It may be hard to believe, but it’s now been 20 years since the release of “Star Trek: First Contact.” The film is considered one of the best Star Trek motion pictures ever made, and really, the best of “The Next Generation” films (which, to be honest, really isn’t that paramount of an accomplishment). “First Contact” is miles above the other TNG outings, and — this may be a controversial opinion — but the most wonderful Trek film to grace the silver screen in 20 years. Yes, even more so than J.J. Abrams’ reboots — and here’s why.
“First Contact” serves its beloved characters as it should, gifting them with great moments, a strong plot, and an incredibly worthy villain in the form of the Borg and the collective’s nefarious Borg Queen. Working from a tight script, the film feels like incredible payoff throughout for longtime fans of “The Next Generation,” and casual viewers just looking to enjoy a sci-fi blockbuster. “First Contact” manages this balance greater than any “Star Trek” film since — a difficult line to walk, but somehow, the film manages to please the nerds and please the masses.
“First Contact” is also a success story when it comes to the evolution of a Hollywood script. Originally meant to be a time travel tale set primarily in the Renaissance-era — and to be called “Star Trek: Regenesis” — the film eventually took on the form of a sequel of sorts to the greatest TNG two-parter ever made, “The Best of Both Worlds.” In the same way that Nicolas Meyer zeroed in on a particular episode of “The Original Series” (“Space Seed,” of course) for “Wrath of Khan,” scribes Rick Berman, Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga extrapolated on the Season 3 episode in a way that delivered great payoff for longtime fans, while making the Borg and the catchphrase, “Resistance Is Futile,” something truly iconic.
The film sees the Borg venture back to the 22nd Century to prevent the “First Contact” — the first meeting between the humans and Vulcans, which spawned the Federation of Planets and Starfleet, creating the Star Trek universe we know and love. The film isn’t a cookie cutter time travel story though, it plays with the conventions. Rather than having the Enterprise crew act in their typical Prime Directive, passive manner, the team actively tries to alter history’s events in order to make them turn out as close as possible to the original timeline. And, in doing so, they make themselves a major part of Starfleet’s history. What better cast than Patrick Stewart and co. to be a major part of the formation of Star Trek as we know it?
The film was also significant for taking place at, arguably, the height of Star Trek’s popularity. When the film came out in November 1996, it was running alongside episodes of Trek spinoff series “Deep Space Nine” and “Voyager.” Without feeling the need to heavily tie into those properties, the film still managed to serve up nods to both shows, with an appearance from “DS9’s” the Defiant, and “Voyager’s” Doctor, in addition to a cameo from Ethan Phillips (AKA, Neelix).
“First Contact” boasts the classic “TNG” cast in addition to some veteran actors that heightened the material significantly. Between James Cromwell’s Zefram Cochrane and Alfre Woodard’s Lilly Sloane, audiences that might have been unfamiliar with Trek were given a window into the universe through incredibly three-dimensional characters that embody the early human struggle before the peaceful formation of Starfleet. Plus, Alice Krige’s Borg Queen is an instant-classic villain that brings out a horror element in Star Trek that hasn’t been replicated since. Krige’s Borg Queen is elegant, sexy and truly terrifying — and we think Data would agree. Thanks in large part to Krige’s portrayal, the Borg were cemented as the most popular and mainstream Trek villains since Klingons.
Despite working with a massive ensemble cast, “First Contact” manages to rightfully serve the bulk of its cast with earned, wonderful moments. We get to see Picard exact his revenge on the Borg, Deanna get drunk down on Earth and Worf utter the glorious line “assimilate this,” among other badass and hilarious instances in the film. And pulling double duty, Jonathan Frakes as director delivers a truly cinematic take on “The Next Generation” that balances a number of tones, while serving as a mix of sci-fi, horror and action-adventure. Frakes absolutely nails it — especially when you consider it was his first film.
“Star Trek: First Contact” doesn’t need any other Star Trek film alongside it to be great. On its own, its a wonderful film, accessible to hardcore Trekkies, and the masses. As a blockbuster, with the balance it manages to achieve, it’s a near-perfect film, that holds up so, so well. So, in honor of First Contact Day, and the film’s 20th anniversary, go ahead and revisit “First Contact” — it won’t disappoint you.
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