Star Trek: First Contact

on November 22, 1996 by Rick Schultz
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   This eighth film in the "Star Trek" franchise borrows heavily from James Cameron's "Alien" and "Terminator" series, which should come as no surprise to anyone who watches television. TV shows almost always take their best ideas from the feature film arena. Even "Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry appropriated good stuff from "Forbidden Planet." But Roddenberry's handpicked heir, producer Rick Berman, can't quite generate the scope that the movie's central cyborg/human conflict (and a first-class theatrical film) demands.
   The story takes off from a two-part episode of the "Next Generation" series, in which Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) was captured and almost "assimilated" into the semi-robotic, quasi-Communist Borg, an imperialistic race of "Terminator"-type creatures. In this new outing, Picard uses his knowledge of the Borg to combat their latest strategy for universal domination: going back in time to change human history. The Enterprise crew must make sure that Zefram Cochran (James Cromwell), an alcoholic genius, carries out his scheduled warp-speed flight. If he fails, then friendly aliens passing overhead won't think earthlings are worth an epoch-making pit stop.
   There's a slightly desperate feeling in "First Contact's" patched-together script that writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore are making up the rules as they go along, and there are signficant cheats at the end involving Data (Brent Spiner) and Picard, who is literally left hanging in the climactic scene. (To say more would give too much away.) There's also a slow, ill-conceived sequence outside the ship with Picard and crew members battling the somnambulant Borg, and the opening attack on an encampment of earthlings would not be out of place in an old "A-Team" episode.
   In fairness, producer Berman and his writers were probably hamstrung by their own "prime directive": not to upset the delicate balance of the "Trek" star egosystem. Even so, Michael Dorn's Worf hasn't been given anything memorable to do, and Alfre Woodard, who plays Cochran's passive associate, Lily, is generally stuck giving lame speeches; neither character's presence is necessary to the story. Only Alice Krige's dominatrix Borg Queen suggests the full-throated passion required of a feature film.
   Yet "First Contact" is often great fun and is never less than watchable; it will positively delight legions of Trek fans. Ultimately, Berman and director/actor Jonathan Frakes (who also appears as Cmdr. William Riker) remain reliable company men who have delivered a risk-free film that will play well on video. It's TV with a multimillion-dollar special effects budget. Starring Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, James Cromwell and Alice Krige. Directed by Jonathan Frakes. Written by Brannon Braga & Ronald D. Moore. Produced by Rick Berman. A Paramount release. SF. Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi adventure violence. Running time: 110 min
Tags: Starring Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, James Cromwell, Alice Krige. Directed by Jonathan Frakes. Written by Brannon Braga, Ronald D. Moore, Produced by Rick Berman, Paramount, SF
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