Film Review: Star Trek First Contact

02 March 2023
We are 27 years late but here's a review of Star Trek: First Contact.

Short version from a fanboy: It's probably one of the best Star Trek films of all.

Long version: Discussions and viewpoints may vary... here we go!

"Star Trek: First Contact," directed by Jonathan Frakes, is a gripping science fiction film that continues the journey of the Star Trek franchise. Released on November 22, 1996, this installment takes its place within the larger Star Trek universe, adding depth and excitement to the ongoing narrative

In "Star Trek: First Contact," the crew of the starship USS Enterprise-E finds themselves facing a formidable adversary: the Borg Collective. The Borg, a cybernetic species with a relentless drive to assimilate other cultures, pose an existential threat to the United Federation of Planets. Led by Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), the Enterprise crew must prevent the Borg from altering history by ensuring that the first contact between humans and Vulcans, a pivotal event in Earth's timeline, occurs as intended.

At its core, the film grapples with themes of resistance, individuality, and the choices that shape our destinies. The struggle against the Borg becomes a metaphor for the fight against conformity and the preservation of what makes us uniquely human.

star trek first contact film poster

Direction and Cinematography

Jonathan Frakes' directorial style shines in "First Contact," seamlessly aligning with the established tone of the Star Trek universe. Frakes, who also portrays Commander William Riker, brings his familiarity with the franchise to the director's chair. His direction strikes a balance between intense action sequences and introspective character moments.

The film's camera work and visual effects elevate the storytelling, creating a sense of awe and urgency. The Borg's ominous presence is effectively conveyed through striking visuals that showcase their mechanical, hive-like architecture. Notable is the Borg Queen's design, a grotesque blend of human and machine, which captivates viewers with its unsettling allure.

One standout sequence involves a thrilling spacewalk as characters navigate the exterior of the Enterprise. This scene encapsulates the tension and bravery required to confront the unknown, a recurring theme in the Star Trek series.

Acting Performances

The main cast of "Star Trek: First Contact" delivers performances that anchor the film's emotional resonance and contribute significantly to its success.

Patrick Stewart's portrayal of Captain Jean-Luc Picard is a tour de force. Stewart's ability to convey Picard's internal struggle with the trauma of his own assimilation by the Borg in a previous encounter adds a layer of vulnerability and depth to the character. As Picard confronts the Borg once again, Stewart adeptly captures the captain's determination, fear, and personal vendetta. His commanding presence and nuanced acting provide a relatable and compelling anchor amidst the film's sci-fi spectacle.

Jonathan Frakes, not only the director but also Commander William Riker, brings his signature charisma to the screen. Frakes infuses Riker with a sense of steadfast leadership and camaraderie that resonates with audiences. His chemistry with the rest of the crew, particularly his interactions with Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis), adds a human touch to the narrative. Frakes' performance as Riker strikes a balance between duty and personal investment, making him a relatable and relishing character to watch.

Brent Spiner's portrayal of Lieutenant Commander Data remains a standout. Data's exploration of his desire to be more human takes a pivotal turn in this film as he interacts with the Borg Queen. Spiner masterfully balances Data's curiosity with his inherent lack of emotion, resulting in poignant moments that challenge our understanding of humanity itself.

"First Contact" delves into character development in a way that enhances the overall narrative and enriches the relationships among key characters. Captain Picard's arc is one of the most profound. His personal vendetta against the Borg intersects with his duty to protect humanity, forcing him to confront his inner demons and reconcile his emotions with his responsibilities as a leader.

Similarly, Data's character development reaches a pivotal moment. His interactions with the Borg Queen challenge his understanding of individuality and humanity. These encounters push him to question his desire for emotions and raise existential questions about the nature of consciousness.

The film also explores the bond between Picard and Lily Sloane (Alfre Woodard), a 21st-century Earth inhabitant inadvertently caught in the time-travel plot. Through their interactions, Picard's humanity is laid bare as he struggles to communicate the ideals of the Federation to someone from a different era.

Furthermore, the challenges posed by the Borg invasion force the crew to work together and rely on each other's strengths. This tight-knit cooperation highlights the resilience and unity that define Starfleet's core values, showcasing the growth of their relationships as they face the dire threat together.

