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Film Talk: Looking Back – Making it so with Star Trek: First Contact

With the sad death of Nichelle Nichols – aka Lt. Uhura – last weekend, this week we pay tribute to one of the greatest flicks in the franchise the mighty lady helped to spawn.

Sir Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner leading the cast of Star Trek: First Contact
Sir Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner leading the cast of Star Trek: First Contact

Directed by Jonathan Frakes in his motion picture directorial debut, 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact hit our screens as the eighth film to boldly go and bring the Star Trek universe to the cinema.

Following a casting crossover in the previous flick, 1994’s Star Trek: Generations, First Contact was the first Trek movie to exclusively focus on the crew of Star Trek: The Next Generation rather than Kirk, Spock, Uhura and the rest of the original series clan.

Led by ‘Mr Make It So’, the mighty Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Sir Patrick Stewart), the crew of the new USS Enterprise-E are forced to deal with a threat to humanity’s past that could re-write and destroy its future. Not only that, they are forced to clash with the galaxy’s most formidable force; the seemingly unstoppable Borg.

With fear of the ‘odd-numbered curse’ (serious movie geek lore that suggests every odd-numbered Trek flick was poor and would continue to be so for eternity) not clouding the even-numbered First Contact, hopes were high around this instalment.

After the release of Generations, Paramount Pictures had tasked writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore with developing the next film in the series. Braga and Moore wanted to feature the Borg in the plot, while producer Rick Berman wanted a story involving time travel.

The writers combined the two ideas, and after two better-known directors turned down the job, cast member Jonathan Frakes was chosen to direct to make sure the task fell to someone who truly understood Star Trek.

With a man in the director’s chair whose trekkie blood made him perfect to take the helm, and a storyline featuring a fan-favourite adversary, the pieces were there for First Contact to deliver to the faithful. But would the Next Generation team support the weight of the silver screen on their own, and with the pressure on, would Frakes cut the mustard and bring fans the movie they hoped he would?

In the 24th century, Earth has finally fallen under invasion from the United Federation of Planets’ most deadly enemy – a race of ruthless cyborgs known as the Borg Collective, whose sole agenda is to brutally assimilate all useful life in the galaxy and turn those they meet into mindless cybernetic automatons like them.

Following his own experience of Borg assimilation years earlier, Captain Jean-Luc Picard is fully aware of the horror of this foe, yet his ship – the USS Enterprise-E – is ordered away from the fight, with Starfleet believing Picard himself is too emotional when it comes to the Borg to be involved.

However, as reports arrive of the battle going ill, Picard and his crew abandon their orders and race to Earth to help the defending space fleet.

The Enterprise seemingly turns the tide and helps to destroy the attacking Borg vessel, but a small Borg ship escapes with a dastardly mission of its own.

When a temporal vortex opens, Picard and his crew realise the Borg are trying to go back in time to change Earth’s history and wipe out humanity, and have no choice but to follow them back and repair whatever damage they have done...

In a pleasing result to cast and crew, Star Trek: First Contact was the highest-grossing film of its opening weekend.

It eventually made $92 million in the US and Canada and a worldwide total of $146 million.

Well received by critics, it stood as the generally most positively reviewed film in the Star Trek franchise until it was marginally surpassed in 2009 by the reboot movie starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto as a young Kirk and Spock.

The use of the Borg as the diabolical villains of the piece was particularly lauded, along with the flick’s special effects. First Contact was in fact nominated for the Academy Award for Best Makeup and went on to win three Saturn Awards.

With an unsurprisingly excellent turn from Sir Patrick, as well as great performances from a supporting cast including Brent Spiner and Alice Krige, First Contact stands as one of the Star Trek franchise’s finest entries, with an action-packed plot that may endear many traditionally non-Trek fans towards it, and a darker tone that even now may help it garner a wider appeal.

A thoroughly entertaining sci-fi yarn, this one goes boldly indeed, and goes boldly well.

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