Star Trek: First Contact - Special Collector's Edition
Length: 111 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1, Anamorphic
Audio: English DTS 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1, English 2.0, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Special Features: Director Commentary, Writer Commentary, Text Commentary, 15 Featurettes, Storyboards, Galleries, Trailers
SRP: $19.98, USD
They invade our space, and we fall back.
They assimilate entire worlds, and we fall back.
The line must be drawn here.
This far, no farther.
And I will make them pay for what they’ve done.
- Jean-Luc Picard
Packaging and Navigation
Star Trek: First Contact is packaged in the usual doublewide keepcases we’ve seen in previous Star Trek special editions. Art design is consistent with previous outings, with the cover image surrounded by a brushed silver border.
The menu design on disc one is nicely rendered in 3D, depicting the battle with the Borg as seen early in the film. The animation is reasonably quick getting out of the way so that you can make a selection. Animation continues in the background as the menu waits for input.
The graphic display begins as a TNG themed “LCARS” display. Within seconds, the LCARS theme is “assimilated” and the look becomes “Borgified.” A nice touch.
Disc One Main Menu
Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the Enterprise E (remember, the Enterprise D was destroyed in Generations) embark on a mission to save Earth from assimilation by the most feared enemy of the Federation, the Borg.
It seems that the Borg have traveled back in time to assimilate the Earth of the past, and the Enterprise must follow a Borg sphere back in time to prevent this from happening, while ensuring that the first launch of a warp ship by the legendary Zephram Cochrane takes place as scheduled. If the launch fails, first contact with the Vulcans will be prevented, causing devastating, irreparable harm to the timeline.
Unbound by the restrictions imposed by combining two casts from differing eras, as in Generations, screenwriters Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore enjoyed more freedom in designing a story for First Contact that didn’t need to serve multiple masters. The result was a much more interesting story that seems to make more sense (relatively speaking, of course) than the Star Trek feature that preceded it.
The film features strong performances by Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner, with solid backup from the rest of the TNG cast. Where this film excels, however, is with the strength of the “guest” cast. Alice Krige is unforgettable as the disturbingly sensual Borg Queen, while James Cromwell delivers an interesting spin on the Cochrane character. Alfre Woodard is strong in the role of Cochrane’s assistant, Lily, who serves as a pair of “virgin” eyes on the Star Trek mythos, allowing for exposition that is more inclusive of the non-Trek fan.
First Contact is the most solid outing of The Next Generation on film, delivering thrills, chills, a bit of humor, and a truly great nemesis.
The transfer is beautiful.
The anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 video, I’m delighted to say, suffers from none of the flaws that plagued Generations. This is, in fact, a near reference transfer.
The picture is very sharp, with excellent detail, and no clear evidence of sharpening artifacts. Noise is at a minimum, and is usually in the form of fine grain from the original filmstock. The absence of any noticeable noise reduction affords richly detailed high frequency textures. The tradeoff is an occasional, but very mild, aliasing of sharp diagonals - much more acceptable than excessive high frequency filtering.
Colors are true and beautifully saturated, delivering a rich palette without any signs of blooming or dot crawl. Black levels are solid, and detail is nicely maintained in shadow areas.
The print does display occasional flecks of debris, but not to the point of distraction.
Compression artifacts are virtually nonexistent. Pausing the video during the most demanding sequences may reveal some slight digital noise or pixellation, the vast majority of which is invisible to the naked eye during normal playback. Even the most difficult to compress scenes, such as the plasma effects in the climax, are richly detailed with little or no artifacting.
Star Trek: First Contact is, without a doubt, the best looking of the Star Trek Collector’s Editions on DVD.
You may choose from one of two discrete surround tracks, including a 5.1 channel Dolby Digital track and a 5.1 channel DTS track. There are also English 2.0 and French 5.1 tracks to choose from, as well as two commentary tracks. The film is subtitled in English and Spanish, and is closed captioned for the hearing impaired. Finally, there is a text (subtitled) commentary track, as well.
Did you say DTS?
Yes... Paramount has now delivered a second Star Trek film with a DTS track. With Generations, First Contact, and the recent release of Top Gun with a DTS soundtrack, it appears that Paramount is at last listening to the desires of DVD fans everywhere.
