Spanning the universe within the confines of an eyeball, Star Trek: First Contact opens deep in the unblinking peeper of Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), commander of the starship Enterprise. Then the camera pulls way back, revealing the captain imprisoned in a humongous cube of a fortress floating in deep space. The cube belongs to the terrible Borg. And Picard, it turns out, is having a flashback to a time (dating from the second TV season of Star Trek: The Next Generation) when he was taken over by the galaxy’s most lethal, cybernetically gussied-up aliens, who are capable of assimilating all life, everywhere. ”Resistance is futile!” is the Borg war cry, and it was only by dint of his extraordinary Picardosity that J-L and his core company survived. As a result, though, the guy bears a huge personal grudge. So when news reaches the Enterprise, out there in the 24th century, that Picard’s nemesis is making another pass at evil — this time aiming, through a blip in the space-time continuum, to wreck the course of history by preventing the profound 21st-century first contact between earthlings and aliens — he and his crew hustle to stop the madness.
”Resistance is futile” may as well be the slogan of the whole 30-year-old Star Trek empire. But in zooming out from Picard’s glinty eyeball, this eighth feature film from the Trek factory displays a zippy new energy and a sleek, confident style fully independent of its predecessors: First Contact jettisons all vestiges of the later, lumbering, mat-haired William Shatner years (the baton, you remember, was officially passed two years ago with all the pomp of a papal election in Star Trek Generations).
For this Trek (directed, in his first feature-film project, by Jonathan Frakes, who also runs in front of the camera to play Comdr. William Riker), the Enterprise itself has been spruced up. The famous command bridge no longer looks like a Best Western lobby. The team uniforms no longer look like Halloween costumes. Self-aware wit — that characteristic dialogue tone of the ’90s — is woven throughout the script by Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore, while the plot maintains the conventions of Trek feature films, i.e., parallel stories of trouble on earth and in space. Data (Brent Spiner) gets a very special subplot involving the Borg queen (Alice Krige), whose entire head is permanently, erotically lubricated. And it’s a pleasure to see guest stars Alfre Woodard and James Cromwell, as a couple of 21st-century pioneers, used in inventive contrast to their better-known images as Serious Dramatic Actress and dancing farmer in Babe. (Cromwell plays Zefram Cochrane; Trekkers will recognize him as an old friend.)
The Borg, by the way, look fabulous, owing a big debt to the creations of Alien designer H.R. Giger. They’re a breath of fresh carbon dioxide for the Next Generation team, who rise briskly to the occasion. By the time Worf (Michael Dorn), knocking off a slimy attacker, growls a Schwarzeneggerish ”Assimilate this!” we’ve already done so, with pleasure. B+