige deliver the goods. FC is commendable for many reasons, but not shoehorning either of these female roles into more sexist/ perceived-blockbuster-audience-bait.


The rest of the cast (unsurprisingly, given Frakes' history with the performers/ characters) also get several nice moments.

Geordi's "Predator-vision."
 

And Worf gets to deliver his signature line in perhaps the greatest circumstances ever contrived to showcase it:

"Then perhaps today IS a good day to die!" I say this every morning.
In a slight reversal of the screen-time/ story purpose afforded Woodard and Krige, Beverly and Troi don't get too much to do.

Drunk Troi gets to do the Katherine Heigl/ Sandra Bullock thing, i.e. play "adorable drunk" and bitch at the guy, in this scene.
And then she gets to do Gwen from Galaxy Quest thing and do the countdown-to-zero, here.

The other most notable guest star is Zefram Cochrane, originally played by Glenn Corbet in TOS and played here by James Cromwell.

Rock and Roll Drunk Zefran is a lot of fun.
I know it'll never happen, but how cool would it be for the new-cast Trek to reboot "Metamorphosis" and get Cromwell to play Cochrane again, with that episode's plot? I say, pretty cool.
Cohran's story arc is important to the proceedings, as well, not just in the "got to get you to warp drive" sense re: first contact with the Vulcans, but in the reluctant hero surrendering to history/ his own hand in making it. There may be one or two extraneous lines concerning this, but it's a mild objection. I understand there were even more, and they were whittled down to what we see here. 

Some cameos worth mentioning:

Adam Scott, well before he was a household name.
Robert Picardo as the EMH, advocating an analgesic for the Borg's skin irritations.
And a non-Neelix-ified Ethan Phillips as the Holodeck host.
The fx team slipped this shot of the Millenium Falcon into the war-against-the-Borg-Cube sequence:

And really, there's not much more left to say. This film hits on all cylinders. It looks and sounds fantastic, and everyone involved delivers.

The scenes on the ship's exterior are great.
 
Worf gets another great action-movie line with "Assimilate this!" Something I also say to myself every morning.
The film ends with our heroes witnessing first contact, then warping back to the future.

 
 
This shot at film's end is one of the more shameless pose-for-posterity moments, but I like how Data's got his Phantom of the Opera look, still. That'll require a little bit of explanation for future posters/ screencaps.
Whether it's zombie films or space-aliens or time travel films you crave, First Contact has something for everyone.

14 comments:

  1. What I mainly think about when I think about "First Contact" is this: I went to see it on opening night, but the first show was sold out, so I ended up seeing an impromptu double feature, the first part of which was the wretched "Jingle All the Way." I also remember that while standing in line waiting for the second show of "First Contact" to seat, I heard some guys talking about "Babylon 5," which they claimed had become awesome (I'd stopped watching it during the first season, and kinda didn't believe them).

    "First Contact" is still a very entertaining movie. The zombie comparison is a very apt one, and the upgrades the Borg received for this movie were effective and cool.

    It's a good question, though: why didn't the Borg just go back in time further and eliminate humanity at a more vulnerable moment? You could ask the same of Skynet, though; that's just one of those tropes that I guess we all mostly agree to just wink at and accept.

    The "Enterprise" episode that serves a sorta-sequel to this movie is fairly good, too. Better than it had any right to be, that's for sure.

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    1. That's always a problem with time travel stories. The Borg could have gone back to the Middle Ages and wiped out humanity then. Or gone back to the Triassic Period and destroyed the planet's ability to sustain any life. (Although watching a Borg try to assimilate a dinosaur would be quite fun.)

      This movie still got it more right than Generations, when Picard and Kirk (who should have known better) go back to Veridian III when the clock is ticking and Soren is at his strongest. They could have gone back to just after the attack on the space station and finished the job with a single torpedo without ever seeing Soren in person.

      Whenever time travel is involved there will be plot problems. Like you said, we just have to accept them.

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    2. I've always assumed the Borg wanted a population to assimilate, absorbing as much knowledge, insight, and technical know-how as possible to add to the collective. Destroying humanity before it ever evolved might eliminate them as an opponent, but it also takes away a lot of potential gain to be had.

      As for Babylon 5...yeah, it got got progressively better after the first season, becoming my favorite TV scifi franchise of the '90s. It had a time travel storyline that stretched across the entire series that was way better thought out and consistent than any of its Trek counterparts. It's too bad B5 never got a movie, especially now that a couple of the leads have passed on - Andreas Katsulas really deserved to take G'Kar to the big screen.

