Summary of Vengeance:
Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise must stop the Borg from preventing the birth of the United Federation of Planets.
Review and Analysis:
And so the Star Trek franchise moves from stalling in a ballistic climb to beginning a drop to Earth in a screaming powerdive. Among the four movies for The Next Generation franchise, this one is regarded as being “the best” of those – but considering how poorly constructed and dreadful the other three movies are, it isn’t saying much about it.
What’s It All About?
Where Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes like “I, Borg,” and “Descent I & II,” represented the beginning of the end of the Borg as an enemy to be feared, First Contact does the most damage to the Borg until Star Trek: Voyager tries its hand at Borg-centered episodes.
The threat of the Borg was that there was no central nodule, no power-based command structure, no need for clearly defined authority figures. In many ways, the Borg is like how the Internet was originally intended to be: Decentralized and able to function even in the face of major damage to a vast portion of itself.
In this movie, however, everything changed. The Borg “drones” are now simply worker bees in a colony; controlled by a “Queen,” a central unit that controls all of the important operations of the Borg Collective. So, when she is destroyed, the Collective that she controlled on the Enterprise-E was also killed…for the sake of convenience.
But, what really sets the Borg Collective back as an ultimate villain? The need for a Borg Queen AND her use of Seduction Attacks on Data. The Queen herself acts as “The Face” of the Borg now. Unfortunately, it means that we have yet another female-gendered antagonist who uses her sex appeal to entice the hero into joining the cause, continuing the well-worn stereotypes of female-gendered characters in the service evil using their physical charms in an attempt to turn “heroic” males to the Dark Side.
Finally, if you look at her actions, especially after she believes that Data had joined her efforts, you really never get the idea that she was really in control of the situation at hand. It is almost as if she never had a Plan A once Data locked out the main computer system. Thus, we won’t even get into the fact that she had no Plan B – nor did she have an escape plan if somehow Picard and his merry band of soldiers showed up and blasted the “only weak spot in the Enterprise’s engine room.” Even more to the point, she never considers what would happen if a coolant tank leak (or some other technobabble radiation that can rend flesh on the spot) spills in the engine room. Not a smart villain(ess) at all. But the audience is supposed to consider her both sexy and dangerous at the same time because she is Borg, but she can be very seductive.
In other words, it’s all about the sex and titillation.
One of the problems that you run into when you’re attempting to build a story based around characters that have already been established is that the foundation has already been laid. If you had a specific story that you wanted to tell, it has to be within the confines of the story already told about the person or event to that point.
And, just as Generations breaks the Next Generation episode “Relics” into tiny pieces, First Contact smashes the Original Series episode “Metamorphosis” into free-floating mesons. And it really isn’t for the reasons that one may think they are.
You often expect an anti-science and anti-engineering bend from filmmakers like George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, and James Cameron, as their franchises have a hatred of the sciences that range from rankling annoyance to full-bore loathing. Star Trek, on the other hand, was supposed to be about embracing the sciences and exploring both the galaxy and the “human condition.”
Unfortunately, Brannon Braga and Ron Moore show their scriptwriting limitations as they try to shoehorn both their idea of Zefram Cochrane and how to make him humorous at the same time. It is through his scenes that the “Humor in Star Trek” edict was to be followed. It is also here that the TNG 3 (Berman, Braga, and Moore) show their own loathing of the Original Series and its precepts.
First, like Relics, to reconcile Zefram’s history with what had already been established, Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the Federation have to be portrayed as idiots, because now, they are victims of misinformation – and Zefram never bothers to correct them. Kirk ID’d him in the episode as being “of Alpha Centauri,” thus the gymnastics begin here (he really wasn’t from Alpha Centauri, but he…retired there). While Moore and Braga seized on him “being an old man when he left,” they made a mistake when they did this:
Secondly, Metamorphosis made Cochrane sound like he was a cross between Albert Einstein and Colonel Charles “Chuck” Yeager, having developed a new method of travel AND testing it out in the hopes of advancing some kind of understanding of the universe. First Contact undermines this like a quarterback sack; Cochrane is simply a drunk entrepreneur who just stumbles on an idea for faster-than-light travel that he plans to use to make money in his old age.
