Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Star Trek First Contact: A look back...

"You're all astronauts, on some kind of Star Trek".

-Zefram Cochrane, April 4, 2063

In the mid 90's Star Trek had truly become more than just a worldwide pop culture phenomenon. Paramount Pictures, the owners of the Trek brand, had been able to turn the venerable franchise into a well oiled machine, affectionately referred to by many at the studio as "the family jewel".

By 1995 there were two shows in production airing new episodes on a weekly basis as well as a plethora of ancilliary products such as novels -- which would often make it to the New York times bestsellers list, comic books, toys, and a new multi-million dollar attraction at the Las Vegas Hilton christened Star Trek: The Experience. There was even talk of developing an Imax film combining real world science with various elements from the Trek universe. The Star Trek machine was unstoppable. Paramount was happy.

After the box office success of Star Trek Generations and the continued support of the multiple television series by fans all over the world Paramount knew it was time to move forward with a second film featuring the cast of The Next Generation. This time the TNG cast would be on their own. It was time to really prove themselves on the big screen.

Logo for film's cast & crew shirt by Doug Drexler.

Around February 1995 producer Rick Berman, guardian of the Trek universe since Gene Roddenberry's passing in 1991, approached writers Ron Moore and Brannon Braga about writing the next big screen adventure. The writers who had previously written multiple hours of Star Trek The Next Generation as well as the last theatrical installment; Star Trek Generations, were concerned about taking on the task after having dealt with a never ending list of requests from the studio during the development of Generations. They were both pleasantly surprised when Berman informed them this was an open book. The only mandate from the studio was to make it a Next Generation adventure.

Screenwriters Brannon Braga and Ron Moore during filming of their on screen cameo for the film's holodeck sequence.

Relieved by the prospect of writing a Trek film without all the limitations the studio forced on them in the past they quickly began throwing ideas around. Berman felt it was time to do a time travel story. Moore and Braga wanted to bring the federation's most feared adversaries to the big screen -- the Borg. It was the perfect opportunity to do them justice by being able to take advantage of the benefits of a film's larger budget and expanded shooting schedule.
The writers quickly married Berman's suggestion of time travel with their ideas for an all out Borg invasion story.

Conceptual art for the redesigned Borg drones by Ricardo Delgado.

The Borg had attempted to assimilate the earth before on various storylines during The Next Generation. The federation had always managed to stop them -- barely, and with many casualties such as in the classic two part episode "The Best of Both Worlds". It seemed logical to the writers that the next attempt at assimilation by the Borg would be to undermine starfleet by defeating the earth even before there was a federation. If the Borg had never been able to assimilate earth in the present it was time for them to go back in time to a point where humanity was at its weakest, when they would offer no resistance.

Conceptual art for the Borg Queen by Ricardo Delgado.

According to the writers the first task in crafting a story was figuring out what time period the Borg would travel back to. For a long time the writers considered the Italian renaissance since that was a period when a lot of scientific discoveries were being made. Mankind was coming out of a dark age and into an age of enlightment. Many ideas surfaced including that of having the Borg take over a medieval castle and the crew of the Enterprise battling them without the use of any technology. At this point the writers started calling their outline for the film with the name "Star Trek: Rennaissance".

More conceptual art for the Borg Queen.

I.L.M's conceptual design for the Borg Queen.

Costume designs for the Borg Queen by Deborah Everton.

According to Ron Moore they quickly realized telling a story in this period would have to include too many elements which could've seemed too removed for the audience such as having the characters running around in tights. After thinking of all the other periods that had been explored in past episodes featuring time travel stories Moore and Braga realized that the early 21st century hadn't really been explored on the show. It seemed ideal for the Borg to travel to the most technologically advanced time with the least resistance. According to Trek cannon this period also featured humanity coming out of a dark age, after the effects of a third world war, and stepping into a sort of a rennaissance thanks to the development of warp drive by an eccentric scientist known as Zefram Cochrane. The first warp flight completed by Cochrane ends up getting the attention of the Vulcans who realize humanity might finally be ready for first contact with beings from another world so they decide to pay earth a visit. That contact eventually leads to the formation of starfleet and the Federation. According to the writers what's at stake in this movie is Star Trek itself. If the Borg stop Cochrane from completing his warp flight the Star Trek universe would never come into existence.