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    3. BB - which Enterprise episode do you mean? Drawing a blank... unless you mean "Carbon Creek?" I do like that one quite a bit.

      I like the associative memory of the double feature you mention. Details like that are fun for me, especially since practically every Trek feature or project brings me back in time to what I was doing when it came out. (TWOK brings me to Sprendlingen, TSFS to Weiderstadt, TVH to back in the States at last, etc.)

      And Jingle all the Way - man, what a mess. I had such high hopes! Sort of. That came out at the height of my Ahhnold mania. My band's first "single" comprised mainly of me yelling "You blew my cov-er!" and "Vat da falk?!" etc. I digress.

      JB - that theory for the Borg works for me. I don't need much.

      JC - The Borg vs. T-Rex is an idea with legs. I like it.

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    4. The episode in question was titled "Regeneration." It's the one where the dudes on Earth find some crashed Borg survivors from "First Contact," who have frozen a la "The Thing."

      Pretty good stuff.

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    5. (hangs head in embarrassment) Gaa, "Regeneration," of course. Total brain freeze. I am not Ey-Morg...

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  2. This movie is miles better than Generations. From start to finish it's pretty well done.

    There were one or two scenes that defy logic and were done for dramatic purposes, though. Data firing on the Phoenix, for one. Yes, he misses on purpose. But why would he even do it? Once he's free of the queen's forcefield why not simply smash the side of the warp core and be done with it? It's not like firing the torpedoes gives Picard a headstart to avoid the coolant leak. That always bothered me. It's artificial drama, unnecessary to the overall story.

    Also, I heard from a VERY reliable source that Avery Brooks was quite peeved about the Defiant's appearance and treatment in this movie. And so was Ira Behr. Given that the Defiant was built to be a Borg buster, I can see their point. Then again, the Defiant was constantly getting hammered in DS9 so maybe the ship wasn't as tough as advertized.

    Cromwell is a huge part of why I like this movie so much. The man can flat-out ACT. He signed onto this movie not long after the success (and Oscar win) of Babe. He dropped his price to do Trek again because he had such a good relationship with the producers. So on top of acting ability he's also a class act.

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    1. I know that Moore and Braga wanted the Defiant to get blown up, and they received some very angry calls, leading to the insertion of the "adrift bu salvageable" line.

      And yeah, Cromwell's one of the great ones, to be sure. He's still got the chops, too. His most recent turn as the tortured Nazi doctor on American Horror Story was great. He'll always be the valet from "Murder by Death" to me, though.

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    2. If I recall correctly, wasn't this movie taking place during the Dominion War? Within the overall Trek canon, I'm not sure it makes much sense for Worf to be there, especially in the Defiant. I'm glad he was, though; that's a cool sequence.

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  3. I don't have much more to add besides what I wrote above, but FC is by far my favorite of the NextGen movies. It had a suitably epic story, and ended up being very satisfying. There are definitely plot holes and loose threads that, when tugged on, can begin to unravel some of the movie, but as a Trek story, it's damned fun.

    The only negatives I'll mention here are the whole warp-drive-experimentation-hippy-commune, as well as Cromwell's Jughead hat and rug-sample-Dark-Ages-king-sheepskin-coat. It all just rubbed me the wrong way, but not enough to mar the movie for me.

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    1. Tell you the truth, the first time I saw First Contact I didn't like Drunk Oogy-Boogy Cochrane much at all. The clothes, the jukebox, the whiskey: just seemed all faux-off-the-wall. i.e. not very. On subsequent viewings, tho, I came to really enjoy him, and now he's a highlight of the film for me.

      This most recent re-watch impressed me most of all with Lily. She and Picard have real nice presence onscreen. (And she likes pretty nice in that dress, to boot - got to pay attention to the essentials!)

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  4. I think you're spot-on with your description: "faux-off-the-wall." It's along the lines of large numbers of Goths wearing black or getting tattoos in order to be "different." They're just trying too hard. I'd have been more intrigued to see him...well, I'll save my take on him for when Kindleworlds licenses Trek... ;)

    It's been surprisingly long since I last watched FC, so I'm overdue for a re-watch.

    Alfre Woodard has always been appealing to me. The first time I saw her in anything was a guest spot in a few episodes of Hill Street Blues, which really showcased her; she won an Emmy for it.

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    1. I had no idea/ would never even have considered that she is Riker's honorary godmother. That has to be one of the stranger pieces of Trek trivia I've ever come across.

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    2. One of the most delightful things I have ever seen was at Dragon*Con, where about a dozen gothlings were standing in line at a Chick-fil-A. I wanted them all to form a band, and for that band's first album to be titled "Gother Than You."

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