Recalling First Contact, The Movie!
A review of the real, official, no-kidding First Contact
“First” contact, you say? “First”? Really?!
Although most first contacts in Star Trek have admittedly been when the Federation has been the one contacting new species (one of those instances was the Next Generation installment bearing the same name as the movie: “First Contact”), several episodes allude to a first contact happening between humans and aliens at various times before the official First Contact Day of April 5th, 2063. We generally overlook these other first contacts, because in the Star Trek Universe, they did, too – likely because all of those were secret meetings, kept hush hush. Did Mark Twain even know that Guinan was an alien?! (Dissecting all the times this happened is for another article on another day.) That’s all fine. It set the stage for what is probably the best movie based on and with the Next Generation cast.
However, that’s only if you can stomach the nearly three minutes of opening credits before anything happens. I’m glad that that style of movie opening is no longer in vogue. Especially if I’m seeing the movie in the theater, I’ve already sat there for twenty minutes or more watching previews and ads and entertainment “news”… so just start the movie, already! Overlay the credits or show them later!
Once past those first few minutes, you are instantly brought to the eye of Picard and thrown into his point of view, and we feel like we’re home again.
I’ve seen this movie so many times in the twenty-five years since it premiered, it’s hard to remember what I felt that first time. I’m certain I had seen the trailer, so I knew to expect Borg and I knew to expect Zefram Cochrane, and being the Trek geek I am, knew exactly who this inventor of warp drive was… although how they were going to bring those two together, I hadn’t imagined.
The last time we saw Cochrane in Trek, he had voluntarily stayed on a planet with Federation Commissioner Nancy Hedford in the Original Series episode “Metamorphosis”. I remember needing to put everything I had learned about Cochrane from that episode aside when I met the one portrayed by actor James Cromwell in this new movie.
As amazing as the Star Trek canon is, it’s imperfect, mostly because in the late 1960s, they weren’t thinking much beyond the TV show they were creating. I can look past this disconnect. That Original Series episode had Cochrane having been presumed dead after heading out into space as an old man. Kirk, et al. find him, and to the audience, he’s presented as potentially a military man, probably modeled after the Apollo-era astronauts and mission developers of the day.
But the Cochrane we meet in First Contact is definitely not the same guy. This Cochrane likes to drink and is maybe even a drunk, motivated by economics to invent, rather than by pure science. Given that he’s a product of early 21st-century war and the unpleasant not-too-distant future if we’re not careful, it’s easy to have some sympathy for him. It’s also hard to see how he could possibly go from that guy to the military-minded, disciplined Cochrane of the Original Series episode.
So, this is where we have to have some suspension of disbelief in the Universe. I hope that die-hard fans like myself are able to. Because once you put all that aside, we get a wonderful movie, filled with all the qualities that we love about TNG.
All our favorite characters were back, with the qualities we expected from them. As a treat, we even got an in-universe cameo from another series: The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager (although, as a hologram, it’s really not the same doctor).
The story in this movie is a Picard story, but it’s also a Data story, and a Borg story. Meeting the Borg Queen for the very first time, in this film, was a fascinating development into who and what the Borg is all about, and actress Alice Krige made a fantastic Borg Queen. I was happy to see the character re-occur in a few Voyager episodes a couple of years later (although it was sad that Alice Krige was not the actor who reprised the role).
If you have not seen First Contact, plan to watch it the next time you have two hours free. However, it might make sense to watch a handful of Borg-related episodes of The Next Generation first, to include “The Best of Both Worlds” (I and II), “I, Borg”, and “Descent” (I and II). (And if you have no idea what this “Borg” is that I keep talking about, then you should also watch the TNG Season 2 episode “Q Who”, which is where the Borg were first introduced.)
And while you’re engaged in this mini-binge, I suggest one other related episode: “Family”, which aired immediately following “The Best of Both Worlds”. This episode delved a little into the PTSD that Picard suffered from, based on his experience with the Borg. I’m not an expert on trauma and what it’s like to live with it, but this is one place where The Next Generation becomes more real: our beloved characters are going through genuine issues that happen to people every day. Not being-assimilated-by-Borg every day, but dealing with the after-effects of trauma, and the trauma gives more reason to appreciate, in Q’s words, “mon capitan“: Picard managed to be an amazing and outstanding captain all these years, with this residual PTSD just under the surface.
It was very interesting, and a perfect setup, to use Picard’s lingering trauma as motivation for the action in this movie. It was a perfect excuse to keep the Enterprise out of the battle initially, so that the ensuing action could take place. It worked very well for me, and I hope it works for you, too.
On a less serious note (since I’m not one to dwell on serious things for too long), I hope the main question you’re left with after watching First Contact is the same one I am: If you were the inventor of warp drive, what classic rock song would you have blasting as you lit that huge, blazing candle for the first time?
Inspired by Trek growing up and daily enabled by strong cups of coffee, Adeena Mignogna is a software and systems engineer working in the aerospace industry. She is also the author of Crazy Foolish Robots, a humorous science-fiction novel. Visit her website at adeenamignogna.com.