Sci-Fi Elements and Themes

"Star Trek: First Contact" delves into a tapestry of intricate sci-fi concepts and themes, intertwining them with a gripping narrative that engages both the mind and the heart.

Time Travel

Time travel serves as a central plot device, propelling the crew of the USS Enterprise-E back to Earth's pivotal moment—the first contact with the Vulcans. This concept allows the film to explore the potential consequences of altering history, as the Borg's attempt to prevent humanity's first warp flight jeopardizes the entire future. The paradoxical nature of time travel is skillfully handled, raising questions about determinism, free will, and the fragility of historical events.

Assimilation and Identity

The Borg, a relentless and ruthless collective, represent the ultimate loss of individuality. Their assimilation process strips away personal identity and replaces it with a shared consciousness. This theme of assimilation raises profound questions about the nature of identity, autonomy, and the preservation of cultural diversity. The film's exploration of assimilation invites viewers to contemplate the balance between conformity and individuality in the face of technological advancement.

Technology and Humanity

"First Contact" examines the symbiotic relationship between humanity and technology. The Borg's cybernetic enhancements are juxtaposed with the ethos of the Federation, which embraces technology while preserving the essence of humanity. The film questions the ethical boundaries of technological integration and prompts viewers to consider how advancements can both empower and dehumanize.

Fear of the Unknown

The fear of encountering the unknown is palpable throughout the film. Humanity's trepidation toward extraterrestrial life and the unpredictable future is personified by the Borg, a relentless force that represents the fear of losing one's agency and control. This theme resonates with broader societal concerns about change, progress, and the unfamiliar.

Ethical Dilemmas

The ethical dilemmas faced by the characters mirror real-world quandaries. Captain Picard grapples with the morality of seeking revenge against the Borg versus upholding the principles of the Federation. Data's interactions with the Borg Queen challenge his pursuit of emotions and raise questions about the ethics of sacrificing one's individuality for power.

Relatability to Societal and Philosophical Ideas

The film's exploration of themes extends beyond the confines of science fiction. The Borg's pursuit of uniformity and dominance can be seen as a commentary on totalitarian regimes or assimilationist ideologies that suppress individuality. The struggle to protect history's pivotal moments mirrors humanity's ongoing efforts to preserve cultural heritage and knowledge in the face of adversity.

Furthermore, "First Contact" taps into broader philosophical ideas about the nature of humanity, the complexities of time, and the implications of technology. The film prompts viewers to ponder the consequences of their actions, the choices that shape their identity, and the importance of embracing diversity and individualism.

Connection to Star Trek Universe

Following on from the uneven Generations, "Star Trek: First Contact" stands as a pivotal and highly regarded addition to the larger Star Trek franchise. As the eighth film in the series, it seamlessly continues the legacy established by the television shows and previous movies.

The film leverages the familiarity of its characters, particularly Captain Picard and the crew of the USS Enterprise-E, to bridge the gap between the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" television series and the cinematic universe. This continuity is a treat for fans who have followed Picard's journey, deepening their emotional investment in the film.

"First Contact" also pays homage to the broader Star Trek lore. The inclusion of Zefram Cochrane—a pivotal figure in humanity's space exploration—in the storyline harks back to the original series and its exploration of humanity's early steps into the cosmos. Furthermore, the appearance of the defunct USS Bozeman nods to the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode "Cause and Effect," creating a satisfying thread for dedicated fans.


The film's musical score, composed by Jerry Goldsmith, is a masterpiece that enhances the viewing experience immeasurably. Goldsmith's music captures the tension, drama, and sense of exploration that define the Star Trek universe. The main theme, with its blend of sweeping orchestral arrangements and futuristic synthesizers, evokes both the grandeur of space exploration and the urgency of the crew's mission.

Standout moments include the iconic theme that plays during the Enterprise's initial warp flight and the emotional resonance of the final confrontation with the Borg Queen. The music elevates pivotal scenes, amplifying their impact and drawing viewers deeper into the emotional arcs of the characters.

Pacing and Editing

The pacing of "Star Trek: First Contact" strikes an impressive balance between action, character moments, and exposition. The film wastes no time in establishing the urgency of the Borg threat, catapulting viewers into a high-stakes conflict. However, it also takes care to delve into the characters' inner struggles, particularly Captain Picard's emotional turmoil stemming from his past encounter with the Borg.

