Friday, December 13, 2013

Nitpickery -- Star Trek: First Contact

Hey y'all.  So I watched Star Trek: First Contact.


Even when I was a child and didn't know any better -- you know how little kids can't tell good movies from bad --  I didn't like this movie.  The reasons for this were uncertain at the time, but to me it was simply a muddle of one thing and then another.  Sure, there were cool visuals about it, and a lot of people like this movie.  If you're someone who likes this, I don't mean to criticize you.  It's just that this is not really a quality film, and I'm here to nitpick whatever comes my way. 

Spoilers, of course.

This film is just so meh.  It was really a struggle for me to even finish it, as it wasn't horrible enough to be funny nor good enough to be interesting.  I love subtext and hidden meaning, but the subtext of this film?  Well, we'll get there when we get there.

----- Ten Things I'll Say about Star Trek: First Contact -----

10. This movie is dumb on its very premise.

Really, it is.  So much of this film just doesn't work, and the writers should have known it.  So we have Picard having a nightmare about Zerg, I mean Borg, and lo and behold they're attacking Starfleet, trying to get to Earth.  Once they get there, the Borg activate some sort of temporal device and head to the past to not only take over Earth, but stop first contact between humans and the first aliens they meet: Vulcans.  Picard and company must not only stop the Borg, but also help Zephram Cochrane, the inventor of the warp drive, to successfully launch and attract the attention of the Vulcans.  Meanwhile, Data is kidnapped by the Borg Queen, and she gives him human-like skin so that he can feel things, and Picard has to save him.

Let's start at the beginning.  Okay, so why are the Borg attacking Earth before they go back in time?  If they went back in time to a point before where Starfleet had starships, as they do some minutes into the movie, then they wouldn't have to fight anyone at all. 

And that's assuming that it's a good idea for the Borg to time travel at all.  As it was mentioned on Geekvolution, by time traveling the Borg have negated any benefits they would get from conquering humans.  After all, the Borg aren't motivated by simple conquest.  They want technology and knowledge, and this is the point of them assimilating other species.  But if they go back in time, they might take over the Earth, but they won't get all of the technology that humanity invented between that time and modern Trek.  In fact, the technology the Borg have already assimilated would disappear the instant they conquered the humans of the past, as its inventors would no longer have existed.

So if the Borg time traveled at all, going to the future is the only logical way to gain anything.  And that's assuming that people in the future haven't invented better ways of fighting the Borg.  There ends up being nothing for the Borg to gain by going through time. 

But anyway the Borg have gone back into the past.  The Enterprise is able to see that Earth is now borgified, and everyone's a drone.  Rightfully the Enterprise should have been wiped from existence, but since they're the main characters, of course they live, despite all the rules of time travel.  Then again, Marty McFly had some time to undo his mistake, so maybe Picard gets to as well.  All the same, it would have made more sense if they simply travelled through time along with the Borg, and then dealt with it there.  Maybe made a mistake or two that would allow some Borg to survive.  I dunno.

On top of that there's also Picard's primary conflict: being so obsessed with beating the Borg that he is willing to condemn his entire crew to die.  What the fudge?  This guy even shoots his crew members that have become Borg even though it's possible to bring them back.  To be fair, though, if your ship is half-compromised by the Zerg, I mean Borg, are you really going to have time to de-install everyone's Borg implants with the Borg advancing when they can?  Of course, in that case, Picard should have evacuated his ship far sooner, to avoid as much assimilation as possible.  After all, how many Borg can teleport from a  Borg ship when it's being blown up?

For that matter, where did all that Borg technology come from?  How did the Borg turn engineering into basically one of their own ships in a matter of hours, and with only the supplies they could have beamed over in a few seconds' time?

Actually, I have a lot of questions about the Borg.

9.  Why are the Borg so stupid?

Almost every single decision made by the Borg in this movie makes no sense.  Let's go over them.

