Nerd heaven

Star Trek First Contact Review / Discussion

December 21, 2019

Star Trek First Contact is my favourite Star Trek movie. It was a wonderful way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of our beloved franchise. In this video, I geek out with delight over the movie, and yes, I point out a couple of things that could have been even better. Join me as I review the 10 episodes and movies that you should watch before Star Trek Picard.


Welcome to Nerd Heaven.
I’m Adam David Collins, the author of Jewel of The Stars
And I am a nerd.

This is episode 6 of the podcast, and we’re continuing our look at the 10 episodes and movies you should check out before watching Star Trek Picard, which goes live late January.

Today, we’re looking at Star Trek First Contact.

The IMDB description for this movie reads
The Borg travel back in time intent on preventing Earth’s first contact with an alien species. Captain Picard and his crew pursue them to ensure that Zefram Cochrane makes his maiden flight reaching warp speed.
And this movie first appeared in cinemas on the 13th of November 1996, which was in the UK, prior to the american release on the 22nd of November. Here in Australia, we didn’t get it until the 28th.

Let’s do it.

This is my favourite Star Trek movie. It came out during the year of the 30th anniversary of Star Trek. What an awesome year that was. We got Trials and Tribble-ations, which was amazing. We get this movie, which was amazing, and we got Flashback over on voyager, which was really good.

There are some nice 30th anniversary tidbits in this movie that link it to other Star Trek shows. We’ll cover them as we get to them.

Let’s start by saying that the music in this movie is incredible. Jerry Goldsmith composed a hauntingly beautiful theme for First Contact.
I always sit through the opening credits just to listen to it. Plus, the names slowly coming into focus looks pretty cool.

Nice little callback at the start, seeing Picard in his TNG uniform for the flashback to Best of Both Worlds.

That pull back shot gives us a sense of the vastness of the Borg ship.

And as Picard wakes from his nightmare, we get our first glimpse of the new TNG movie-era uniforms. This is my favourite Star Trek uniform. It looks so cool. I really want one.

Picard is still having nightmare about his assimilation. I image, after going through something like that, the nightmare would never stop. Of course it’s implied that the nightmare is caused by the proximity of the Borg ship.
You gotta wonder what made the Borg decide to send another shop to assimilate Earth at this moment. Clearly, they still think one cube is enough.

And then we get another first. Our first glimpse at the new USS Enterprise, NCC 1701-E.
The last Enterprise was destroyed in the previous movie, Star Trek Generations.
The Enterprise E looks fantastic. Sleeker, meaner than the D. Of course, I also loved the D. But this new Enterprise was made for the big screen, and it fills it beautifully.

Gorgeous image of a nebula behind the ship, too.

Do you think Starfleet’s reluctance to let Picard anywhere near the Borg is more related to his previous assimilation, or his handling of the Hugh situation? Either way, it’s a foolish decision. No one knows the Borg better than Picard.

The voice effect used for the Borg collective in this movie is creepier than in the TV show.

I love the bridge of the Enterprise E. Those little screens for Picard, Riker, and Troi, the little corner desks for Data and Hawke. Fantastic production design.

And that Borg cube. So much more detailed than the model used on the TV show.

And here’s a first connection to other Star Trek. The Defiant from Deep Space Nine has joined the fight against the Borg. Obviously. This ship was designed to fight the Borg. It was likely one of the weapons shelby was working on prior to Best of both Worlds. Remember, those new weapons that weren’t ready yet.

The Defiant gives us the perfect opportunity to bring Worf into the story, who was a series regular on Deep Space Nine at this time.

I love the holographic viewscreen on the Enterprise E. I wish they’d continued to use that effect in subsequent movies.

Picard can still hear the Borg in his head. Surprising, since he no longer has any implants. But given how hard it was for the doctor to remove all of Seven’s implants in Voyager, let’s assume maybe there’s still a little something in there.
He gets some inside information on a weak spot that allows them to destroy the cube. This seems a little problematic. Remember, Borg cubes are extremely redundant. They shouldn’t have weak spots like that that cause the whole thing to blow up. I mean, this isn’t the blooming death star.
But, they need to keep the story moving. The Borg need an excuse to time travel into the past.
This, of course, makes absolutely no sense.
First, if the Borg simple go back in time and assimilate species when they were vulnerable, why not just do that to begin with.

But there’s a bigger problem. What do the Borg gain by assimilating a broken earth that is still recovering from world war 3? Their technology is useless. Biologically, humans are that different to many other species. It makes zero sense for the Borg to want to assimilate 21st century earth.
So, the very premise here is filled with plot holes.
But, I forgive them, because this movie is awesome.

What do you want from me?

So the Borg and the Enterprise arrive on my 85th birthday. And you better believe, when I turn 85, I’ll be making a pilgrimage to Montana, USA to meet the Vulcans.
But I digress.
Interestingly, 2063 is also the 100th anniversary of Star Trek.