The First Contact DTS track features a very active, immersive surround experience. Ship flybys, directional cues and ambient sound - it’s all there. You are made part of the action. Jerry Goldsmith’s beautiful, soaring score also makes magnificent use of all channels, delivering excellent channel separation across the front soundstage and adding subtle reverberation effects in the rear.
Frequency response is outstanding, delivering deep, textured bass response when called for. Crisp, clean highs are also featured. Dialog sounds reasonably strong and is well defined, if a touch hollow. I expected more rich baritone frequencies in Worf’s voice, for example.
One unfortunate effect I noticed is that peak audio is overdriven on a few occasions on the dialog audio, resulting in a mild distortion at peak levels. This is most noticeable during frequency-limited effects, such as a voice over a communications channel. If this were the only situation in which this effect were heard, one could write it off as an intentional effect. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Please note, this is only an occasional occurrence in the film.
The Dolby Digital track is good, but it can’t compete with the DTS track. In every respect - texture, detail, channel separation - the DTS track is superior. This is not to say that the Dolby Digital track is bad... but if you have DTS playback capability you’ll want to take advantage of it.
The one area where the Dolby Digital track is an improvement over the DTS track is in the peak audio distortion. While the distortion is present in both tracks, the reduced detail in the Dolby track help to mask the problem somewhat.
Special Features, Disc One
Audio Commentary by Jonathan Frakes
For too long, Frakes is alternately self-effacing and ego driven, delivering only staccato punches of commentary with absolutely no depth or detail. He sounds like a casual football fan, commenting on a game... the camera zooms in for a significant closeup and Frakes exclaims, “Push in... push in... Yesssss.” An important visual is punctuated by a signature Jerry Goldsmith track and we hear, “Wait for it... GENIUS!” He uses single-word exclamations like “genius” and other similar terms without explanation as to what is behind that genius.
About thirty minutes in, Frakes begins to be more narrative in delivery, and provides some useful commentary on actors, sets, effects, etc. He comments frequently on set design, and the importance of the timeline as it relates to the Borgification of the Enterprise and the weariness of the characters, etc. Frakes also offers up some trivia on other work and relationships of the different actors in the film. I had almost given up on this commentary when it finally began to be interesting. I stuck with it... and Frakes reaches a higher level of competence by the second act. At its best, this commentary is mediocre.
I think Frakes would have benefitted from a co-commentator - say one of the principle actors, or Herman Zimmerman - or even Rick Berman... another person to help lead the commentary to deeper, more fertile areas for discussion.
Audio Commentary by Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore
Braga and Moore present a captivating commentary that focuses on the construction of the story and places the story in the context of the Star Trek historical timeline. The two discuss early missteps and the complete revision of the story from the first draft.
The pair spend some time talking about the Zephram Cochrane character, and why he was written as an imperfect character - unlike how Trek history has portrayed him. This is a sticking point for some fans, and I think the writers explain their reasoning well.
Other characters are also discussed, especially pertaining to the framing of the characters in such a way as to make them real, even to non-fans. It is interesting to hear them point out, for those who miss the connection, the comparison of Data’s sense of touch in the missile silo with his ability to sense touch after his encounter with the Borg. There is also discussion of Picard’s “sixth sense,” his special connection to the Borg.
Also discussed is the “inheritance” of certain Trek canon, which had to be adhered to, but occasionally caused uneasiness in the construction of the story.
Braga and Moore work perfectly off of one another, recalling many interesting details of the creation of the film and relaying the history of the Star Trek franchise as it relates to their experience writing it.
Text Commentary by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda
As found in previous outings, this is a wonderful trivia track. Information about how this story fits in with the Star Trek universe is presented, as well as wonderful trivia on the art and set design, and the construction of props. Who’d have known that a display rack for sunglasses could become an integral part of a warp ship?
You’ll also find notes on locations, including some historical data on the missile and missile silo seen in the film.
Finally, you’ll be let in on some in-jokes (apparently, the Millenium Falcon is in one of the space battle scenes) and continuity errors (morphing phaser rifles, etc).
Special Features, Disc Two
The special features on Disc Two are not anamorphic.
Disc Two Main Menu
Making First Contact (20:18)
Most of the cast and Rick Berman talk about giving the directing reigns to first time director Jonathan Frakes. Though Frakes had directed some television episodes, helming a major motion picture is an entirely different class. Each person heaps praise onto Frakes, calling him a great talent behind the camera.
Cast members talk about their sense of “family,” and how they felt about working with one another again. Comments about maintaining Gene Roddenberry’s vision are also made.
This is not an in-depth “behind the scenes” piece. The segment includes comments from: Rick Berman, Jonathan Frakes, Patrick Stewart, Gates McFadden, Mirina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Alfre Woodard and Alice Krige.
The Art of First Contact (16:34)
Illustrator John Eaves introduces this segment on art direction, which begins with the exhibition of several concept drawings, set to music.
Eaves then talks about the building of ship models for the series, and we see shots of the build in progress. It is mentioned that First Contact was a turning point in the Star Trek franchise, where they began to go with computer generated models - but actual models were also used in this film.
Next, Eaves brings us back to the design phase for the Enterprise E, describing the process of coming up with a fresh, bold look for the new starship. 30 - 40 designs were drawn before the final ship was decided upon, and we see some of the early sketches here.
Next, Eaves walks us through multiple concept designs for the major battle scene at the start of the film, the battle scarring of the Defiant, and the modification of a Titan missile to play the part of the Phoenix. Finally, there is discussion and some early sketches of the Vulcan ship design.
While this featurette does show some model design and preproduction footage, this is primarily about design and not construction. There are many interesting concept drawings seen here.
The Story (15:29)
Brannon Braga and Ronald Moore discuss (separately) the evolution of the story, and the freedom they enjoyed after the restraints of combining crews in the Generations film before it. While there is much discussion of particular scenes and the positioning of certain characters, much of the same information is relayed in the commentary - and it comes across better there because Braga and Moore are in the same room, playing off of each other. Here, the interviews are conducted separately, with Braga dominating the featurette.
The Missile Silo (14:04)
Herman Zimmerman talks about the history of the missile silo site in Arizona that represented the location where the Phoenix was housed. He also talks about decorating this set on location, while preserving the actual missile - which is actually in place as a museum.
Brent Spiner discusses his stunt work in the silo as well.
Included, also, are comments from Producers Rick Berman and Martin Hornstein, John Eaves, James Cromwell and Michael Okuda.
This is an interesting featurette simply because of the unusual location and the history behind it.
The Deflector Dish (10:30)
John Eaves talks about this effects-heavy scene, which was one of the most complicated scenes shot for the film. Extensive storyboards were done for this scene, and we see a storyboard to film comparison for parts of it.
Herman Zimmerman talks about building the deflector dish, at 7/8 actual size. The separation was actually done onstage with the 7/8 model, with the Borg actors along for the ride.
We also see a comparison of the raw wire work, alongside the finished product. There’s plenty of raw production footage, here.
From “A” to “E” (6:38)
From the title, you’d expect this featurette to cover the evolution of the Enterprise from “A” to “E”. Instead, we have a brief discussion of the set building for the Enterprise E, with only a passing reference to the influence of Matt Jefferies original Enterprise design.
The interesting part of this featurette is the discussion of the “Borgification” of the sets, and how the sets were designed with that process in mind. The featurette includes comments by Herman Zimmerman, Rick Berman, Martin Hornstein and Patrick Stewart.
Borg Queen Assembly (11:10)
Alex Jaeger from ILM discusses the design of this sequence while we watch dozens of storyboards of the scene. John Knoll follows up, giving more specifics on the sfx process, while we watch raw, on-set footage. Finally, we see dozens of different motion control passes and different effects stages and morph stages that were used to construct the final scene - all with descriptive narration from John Knoll. This is a very interesting sfx featurette.
Escape Pod Launch (4:59)
Alex Jaeger walks us through this sequence as we watch storyboards, model still shots and pre-visualization animatics.
Borg Queen’s Demise (3:12)
John Knoll narrates this scene’s design as we watch the raw actor footage and computer models combined to create this visual effect.
