When I started being able to appreciate Star Trek during my tween-to-teen years after I’d been growing up seeing the franchise as my older brother’s thing, I would have called First Contact my favorite movie of the series. These days, I question how good a Star Trek movie it actually is.
While First Contact has several similarities to Wrath of Khan, with it being the second and most highly praised film in its respective series with both a plot that ties back to its TV series and blatant Moby Dick parallels, it’s far more inconsequential than Khan. Khan launched a story arc that ran throughout the Original Series movies, yet outside of the inaugural Generations and the concluding Nemesis, the middle Next Generation movies have little-to-no impact carried over from movie to movie. Not only that, but they’re introduced in Generations as if the audience already knows them, which is a consequence of both their movies starting fresh off their TV run and their TV run having too many characters to properly flesh out in a movie, and First Contact continues this trend by throwing the audience straight into restrained but still icky body horror via a flashback to Captain Picard’s assimilation into the Borg Collective from the famous “Best of Both Worlds” two-parter.
Although First Contact was made to be a wide appeal popcorn movie starring the Next Generation crew, this opening doesn’t give newcomers an ideal first impression of Star Trek, nor does the PTSD-driven quest for revenge against the Borg that defines Picard throughout the movie give newcomers a well-rounded impression of Captain Picard. Perhaps had there been a prologue that introduces not only the audience to the crew but also the crew to the new Enterprise model they’re helming (again, Wrath of Khan gives everything a proper introduction before its own story gets started), I feel it would be a more rounded movie.
While there’s more I can criticize First Contact for, from the ethics of murdering someone who’s beginning to turn into a Borg drone to James Cromwell’s at times over-the-top performance in a reluctant savior role that needed more nuance, there’s still stuff I can enjoy it for. Jonathan Frake’s direction effectively brings both eerie thrills—especially in a tense set piece on the Enterprise’s outer hull—and a sense of Trek-like wonder—especially in moments that turn said wonder to the site of Earth—, and the performances from the iconic crew are at their best. Jerry Goldsmith’s musical score here is one of my all-time favorites, and the script features plenty of lines I can quote along with. Wrath of Khan may have taken its place as my favorite Star Trek movie, but First Contact is still the Star Trek movie I have the fondest memories of.