A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know Star Trek: First Contact is the first Trek movie to Go Where No Star Trek Flick Had Gone Before, to a PG-13 rating. It has some pretty gruesome violence and a macabre threat in the menacing Borg, a zombie-like, infectious, cybernetic race who could give younger viewers nightmares. Humans and Borg alike die in battles, with some limbs severed, and a Borg commander can detach her head at will. There is some generalized dialog about sexuality, as well as mild swearing. A historical Starfleet hero is revealed as a misfit drunkard; while his alcoholism is perhaps meant as pathos, it comes across as mainly comical.
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What's the story?
A theatrical spin-off of the fine TV show Star Trek: The Next Generation, STAR TREK: FIRST CONTACT gets right to business with the most compelling of the villains from the program, the Borg, an army of ghoulish cyborgs from deep space, out to conquer all humanoid life. Responding to an attack on Earth by the Borg, the starship Enterprise (a new model since the previous one got trashed in the last film) discovers the invaders have sent a Borg expedition back in time, to a war-devastated 21st-century Earth. By striking at this crucial interval, the Borg will absorb humanity at its weakest point, altering history and preventing the founding of Starfleet. Following in the same time warp, the Enterprise crew split into two teams; one beams to the wilderness of Montana of 2063, to find a genius inventor-pilot named Zephraim Cochrane (James Cromwell), responsible for faster-than-light space travel -- but he turns out to be a gangly wastrel, aghast that he's destined to be regarded as the planet's greatest hero. That's played on a comic level; more serious events unfold on the Enterprise, where Borg have taken root like an infection and are spreading throughout the ship.
Is it any good?
Kids (heck, adults too) who have absorbed Treklore on the level of their Pokemon or Buffy the Vampire Slayer scholarship should be delighted by the well-modulated space adventure. Though it comes on like gangbusters (or Borgbusters, as the case may be), as with many Star Trek movies, knowledge of the dense TV mythology is crucial to comprehending this maximum-warp theatrical expansion. Someone who has not seen the cliffhanger episodes in which Capt. Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) is captured and turned into a Borg, will be a bit lost -- and Star Trek: First Contact not only references them but also connects, to varying degrees, with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, among others. In-joke lines and cameos that made audiences cheer in 1996 may seem puzzling and out of context today.
While the relatively tame stuff on Earth with Zephraim Cochrane seems to have drifted in from an entirely different (and more lighthearted) film, it gives you vital breathing space in between the Borg conflict, in which the stakes are literally a fate worse than death. Indeed, the vibe is not unlike Alien as the purposeful zombies take over deck by deck -- only to meet their match in human will and loyalty.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why the Borg are standouts among all the alien menaces on Star Trek. Why are they such memorable adversaries?
What about the side-story about Zephraim Cochrane, the legendary inventor who turns out to be an extremely reluctant hero? Can you think of any real-life equivalents in human history?
The theme of Moby Dick and obsessive vengeance arises, a reference that also came up in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. What similarities are there in the stories?
- In theaters: November 22, 1996
- On DVD or streaming: May 15, 2005
- Cast: James Cromwell, Jonathan Frakes, Michael Dorn, Patrick Stewart
- Director: Jonathan Frakes
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Run time: 111 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some sci-fi adventure violence.
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