Palmer’s Trek, the unwatched frontier. These are the voyages of Agent Palmer. On his continuing mission: to explore Star Trek. To seek out its numerous series and movies. To boldly go where many fans have gone before!

Looking Back, First Contact Gets Historic Heroes and Star Trek Just Right

Star Trek: First Contact might be the best Star Trek movie I have seen to date. The Borg finally seem to reach their terrorizing potential, Picard says the thing, and James Cromwell’s portrayal of Zefram Cochran and his eccentricities are a masterclass in the things history doesn’t teach. All of this adds up to a fun film in a franchise that had begun to take itself a bit too seriously.

For those who aren’t aware, Star Trek: First Contact is about first contact with a planet. It just happens to include a bit of time travel and that planet is ours. This is actually the story of the Vulcans first contact with us.

But we get to this first contact by, of course, going back and doing a bit of time travel. Starting in the present (movie) day of the 24th century, the Borg are now threatening to assimilate Earth. Since Picard was once assimilated himself, he and the Enterprise that he commands are sent away from the threat to the Neutral Zone. 

Ignoring his orders, Picard enters the battle to save Earth from assimilation. Just as he’s about to defeat the Borg, they shoot a small ship into a temporal vortex to change the course of human history and make them, as a race, easier to assimilate in the future.

How do the Borg plan to do that? They plan to make sure the first contact with the Vulcans never happens. They want to ensure Zefram Cochran fails his first test flight of Warp engines. That failure would cause the Vulcans to pass by Earth, instead of stopping to see this new advanced race.

So William Riker, Geordi La Forge, and a few other members of the crew, including Reginald Barclay, get to hero worship the father of Warp technology, Zefram Cochran, to his face, in an attempt to keep him on schedule and in the history books.

As I mentioned, Cromwell’s portrayal of Cochran is my favorite performance in the film, which is crazy considering Picard says one of his most famous and now meme-worthy lines at the end of it all. Before we get to that, let’s talk about all the things that history gets wrong.

OK, maybe it’s not that drab, but history tends to overlook certain nuances. Not every technological advancement was made for “all mankind” even though it may eventually lead to such a benefit. Cochran’s successful Warp engines led directly to the formation of “The United Federation of Planets,” the interstellar government of which Starflleet and the U.S.S. Enterprise are very much a part.

The United Federation of Planets has ushered in all sorts of new things that Cochran learns from his guests from the future. He learns about schools named after him, where and how big the statues are made in his likeness, and how the crew of the Enterprise is going to tell their families about this meeting.

Meanwhile, Cochran wants to disassociate with all of this fame. He’s in it for the money, that’s all. This is where probably the most important morality play of the film takes place. Cochran isn’t some noble scientist looking up to the heavens for exploration and the betterment of a species reaching for something larger after a large-scale global conflict. He just wants to make some money, and he’s really not all that noble. 

As people become historical figures in our present, and because they are much more well documented than in, say, the 1500s, we have learned that some of our most influential humans were actually horrible people. What Cromwell’s Zefram Cochran is trying to explain in First Contact, is just that. We always tend to know more about the accomplishments of the person than the person themselves. The larger the accomplishment, the more that accomplishment becomes the person, the more intertwined they become, the more we want this benevolent achievement to be from a benevolent person.

Well, James Cromwell’s performance and his portrayal of Zefram Cochran steals this film for me. 

Meanwhile, up above, the USS Enterprise and those crew who remain including Captain Picard are dealing with a Borg infestation. As I said, this Borg, the same as they were in the Next Generation television series, have been given big movie budget effects and are now terrifying and look like an actual threat. 

While the Zefram Cochran stuff is happening on the planet’s surface, Picard is engaging in a battle of wills against the Borg that come to a head when he says the now meme-famous lines:

“No! …I will not sacrifice the Enterprise. We’ve made too many compromises already. Too many retreats. They invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds, and we fall back. Not again! The line must be drawn here, this far, no further! And I will make them pay for what they’ve done.”

“The line must be drawn here, this far, no further!” is something that I have heard from friends and seen on the internet for what feels like forever, and I finally have full context. While we wouldn’t have known in 1996 exactly how meme-worthy it was (or even what meme-worthy would mean, mind you), when you watch it for the first time even now, you know it’s going to be used by a lot of people.

I really enjoyed First Contact, and while Cromwell does a lot of the heavy lifting forme, there are a few other positives in this film. The lighting on the deck of the USS Enterprise is now much better, and much less dark, moody, and emo as it was in Generations. The music gets a contemporary kick in the pants with “Magic Carpet Ride” blasting during the first historic flight of the Warp engines, and while I didn’t know it would be a time travel epic when I pressed play, time travel is some of my favorite kind of Star Trek.

So as we leave First Contact, we’re on an upward trajectory. I’m enjoying the Next Generation films a little bit more than the television series, and we have only have two more movies to go:  Insurrection, followed by Nemesis.

Live long and prosper.