Explore the making of Star Trek: First Contact

Review by C.J. Bunce

Don’t be surprised if this month’s arrival of the final hours of Patrick Stewart playing Jean-Luc Picard conjures deja vus of the Ghosts of Yesterday’s Tomorrows.  First there were episodes like “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Parallels,” “Cause and Effect,” and “Future Imperfect,” all where we saw different incarnations of what was to come.   Then there was the future fans were left with in the series finale “All Good Things…”  Then there was Star Trek Generations.  Then Star Trek First Contact.  Then Star Trek Insurrection.  Then Star Trek Nemesis.  Will this be The End (“my only friend, The End”) or is each of these just another possible future, like those written into the hundreds of Star Trek tie-in books?  One of those rare times it seemed all of Star Trek fandom agreed was when Jonathan Frakes directed Star Trek: First Contact, which all these years later remains in the top favorite film lists among Star Trek fans.

Star Trek: First Contact proved what fans had been saying years: If you put Star Trek’s reins in the hands of someone who knows this fantastic fictional universe, who has lived it week after week for years–who really gets it–you might produce a movie that gets it all right.  Watching Frakes and Stewart play these characters again on Star Trek Picard so far into the future, after Picard’s retirement from Starfleet, after Riker’s unseen journeys captaining the USS Titan, creates a major deja vu for all of us.  We’ve been through something like this before, and that was Star Trek: First Contact, so it’s appropriate to at last have Joe Fordham’s long overdue examination of the film.  That’s Star Trek: First Contact–The Making of the Classic Film, available now here at Amazon.

Although it’s the follow-up to the coffee table-style, display-worthy Star Trek: The Motion Picture: The Art and Visual Effects (reviewed here), this takes a different approach to its subject.  More than anything Star Trek: First Contact–The Making of the Classic Film is a good story, a story of a series and franchise utilizing its own creators to make a movie as good as its series while also satisfying the demands of the box office and theater owners.  The story is told in the words of Frakes as director, of producer Rick Berman, writers Brannon Braga and Ronald D. Moore, with contributions from actors Alice Krige and Marina Sirtis, production designer Herman Zimmerman, concept artist John Eaves, cinematographer Matthew Leonetti, visual effects supervisors John Knoll and David Takemura, makeup artist Michael Westmore, and more.

This isn’t so much a detailed photographic look at the costumes, props, sets, and models from the film.  Writer Joe Fordham opted instead for large, blown-up photographs that immerse the reader into the past and the production, many focused on the creators working with each other behind the scenes.  To that end many photos will not have been seen by fans before.  The text goes into detail on seven key topics, beginning with a brief overview of the series moving to the movies first by way of Star Trek Generations.  How the producers sold the studio on the new film’s focal topics of The Borg and First Contact comes next, followed by a chapter about Frakes getting tapped for the director spot.  Braga and Moore lead the next section, explaining things like how they developed the story, including tying in new lead characters: Alfre Woodard’s future earthling character Lily and Alice Krige’s Borg Queen.

Designs, sketches, schematics, blueprints, and set photos of work by John Eaves and others highlight a section on creating a new Enterprise starship for the film, with commentary by both Zimmerman and Eaves.  Frakes and Zimmerman recount the development of the First Contact concept, the Phoenix ship, and the location setting in the next chapter, including the trick of putting a capsule on an actual U.S. missile inside an actual military silo for the film shoot.  Brannon Braga met first with Alien franchise designer H.R. Giger to update villains The Borg for the film, but his price was too high.  Michael Westmore, makeup artist Scott Wheeler, effects artist Todd Masters detail the resulting reconfiguration process for the characters, which is probably the high point of the book, also with many accompanying photographs.

Next David Takemura recounts the opening scene visual effects, including The Borg Cube and Sphere ships, the Borg Queen’s creepy body-split entrance (filmed with an age-old magician’s trick), among other scenes.  Finally the book wraps with a look at the finale, with the Vulcans arriving to greet humans for the first time at the rural Montana location.

The improvement that would aid literally every Star Trek behind the scenes book would be inclusion of more higher resolution photographs.

Star Trek: First Contact–The Making of the Classic Film is a worthy follow-up to Lou Anders’ long out of print, thinner but useful The Making of Star Trek: First Contact, as well as Terry Erdmann and Paula Block’s Star Trek: The Next Generation 365 (reviewed here), and Erdmann and Block’s The Secrets of Star Trek: Insurrection, which similarly handled its topic via text and photographs.  The best look at Star Trek Generations in behind-the-scenes books has been via artist/designer John Eaves and his Star Trek: The Art of John Eaves (reviewed here), but Star Trek: First Contact has also been discussed–by production department topic–via its concept artwork in Star Trek: The Next Generation Sketchbook–The Movies, Generations & First Contact, and via its costumes in Erdmann and Block’s Star Trek Costumes (reviewed here).  I’ve previously recommended other Star Trek: The Next Generation non-fiction works here, which encompass the series and characters, and The Star Trek The Next Generation Companion: Revised Edition, by Larry Nemecek, is a comprehensive look at all Star Trek: The Next Generation seasons and movies through Star Trek: Nemesis.  The other source for all things Star Trek: The Next Generation is The Continuing Mission, by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens.  Check out our review library of more classic Star Trek non-fiction books here.

Re-watch the film now on Vudu or Paramount+, or get a copy on Blu-ray for about $10 here.  Titan Books’ new full-color hardcover book Star Trek: First Contact–The Making of the Classic Film is a must for every Star Trek fan’s bookshelf.  It’s available now here at Amazon.

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