Making First Contact: A Visual Effects Extravaganza

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

Like The Wrath of Khan, the eighth Star Trek feature 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 been seen before.

Borg and time travel: a powerful mix

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

Robert Justman, Patrick Stewart and Jonathan Frakes
Robert Justman visits the First Contact set (Trekcore)

For his part, Berman attended the meeting with the perfect plot complication already formulated: time travel. All the best Star Trek movies and episodes — The Voyage Home, “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, “City on the Edge of Forever” — had time travel in them.

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 television episode, there was no need to choose between the two approaches. A time-travel story involving the Borg was the way to go.

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

Something personal

Robert Blackman and Patrick Stewart
Costume designer Robert Blackman and Patrick Stewart

The best stories of The Next Generation — written by or under the influence of Michael Piller — were personal: episodes that revolved around not an “alien of the week”, but one of the main characters.

First Contact would do the same. Five years before the film’s setting, Captain Picard had been assimilated into 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 became acts one and two of a bigger story. The new film, at one point titled Resurrection, would become the third and 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 chasing 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 a face and a 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’s invasion of the Alpha Quadrant.

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?

Alice Krige
Alice Krige films a scene (Trekcore)

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?

Michael Dorn, Patrick Stewart and Neal McDonough
Michael Dorn, Patrick Stewart and Neal McDonough (Slightly Warped)

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

Star Wars-style space battles were becoming the norm in science fiction, so the new film would open with one. And there was an aspect of Star Trek that had only ever been glimpsed once, in the very first film: a spacesuit sequence, something Berman had resisted on The Next Generation for fear 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 ensure box office success. It was time for a Star Trek visual effects extravaganza.


Deflector dish was on Stage 12.

Bob (Feb 15, 2016)

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?

Rolf Hawkins (Aug 9, 2016)

Star Trek IV dumb? Geez. It wasn’t “a whale,” it was two whales and a probe that had lost contact with an extinct species. Have u seen the film?

Thomas M. (Sep 25, 2020)

Submit comments by email.