The Borg are back, but the new Enterprise-E is told to stay out of the fighting, as Starfleet is worried former-Borg Picard could be a liability. Of course, he defies orders, heads to Earth and successfully destroys a cube in Earth’s orbit. Before it explodes, a small sphere emerges and travels back in time — apparently changing history. The Enterprise follows, and determines that the Borg want to stop humanity’s first warp flight by killing its inventor, Zefram Cochrane (see “Metamorphosis”). The Enterprise destroys the sphere, but not before it attacks Cochrane’s facility and beams drones to the Enterprise. Riker and Geordi head to the surface and help Cochrane (James Cromwell) — who’s a drunk and isn’t the paragon of virtue history paints him to be — while Picard must try to save the ship from the Borg. Data is captured by the newly introduced Borg queen (Alice Krige) and Picard sets the ship on autodestruct — to prevent the Borg from taking it over and stopping Cochrane. Before he leaves, Picard tries to save Data, who has apparently switched sides on the Borg queen’s promise of having real skin grafted onto his body (or something) but ends up double-crossing the Borg and allowing Picard to kill the queen. Cochrane’s flight continues (mostly) as planned and a Vulcan ship sees the flight and makes first contact. The Enterprise returns home, with history restored.
Why it’s important
This movie, aside from being mostly very good, explains a lot of Trek’s backstory and is a touchstone for “Star Trek: Enterprise.” Humanity joins a larger galactic community after these events, although it really makes its biggest steps about a century later.
This movie also shows more background on the Borg (some of which is dumb) and is consequential in that humanity was saved twice by the Enterprise crew (first in the initial battle and, then, in the 21st century).
Lastly — and maybe most importantly — we see the new Enterprise-E for the first time. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for its predecessor, but the new Enterprise was pretty badass.
What doesn’t hold up
The movie’s biggest conceit is that it totally ignores everything that happened in “Descent”. There’s no mention of the individual Borg seen in that episode or why Picard was allowed to defend the Federation then but not in this movie. Or, why Riker — who saved Earth from assimilation in “The Best of Both Worlds” — is excluded, as well. Basically, the reason for keeping the Enterprise-E out of the fight is dumb. It would have made more sense if the ship had been late to the fight because it was too far away. Of course, the fact that the Enterprise can leave the Neutral Zone and get to Earth in the course of the battle has never made even a bit of sense. Essentially, the battle would have had to last for DAYS for the Enterprise to make it in time.
One also wonders why the entire Enterprise crew (save Worf) is serving on the new Enterprise with the same rank. Seems like any one of them could have gone onto greener pastures, particularly with the natural break after the destruction of the previous Enterprise.
Speaking of Worf, it was fun to get him back into the fold by having him command the Defiant in the Borg attack. By this point in the Trek timeline, he was stationed on DS9. But it’s kind of ridiculous that he’s the only DS9 character on the Defiant during the attack. Even if Sisko and some of the others (Kira and Odo, certainly) stayed on the station, why Dax, O’Brien and Bashir aren’t on the Defiant is never explained. Also, the Defiant survivors got absorbed pretty quickly into the Enterprise crew (or, were assimilated).
There’s also the matter of Cochrane in this movie compared with his first appearance in “Metamorphosis”. Besides the fact that James Cromwell looks NOTHING like Glenn Corbett, the two characters sure don’t act alike. Corbett’s Cochrane talked about decency and was weirded out when he learned the Companion had an intimate relationship with him. Cromwell’s Cochrane is a drunk who built the warp engine to get to an island full of naked women. Hmmm …
Also, it’s odd that the Borg chose to try to stop Cochrane in the days before first contact. Why not go to Earth and kill Cochrane as a child — or destroy Cochrane’s complex weeks or months before first contact? There’s no advantage to them arriving right before the event, other than to allow the Enterprise crew to see and be part of the first warp flight.
There are a few other stray items, like why Picard brought Data down to the planet initially. There’s just no way to justify that, considering it’s a primitive culture in which Data sticks out like a sore thumb. But, basically, this movie sets up the Picard-and-Data shoot-’em up approach we see for the rest of the Trek movies. That’s unfortunate, because it doesn’t play to the characters’ strengths from TNG and it marginalizes nearly all of the other characters. Riker and Geordi essentially become the leaders of the B team starting here. The funniest example comes in “Star Trek: Insurrection” — which we won’t review — when the entire senior staff joins Picard, going against orders. Picard is in civilian clothes (planning to leave the ship) and Data, Worf, Troi and Crusher all arrive in civilian clothes as well. Riker and Geordi, though, are in uniform. At that point, it was unclear whether Picard would allow anyone to join him. But he relents, and asks Riker and Geordi to stay on the ship. It’s almost as if those two — and only those two — knew they’d be left behind and dressed appropriately. Or that Picard picked who would join him based on who had changed into civilian attire.
Back to “First Contact”, it does seem that Picard values Data more than just about anyone else. That’s not necessarily a problem — they are, of course, close — but Picard’s decision to go save Data is over the top. It’s justified by him realizing he’s been callous about his disregard for crewmembers who were assimilated earlier. But it’s awful convenient that he had that realization only in time to save Data.
This really is a good movie, even if it’s more violent than just about any other Trek film. The first contact stuff works quite well — the reveal that the aliens are Vulcans was nicely done — and the Borg action (particularly the space battles) is great.
But the Borg stuff on the Enterprise is kind of annoying. Why don’t more of the Starfleet officers start using bladed weapons — or even replicating bullets? To go to hand-to-hand combat after the Borg neutralize the phasers was really stupid. Hell, Picard uses a machine gun in the holodeck! Why didn’t he replicate a few dozen of those?
I’m not going to get too deep into the Borg Queen stuff, as I don’t absolutely hate the idea and realize it might have been necessary for exposition. But it does run counter to a lot of what we know AND the forced retcon from “The Best of Both Worlds” really was odd. Why the creators decided to make the queen an active part of Picard’s assimilation way back when never made a ton of sense.
Coming next week …
The Enterprise crew has one last mission before it breaks up — and the music of Irving Berlin plays a big role. Hmmm.