Star Trek: First Contact is a 1996 science fiction film and the eighth feature film based in the Star Trek fictional universe. In the film, the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation encounter their adversaries the Borg, who attempt to conquer the Earth through the use of time travel. The crew of the USS Enterprise-E attempts to restore their history, intent on saving their present and future.
First Contact is the first feature film directed by Jonathan Frakes. The rest of the television show's cast return and are joined by James Cromwell, Alfre Woodard and Alice Krige. This is the first Star Trek film without any of the original Star Trek cast.
Long serving Star Trek writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore wrote the screenplay, coming up with the story together with producer Rick Berman. The trio combined their ideas of a film involving time travel and the Borg and spent much time discussing where to set the film, eventually deciding on a period after the fictitious Third World War. Paramount gave the film a larger budget than any previous Star Trek film, which enabled the use of more visual effects. Critical reaction was mostly positive, and Michael Westmore was nominated for the Academy Award for Makeup.
As the tide of battle turns against the Federation forces, Picard returns to Earth to take command of the remaining ships and rescue survivors, including his former officer Worf. The Federation fleet destroys the Cube, but a smaller Sphere spaceship escapes into a time vortex. Suddenly, the appearance of the Earth dramatically changes and the Enterprise crew discover that the Borg have conquered the Earth in the past, changing the course of history and preventing the Federation from ever existing. The Enterprise follows the Sphere through the time vortex and arrives in the year 2063 just as the Borg ship attacks a run-down human settlement. The Enterprise destroys the Sphere, but a number of Borg drones and the Borg Queen transport undetected to the Enterprise.
Picard realizes that the Borg were attempting to destroy the Phoenix - Earth's first spaceship with warp drive propulsion - and leads a team to the planet below. Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge and an engineering team begin repairs on the damaged Phoenix while Commanders William Riker and Deanna Troi attempt to convince the designer and pilot Dr. Zefram Cochrane to proceed with the test flight of his spaceship. They explain that testing the warp drive will lead to first contact with the advanced Vulcan species, an event which will bring prosperity to an Earth devastated by a Third World War. Cochrane is overwhelmed by his role in "history-to-come" and reluctant to fulfill it.
Picard and Dr. Beverly Crusher return to the Enterprise with Cochrane's assistant Lily Sloane, who is suffering radiation poisoning from the attack. Meanwhile, the Borg begin to assimilate the equipment and crew members on the Enterprise, taking over the engineering section and moving upward through the ship. Picard leads an assault against the Borg, but the offensive falters and the android Lt. Commander Data is captured.
Retreating, Picard meets a bewildered Lily and explains the situation. They then lure a group of drones into the holodeck (a holographic simulation room) where Picard starts a simulation of a speakeasy. He turns off the usual safety measures so that he can use a holographic Tommy gun to kill the pursuing Borg. A computer chip taken from within a drone reveals details of the Borg plan.
The crew discover that the Borg are building a communications antenna, on the Enterprise's navigational deflector, to call for assistance from the Borg of 2063. Picard, Worf, and Lt. Sean Hawk inspect the hull of the ship wearing space suits and magnetic boots. They attempt to detach the antenna from the ship but the Borg attack and assimilate Hawk, forcing Worf to kill him. Picard succeeds in releasing the antenna and Worf destroys it with a phaser rifle as it floats away from the spaceship.
Picard refuses to sacrifice the Enterprise, but Lily convinces him that hate for the Borg is clouding his judgement. He agrees to destroy the ship, and the crew evacuate in escape pods. Picard stays behind to rescue Data, held by the Borg Queen – in an attempt to corrupt him, the Borg Queen replaces pieces of Data's artificial skin with human skin, offering to fulfill his dream of becoming human. Picard, recalling he once served the Borg as Locutus, offers to remain willingly in exchange for Data's release. The Borg Queen tells Picard that she no longer needs him; Data is a more appropriate counterpart.
Back on Earth, a now-convinced Cochrane launches the repaired Phoenix, accompanied by Riker and La Forge. To stop the warp drive test, the Borg Queen orders Data to fire the Enterprise weapons at the Phoenix. However, Data deliberately misses and with Picard's help, kills the Borg Queen, causing the remaining Borg onboard the ship to deactivate. Having detected the Phoenix, a Vulcan survey ship arrives to establish first contact with humanity. The Enterprise crew travel back to their own time, the correct version of history restored.