The idea of the character as written by the TNG 3 was that Cochrane’s drunken behavior was going to be the springboard for the Enterprise crew (which idolized Zefram like a rockstar) to help him regain his “lost” spirit to help him attain the glory that awaited him. Unfortunately, it only goes to demonstrate how bad screenwriting makes a shaky premise crumble; everything Zefram does is against his own will. He has no interest in rebuilding his spacecraft when the Borg destroy it. With the crew idolizing him, he decides to run away as fast as he can. Once the final preparations are done, Zefram has it out with Riker about why he built the ship. Even the flight itself is its own mess.
I’ve made mention that the TNG 3 (Berman and Braga in particular) have a disdain for the first Star Trek series. The end result of First Contact attempts to have a nyah-nyah moment by proclaiming through its actions that Zefram’s achievement was not possible without the crew of the Enterprise-E. Meanwhile, Kirk, Spock, and the rest of the Federation in The Original Series meander about on the planet Zefram lives on, never knowing “the full truth” behind Cochrane’s test flight.
Think about the conversation between Riker and Cochrane after they come out of Warp after traveling at the Speed of Light for several seconds…after they traveled several seconds at speeds far exceeding 20,000 km per second.
Now, look at this frame:
Even assuming minimum times for everything, Cochrane’s jaunt should have had him and his ship looking at Mars by the time they drop out of Light Speed (commonly referred to in Trek as Warp 1).
This is part-and-parcel to a production staff that believes that the best way to sell tickets to a science-fiction movie franchise is to eschew its fanbase and treat even valid criticism of its efforts as an affront to decency. Come to think of it, that is how most fanbases justify their behavior to critical reviews that go beyond the arguing over plot details.
Thus, the circle completed itself.
Rick Berman Hates “Deep Space 9”:
Originally, the script called for the USS Defiant, which was the main traveling ship for the crew on the show Star Trek: Deep Space 9, to be destroyed during the battle. Lt. Cmdr. Worf, who was commanding the Defiant at the time, would have been beamed away, along with survivors, before the ship explodes. In terms of the story itself, there was no need to actually destroy the ship, but the ship’s presence itself was needed in order to parachute Worf into the film (since Michael Dorn is under contract to appear in any Next Generation film releases). Ira Stephen Behr, the Executive Producer of Deep Space 9, convinced Berman otherwise regarding the Defiant, and the script simply changed Picard’s line to “Adrift, but salvageable.”
The acrimony between Rick Berman and the production staff of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 had been the subject of published rumor for years. But judging on the actions that have taken place across the Star Trek mythology, Berman’s intense dislike of Deep Space 9 may have some basis in fact.
When Your Only Weapon is Sass:
I wanted to say something positive about “Lily” (pictured above, played by Alfre Woodard). A black woman with a major part in a Star Trek film not named Nichelle Nichols (and not directed by William Shatner)? Considering that Star Trek’s fanbase (like much of science fiction and fantasy) has a disdain for Women of Color, in particular Black Women? But I just could not.
Why? Because Lily adds nothing to the movie. Her role in the movie is really undefined; she tries to gun down Picard and Data when they snoop around the missile complex. When she is beamed aboard the Enterprise-E (thanks to treating her for a technobabble radiation), she spends her time being angry and sassy at everyone, but especially Captain Picard. In fact, her big scene with Stewart was nothing more than sass with extra sass:
Unfortunately, you never get the feeling that Lily actually does anything regarding Zefram’s warp ship. Beyond her one line before the Borg attack the complex where the ship is housed, she does and says nothing else regarding Cochrane’s warp shuttle. If you read the published rumor concerning the original role that becomes Lily (she apparently was the one who helped Picard repair Zefram’s craft), you get to see how much she has been diminished with the finished product. Now? She’s just someone who probably helped Zefram out in some way. We never learn how.