First Contact presents us with a very different Zephram Cochrane that we are used to, from his appearance in the original series.
He’s not the amazing historical figure that starfleet puts on a pedestal. One of the first things we hear him say is “I sure as hell am not going up there sober.”
Surprise surprise, Cochrane was human. This is a theme through the whole movie. We have a tendency to venerate great men and women from history, and I’m not saying we shouldn’t, but, these people were human just like us, with the same flaws and emotions. They burped and broke wind just like we do.

James Cromwell and Alfre Goodard are both great as Cochrane and lily. Woodward is especially awesome as lily.

The enterprise destroys the Borg sphere. Again, it all seems too easy. I remember thinking, the first time I saw this, they had 2 Borg ships, and they’re both destroyed. We’re not even 30 minutes into this movie. So much for a movie about the Borg.
Of course, seeing the enterprise slowly get turned into a Borg ship ended up being much more compelling. So, it’s all good.

I love time travel stories, especially if they are internally consistent.
We’d never seen the TNG crew interact with present day. This was as close as we’d get. This was kind of TNG’s Star Trek 4.

I also like the new engineering set for the Enterprise E, with that massive warp core.

The idea of tunring a left-over nuclear missile into Earth’s first warp-speed ship is symbolic. And kinda cool.

The sickbay on the Enterprise E looks very much like the Voyager sickbay. This was probably just a cost-saving choice to re-use an existing set, but in my mind, back in the day, it was a deliberate creative choice, to make the two newer ships, Enterprise E and Voyager, look alike.
And now we get our next link to other Star Trek. And this is brilliantly done. Crusher needs a diversion to get every away from sickbay before the Borg break in, so, of course, they activate the Enterprise EMH, brilliantly played by Robert Picardo from Voyager. I love this scene. I always have. Obviously the enterprise sickbay would have an EMH. They simply don’t use it because they have a medical staff.

If you count Zephram Cochrane as a TOS reference, then this movie has now included cameos of ships and characters from all the other Star Trek shows that existed at the time.

Troi’s character doesn’t get a lot to do in this movie. In the previous movie, she had some fantastic scenes where she actually got to be a counselor. Here, she’s mainly relegated to comic relief. Still, Marina Sirtis does a good job of it.

The emotion chip is put to good use in this story.
And despite Data initially being quite annoying (deliberately so) I thought it was used effectively back in Generations as well. It was very thematic in that movie.
And it plays an important part in First Contact as well. It’s interesting to know that data can de-activate the chip. Don’t you wish you could simply turn off your emotions sometimes. It would be handy.

And now we get our first proper look at the Borg in their new big-screen, bigger budget glory. They look fantastic. So much detail. The chalky skin that looks like makeup is replaced with slimy pasty skin that looks a lot more realistic. The costumes are more detailed. And the Borg represent many different species. There are Klingon Borg, Cardassian Borg, Bolian Borg. If you look closely, you’ll notice all sorts of species.

The Borg visual effects for things like their personal force field have also been updated.

This is the first time we see the use of assimilation tubules.
The assimilation process has always been a bit of a mystery. But here we see the injection of nano-probes (not specifically mentioned in this movie, but explored later in voyager).

There’s a chilling moment when an assimilated crew member asks Picard for help.
Picard shoots him dead.
They don’t have the resources or the ability to surgically disconnect and restore each assimilated crew member right now, and Picard knows from personal experience, that it’s better to die than be a Borg drone.

Riker and Troi explain the Roddenberry philosophy to Cochrane. Tomorrow morning, earth will make first contact with aliens after his successful warp test. Within a few decades, war, poverty,disease are all erased. This makes First Contact a very Star Trek show, again cementing it’s place as a 30th anniversary celebration movie.

Picard meets Lily. I really like the friendship that develops between them.
Picard manages to convince her that he really is from the future.
I have to say I really like that when the window opens, and they see earth, they’re over Australia.

And we meet the Borg queen for the first time. The visual effect of her coming down from the ceiling is fantastic.

The Borg queen is a really interesting concept.
In a way, she contradicts what the Borg have been established to be.
She refers to herself as I. Saying I am the Borg.
Here’s the way I’ve always thought of her.
She is the central hub of the Borg.
Up until now, we’ve always assumed the Borg collective was a peer-to-peer network, but now it seems they are a client-server network. The queen is the server. You could say that the collective consciousness is her consciousness.
This is not really what was previously established, but it’s interesting.
I think that the Borg work better without the queen.
But I think they felt a movie must have a villain that audiences can relate to. And I do admit that the Borg queen fits this bill very well. Alice Krige plays her brilliantly.
There’s a lot about the queen that doesn’t make sense. She was on the Borg cube that was destroyed in best of both worlds. The same biological organism. But that ship was destroyed. And after she dies here, we’ll see her again in Voyager.
Her explanation for this is “You’ve become small. You humans think in this three-dimensional terms”, which is a total cop-out. This is writer slang for “I don’t have an explanation for this that makes sense.”