First Contact is the first film in the Star Trek film series in which none of the Star Trek: The Original Series characters appear. Robert Picardo cameos as the Emergency Medical Hologram. Picardo played the permanent EMH character the Doctor in Star Trek Voyager, and his cameo in this film is a reference to that. His line "I'm a doctor, not a door stop", is a reference to the Original Series character Dr. Leonard McCoy. Picardo's fellow Voyager actor Ethan Phillips, who plays Neelix, cameos as the nightclub Maitre d' in the Holodeck scene. The scene also features a cameo from the film's stunt coordinator Ronnie Rondell who plays one of Nicky's associates, as well appearances by the screenwriters Braga and Moore. As with many Star Trek productions, the background "redshirt" characters were all new characters, with many being killed off over the course of the film. Whoopi Goldberg was not asked to return as Guinan.
Rick Berman wanted to have a story involving time travel, while Braga and Moore wanted to use the Borg, as they had not "really been seen in full force" since the episode "The Best of Both Worlds" and could never feature in that big of a role in the TV series due to budget constraints and the fear that they would lose their "scare factor". They loved the "seemingly unstoppable" nature of the Borg and had always tried to use them sparingly, but as this was a feature film, they could use them as much as possible.
They decided to combine the ideas. Much discussion took place as to when to set the film, with the original concept being in medieval times. The idea was abandoned when Stewart refused to wear tights. Eventually, they settled on a period after the fictitious Third World War. It had never been explained through any previous Star Trek medium as to how humanity had made first contact, and moved forward into a more ideal world; this was something Berman, Braga and Moore had wanted to show as it was the point where everything in Star Trek folklore began. They intended the film to be easily accessible to any moviegoer and work as a stand-alone story, yet still satisfy the devoted Star Trek fans. That said, much of Picard's role in the film makes a direct reference to his time as a Borg in the episode "The Best of Both Worlds", and so the dream sequence was added at the start to explain what had happened to him in the episode.
The Borg were always shown as a collective voice in the TV series, with no real lead character to connect with in any way. Whenever episodes were written about the Borg, after they were first introduced in "Q Who?", they were often personified in some way: for example, the character of Hugh the Borg and Picard being turned into Locutus. Braga and Moore tried to preserve the idea of the Borg as just a mindless collective in the original First Contact draft. Paramount head Jonathan Dolgen suggested adding an individual Borg villain who the characters could interact with as well, as he did not think the first draft was dramatic enough. This led to the creation of the Borg Queen.
The original draft was very different from the final film. Picard and Riker's story were essentially reversed: Picard is on Earth helping to build the Phoenix and falls in love with a photographer named Ruby, while Riker was on the Enterprise leading the assault against the Borg. Stewart questioned why Picard was not fighting the Borg himself as he hated them more than anyone else. The script was re-written and Picard and Riker's roles switched. One draft also included John DeLancie's character Q. Alternative titles included: Star Trek: Borg, Star Trek: Destinies, Star Trek: Future Generations, Star Trek: Renaissance and Star Trek: Resurrection.
Although predominantly a science fiction action-adventure film, Frakes directed the Borg scenes similar to a horror film, creating as much suspense as possible. To balance and contrast this he added the more comedic scenes on Earth, intended to momentarily relieve the audience of tension before building it up again.
Following the destruction of the Enterprise-D in the previous film a new ship was required. The Enterprise-E was designed by John Eaves and Herman Zimmerman who said that it is "leaner, sleeker, and mean enough to answer any Borg threat you can imagine". Braga and Moore intended it to be more muscular and military-esque. Eaves looked at the structure of the older versions of the Enterprise, and designed a more streamlined, capable war vessel than the Enterprise-D. He reduced the size of the exposed neck area of the ship and lengthened the nacelles. The bridge set was new, and Frakes introduced it with a wide sweeping shot, and engineering was also re-designed. Zimmerman and Stewart designed Picard's quarters, including Shakespearean items and those from planets Picard has visited. Several scenes were designed similar to those in the Alien film series, Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey. The Vulcan ship was designed to resemble a starfish, a crab and a boomerang.
|\"We were on a circle, which has no geography to it. We had our three heroes [Picard, Worf and Hawk] in space suits, which look identical so you couldn't tell who was who until you got in real close. But the minute you get in close, you defeat the whole purpose of being on the outside of the ship, so you can see the cells and the stars and Earth looming in the background. It was a shooting and editing nightmare.\"|
|— Jonathan Frakes on the difficulty of the space-walk scene.|
The space walk scene was one of the hardest scenes to construct in the film. Everton had to design the space suits so that they would be practical, would not look ridiculous and could feasibly work. They had fans built into the helmets so that Stewart, Dorn and McDonough would not get overheated, and neon lights so that their faces could be seen. The sets for the ship's outer hull and the deflector dish were built at the Paramount studios, on a gimbal, surrounded by green screen and rigged with wires for the zero gravity sequences. Frakes considers the scene to be the most tedious in the film due to the vast amount of preparation it took to start each day's shoot.
