I was still pretty unfamiliar with the Next Generation when this one was released. The first Star Trek movie I saw in the theater was Generations. And the crew of the 1701-D does not make much of an impression. I knew Picard, Data, Worf, and Riker. The others were a little hazy for me. I remember wondering if Troi and Dr Crusher were played by the same actresses, or were meant to be the same characters, in this movie that were on the TV show. At twelve years old, my primary interest in Star Trek was see the guys kick butt. The last time I’d seen the actresses was on vague airings of the first season, in which both ladies looked very different from their movie appearances.
The women of the Next Generation fared much better on TV than in the movies. Really, everybody fared better in the TV version. The attention paid to all characters on the show was now narrowed to make all four movies the Picard and Data show. All the development on secondary characters like Worf, Wesley, and Geordi was abandoned to squeeze them into character types for the movies. “We need a cranky strong guy to intimidate other crewmen (and to make jokes about). Use Worf.” “We need a whiny scientist to doubt the success of the mission (and to make jokes about). Use Geordi.” Or to skip them altogether. I know that Wesley had left the show before the final episode aired, but his presence was really a big part of the TV show. After seeing this movie, I read up on the Next Generation and was surprised to find that a few characters had been on the show and not made it to the movies. Wesley left for the Academy, so he wasn’t in the movies. Yar died. (Imagine my surprise! “There was another crewmember, who died on the show! And stayed dead?”) I thought Whoopi Goldberg was a guest star in the Generations movie. I was surprised to find that she was in a bunch of episodes prior to that. And after that first movie, she’s no where to be seen. Enisign Ro was made into a kind of big deal and then left aside.
The movies really become the Picard and Data show, which is okay if you like Picard and Data. I mostly do. Though Data can get pretty annoying. Some of his most annoying scenes are in the movies. (“You little lifeforms” might be bad, but it’s got nothing on Data’s standup comedy in “The Outrageous Okona.”) The Picard of the movies is a cool character. He’s played by the same actor that played an earlier version of the same character for seven years on TV. They dress him the same, and he’s given the center seat on a space ship called the Enterprise. The peaceful, negotiating, curious Picard on TV must have disappeared in the Nexus. He might start his big screen career weeping over a photo album, but it doesn’t take long for movie Picard to morph into a kind of ride-em-cowboy action hero.
But that’s okay. The old show became something new when its sequel movies were made. And now the Next Generation becomes something new for its movie sequel series. Something stupid, sure. But it’s new.
And when I was twelve, seeing my second Star Trek movie in the theater, this was just what I needed to be convinced to look further into the mysterious Next Generation.
Star Trek : First Contact
That long introduction can be easily summarized: What I knew about the Next Generation was learned two years earlier, at a single screening of Star Trek Generations.
This Picard is different from TV Picard, in that he’s an action hero. But he’s no goober. He is a thinking action hero. He is troubled by what he has to do. And his gradual descent into potentially dangerous obsession is so unlike what we expect from blow-up kinds of flicks. This is how Picard should be introduced to the big screen. The movie zeroes in on Picard, giving him an Ahab complex, which is a classic Trek conceit. Picard’s obsession is justified though, given the extreme danger the Borg present. So there’s a nice tension between Picard doing the right thing and going too far. I don’t know where the line is drawn for him. Oh wait. Hee-yah! it is.
The rest of the cast is good, but given little to do. Data fills the screen more than any other crewman. His nature is introduced, challenged, and slightly changed. That is how you introduce a TV character to the big screen. The emotion chip stuff from the previous movie is just confusing to new viewers and unsatisfying to dedicated fans. (Trust me. I’ve watched that movie as both.) Here, Data is introduced as an android who wants to be human. He is then offered the chance at something like humanity. And he finally decides that his mission is more important than any personal goals he might have.
Riker, who was part of the big three of the TV show is like, barely present in any of the movies. Even when he’s given a wedding or a joystick for a space fight, he still barely registers. On the show, he was the action guy and Picard was the sit-back-and-think-about-it guy. Here, Picard gets to do the action. This leaves the thinking to Riker. Hence Riker’s smaller role in the movies.
Worf’s role is trumped up a bit, thanks to the practical necessity of getting him on the Enterprise in the first place.
The rest of the cast just sort of hover around, waiting for Picard to initiate the next plot point.
The guest cast is excellent. This may be the greatest guest cast assembled for any Star Trek movie. Into Darkness had a majorly impressive one, but the movie sucked. The 2009 reboot had a great one, with Bana as Nero, Nimoy as Spock, Hemsworth and Morrison as Kirk’s parents, and Bruce Greenwood stealing the show as Captain Pike. Montalban, Besch, Butrick, Winfield, and Alley were great in Wrath of Khan. Pound for pound, my money for best guest cast goes to this movie. James Cromwell’s Cochrane is hilarious and sad at the same time. Alice Krige is creepy and slimy and evil. But what is most impressive about her performance – and please don’t tell me I’m alone in this – she plays it kinda sexy. It is very uncomfortable. Great villain.
The standout among the guest cast is Alfre Woodard. This movie would not be one of the greats if it weren’t for her. She’s the forgotten hero of history and she knows it. For whatever reason, she’s hanging around this loser who will someday become the hero of the galaxy. And Picard gives her a peek at what her work will accomplish. She will be forgotten, but her work will lead to amazing technologies and unprecedented peace within mankind. She gives us the sense that she doesn’t understand, but sees the edges of it. And her scenes with Picard, challenging this future boy, are fantastic.
This is a big, loud action movie, but it’s not vapid, like the modern big, loud Star Treks. This action movie hinges on time travel, another classic Trek conceit, and somehow builds suspense, a classic Trek trick. The big baddie is a perfect choice for the movie. They’re popular among fans. And they’re about six or so years old at this point, so if they’d waited much longer the creepiness would have expired. They’re famous enough that lay fans know enough about them to keep up. And they’re creepy enough, and easily explained, so the complete newbie can get what’s going on. (It’s me. I was the newbie. We all gotta start somewhere!)
There’s a new Enterprise too! I wasn’t anticipating this, as I’m sure most Trekkies were at the time. I can dig it. I like it more now than I did at first. My problem with the design was that it undermined what made the classic ship so cool. Aerodynamics are pointless in space. This ship seems overly reliant (so to speak) on the flying saucer, which I don’t like. The Enterprise doesn’t need to look fast. But this design has grown on me over the years. Exploring it in Elite Force II helped me to appreciate what they were going for. It’s basically an upgraded war-class version of the D. That’s what comes across anyway. That makes sense for the direction the movies take the otherwise peaceful explorers, plunking them into dangerous places. There are no kids on this ship!
As franchises go, Star Trek is my favorite. Hands down. I’m not a huge TV-watcher, so I haven’t seen every episode of every Star Trek. And I rarely re-watch movies or TV shows. But the show that I have watched more of, and in more repeated viewings, is Star Trek. Even the last film on this list will probably be viewed several more times by me. Even though I love it all, I am also capable of viewing it critically. This is the last of the “which I like more” Star Trek movies. From here on out, the movies are being ranked by which I dislike less.At this point on the list. I’m still going from best to worst. This is just where I stop loving the movies, and start disliking them.
The list so far: