Sunday, June 24, 2018

Don't Make a Scene: Star Trek: First Contact

The Story: In space, no one can draw a line in the sand...
For one thing, the Universe is constantly expanding, shifting vectors and all that. And most relevant? No sand. If you attempt to draw a line in empty space, it's so much empty promises (in case you were wondering why "Star Trek" had so many "neutral zones.")

Star Trek: First Contact, the second of the "Next Generation" Star Trek films, had a rather lengthy back-story that gave the film a little more depth to those who knew it. Even though the film recounts the events in flashback well as in words in this didn't compare to having watched it unfold and even experience a season-ending cliff-hanger around the events during the show's initial run.

That two-parter "The Best of Both Worlds" had the venerable star ship Enterprise in combat with the unstoppable Borg, not so much an alien race as a concept—marauding humanoid/mechanical hybrids out of a David Lynch nightmare, the conquered "assimilated" victims of previous Borg attacks, now controlled by a collective "hive mind." In that episode, The Borg capture Picard and "borgify" him to lead the attack on the Enterprise, ending with a cliff-hanger revealing his transformation, and a dramatic camera pull-in to his second-in-command (First Contact's director Jonathan Frakes) who pauses and commences the attack with one word: "Fire." Cut to black. "To be continued..." And a three month wait to see what would happen next. Very effective.

The rumor was that star Patrick Stewart was in contract negotiations for another season, and this would have been an efficient (and economical) way to write him out of the series "just in case..."

So, it was very clever of First Contact's designers to take a page out of literature and cast the haunted, damaged Captain Picard as another haunted, damaged captain—Ahab, from Herman Melville's "Moby Dick." 

The "Star Trek" franchise had trotted out "Moby Dick" before: The original series' episode "The Doomsday Machine" was a not-very-far-removed version of it, and Khan was quite fond of quoting from Melville in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and there were echoes of it, defiantly so, in Star Trek IV.

Stewart would go on to play Ahab in the "Moby Dick" mini-series, produced by Francis Ford Coppola.

I've just finished reading the second volume of Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross' very gossipy "complete, uncensored, and unauthorized oral history of Star Trek," "The Fifty Year Mission: The Next 25 Years—From the Next Generation to J.J. Abrams," Alfre Woodard talked a little bit about this scene. We'll give her the last word:
"There was a confrontation between Picard and Lily that took three days to film. It was a very intense, confrontational moment. It was so cool because it was just us and Jonathan Frakes, so we got Jonathan's undivided attention. It was meaty. There were things to do, and you're there with a partner that you know can run the relay with you. It's like crewing and everybody being in top, top form on the boat. Jonathan, whom I'd known for twenty-one years, is the kind of director that does direct you, but because he's a good actor—and good acrors don't always make good directors, which is something that has to get through to people—he does have everything that makes for good directing impulse. The language is there immediately and it's fabulous. Those days we had the drama, the intensity of yeah, yeah, we're kicking ass; this so great...It was like partying all day."*

The Set-up: Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), in command of the Enterprise-E—having lost his ship in the previous Star Trek: Generations—is more than a little reluctant to abandon ship this time out. This time, it's personal. He and his crew have gone back in Earth's history to prevent a predator race—the Borg, a linked civilization of biological/android constructs who "assimilate" and destroy other cultures—from stopping a pivotal moment in Terran humanity's journey to the stars. The situation has gone critical—while some of the Enterprise crew monitor the progress of Zefraim Cochrane's (James Cromwell) development of a faster-than-light warp-drive craft, Picard must defend the orbiting Enterprise from a Borg attack from within. Now, the crew is in revolt, arguing to abandon the Enterprise to the alien attack and take their chances in the past. Picard will not budge, and has retreated to a ship lounge to enhance their weapons, while a 21st Century woman, Lily (Alfre Woodard) follows to confront him.


[Enterprise-E observation lounge]
LILY: You son of a bitch.
PICARD: This really isn't the time.
LILY: Okay... 
LILY: I don't know jack about the twenty-fourth century but everybody out there thinks that staying here and fighting the Borg is suicide. 
LILY: They're just afraid to come in here and say it.
PICARD: The crew is accustomed to following my orders.
LILY: They're probably accustomed... 
LILY: your orders making sense.
PICARD: None of them understand the Borg as I do. 
PICARD: ...No one does. No one can.
LILY: What is that supposed to mean?
PICARD: Six years ago, they assimilated me into their collective. I had their cybernetic devices implanted throughout my body. I was linked to the hive mind, every trace of individuality erased. 
PICARD: I was one of them. 

PICARD: So you can imagine, my dear, I have a somewhat unique perspective on the Borg and I know how to fight them. 
PICARD: Now if you will excuse me I have work to do.
LILY: I am such an idiot. ...It's so simple. The Borg hurt you, and now you're going to hurt them back.
PICARD: In my century we don't succumb to revenge. We have a more evolved sensibility.
LILY: Bullshit! 
LILY: I saw the look on your face when you shot those Borg on the holodeck. 
LILY: You were almost enjoying it!
PICARD: How dare you!
LILY: Oh, come on, Captain. 
LILY: You're not the first man to get a thrill from murdering someone. 
LILY: I see it all the time.
PICARD: Get out!
LILY: Or what? You'll kill me, like you killed Ensign Lynch
PICARD: There was no way to save him.
LILY: You didn't even try. 
LILY: Where was your evolved sensibility then?
PICARD: I don't have time for this.
LILY: Oh! Hey! 
LILY: I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt your little quest. Captain Ahab has to go hunt his whale.
LILY: You do have books in the twenty-fourth century?
PICARD: This is not about revenge.
LILY: Liar!
PICARD: This is about saving the future of humanity!
LILY: Jean-Luc, blow up the damn ship!
PICARD: ...No!
(Picard breaks the starship display cabinet with his phaser rifle)
PICARD: No! ...I will not sacrifice the Enterprise. We've made too many compromises already. Too many retreats. 
PICARD: They invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds, and we fall back. 
PICARD: Not again! The line must be drawn here, 
PICARD: ...this far, no further! 
PICARD: And I will make them pay for what they've done.
LILY: You broke your little ships. 
LILY: ...See you around, Ahab.
PICARD: 'And he piled upon the whale's white hump, a sum of all the rage...'
PICARD: '...and hate felt by his own race.' 
PICARD: 'If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it.'
LILY: What?
PICARD: 'Moby Dick.'
LILY: Actually, I never read it.
PICARD: Ahab spent years hunting the white whale that crippled him. A quest for vengeance, 
PICARD: ...but in the end it destroyed him...
PICARD: ...and his ship.
LILY: I guess he didn't know when to quit.

Star Trek: First Contact

Words by Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore (and Herman Melville)

Pictures by Matthew F. Leonetti and Jonathan Frakes

Star Trek: First Contact is available on DVD from Paramount Home Video.

"The Fifty Year Mission: The Next 25 Years" Copyright © 2016 by Mark A. Altman and Edward Gross, p. 357.

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