"Star Trek" has become creepy. This is a good thing.
"Star Trek: First Contact" is the eight hundredth -- er, the eighth "Trek" movie to date and the second film outing by the "Next Generation" crew, mercifully without help from Bill Shatner this time. And it has mastered creepiness.
There are also some fine outer-space pyrotechnics when humanity faces its "most mortal enemy," as Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) describes the Borg in his great, resonant voice. The Borg, for the uninitiated, look as if they have vacuum cleaners growing out of their heads. They are humanoid beings who live interdependently with the machinery that is part of their bodies, and behaving like a hive, they simply insist that everyone join the Borg collective. Favorite Borgisms: "You will be assimilated. [Insert noble human quality here] is irrelevant. Resistance is futile." Not the kind of guys you want at a party.
After several battles in the TV series, in which Picard was briefly compromised and forced to act as the voice of the Borg, the irresistible villains are back to conquer Earth. Picard is even hearing their mechanical voices in his head, so it may seem like a good idea when his superiors, who don't trust him after his intimate contact with the Borg, send the Enterprise E (a chunky-looking new ship, since the old one was destroyed in the last movie) out of the way to patrol the neutral zone at the critical hour.
Forget that! In fine "Trek" tradition, Picard and crew disobey orders and leap into the breach. But just when things seem to be going well, those pesky Borg jump back in time in order to enslave humanity the day before Earth's "first contact" with an alien species. Their plan: to prevent the launch of the first warp drive, which, according to history, attracts the attention of the Vulcans and leads Earth into an exalted era devoid of war, hunger and Dick Clark. Of course, the Enterprise must follow the Borg back to the 21st century to prevent the undoing of the future.
It's unfortunate that "Trek" has adopted yet another time-travel plot, but despite its paradoxes, this one works well. Director Jonathan Frakes, who co-stars as the affable Commander Riker, keeps the suspense intense as the Borg eerily begin to "assimilate" crew members and Picard shows no mercy.
James Cromwell ("Babe") is entertaining as warp-drive inventor Zefram Cochrane, who is anything but legendary as he chases women and swills booze. Alfre Woodard plays Cochrane's sensible sidekick and keeps Picard on the right track (curiously functioning as Whoopi Goldberg's Guinan character, unseen here, did in previous stories).
As always, Brent Spiner just about steals the show as the android Data, whose cyber-erotic encounter with the Borg queen (Alice Krige) is weirdly electric. And Worf (Michael Dorn) is still the toughest Klingon on the block.
Without giving all the goodies away, one must mention a few things "Trek" fans will enjoy: the ever-calm Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis) drunk out of her mind; Geordi (LeVar Burton) with cool eye implants instead of that dumb visor; a funny cameo by Robert Picardo ("Star Trek: Voyager") as an emergency holographic doctor; and an appearance by show irregular Dwight Schultz as the neurotic Lieutenan Barclay.
"Star Trek: First Contact" may be lost on people who have never seen "Trek" on TV, but it has something to please fans of two stripes: those who have enjoyed the edgy turn TV's "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" has taken, and those who are devoted to the late Gene Roddenberry's original warm and fuzzy vision of humanity's spirit and thirst for exploration and achievement.
That these two approaches clash is perhaps "Contact's" chief flaw. It doesn't matter. It's a blast to see this crew fire phasers again.
'Star Trek: First Contact'
Starring Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner and Alice Krige
Directed by Jonathan Frakes
Released by Paramount
Rated PG-13 (violence, sexual tension)
Sun Score: ***
Pub Date: 11/22/96