Star Trek: First Contact, and the power of nostalgia...
Nostalgia is deeply personal, despite what the era of clickbait will tell you. It is a lense through which we view the world, and no two lenses are alike. This is important to remember when related to subjects about which many people are passionate… like Star Trek!
It is through this lense of personal nostalgia that I view Star Trek First Contact as a white-knuckle space adventure of the highest calibre, even twenty-two years (and many, many viewings) after its release. I understand, and will cop to, many of the film’s imperfections and plot holes, but very little of that matters when stacked against my nostalgia for this particular film.
I was fourteen and it was December twenty-third.
I witnessed Captain Picard and crew follow the Borg back through time, in an effort to right the wrongs their enemy had committed. Picard became an action hero before my eyes, as he was pitted against his greatest, and most formidable, foes. His formerly thoughtful stoicism, defined over seven seasons of television, here replaced by obsession and righteous anger. It didn’t make much sense for the character we had known for seven years, but it also provided Patrick Stewart with a big screen direction to take his ship captain and it’s pretty clear that he relished it. The guy looks like he’s having fun.
Star Trek: Voyager had yet to defang the Borg, and their chilling plan to replace individuality with the collective hive-mind, and arms and eyes with machinery chilled me to the bone back in ‘96. For their big screen debut, they no longer resembled robot mimes, with white pancake makeup and dead eyes. First Contact’s iteration was icky and veiny. They had subtle mid-90s CG assists, and a new quickness, that made them more lethal. Lt. Commander Data, now free of the shackles of first run syndication censorship, snaps their necks and launches them into walls, but they still come! I was nervous walking into this one, planted myself firmly at the edge of my seat and never did get the chance to scooch back.
Growing up with Star Trek’s Original Series easily accessible on VHS (thanks, Dad!), I thrilled to its hokey sense of adventure and color. I loved almost all of the movies, and stand by my claim that Wrath of Khan is one of the best films (films, do you hear?!) ever made. That being said, I never quite found my Next Generation fandom during its initial run, except for a select few episodes (mostly Q and Borg centered.) It’s fair to assume that Star Trek First Contact felt like a return to form for me at the time. Here was all the adventure and fun of the Original Series up on the big screen, with a budget Star Trek hadn’t seen in some time. Location shooting! Licensed songs! Space battles and space walk fights on the hull of the Enterprise! Oh, and a super cool new Enterprise!
I never once claimed First Contact was a perfect film. Even at home, after raving about it with my father and brother for hours, I admitted the film had flaws. Time travel stories always expect a little extra suspension of disbelief. Sure, I thought Riker and Geordi were a bit too involved in their great past hero’s journey. They didn’t really have to walk him through it, did they? Maybe they always did? These are the questions that aren’t worth asking. The movie moves like a freight train and it’s a blast to ride.
Nostalgia is a tricky beast. We often choose to ignore it in favor of our more educated opinions, or are swayed by critics. We choose to forget that, while Empire may be the superior film, we loved Jedi more when we were ten, and wanted an Ewok for a pet/friend.
There have been better Star Trek films than First Contact, with tighter plotting, better performances and better special effects. I’ll even admit that it’s not the first film in the franchise that I pull from the shelf when I think, “I could go for some Star Trek right now.” But I’ll never forget how magical it was when I first saw it and I’ll always remember how much fun I had. We all have that one moviegoing experience from our youth that hit all the right buttons at exactly the right time, and made us realize just how magical going to a movie could be. May we never forget.