Star Trek: First Contact

star-trek-VIII-first-contact-18-4According to the Star Trek Law of Sequels, every even-numbered Trek film must be good, while every odd one is lame. Thus Star Trek: First Contact, the second feature with the Next Generation crew, runs rings around its stiff predecessor (1994’s Star Trek Generations). The storytelling is tight, the style loose and limber, and it moves with great confidence and speed; it caught me up in the first shot and never let me down.

I never watched Next Generation on TV, so the movie’s frightening villains, the Borgs (short for “cyborgs,” I assume), are pleasantly new to me. Looking like a cross between the Terminator and George Romero’s zombies, these creatures go about “assimilating” entire races in a sick, fascist quest for “perfection.” Their new target for self-actualization is Earth. The Borgs are nothing if not strategic: they go back in time to 2063, planning to stomp us before we can achieve warp speed and make “first contact” with other sentient life. The Enterprise, led by Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), swoops to our defense, driven by more than simple urgency. Picard, it seems, was once assimilated by the Borgs. He seethes at the memory. For him, this is a matter of avenging soul-rape.

First Contact was written by Trek vets Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore, whose script for Generations ran in migraine-inducing circles trying to get Kirk and Picard together. The new story gets twisty at times, but it’s much more focused and allows for meatier characters: Dr. Cochrane (James Cromwell), who will pioneer warp flight, and his friend Lily (Alfre Woodard), who pulls Picard back from his righteous disgust.

We soon meet the source of his wrath: the Borg Queen, played by Alice Krige with an animal sexuality that cuts right through her icky latex. This self-satisfied Queen is intimate with male weakness. When she captures the droid Data (Brent Spiner) and activates his emotion chip, he can’t help responding to her — especially when she grafts human flesh onto his arm and blows on it tenderly. This bit of porno-horror is worthy of David Cronenberg at his diabolical best.

Series star Jonathan Frakes, who modestly scales back his screen time as Commander Riker, makes his feature directing debut here (he also helmed a few of the TV episodes). Frakes is a natural-born action director, decisive and bold. His already-legendary opening shot — beginning inside Patrick Stewart’s eye and pulling back endlessly to reveal the massive Borg ship — is exuberantly show-offy. And he keeps the action crisp and tense, like Nicholas Meyer’s work in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Overall, I had as much fun at First Contact as a non-Trekkie can have. Like Star Trek II, it navigates smoothly between literary allusions (both films nod to Melville) and gentle self-parody. In one goofy sequence, ship’s counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) gets drunk; the elegant Sirtis is rather appealing when she’s loaded. And then there’s that Borg Queen. One look at her and you understand how she got under poor Picard’s skin. She could inspire wet nightmares.

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