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page created: 9/26/98

First Contact
1996 (1998) - Paramount

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs
Star Trek: First Contact

Film Rating: B-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/D-

Specs and Features

111 mins, PG-13, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, Amaray keep case packaging, 2 theatrical trailers, film-themed menu screens, scene access (31 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), English & French (DD 2.0), subtitles: Spanish, Closed Captioned

During the shakedown cruise of the new Enterprise-E, Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and his crew learn of an invasion by the greatest enemy the Federation has ever faced... a race of soulless, cybernetic beings known as the Borg. Picard, haunted by the experience of having once been 'assimilated' by the Borg, is ordered against all logic to stay out of the fight. Despite the fact that the Enterprise is the most powerful ship available, Starfleet is afraid the Borg may still have some control over his actions. But the fleet's best efforts are not enough, and the Borg break through their defenses easily, heading for the Earth.

Picard and crew ignore their orders, of course, and arrive just in time to stop the invasion, but a small Borg craft escapes and creates a temporal rift, disappearing back in time. Suddenly the Earth changes, becoming a Borg world, and Picard realizes that the Enterprise too must go back to the past, to undo whatever damage the Borg have done there. Upon arriving, our heroes quickly discover the Borg's nefarious plan: to prevent the most important event in human history - first contact with extraterrestrial life.

The whole gang of regulars is back, in this second film outing by the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Also along for the ride, are actors James Cromwell (best known for his work in L.A. Confidential and Babe) and Alfre Woodard (Miss Evers' Boys, Primal Fear), as denizens of a past Earth recovering from the devastation of World War III. And sitting behind the camera, this time out, is none other than Commander Riker himself, Jonathan Frakes. Frakes does an admirable job - he's clearly a capable director. The problem here is all in the script.

The film starts off with a bang - the battle scenes with the Borg are exciting and make for great spectacle. But it's all over in a matter of moments. Picard and crew defeat the bad guys easily - hard to believe for anyone who followed the Borg storyline on the TV series. Then, all of a sudden, we're diving back into the past, and we quickly lose the dramatic tension. It would almost have been better if the good guys were losing the battle in the present, and had to chase the Borg back through time, in order to come back and repel the invasion. That, at least, would have raised the stakes. Oh well. Unfortunately, the writers also can't resist throwing some very hokey Trek-isms into the mix, such as alien T & A, in this case a Borg Queen (Alice Krige). Worse yet, Counsellor Troi's drinking binge ranks right up there with the drunken Scotty subplot from the Shatner-directed disaster Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. Still the effects are excellent, the film is well-intentioned, and Patrick Stewart's Captain Ahab speech is almost enough to pull it all off.

This disc is arguably the best of Paramount's first batch of DVD titles, and it's a good batch indeed. The anamorphic widescreen picture presented here is very good (THANK YOU Paramount, for realizing the value of anamorphic enhancement - Buena Vista take note!). First Contact is a dark, murky film to begin with, but on DVD it looks great - the MPEG-2 compression has been very well done. Little digital artifacting is apparent, but you can see some visible film grain, inherent in the print itself. There's also a bit of Digital Video Noise Reduction, which appears as a slight shimmering on edges occasionally. A minor complaint. But the contrast is terrific, and the saturation is outstanding. The colors are gorgeous - very vibrant and crisp.

But, as good as the video is, it's the audio that really shines here. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is outstanding. Listen for yourself, particularly during the space battle early in the film - the shrill cry of phaser fire, the metallic thump of photon torpedoes. There's lots of great directional sound - very good use of the rear channels. When the Borg speak in their gravelly monotone, arrogantly demanding unconditional surrender, their voices seem to come from everywhere at once. Aboard Worf's ship, the Defiant, we hear the groaning of stressed metal and sizzle of overloaded circuitry all around. One item of note is that you must select the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio in the menu, prior to playing the film (unless your player does this automatically). Otherwise you will hear the default Dolby Surround audio - you can't switch audio tracks during playback. Another minor complaint.

The disc's only real weak spot is extras, or a lack thereof. Other than a pair of theatrical trailers, there's not much to be had. But it's more than some studios put on their discs, and this IS one of Paramount's first titles. They do at least provide an OK mix of languages (English and French), subtitles (Spanish) and Captions (English). Given the quality of the presentation, I have few complaints.

Wrath of Khan it ain't, but if you're a Star Trek fan, you'll probably get everything you're looking for here. The action sequences are generally good and the story, while at times campy, is entertaining. The first film appearance of the Borg should have packed more punch though, and there's just a hair too much Trek hokum here for my taste. As for picture and sound quality, this disc definitely delivers. The sound, in particular, is really outstanding. If this is any indication of the DVDs we can expect from Paramount in the future, all I've got to say is bring 'em on!

Bill Hunt
[email protected]

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