The editing by John W. Wheeler plays a vital role in maintaining the film's coherence and engagement. Transitions between the two concurrent storylines—the Enterprise's battle against the Borg and the historical events on Earth—are seamless, allowing the tension to build while ensuring that neither plotline feels disconnected or neglected. The film's well-paced structure keeps viewers invested in both the action-packed sequences and the introspective character development.
Impact and Legacy

"Star Trek: First Contact" left an indelible mark on both the Star Trek franchise and the broader sci-fi genre. It stands as a shining example of how a film can seamlessly integrate complex themes, compelling characters, and thrilling action into a cohesive narrative.

Upon its release, the film received positive critical acclaim for its ability to appeal to both die-hard Star Trek fans and newcomers. Its exploration of existential themes, combined with its captivating action sequences, elevated the film beyond a simple sci-fi adventure. Commercially, "First Contact" also found success, bolstering the appeal of the Star Trek brand and solidifying its place in pop culture.

As time has passed, the film's impact has endured. Its exploration of themes such as identity, technological ethics, and the human spirit remains relevant, inviting new generations of viewers to engage with its ideas. The seamless integration of character-driven moments and high-octane action has also set a precedent for subsequent Star Trek films and other sci-fi narratives.


"Star Trek: First Contact" shines as a testament to the enduring power of the Star Trek franchise and the sci-fi genre itself. Its exploration of time travel, assimilation, and the human condition weaves seamlessly with its character-driven moments and thrilling action. Jonathan Frakes' direction, the exceptional performances of the cast, and Jerry Goldsmith's evocative score come together to create a cinematic experience that has stood the test of time.

While the film's pacing and narrative structure remain strong, some might argue that a deeper exploration of certain themes could have added even more depth. Nevertheless, the strengths far outweigh any minor criticisms. Whether you're a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply a lover of thought-provoking sci-fi, "Star Trek: First Contact" is a must-watch. It captures the essence of what makes the franchise so beloved while offering an engaging and exhilarating journey through the stars.

Here's some trivia about First Contact:

  • The role of Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of warp drive, is played by James Cromwell. Cromwell would later go on to play another prominent role in the Star Trek franchise, as the Prime Minister of the Klingon Empire in Star Trek: Enterprise.
  • The Borg Queen, a new character created for the film, is played by Alice Krige (who reprised her role in Picard). The character was inspired by the concept of a queen bee in a hive, with the Borg drones serving as her workers.
  • The film was a critical and commercial success, earning over $146 million worldwide and receiving positive reviews from critics. It was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Makeup.
  • The musical score for the film was composed by Jerry Goldsmith, who had previously worked on several other Star Trek films and television series.
  • The film includes several references to other Star Trek films and episodes, including a cameo by the USS Defiant from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and a mention of the events of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
  • In the film, the USS Enterprise-E is destroyed during a battle with the Borg. This was intended to symbolize the passing of the torch from the crew of The Next Generation to a new generation of Star Trek characters.
  • The film's title, First Contact, refers to the first meeting between humans and an alien species capable of interstellar travel, which is a significant event in the history of the Star Trek universe.
  • The film's special effects were created by Industrial Light & Magic, which had also worked on several other Star Trek films as well as the Star Wars franchise.
  • The film was shot primarily on location in California, including at the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles and the Queen Mary ocean liner in Long Beach.
  • The film features several notable guest stars, including Alfre Woodard as Lily Sloane, a scientist who helps the Enterprise crew in the past, and Neal McDonough as Lieutenant Hawk, a Starfleet officer who is assimilated by the Borg.


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About the author Jimmy Jangles

My name is Jimmy Jangles, the founder of The Astromech. I have always been fascinated by the world of science fiction, especially the Star Wars universe, and I created this website to share my love for it with fellow fans.

At The Astromech, you can expect to find a variety of articles, reviews, and analysis related to science fiction, including books, movies, TV, and games.
From exploring the latest news and theories to discussing the classics, I aim to provide entertaining and informative content for all fans of the genre.

Whether you are a die-hard Star Trek fan or simply curious about the world of science fiction, The Astromech has something for everyone. So, sit back, relax, and join me on this journey through the stars!
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