The Star Trek Universe
Jerry Goldsmith: A Tribute (19:46)
This is a wonderful tribute and retrospective of Jerry Goldsmith’s career composing music for film. While obviously this featurette focuses on his scores for Star Trek, there is mention of his other work, as well.
Since Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Goldsmith has been inextricably linked to the world of Star Trek, and he so obviously earned the respect of those involved in the franchise, so many of whom contributed to this featurette.
This piece is definitely worth your time if, like me, you are a fan of Goldsmith’s work.
The Legacy of Zephram Cochrane (12:18)
James Cromwell talks about his character in the film, and talks about his unfamiliarity with Star Trek until his participation in an episode of The Next Generation.
Michael Okuda talks about the original Cochrane, played by Glenn Corbett in an original series episode called “Metamorphosis.”
Brannon Braga talks about taking liberties with the character as portrayed by Corbett, explaining that history often writes historical figures as heroes, even though they are usually as flawed as anyone else.
James Cromwell talks about his real life work with CSETI, and how that ties in with his character. He wraps up this featurette waxing philosophical about the future, and how we humans can view it either as something to be feared, or as a wonderful possibility.
First Contact: The Possibilities (19:30)
Science Consultant André Bormanis, along with spokesmen from SETI and The Planetary Society talk about the ultimate “what if” scenario - actual first contact with an alien race. This interesting featurette documents some of the efforts by SETI, The Planetary Society and NASA to search for extraterrestrial life, intelligent or not. Projects discussed include the earliest SETI research, the SET @Home project, and the Huygens probe, among others. Interestingly, the SETI @Home project, one of the largest distributed computing projects, was launched with grant money from Paramount Pictures.
This is a terrific and informative featurette. The only downside is the annoying interjections of Star Trek clips, which serve no real purpose. For instance, after an interesting point is made, we see a classic Trek clip of Mr. Spock saying, “fascinating,” interjected amongst the more relevant musings of the scientists at hand. That one annoyance aside, this short documentary is worth a look.
The Borg Collective
Unimatrix One (14:15)
This interesting piece has Rick Berman, Jonathan Frakes, Patrick Stewart, Michael Okuda, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, LeVar Burton, Alice Krige, Brannon Braga and Jeri Ryan talking about the introduction of the Borg in “Q Who” and tracing their evolution through two series, a film and the “Invasion” at the Las Vegas Hilton.
There’s lots of interesting stuff here - but I have one complaint. During an interview with Patrick Stewart where he talks about “The Best of Both Worlds,” the audio from the clips being played during the interview completely buries Stewart's comments, making it virtually impossible to hear what he has to say. I understand there can be value in playing clips from older shows when they are relevant, but they should never interfere with the interview. Still, this is an interesting retrospective of the Borg.
The Queen (8:31)
Alice Krige talks in depth about her character, the Queen. She gives perspective on the character that only she can give. It’s nice to hear it from the Queen, herself.
Design Matrix (18:10)
Rick Berman, Jonathan Frakes, Michael Westmore, Robert Blackman, John Eaves and others discuss the detail and design of the Borg costumes, makeup and ships. Included are video clips of makeup application, views of models and concept art and more. We see the evolution of the costumes and makeup from “Q Who” through to First Contact. It is interesting to see the increase in detail in the costumes over the years.
Hull Battle - Alternate Shots
Worf vs. The Borg - Alternate Shots
Over 130 storyboards to page through, in the four categories above.
Just shy of 50 production photos and a few concept sketches are found in the photo gallery.
Teaser Trailer (1:21)
Theatrical Trailer (2:22)
Borg Invasion Trailer (:32)
Final Log Entry
While there are some minor quibbles I have with the film, and it still doesn’t possess the magic of the early Star Trek films, this is a solid and exciting film featuring The Next Generation crew... and quite probably their best effort. Strong supporting characters and great villains are what make this film work.
Image quality is excellent, and there’s a very active DTS track offered up for Star Trek fans.
The commentary by Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore is very interesting for commentary fans, and more than a few of the featurettes have much to offer, even if less than perfect production values sometimes get in the way. With well over three hours of featurettes, there’s enough here to keep Trek fans busy for awhile.
This Collector’s Edition is highly recommended for Star Trek: The Next Generation fans, and is recommended for all action / sci-fi fans.