Like any fans, we at Blastr love talking about the stuff we love ... and, like any fans, we sometimes disagree. With that in mind, we bring you the Blastr Debate Club, in which we attempt to tackle some of the big questions in the worlds of fantasy, sci-fi and horror.
In our inaugural outing, Nathalie and Dan take on the most beloved of Star Trek: The Next Generation movies: First Contact. Does it win only by default, or is it a true classic? See what our writers had to say, and then sound off with your own thoughts in the comments!
Dan: I remember liking First Contact when I originally saw it in theaters opening weekend. I was at the time (and still am) agonizingly devoted to Next Gen. As the years passed, however, my fondness quickly waned and, watching it now, I realize that I kind of hate it. To me, it is the most overrated Trek movie by far, clung to only because all the other Next Gen films are so utterly abysmal.
Despite some of its charms, First Contact is sluggishly paced, takes too many liberties with the main characters in the name of reaching a wider audience, and is, in the end, a big, dumb action movie that lacks all of the philosophical analysis and human heart that made the TV series so successful.
Nathalie: I loved First Contact with a passion when I saw it in theaters, and it has never waned. Every time I saw it, I loved it as much as the very first time, if not more. Perhaps it was because the next two Next Gen films were less than stellar though, after repeat viewings, I forgave Insurrection its defects. Nemesis ... well, Nemesis killed Data, so I'm not crazy about it.
Granted, First Contact is less philosophical than the series — Insurrection is much closer on that point, and felt like a Next Gen episode -- but First Contact delivered because it kept the audience's attention and it was far from a dumb action flick. It had heart: Lily was the heart. And it was far from dumb: It had a very well realized time-travel plot with a satisfying (and terrifying) faceoff against one of Trek's greatest foes.
Dan: All right, Nathalie. Let's start positive. Name me an aspect of First Contact that really stands out as something you love.
Nathalie: The Borg being the main villains and the Borg Queen. I've always loved the Borg as big bads on TNG. They were pretty scary, and I was pleasantly surprised when that seductive Borg Queen appeared with all her individuality, which was the complete opposite of what the Borg were and turned all we knew about them on its head.
Dan: I'm glad you brought that up, because the Borg Queen is what I hate most of all about First Contact. I love the Borg, too, and, for me, introducing an evil, almost mustache-twirling Borg leader with her own sense of identity made the Borg dramatically less scary. Maybe a Borg Queen could work, but, for the leader of an endless army of deadly cyborgs, her entire story boiled down to "Must sex Data to win at plot MacGuffin."
Nathalie: I don't agree with you. It was even more frightening to have a face to the Borg, especially a seductive one. It was rather surprising, and I remember thinking how cool it was. Alice Krige's performance was outstanding. Yeah, they did throw in the "sex with the android" thingy, but it didn't bother me because it showed another side of the Borg -- instead of just assimilating, the Borg Queen wanted someone to join them of their own free will. Oh, and it also allowed Brent Spiner to stretch his legs a bit and allow a broader range of emotion to play with.
Dan: All right, my turn. I think having Jonathan Frakes direct was a mistake. Yes, he was fine as a TV director, but he seems totally out of his depth directing a feature film. Every time I watch the movie, it seems jarring to me whenever we switch between the beautiful visual effects shots and the live-action stuff. The sets are great, but there's something decidedly artless about how they're shot.
Nathalie: I think Frakes did a really good job. It was the guy's first big-screen gig, and lo and behold, it was the flick that did the best overall of all the TNG movies. And it's arguably the one people love the most (again, Next Generation-wise, and is probably second only to Wrath of Khan overall for most Star Trek fans). Give Frakes a break here. He got the best of all the actors, with Patrick Stewart turning in a powerful performance. His style of directing is definitely not flashy like *cough* Abrams' *cough* for example, but for 1996, it was fine.
Dan: I like Frakes a lot, but I just can't give him a pass here. And, actually, I don't think he got the best out of the actors. Frakes is infamously nicknamed "Two Takes" Frakes because he's very quick to move onto the next scene, right? And while that saves both time and money, I really think rushing meant sacrificing a lot of the subtlety of performance. I think that's part of why Picard seems so much angrier in this movie than usual. Sure, part of it is the script, but given time to give a more nuances read, I think Stewart could have made this stark change in characterization much more believable.
Dan: First Contact had tons of potential, but the whole affair is treated with kid gloves. There's never any feeling that humanity might not succeed (or worse, not even deserve to), and Picard just breaks his ships instead of having to face his own self doubt that a man who was assimilated by the Borg could be unstable enough to guarantee their victory, or that he even might welcome it.
A fancy, new Enterprise can't make up for the hollowness contained within it. And seven seasons of characterization feel all but entirely washed away. Humanity's striving towards the future is left a comedic footnote. Even the Borg, who once scared us because they represented our fear of being homogenized by our jobs and our corporate culture, have sacrificed their innate Orwellian dread in exchange for looking scary.
Nathalie: First Contact is a thrilling Star Trek film harkening back to the sense of adventure that drove the original TV series. Less philosophical than the show, it nonetheless asked important questions about what it means to be human and its intrinsic meaning in the face of the loss of that humanity — especially to the Borg.
It also boasted some very solid performances from Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, James Cromwell and Alfre Woodard, giving us one of the most beloved and enduring of all the Star Trek flicks.