Industrial Light and Magic worked on the film, which is the reason Frakes believes that many of the effects (such as the phasers) are similar to those used in the Star Wars films. This was the first time in any Star Trek production in which the ships were created using computer-generated imagery, although miniatures of the Enterprise were used for some shots. The opening shot in the Borg factory was inspired by a New York City production of Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street in which the stage surrounded the audience, given a sense of realism. Zimmerman called it the "longest pull-back in science fiction history". Used to directing episodes for the television series, Frakes was frequently reminded by effects artist Terry Frazee to "think big, blow everything up".
To create shots shown from the view of the Borg, a 10 millimetre spherical lens was used. The Borg scenes were received positively by test screening audiences so once the rest of the film had been completed a Borg assimilation scene of the Enterprise crew was added in, featuring none of the main cast members, as there was some of the budget left over and the original scene lacked action. Frakes considers the Borg Queen's head and shoulders being lowered into her body as the "signature visual effect in the film". The scene was difficult to execute, taking ILM five months to finish. Krige wore a blue screen suit from the neck down so only her head would appear on camera, and was lowered in by a crane. It required Krige to realistically portray "the strange pain or satisfaction of being reconnected to her body", in order to best help out the animators. A one-armed actor portrayed the Borg whose arm Worf slices off with a mek'leth in order to accurately portray the effect intended.
Opening in 2,812 theaters the film made $30,716,131 in its first weekend of release. It closed with a domestic gross of $92,027,888 and a total worldwide gross of $146,027,888. In the US it is the second highest grossing Star Trek behind The Voyage Home, and the 12th highest grossing film based on a live-action television series. It was the 17th highest grossing film in the US in 1996, and the 22nd highest grossing worldwide. Based on 44 reviews, the film garnered a 91% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and a 91% rating from the site's "Top Critics" poll. In 2007, Rotten Tomatoes placed the film 35th on their list of the "100 Best Reviewed Sci-Fi Movies", making it the highest placed Star Trek film on the list. By comparison, the film received a rating of 70 out of 100 at Metacritic, earning "generally favorable reviews".
Roger Ebert found that First Contact was one of the best Star Trek films, and praised the special effects. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote "First Contact does everything you'd want a Star Trek film to do, and it does it with cheerfulness and style." He particularly noted the performance of Stewart and the evilness of the Borg. Joe Leydon gave a very positive review, concluding: "If First Contact is indicative of what the next generation of Star Trek movies will be like, the franchise is certain to live long and prosper. Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly enjoyed the film as it "displays a zippy new energy and a sleek, confident style fully independent of its predecessors". Giving it a B+ she noted "By the time Worf (Michael Dorn), knocking off a slimy attacker, growls a Schwarzeneggerish 'Assimilate this!' we've already done so, with pleasure. Although disliking the humor, James Berardinelli found First Contact to be "the most entertaining Star Trek in more than a decade," and it "has single-handedly revived the Star Trek movie series, at least from a creative point-of-view.
Although praising Woodard's performance, Emily Carlisle of the BBC disliked the film: "Focusing more on action sequences than characterisation, the breakneck pace gives an unsatisfying result. Empire's Adam Scott criticized the script for "plung[ing] right into the action" so "there's nowhere near enough time for those not familiar with the series to get to know and care about the characters," also citing the lack of screentime for Troi and Crusher.
First Contact earned an Academy Award-nomination for Best Makeup, losing out to The Nutty Professor. At the Saturn Awards the film was nominated in ten categories including Best Science Fiction Film, Best Actor for Patrick Stewart and Best Director for Jonathan Frakes. It won three: Best Costumes, Best Supporting Actor for Brent Spiner and Best Supporting Actress for Alice Krige. Jerry Goldsmith won a BMI Film Music Award for his score, and the film was nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation.