Until this year, I hadn’t really watched any of the older Star Trek movies that came out before I was in my teens, though I had seen bits of The Wrath of Khan when I was very young. Fortunately, Netflix has made this much easier to remedy than it used to be, especially when, after I watched my way through The Wrath of Khan a couple of months back, they actually emailed to inform me they had First Contact available. It’s kind of strange, seeing movies you’ve spent half your life hearing about for the first time.
Sitting through The Wrath of Khan involved extra nostaglia, since there were moments of going, “oh, I remember seeing this.” Of course, back then there were things I didn’t think about. One of the moments I remembered involved the death of the black expendable captain, although I didn’t remember him actually dying. Though even so, when I first saw the character be introduced, my first thought was, “Oh, cool, black captain in the 80s,” followed immediately by, “oh wait, they’re going to kill him, aren’t they?” Once a movie passes a certain age you must think about it as a product of its time in many of its aspects. That includes the moviemaking too; I watched one shot of the Enterprise leaving drydock with a tiny person watching it past and thought, “That must have awed people when they first saw this in the theaters.” There were scenes I waited for, such as Spock’s death at the end, made more powerful now, perhaps, by Nimoy’s.
One thing I had not been made aware of beforehand, strangely, was just how much presence and charisma Ricardo Montalban has as the villain. I’d heard him praised, of course, but words just don’t convey it; it’s just something you have to feel while watching his performance. You believe the guy is mad, and you also believe his people will follow him to their deaths anyway.
Although First Contact is also now old enough one must remember that the special effects were very impressive back then; it was made when CGI was just taking off, and when the camera takes a moment to move out and show us three tiny figures on the hull of this brand new Enterprise, one must remember their ability to do that was still new back then. A lot of those shots now look way too obviously CGI. That was one of exactly two issues the movie has to the modern eye. The second one is worse: the Borg Queen. The evil woman who uses sex as a weapon was always one of the uglier aspects of sci-fi, and it’s disappointing to see it in what is generally considered to be the best Star Trek movie so far, and affecting a villainous race as important as the Borg. One might even blame it for a certain later Borg sex symbol, but the Borg Queen is actually far worse than Seven of Nine, because it defined her character as well as her looks.
Luckily the rest of the movie more than makes up for this. I knew the basics of the story, but gained a new appreciation for how smart and dramatic it is, with a couple of scenes that were downright brilliant, and I didn’t even know how damn funny the movie can get at times either, all while keeping a deep emotional core, and conveying a message of hope grounded in realism. I’d read Picard’s “line must be drawn here” speech a thousand times, but nothing prepares you for how Patrick Stewart explodes in that scene. Speaking of that scene, I absolutely loved Lily. Perhaps it would’ve been even better had she been given more to do, but hey, she did get to call the captain out, and also show herself to be a WOC who can hold her own even when she’s in way over her head.
Not sure which movie I’ll go for next on Netflix. Although I’ve also got a lot of the older TV episodes to watch…