- When they were taking the ship, they should not have stopped when they took the deflector.  If they can take the first part really quickly, then they need to eliminate the human threat as soon as possible.

- "They'll leave us alone unless they consider us a threat"?  What the fudge?  Come on, Borg.  If there's people holding guns, they're a threat.  If they're the people that normally run the ship you've been taking over, they're a threat.  If they're messing with the deflector controls, chances are they're a threat.  Assimilate them, already. 

- Y'know, guys, if you really want to use the deflector dish to send messages, maybe it's okay to take a ten minute break to get rid of the bothersome humans and take them out.  Maybe try to outnumber them instead of attacking one by one.  Yeah.

- Was it really necessary to come back to the point in time where the humans made first contact with Vulcans?  After all, there are plenty of vulnerable points in human history.  Why go back to the one specific time where you're likely to be discovered by the foreign Vulcans, giving them a chance to notice the Borg and develop anti-Borg strategies? 

- Why didn't any Borg go to Earth?  It's clear that they could have taken over the transporters and beamed down, thus being able to cause mischief or find other ways to communicate with their past counterparts.

- Was there really any point in trying to assimilate Data?  Is he really that special?  The proper thing to do is hack into his brain, get what you want, and take the technology to improve the Borg.  Duh.

8.  The whole Borg Queen thing was dumb.

I didn't realize this at the time the movie came out, but this was the first time the Borg queen appeared in Trek.  But it is, and she becomes something of a staple to the Borg during Star Trek: Voyager.  And my feelings about Voyager were pretty negative. 

The trouble with the Queen is that she's overwhelming.  The Borg are a group of personality-less drones, frightening in their mechanical doom but not at all distinctive as individuals.  By giving one a distinctive personality, you undermine the rest and make them all subject to the Queen's will.  It suddenly goes from a collection of creatures that all have the same thoughts, to a bunch of mindless minions serving an egotistical tyrant.  It weakens the feel of the Borg, especially since most of them in this movie fail to realize that a human with a gun is a threat.  It's like the Queen is the only intelligent one.

I just don't like the idea of a queen ruling the Borg.  It's just so typical in fiction for a maniac to rule over mindless minions.  What made the Borg unique was their singular mind, and now all of a sudden being commanded by a queen equates it all to being entranced by the evil witch. 

7.  I find the music and uniforms underwhelming.

I know, I know, there's lots of moaning and complaining in this blog today.  But I want to whine about it.  Because I can.

The music is probably the worst out of all the Trek movies.  It's not terrible, it's just really, really boring and not noticeable.  What makes this weird is that this is one of the most action packed of the Trek films, and yet the music doesn't follow through.

Also, near the beginning when Worf was fighting with the Defiant, I heard a bit of the Star Trek V soundtrack play.  While I do like V's soundtrack and I don't hate the movie, most people don't want to be reminded of what they feel is the weakest of the films.

To be fair, the uniforms aren't really the fault of this film.  Deep Space Nine went with these really awful black/grey uniforms with only the tiniest bit of color, and I feel depressed just looking at them.  Quite frankly, the uniforms from The Motion Picture were better than this, as they were at least peppy and true to the science fiction aesthetic.  Namely, weird for no reason.  The DS9 style is just really humdrum and not at all happy.  I'm sad this movie went with it. 

6. Many visuals were good.

In the effort to not be entirely negative in this review, I'll mention that it had good visuals here and there.  It really made an effort to put something on the screen that people want to look at.  Let me point out several bits.

- The opening.  It's really freaky to see Captain Picard being manipulated by the Borg, especially the part where they stick the metal do-hickey into his eye. 

- The Borg Earth.  We don't get to see this for very long, but it's an exciting visual that provokes thought of what a Borg-y planet could be like.

- Lily freaking out at seeing nothing but a force field between her and Earth.  That part really got to me.

