Monday, October 28, 2002

STAR TREK Redux, conclusion.

(Part Four)

:: Star Trek: First Contact.

With the "even-odd" rule well-established by this point, Star Trek fans had every right to expect First Contact to be a good film. For my part, though, I felt a certain sense of trepidation as the film's release approached, because of what I knew about the film's story. It can be summed up in a single word:


I was not at all sure that I really wanted to see a Star Trek feature film about the Borg. Now, the Borg were very compelling villains in their episodes on TNG; I especially loved how they represented a direct counterexample to Star Trek's usual message of understanding, reason, and communication being the key to resolving problems between peoples. The Borg, by their very nature, are incapable of understanding, reason and communication. Their entire focus is on conquest and assimilation, which made them perfect foils for the Federation, and their relentless nature made for some of the most rivetting episodes of TNG ever produced.

The problem with the Borg is that with them a little bit goes a very long way, but by the time of First Contact's making, the Borg had started to feel a bit like the all-purpose Star Trek ratings tool: whenever the franchise appears to be in trouble, just throw in an appearance by the Borg and the fans will come running. This was especially true when the producers used the Borg to give Voyager a stiff dose of, for lack of a better term, sex appeal by introducing the Seven-of-Nine character. The whole story-arc of the Borg had seemed all-played-out, in my mind, so when I heard that the new Star Trek film was to feature them, I was a less than excited.

Fortunately, my fears were allayed: First Contact is excellent, far and away the best film to feature the TNG crew. Learning the lessons of Generations, the film establishes its two main storylines -- the Borg's invasion of the Enterprise, and their attempts to disrupt humanity's first contact with an alien species -- after a fairly quick preamble, and keeps alternating between the two storylines until they come together at the end in a fairly surprising way. The plot is basically that the Borg have decided that since they are not succeeding in assimilating humanity in the 24th century, they will go back in time and stop the humans from achieving warp drive -- thus keeping them earthbound, and making their assimilation easy. This story allows a journey into some long-time Star Trek lore: the broken society that forms after the Third World War (I think), the discovery of warp drive by Zefram Cochrane (Cochrane originally turned up in the TOS episode "Metamorphosis"), and the first meeting between humans and Vulcans. Indeed, the whole film is filled with references to Trek-lore and history, including some nifty Easter-eggs like the fact that the warp nacelles on Cochrane's prototype warp-ship are almost identical to the warp-nacelles on the TOS version of the Enterprise. There are a lot of small, Trekker-type moments in First Contact.

The film's action plot is also exciting, although it falls into something of a pattern: the crew has to stop the Borg from doing X, and they do, only to realize that now they have to stop the Borg from doing Y, which they do, only to discover....but the final solution to the Borg problem is an exciting one, relying on Data's emotion-chip but doing so in a fairly understated manner (as opposed to the histrionics Data was forced to undergo in Generations). Picard's obsession with destroying the Borg is also well-handled, as at one point he is so bent on staying on the Enterprise and fighting them that he calls Worf a coward, to his face. This also plays into a nice moment of literary allusion, which are always common in Star Trek: Picard is compared to Ahab from Moby Dick.

The film does mis-step a few times along the way. In the first place, I find it unbelievable that even considering Picard's experience of having been partially assimilated by the Borg years before, Starfleet would have its most powerful ship stay out of the battle. (And for that matter, it's getting increasingly hard to believe that this crew is still intact -- shouldn't Riker be a Captain of his own ship by now?) There is also a fairly pointless diversion into Picard's holodeck persona of Dixon Hill; that scene plays very oddly, although it does afford the chance for a cameo by the actor who played Neelix from Voyager. (There is another Voyager cameo in the film, earlier on, as well.) Jerry Goldsmith's music is passable, with a beautiful theme of maturity but with action music that isn't particularly memorable. And the whole time-travel mechanism, with the technobabble laid on pretty thick, seems to me to make time travel ridiculously easy. Can any ship do that, if the crew wishes it?

Still, First Contact is a rattling-good adventure film, mostly tense and exciting and with some heart. I enjoyed it immensely.

:: Star Trek Insurrection.

I don't really have a whole lot to say about Insurrection, mainly because it's really pretty generic. It's not a bad film, by any means -- its pacing is OK, its story is no more or less absurd than any other Star Trek movie story, the acting as always is fine -- but it still seems formulaic. There is no reason why this story couldn't be told as a two-part episode on television, as opposed to being made for the big screen. Insurrection doesn't start off particularly promisingly -- we have Picard chasing Data in a shuttlecraft, singing Gilbert and Sullivan into the radio in an attempt to override something that's gone wrong in Data's head, a scene which had me thinking, "My God, what are they doing here?" Thankfully, things get a lot better after that -- but not amazingly better. So that's really all I have to say about Insurrection. I'm not sure if it holds to the "Even-Odd" rule or if it breaks the rule: it's not a bad film, but it's not a memorable one, either.

:: Star Trek Nemesis.

See you this winter. Hailing frequencies closed.

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