One of the final low-level insults (or a simple micro-aggression) comes when Picard quotes Moby Dick to Lily and she responds:
“Actually, I never read it.”
Examining this from a screenwriting perspective, Lily’s line was supposed to act as a logical bridge for Picard to explain the premise further to the audience, many of whom never having read Moby Dick themselves (despite the fact that they enjoyed the Star Trek version back in 1982, when it was called The Wrath of Khan). But since Lily seems to have nothing but “street smarts,” space fantasy’s aversion to showing book-intelligent (and formally educated) black women on screen continues on.
[Sidenote: For those who’ll point to any of Lily’s accomplishments in novels or non-game media, it will only serve to prove a point that I’ve been making since my examination of Eragon; the “awesomeness” of women of color is confined to the books. For Star Trek, these are considered NOT to be part of the continuity of the “Star Trek Universe.” I also stress this about Uhura in my review of Star Trek 6. Keep this in mind if you choose to respond in such a manner.]
Much like Generations, Dr. Crusher has relatively few lines and disappears for all intents and purposes after she activates the self-destruct sequence. She has this happen to her once more in Nemesis. For Insurrection, she still does a disappearing act, but she does at least get to shoot a gun at least once.
Proud Warrior Worf:
When Picard goes full-tilt Ahab, Worf, as the senior Command track officer (Crusher actually outranks Worf, but is not considered to be command track) objects to
Ahab’s Picard’s pointless struggling against the Borg at this point of the film. When Ahab Picard decides to raise Worf’s heckles, Worf responds by threatening Picard with death (which is the scene you see in the trailer). It should be noted that Worf actually does kill nearly everyone who has called him a coward…most times where they stood. But most of the scriptwriters for Star Trek spent their time trying to make the Big Klingon Brute the butt of idiotic jokes, especially when they were not necessary. It was as if the production staff continuously loses sight of perspective and instead delves into insanity.
You can draw a straight line from Michael Dorn’s Worf to Christopher Judge’s T’ealc (who has his own issues).
One of the major criticisms of Hollywood screenwriters and producers is that their products are the result of “not living life.” In other words, not knowing of an existence outside of the Hollywood bubble. The movie I recommend for watching this contrast in the context of this review is “The Right Stuff,” which is a dramatized account of some the United States’ ventures in the air and going into space. The personalities of the men involved with NASA & the US Air Force show a marked difference from the Zefram Cochrane in this movie; their endpoints and motivations are different, even though they have the same kind of goal at the end. [That is, if you can stomach the soft-power racism and typical gender roles in The Right Stuff.]
It’s hard to take fandom’s defenses of a franchise seriously when the franchise producer’s disdain for products they don’t produce appear time-and-time again. But, to do so this time, they reduce the franchise’s scariest villain to a sex object AND they turn TOS’s version of Chuck Yeager-Einstein to Cliff Clavin. The only woman of color with any appreciable screentime is an angry and sassy black woman; the other women of color are walk-ons with no lines (except for Patti Yatsutake, who gets one, give or take a hole in the wall).
All in all, Jonathan Frakes as movie director isn’t all that bad, considering that he takes a screenplay almost as bad as Generations and turns in a workman-like performance. However, “Action-Picard” doesn’t seem to work that well. Normally, the Captain Ahab character dies because he allows his obsession to blind him to far more immediate and critical responsibilities (H/T: Leonard McCoy). But Action Picard gets a just-in-time save from a sassy black woman, so it’s supposed to be okay. Data’s plotline makes little sense in both the short and the long term, and seems to have been a rip-off of “The Enterprise Incident” falsetto romance between Spock and the female Romulan commander. Crusher is pushed to the side, Worf is the idiot brute – even when he is right, LaForge is stuck fixing things, and Troi is only allowed to get drunk. It’s as if her empathic powers are completely useless (and thanks to the incompetent clods that write for Trek, they are).
Watch First Contact. And then do this.