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Retrospective: Star Trek First Contact

Back in 1996, I was 8 and tried hard to get to see this film. I was 4 years too young, so this ended badly as I’m pretty sure the underpaid usher at the Empire Leicester Square didn’t believe me for a second that I was actually a short 13 year old. It was bad enough that here in the UK, we had to wait a month for a release after the United States of America, now I had to wait until the next year to see it on video. But the question is, was this wait worth it?

The answer is an incredibly resounding yes. While before he had only directed Television episodes (and primarily of his own show once the actors had established a firm grasp on their characters), and the fact is he’d go on to direct 2004’s Thunderbirds (an unpardonable sin in the eyes of this and many other Supermarionation fans minds), he had never directed a feature before, but you couldn’t tell from the quality of the final product. From on set tales, Jonathan Frakes (who I owe a pat on the back for Star Trek TNG, DS9, Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery, Lower Decks and Picard) and a light punch for Thunderbirds 2004) was known for such efficiency, he earned the nickname ‘Two Takes Frakes’. To me, however, I think the greatest compliment is thus; I enjoyed Stuart Baird’s editing on the 2006 Casino Royale, his direction on Star Trek Nemesis is probably a big reason why it failed somewhat at the Box Office. To be fair, it was up against a fairly stacked slate from Die Another Day (objectively awful but 007 is a Box Office juggernaut) and Peter Jackson’s anticipated sequel, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. If Mr Frakes was at Star Trek X’s helm instead, it would still face a tremendously awful Cinema slate challenge, but based on his debut here, I’d argue his Star Trek Nemesis would have stood a far better fighting chance than it did in reality.

Plus I’ve heard rumours that Jonathan Frakes is not only a fellow Trekkie and my cinematic inspiration, but also a New England Patriots fan like me. So he is obviously a man of great talent and taste.

While the design of the previous Enterprise, the Galaxy Class was incredible and would have looked exactly at home on the silver screen, its design does not exactly lend itself to efficient film production due to the model’s unwieldy quality and mounting points.

Its successor, the new Sovereign Class is possibly as beautiful as a starship can get and the fact Im writing all this gushing a quarter-century later just goes to show how highly I regard the Sovereign Class. It earned the ultimate accolade in 2019: the Enterprise E is an ornament on my Christmas tree.

As an ensemble piece, an unfortunate inevitability is that some of the cast are underutilised. Rarely to never do Gates McFadden or Levar Burton get many meaningful scenes. While this mostly extends to Mirina Sirtis as well, however, it must be said that she and Jonathan Frakes get the biggest laugh of the film in the scene where Riker finds out how blended Troi got on Tequila getting to establish contact with the 2063 Zefram Cochrane.

For a Directing Actor, Frakes turns in a great performance (just see any instance of Quentin Tarantino ‘acting’ for a comparison to see what I mean). Sir Patrick Stewart did not direct but does an excellent performance (as is typical of him) and his performance in the ‘this far and no further’ soliloquy opposite the excellent Alfre Woodward.

Brent Spiner plays Data at arguably the most pivotal turning point of his life, it is excellent how he remains so believable when objectively, his Frankenstein – esque scenes in Main Engineering border on near parody at times taken purely at a writing level.

Industrial Light and Magic’s special effects were excellent when this film premiered in late 1996, but all these years later, they still hold up. Whether this is due to the sheer quality work which the creators of the Special Effects of Star Wars brought to Star Trek VIII is an argument for another time. What is inarguable is that 25 years later, they have aged even less than some Computer Generated Imagery on contemporary episodes of both Deep Space Nine and Voyager. This might owe to having a substantially bigger budget with a motion picture one than its Television equivalent.

Finally, while I agree that in retrospect, it is odd that in 2063 ‘Oobie Doobie’ by Roy Orbison and ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ by Steppenwolf would still be played. It is my firm belief that these songs truly rock and it is for this reason that I can overlook this possible anachronism and just welcome their inclusion on the film’s soundtrack.

Oh, fun fact: the original USS Voyager NCC 74656 is in early trailers for the film.

Overall, I would recommend this film so highly partially as it had barely even aged in the quarter-century since release. Wall to wall excellent performances and effects work of such quality (which upstages effects made for subsequent Star Trek films) and feel as fresh as they did back in late 1996.

I’d give it a firm recommendation 6 days a week then twice on Sunday. Also if it was not perfect enough, it cropped up in the comic series Assimilation Squared. The Star Trek/Doctor Who crossover is just the meaning of divine.

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