- Introduction of the Queen.  When Queenie comes down from the ceiling, she's a head, shoulder, and metal spine.  She then sinks down into a mechanical suit.  Very disgusting and interesting.

- Walking upsidedown on the Enterprise hull.  At one point, Picard, Worf and Lieutenant Redshirt go out to fight Borg on the deflector array.  While the fight wasn't as fun as I remembered it to be, seeing them walk across the ship at a new angle was fun.

There are other visuals that work pretty well.  Altogether it looks like the cameras did most of the work on this film, and they caught several interesting angles.  The action junkies are well pleased.

Can I get back to whining now?

5. The humor in this film was not appreciable. 

Yuck.  While, granted, most of my sense of humor was surgically removed during the night by the Illuminati during the early 00s, a very little bit of it is left.  And that little bit was not at all amused by the many flat jokes in this film. 

The humor gets off on the wrong foot early on.  At the beginning, Starfleet refuses to allow the Enterprise to help the fleet defend against the Borg because Picard was assimilated by them and his objectivity was compromised.  Picard turns to his crew and says he's going to violate his orders, asking if anyone objects.  Everyone remains silent, and then Data says, "to Hell with our orders." 

Those who have seen Star Trek VI know that this is a direct rip-off of Star Trek VI, where Spock says, "If I were human, I believe my response would be 'go to Hell'."  No, it's not a "homage."  For one thing, I don't care for references in general, and the moment feels unnatural in First Contact because there was no reason for anyone to remain silent.  Surely the other characters had something to say.  Data ends up bastardizing a line that was much more powerful in its own context, becoming the cherry on the proverbial cake. 

It just gets worse from there.  When Worf rejoins the crew, Riker, in the middle of a Borg battle, goes to him and says, "you do remember how to fire phasers, right?"  This is not only insulting to Worf, but implausible.  Worf may have been on Deep Space Nine for a while, but he's not in command there.  So he's going to have to go back to his tactical job whenever Sisko or another officer is in command.  Why wouldn't he know?

Another moment is just out of place.  For one thing, Picard, Data, and a bunch of redshirts all just stand there in the hall for no reason while it's being delivered.  All of a sudden, Data starts talking about his emotions, so Picard tells him to turn it off.  Data does, and Picard says, "How I envy you..." or something to that nature.  What, am I supposed to laugh now?  Be astounded by the prison of human emotion?  Chuckle at the awkwardness of it all? 

Another thing that didn't really work for me was Counselor Troi's "techniques" in finding and communicating with Zephram Cochrane.  So he's a drunken hick, and she has to take drinks to get him to pay attention to her.  What, so she's never learned to fake taking a drink?  And then she practically slobbers all over herself when she explains things to Riker, and this is supposed to be funny. 

I could go on.  Really though, it's not worth it. 

4. Zephram Cochrane's motivations were off.

Not everybody was fond of Zephram Cochrane being a drunken hick.  I personally am fairly indifferent on that matter, and believe that it could possibly have worked.  Did it?  Not really, but with better writing it could have.  At least the guy had a personality, which is more than we can say for most of the main cast.

A primary complaint the Trekkies have with this version is that it doesn't match the version of Cochrane that we see during TOS.  On the episode he appears in, Cochrane has accidentally become trapped on a planet with an alien cloud being, and for the most part appears to be a rational, normal guy, if a bit odd from being alone so long.  This version is okay, and the episode itself is okay, but nothing phenomenal.

Unlike taking Khan from his episode of Trek and making a movie out of it, the writers of this film didn't really pull any plot ideas from the original series.  For that matter, Zephram wasn't all that dynamic a character.  He could have been anyone.  So it makes sense that they would shape Zephram into something distinct. 

Really though, they should have made it a natural progression from one to the other.  Timelinewise, the movie Zephram is younger than the show Zephram, so they could have made a flawed Zephram that becomes somewhat stable by the time the future rolls around.  It would have been fun if they'd made a Zephram fearful of death, and then ironically he ends up having his life extended by an alien being.