Picard gives Lily the ridiculous line about there being no money in the 24th century. Everyone works to better themselves and the rest of humanity.
Which is total nonsense, of course. A system like that cannot work.
The biggest issue I see is the unwanted jobs. Who cleans the toilets? Sure, in the Star Trek world, I would work hard writing books or exploring space, all in an effort to better myself and humanity. But who does the menial jobs that nobody wants? What motivates people to take that on? And we know that people do these menial jobs, it’s not all just robots, because Rom works waste extraction, literally wading in sewage, on deep space nine.

The holodeck scene is FANTASTIC.
It ties us all the way back to TNG season 1, where Picard used to play Dixon Hill on the holodeck. But Dixon Hill never looked this good, with massive sets, heaps of extras and exciting action set pieces.
I love it.
The idea to use a holographic tommy gun to kill the Borg is very clever. Bullets are not something they’ll have adapted to.

We see first hand just how much hurt and pain Picard still has buried, as he continues to pump the Borg full of bullets, long after it’s dead.
It’s all come back to the forefront for him, like it was yesterday.
And the carelessness when he says “this drone was ensign lynch.”
I understand. In his mind, this is not ensign lynch. This is a drone.
But still. This scene is really powerful.

Nice little cameo from Reg Barclay. It doesn’t make a heap of sense that so many people from the enterprise d wind up on the enterprise e. Not just the senior staff, but people like Nurse Ogawa and Barclay. But, it’s nice to see them so whatever.

Cochrane is finding it very difficult to live up to the celebrity everyone keeps telling him he’ll have.
His discomfort make sense. Who could live up to that kind of hero worship.
But at the same time, given his importance in their world, I understand the hero worship.

This is the first time we see the new space suits, which will come back again in Voyager.
The battle on the hull near the deflector dish is fantastic. Slow, but awesome. It’s pretty unique.

But Worf’s line “Assimilate this” is cheesy and feels like it’s out of a really bad action movie parody.
Also, why is his voice distorted? He sounds like a robot.

Data’s assimilation is interesting. Usually, they add cybernetic implants into biological beings. But here, they’re adding biological elements to a cybernetic being. They do like the mixture.
There’s a whole lot of manipulation going on here.
The queen reactivates his emotion chip, which makes him a LOT easier to manipulate.

Cochrane is a far cry from the historical figure they all talk about, but, as he gets older, he will become more like that figure.

There’s some fantastic drama between Picard and Worf on the bridge.
Worf accuses Picard of allowing his personal experiences with the Borg to influence his judgement.
And of course that’s influencing his judgement. How could it not?
The scene between Picard and Lily in the conference room is amazing and powerful.
Alfre Woodard and Patrick Stewart are incredible. This scene gives me so many chills.
And there’s lots of thematic stuff in here too.
Lily helps Picard realise that he’s being motivated by revenge and hate.
And so he changes his plan.

When they’re preparing the evacuate the enterprise, Picard says “see you on Gravette island.”
I’ve tried googling this, to see if it’s a real place.
I came up empty.
But I have a head canon about this. I imagine that Gravette is an island that remains unpopulated through most of human history. And that Starfleet has standing orders that any crew who get stranded in earth’s past are to set themselves up there and stay out of history’s way.
I think that would make a good TV show actually. Gravette Island, about a Starfleet crew making a new life on present day Earth. Of course, something would have to entice them out of hiding to interact with the rest of the world, or there’d be no story
But I’m getting quite off topic now.

I love how Zephram Cochrane can’t take off without his music.
The Pheonix looks great. The perfect mix of old-fashioned real world space program, and the star trek future.
I remember geeking out that the bussard collectors at the front of the nacelles resembled those on the original series enterprise.

Does Picard really mean it when he offers to become Gorg again, in order to free Data?
I have to think that he does.
But, how could he possibly be willing to go through that again.
That’s self-sacrifice. That’s friendship.
But to willingly go into that living hell?

It like how the Phoenix takes a few minutes to accelerate up to warp 1.
The climactic battle in engineering has some awesome visual effects, included the death of the queen.
The Borg shouldn’t really explode when the queen dies, but it kinda works for the movie.

The flight of the phoenix, and the landing of the alien ship are full of the sense of wonder that Star Trek is sometimes known for.
I remember sitting on the edge of my seat in the cinema, thinking “please be the Vulcans. Please be the Vulcans.”
It had to be.
I read that the design of the Vulcan ship was based on real-world descriptions of UFOs.
The implied idea being that Vulcans had previously visited earth discreetly.

So there you have it. My favourite Star Trek movie.
It’s got some little flaws, but there’s so much good stuff they’re easy to forgive.

Do you think we’ll see the Borg Queen again in Star Trek Picard? Will they acknowledge her?

It’ll be interesting to find out.

Next time, we delve into the origin of another character that is returning for Picard. Seven of Nine.
I’ll see you for my favourite episode of Star Trek Voyager.

Live long and prosper.
Make it so.

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