Saturday, August 30, 2014

Star Trek VIII: First Contact

I recall a bit of buzz online and from talking to a couple other friends that today's Star Trek film I am covering, 1996's Star Trek VIII: First Contact (trailer), ranks right up with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn as their favorite of the first ten films. Somehow, I managed to go in with an open mind and come out with this easily surpassing Generations as the best Next Generation crew movie yet.

I have not seen the two episode special of The Next Generation, "The Best of Both Worlds" where Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is captured and assimilated into a new villain race called the Borg that is able to capture and transform its victims into their collective. Essentially, they are space zombies. First Contact brings the Borg to the big screen, with the gigantic cube that is a Borg ship engaging in a huge star battle against an armada of Starfleet vessels. When it looks like Starfleet is going down, the Enterprise intervenes to save the day, but not before a Borg escape ship leaves and creates a time travel vortex as it approaches Earth. The Borg time travel back to April 4, 2063 (hey, that happens to be my 80th birthday!) in hopes of altering history and preventing humans from launching their first space vessel that makes first contact with extra terrestrials. That does not happen as the Enterprise easily disposes of this escape vessel, but not before the Borg are able to beam aboard the Enterprise and start to assimilate her crew.

It is here where the film splits into two parts. For about two thirds of the film is the main arc in what boils down to be a space monster movie where the Borg are slowly taking over the Enterprise. The side story is Riker (Jontahon Frakes, who is pulling double duty as the film's director), Troi (Marina Sirtis) and a now visor-less Geordi (Levar Burton) leading a team to make sure that legendary pilot Zefram Cochran (James Cromwell) goes through with his historic first warp drive flight that is the catalyst for first contact so that history is not altered. This side story is a more light hearted affair from the grim takeover transpiring on the Enterprise, and provides some much needed and appreciated breathing room and chuckles.

Interesting notes of the cast include Data (Brent Spiner) still having the emotion chip that was introduced in Generations part of him, but now being able to enable and disable it on his own accord. This plays a vital role later on when the film introduces the Borg Queen (Alice Krige). There is a well shot zero gravity space combat scene where Picard, Worf (Michael Dorn) and Hawk (Neal McDonough) tear up the Borg on top of the Enterprise. It is worth going into the special effects got exponentially better in the two years since Generations. The aforementioned dogfight against the Borg ship is a dazzling showpiece of warfare that at first glance looks like it came out of a Star Wars film. The Borg outfits also got a significant leap in quality since they were last seen on Next Generation.

Like all the other films covered so far, First Contact is packed with a plethora of extras. Minus commentaries, there is nearly four hours of extra features, with almost an hour of them new HD extras for the BluRay. Continuing my tradition, I watched the first 15 minutes of the film with the original DVD commentary from Jonathon Frakes, and the final 15 minutes with new commentary from screenwriters Damon Lindelof and Anthony Pascale. I wished Frakes had someone to bounce off of on this commentary, as he seems mostly reserved here, sporadically chiming in with a fact or anecdote from the production. Lindelof and Pascale are way more involved and into the film from what I caught of their recording as they are just nonstop passionate about what they are discussing and then surprisingly come to a abrupt halt the second the end credits start up.

Among the ton of original extras included I would suggest checking out Making First Contact, which is a insightful 20 minute look at how Frakes wound up as director and a look at all the new guest stars of the film. The Story is a fascinating what could have been 15 minute piece on how the original draft of the film had Frakes' and Picard's roles reversed. There is a very well made 20 minute tribute on the life and career of series composer Jerry Goldsmith that is essential watching for any Trek fan that has identified with Star Trek's vintage scores. Finally, there are three separate features totaling 40 minutes apiece that are all about the Borg, and how they evolved onto the big screen and their lore throughout the Star Trek universe that provided a very entertaining and informative watch.

All the new HD extras are quicker watches, yet still worth watching if you are not already burnt out by the extra feature overkill (once again, 1.5 speed playback on PS3 is my friend!) by now. There is a short, but must watch interview with an astronaut recorded on the International Space Station and how Star Trek inspired his life and career. Finally, there are two extras that are part twos from new HD extras introduced in Generations of an interview with Brent Spiner and a roundtable with four critics dissecting and analyzing First Contact. I try not to touch too much on the extra features on the movie releases on this blog, but it is almost impossible with these feature packed Star Trek releases. Believe me, of the extras I discussed in the previous two paragraphs, I only covered just about half of the main extra features, and then there are still the regular mainstay trailers, photo galleries and interactive library computer that have been in every release in the BluRay set so far. You are definitely getting your money's worth of content here.

For a person who only previously directed about a dozen assorted Star Trek television episodes going into his feature film directorial debut, Jonathon Frakes did a fantastic job with Star Trek: First Contact. It finds a great new direction to take the series in on the big screen by bringing in the whole 'space zombie' dynamic that is the Borg, while mixing it just the right amount of comedic relief to keep everything well balanced from beginning to end. As I stated in the intro, it blows away Generations, and has me excited for what is to come from him next seeing that he is also the director of the next film.

Star Trek Film Ratings

Star Trek: The Motion Picture - 5.5/10
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn - 10/10
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock - 7.5/10
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home - 9/10
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier - 6.5/10
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country - 7.5/10
Star Trek VII: Generations - 8/10
Star Trek VIII: First Contact - 9/10

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