Jonathan Frakes Michael Dorn

First Contact: A Visual Effects Extravaganza

Jonathan Frakes Michael Dorn
Director Jonathan Frakes and Michael Dorn on the set of Star Trek: First Contact

The torch had been passed, the lessons learned and, in the words of scriptwriter Ron Moore, it was now time for The Next Generation to “kick butt.”

Like The Wrath of Khan, the eight Star Trek movie would be an action film. It would have humor like The Voyage Home. And most important of all, it would hook Star Trek and science-fiction fans by delivering visual effects that had never seen before.

Borg and time travel: a powerful mix

With no limits and no studio-mandated story requirements, Moore and Brannon Braga attended their first meeting with Rick Berman with the perfect threat in mind: the Borg.

For his part, Berman attended the meeting with the perfect plot complication already formulated: time travel. He explained, “All of the Star Trek films and episodes I have been most impressed with — Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “City on the Edge of Forever,” and I could name half a dozen more — have all been stories that deal with time travel.”

In a way, Star Trek: Generations dealt with time travel. Nick Meyer’s wonderful movie Time After Time dealt with time travel. The paradoxes that occur in writing as well as the reality of what the characters are doing and what the consequences are, have always been fascinating to me.

Since a feature film required a larger scope than a single television episode, there was no need to choose between the two approaches. A time-travel story involving the Borg was quickly decided upon as the direction to go.

But it wasn’t enough to make an action film.

Something personal

Michael Piller’s influence was inextricably woven into The Next Generation‘s appeal. There had to be some part of the story that made it personal; that made it revolve around one of the main characters. Again the answer was simple and direct — always a good sign in developing a strong story. Five years earlier, Picard had become part of the Borg Collective. To him, the scars of that encounter were permanent. To the Borg, he was the one who got away.

“The Best of Both Worlds,” Part I and II now became acts one and two of a bigger story. The new film, at one point titled, Star Trek: Resurrection, would become the final act in Picard’s encounter with the Borg.

Once again, the storytellers went back to what had worked in the past. Khan had quoted Moby Dick while he chased Captain Kirk and that classic tale of obsession would be invoked to underscore Picard’s potentially self-destructive hatred of the Borg.

To make the story even more personal, for the first time the Borg would be give an individual face and voice: the Borg Queen. And the time travel aspect was just as direct. The Borg would go back in time to subvert Earth’s development so humanity could never lead the Federation and resist the Borg in its quadrant of the galaxy.

A visual effects extravaganza

Another essential component of a Star Trek story laid out by Gene Roddenberry was that the Enterprise must be considered a character, too. What better way to put a sleek new starship in danger than to have it infiltrated by the Borg and face complete assimilation?

The various parts of the story fell into place effortlessly. Berman, Moore and Braga had only to answer a few key questions to create the spine of their story: To what time would the Borg return? How could Picard stop them this time? What could the movie show that Star Trek fans had always enjoyed seeing in a feature film? And what could the movie show that Star Trek fans had never seen before?

The answer to the first two questions would remain to be discovered during the story’s further refinement. But the second two questions inspired powerful answers.

Michael Dorn Patrick Stewart Neal McDonough
Michael Dorn, Patrick Stewart and Neal McDonough film a scene on Star Trek: First Contact

Fans had increasingly been enamored of Star Wars-style space battles, so the new film would open with one. And there was an aspect of Star Trek which had only ever been glimpsed once, in the very first film — a spacesuit sequence, something which Berman had always resisted during the series out of concern that it could not be done believably on a television budget. Now the time was right for so much that was new about Star Trek. It was time for the franchise to embrace what so many hit science-fiction films had successfully used to insure box office success. It was time for a Star Trek visual effects extravaganza.

Text adapted from Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens, The Art of Star Trek (1995)

2 thoughts on “First Contact: A Visual Effects Extravaganza

  1. This was a movie that definitely could have been great…if it had simply stayed in the future instead of diving into the past. Time travel should have remained with City on the Edge of Forever, and never used again; it’s sheer laziness on the part of the writers to indulge in it as liberally as they do on Star Trek.

    Also, Star Trek IV was just dumb. Seriously. A whale? And this is considered to be one of the best Star Trek films?

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