In any case, we have a drunken hick as the inventor of the warp drive, and this part I don't particularly mind.  The idea of a man being idealized beyond who he really was?  Well, that's a workable theme.  Only they take Zephram too far down.  Not only could he never conceivably lead to the version of himself on TOS (because chronologically that's the future, in-show), but he has the dumbest motivation ever: money and women.

But wait, you protest, what's so dumb about that?  Haven't men been motivated by this before?  Sure, but they're not the only things that have motivated a man to act.  In fact, money and women can never motivate someone to invent the warp drive, unless there's a hot scientist chick he's after.  It's just too novel, and completely unproven. 

Thing is, when any technology is new and uncertain, it's not profitable.  Take the lightbulb.  To invent this, Edison had to try over and over, and also fail over and over.  No one's going to buy a failed lightbulb, so to finally achieve success, Edison would have had to either have a job that allowed him free time, or convinced someone to give him money to go forward until that indeterminable time when Edison finally got it right. 

It's the same thing with warp drive.  Not only would it take years of trial and error to get it right, but Zephram also needs the resources to build a ship, competent associates to help him put it all together, and the know-how just to break out of Earth's orbit and be in space.  You think any of that stuff comes cheap?  And who's going to give him that money, especially if he's just a lush?  There's no reliable way to profit from the incomplete warp drive, as it cannot achieve its purpose of going extreme distances in short periods of time. 

Thus, Zephram is required to be so in love with his invention that other people pick up his enthusiasm and carry it to its completion.  If Zephram doesn't want to complete his work, nobody else will.  Also, the time and energy it would require to invent the warp drive would surely cut into his time to pursue women.  If he did have time, he'd talk so much about his work that they would get bored of being around him. 

My point is, no one in their right mind who is after women and money would do so by inventing something novel.  Doing so with politics, business plans, or setting up his own bar would all be much more plausible as means to this end.  Actually, I'm of the belief that people who do extraordinary things are usually hurt in some way, and feel the need to make up for their inadequacies by acheiving something great.  This is a theme that could have worked, if only Mr. Women and Money wasn't so two dimensional.

3. Is that Neelix over there?

Oh wow, it really is.  As the Borg are coming into the holographic bar, one of the characters there is a man telling the Borg that they're not dressed well enough to enter.  That's the actor that plays Neelix, the Jar Jar Binks of Trek.  Granted, I never hated Neelix as much as other people do.  While I understand their pain, my Neelix was always the holographic doctor on Voyager, whose lack of ability to care about other people's feelings while he moaned and bemoaned his own inconveniences made me want to stab him in the holographic eye. 

Great, and he makes a cameo too, as the most useless distraction for the Borg ever.  As some of the crew is escaping from the Borg by means of a jeffries' tube, Crusher tells the holographic doctor to distract the Borg.  You know what he does?  He weakly mutters about painkillers, all the while backing right up toward the jeffries tube where the escaping crew went.  Good job, stupid.  You just led the Borg right where they need to go to capture people. 

Sheesh.  If they were going to have cameos, couldn't they have at least picked the characters people like?  Also, and this is unrelated, when Picard is telling Lily to "look like you're having a good time" while they're in the club program, why doesn't he also pretend?

2.  Let's have fun with plot holes!

- Why can Picard suddenly detect the Borg in his mind?  Does he have a little of the technology left over in his head?  It comes across as a cheap plot device.

- Is there a reason Starfleet Command would take the time to call Picard and tell him about a Borg invasion if they didn't intend for Picard to help?

- Why is Worf whining about getting to fight when Picard is suggesting that they go to the deflector dish and attack the Borg?  Klingons love fighting, so they say.  And even if Worf is queasy in Zero-g, I highly doubt he would ever admit it. 

- Smacking a borg in the arm will get it to spark and fall over?  Pssht.

