Friday, November 19, 2010

The Degradation Of The Philosopher Kings: Star Trek: First Contact

The Good: Space battle effects, Acting.
The Bad: Plot, CHARACTER, Bigger Picture
The Basics: Star Trek: First Contact is better for non-Trek fans than anyone who actually appreciated the first two Trek series'! If you're into Trek and haven't seen it, don't!

I'll open by saying if you're in the mood for an action adventure flick, Star Trek: First Contact is fine and I suppose I could recommend it for that. That said, I'm about to pan this film. This puts me in the serious minority of both fans of the Star Trek franchise and of films in general. As a standalone movie, Star Trek: First Contact is satisfying and tense. For serious fans of the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek: First Contact is a disappointment.

The strengths of First Contact are in the special effects and in the acting. Alfre Woodard is excellent and believable as Lily Sloane, James Cromwell is excellent as Zephram Cochrane and Patrick Stewart is his usual amazing self as Captain Jean-Luc Picard.

The problematic aspects of First Contact all have to do with the Star Trek and Star Trek The Next Generation series'. One of Gene Roddenberry's lieutenants will go on and on at length about how Gene's vision in Star Trek was a non-military group of explorers zipping around the galaxy and discovering what's out there. Personally, I think he's wrong with Star Trek, but that Gene Roddenberry's vision was realized in Star Trek The Next Generation. The reason almost no one recommends episodes from Star Trek The Next Generation's first season or two because it's basically Philosopher Kings in Space. Picard comes across as the ultimate Philosopher in space and that's wonderful. In fact, the way the series ended in "All Good Things" was with the explicit statement that the discoveries yet to be done are on the limits of the human condition.

So, what does this have to do with First Contact? First Contact is a degradation of almost every character in Star Trek The Next Generation. I'm not even talking about such petty things as how the writers neglected to actually watch the Star Trek episode where Zephram Cochrane is found and constantly referred to as ". . . of Alpha Centauri." I'm talking most about Captain Picard.

Patrick Stewart expertly plays Picard as a bitter, angry man who is so petty as to be in an obsessive quest to destroy the Borg, even if it means killing off his entire crew. Oh, I didn't even cover the plot yet. Well, bare with me. Picard's reaction ought to be an affront to anyone who truly loved Star Trek The Next Generation. It's a pretty petty twist of Picard's character and if you watched the show, it must seem incongruent that he had far less reaction to being held hostage by a bunch of Borg in the lame "Descent II" than he does at having them contained on the lower decks of his ship in this film. "Ahh," the astute Trekker will say, "That's because he was healed by the events in 'I, Borg.'" To which I say, "You're absolutely right!" The problem here is that - in their attempt to make an action film - the writers neglected to actually look at the character arc of Picard. He's an enlightened man who once told an alien who wiped a whole race out of existence that there was no punishment suitable for the crime and let him go ("The Survivors"). And yet here he is essentially reacting as a rape victim out to kill his rapist after a pretty healthy chunk of being healed. If Picard was going to go after anyone who tormented him in the series, it would have made more sense that it be the Cardassians, who actually did torture him (the Borg just did what was in their nature to do) and he never had a cathartic reaction from.

Okay, so we have the protagonist acting completely out of character and having to be told by a less enlightened person (or someone who is supposed to be less enlightened) how he should act. It's just plain sad.

If character were the only problem, I'd probably actually recommend the film. Alas, it's not. The plot. It's pretty simple, actually. A race of half man, half robots (the Borg) attack Earth. In perhaps their stupidest move ever, they make their usual straight attack on Earth and then, only when their big ship is exploding, they launch a smaller ship which goes back in time. If you have a brain at all, you should be asking, "Why didn't they just go back in time first?" - i.e. go back in time to a point before Earth has space ships defending it and assimilate Earth without having to lose one of their big ships. Well, they're followed back in time rather fortunately by the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise under Captain Picard's command. We're lucky they did, because the Borg somehow altered time to assimilate Earth.

The plot is pretty simple then; in the past, the Borg take over the Enterprise by assimilating (making normal people into Borg) the crew with the purpose being to stop humans from making contact with extraterrestrial life for the first time. It basically becomes one big gunfight broken up by scenes on Earth of convincing the man who is supposed to make the contact to actually go into space and to Data being tempted by the Borg Queen?

The Borg Queen? Yup, the writers made another huge mistake that is beyond asinine; they invented a character called the Borg Queen who is counterproductive to the idea of the Borg. And when the end comes, what Picard does to her isn't just cathartic, it's inhuman and disappointing to anyone who believed in an enlightened future.

Outside of basically decimating the menace of the Borg, ruining the fundamental tenants of Star Trek The Next Generation's most integral character and becoming the best thing to happen to Star Trek Voyager this film is a wonderful use of your time. And because the obvious fault is "If the Borg went back in time once, why don't they just go back in time again and try to succeed again?" odds are this lame-brained plot could be redone over and over again. In fact, First Contact - other than the atrocious abuse of character - would work splendidly as a prologue to another Trek movie that becomes a war through time against the Borg. Of course, such an endeavor would have to end with the outright, complete destruction of the Borg . . . then again, at this point, I could live with that!

For the other Star Trek cinematic adventures, check out my review of the boxed set that has them all by clicking here!

For other action-adventure science fiction films, please check out my reviews of:
Dark City
Star Wars: Revenge Of The Sith

7/10 (as a general movie)
5/10 (as a Star Trek film)

For other Star Trek reviews, please be sure to check out my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2001 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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