- Wait...someone programmed Data to do the nasty?  Hurgh....I need a bucket....mrrrgh.  Hey, and if Queenie hasn't given him his syntho-touch skin on his lips yet, why would he get any pleasure from kissing her?

- If hitting the deflector dish with a pulse rifle would cause half the ship to explode, then why wouldn't an enemy attacking a ship also destroy half the ship by hitting the deflector dish?  Sounds like really bad starship design.

- Why don't the Borg have long-range weapons?

- Why does Queenie wait until Picard shows up on engineering to take down the self-destruct function on the ship?  What if he didn't go to engineering at all?

- In the end, how does Zephram Cochrane understand the incoming Vulcans without the universal translator?

1.  This whole movie is the story of people who just plain don't care. 

Seriously, it is.  Nobody seems to care about anything.  In the beginning, no one cares that disobeying Starfleet Command, and they all go fight the Borg, very conveniently saving the day.  Picard doesn't care about saving his crew from the Borg, despite the fact he made it back from assimilation himself.  None of the crew on the ground seems to worry at all that they've lost contact with the Enterprise.  Zephram doesn't care about the future. 

Actually, the primary part where this comes into play is the fact that nobody even tries to hide future events from Zephram.  They all come and tell him directly that he's important to history without at first trying any other means of convincing him that he needs to keep working on his ship and the warp drive.  Seriously, spoilers.  And what a way to kill the tension.  The parts where the film is on Earth are utterly boring, because there don't seem to be any stakes.  I mean sure, they have to get the Pheonix up in time for the Vulcans to see it, but there's no reason to believe they can't accomplish this goal.  By ensuring that Zephram knows why he has to keep his flight schedule, there's nothing there to keep us interested.

What's worse is that nobody cares about Zephram's feelings.  Supposedly humans of the future have outgrown all our petty flaws, but the crew of the Enterprise is just so dang insensitive.  Not only do they overwhelm Zephram with his future acheivements, but when he has an inevitable freak-out moment, nobody tries to talk to him.  Riker stuns him with a phaser so he can't run away, letting the great inventor of the warp drive stumble and roll into a puddle.  If they were going to let Zephram do that, they should have just zapped him, shoved him in a closet, and then flown the shuttle themselves while letting Zephram take the credit.

Speaking of that, why do the crew of the Enterprise fly up with him?  They have no right to do that.  After all, the people of the time would remember the Enterprise crew, and the honor of those places belong to people of the time.  But no, since the crew of the Enterprise don't seem to care about anything, and our main actors need their screentime, let's just shove them onto the Phoenix and be done with it.

Okay, enough ranting for now.  It's weird though.  This is a better movie than Nemesis (shudder), but I ranted a whole lot more about it.  Maybe because it's been rated more highly than it truly deserves.  Apparently people genuinely liked it, but for me it’s just one big meh.  Whenever my dad is in the mood for Trek and puts this VHS in, I always groan and walk away.  Dad always had a better talent for enjoying silly things. 

But, I suppose if you like this movie, I’m not going to call you stupid.  There are things to like about it, and maybe you enjoy silly things.  Really, it’s a talent to get enjoyment from things that aren’t great, and this talent will probably serve you later in life.  As for me, nice visuals, popular actors, and quotes from literature do not a good time make.

Best actor: Clearly and extremely obviously Alfre Goddard as Lily.  She has no competition whatsoever.  Lily brought a lot of humanity and common sense to a bunch of boring drones posing as characters.  Everyone else behaved as though they were in some sort of elevated fantasy, but Lily felt like a real person reacting in real ways to everything around her.  Alfre did a magnificent job.  I just wonder why the character Lily has no last name.

This movie is for:
- Action people…?  Actually I’m not sure, as action has gotten crazier over the years, and this movie isn’t especially violent.
- Hardcore Trekkers.
- People who just want to watch a movie
- People in foreign countries who want something in english to watch

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