Cocept art for the new Enterprise bridge (note the "Star Trek: Resurrection" working title)

The writers soon went to work on an initial draft of the script with the working title "Star Trek: Resurrection", after the name of the town where Cochrane is building his warp vessel and where most of the film's action would take place. The title was soon abandoned as 20th Century Fox announced their upcoming Alien sequel would be titled Alien: Resurrection.
This draft also featured a character called Ruby, a photographer who resides in the town of Resurrection whom Picard ends up developing a romantic relationship with during his time on the surface. Also Cochrane spends most of the story unconcious after being hurt in the borg's initial attack and its up to Picard alone to complete the warp flight while at the same time battling a local militia. Riker returns to the Enterprise and its up to him to lead the fight against the Borg onboard the ship.

Multiple costume designs for the planet based sequences by Deborah Everton.

In this draft of the script the USS Defiant blows up in space during the space battle with the Borg early on in the film. Interestingly enough the Defiant was specifically designed and built to battle the Borg according the the Deep Space Nine episode "The Search". The ship finally gets its chance in this film. Its destruction was quickly changed due to the fact that the Defiant was still in use on a weekly basis on DS9.

The Defiant in action.

After handing in their first draft Patrick Stewart informed the writers how the relationship between Ruby and Picard didn't seem realistic. He also made note that Picard should be aboard the Enterprise dealing with the Borg instead of on the planet's surface. Picard's previous experience with them made for great drama if he was given the opportunity to face them again.
Changes where made based on Stewart's suggestions and the writers both agreed that the storyline truly bagan to make sense after implementing such changes.

Director Jonathan Frakes on location with actor James Cromwell (Zefram Cochrane).

With a script well on its way it was time for Berman to find a director. It was decided to go with someone who knew Star Trek and had previous experience with the Next Generation storyline and its characters. By the summer of 1995 it was announced that the role would be filled by Next Gen actor and director Jonathan Frakes, who by then had already directed 12 episodes combined of TNG, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager.

Deborah Everton's design for the new E.V.A. suits.

With a 45 million dollar budget, the highest of any of Trek film at the time, production began on April 8, 1996. Other trek veterans returning included Production Designer Herman Zimmerman (TNG, DS9, Star Trek Films 5-7), and Make Up designer Michael Westmore, who'd been responsible for creating every alien creature seen on Trek since the Next Generation Pilot. Already an academy award winner he would go on to get another nomination for his work on First Contact.

Academy Award winning make up artist Michael Westmore poses with some of his creations.

Providing the film's stirring score would be one of the greatest film composers of our time and also a Trek alumni; Jerry Goldsmith. Visual effects would be handled by ILM, the company responsible for many of the best looking visual effects in Star Trek and film history.
The first week of the 12 week production began inside a missile silo in Green Valley Arizona. Production moved for two weeks to Charleston Flats, a popular campground site in the Angeles National Forrest that was dressed as the town where Cochrane has built his missile complex. Originally referred to as the town of Resurrection in the first draft of the script and now changed to Bozeman, Montana.

Lilly Sloan and Zefram Cochrane.

Joining the TNG cast for these scenes were two of the most respected actors to ever guest on Star Trek: James Cromwell playing Zefram Cochrane, and Alfre Woodard playing Lilly Sloane, his friend and partner in the Phoenix mission. The character of Lilly had its roots in Ruby from the original draft of the script. Also joining the cast at the location was fan favorite Dwight Schultz as Reg Barclay, the lovable yet highly unstable engineering officer seen in multiple episodes of the Next Generation. It was Jonathan Frakes idea to incorporate the character into the film as well as cameo appearances from other Trek actors such as Patty Yasutake (Nurse Alysa Ogawa), Robert Picardo as the Holographic Doctor. Early on word spread around Hollywood that the filmmakers desired to lure Tom Hanks, a trek fan himself, to play the role of Cochrane. This didn't go on for long since Hanks was too busy shooting his directorial debut "That Thing You Do!" to even consider the idea. Before moving to Paramount Pictures Studios in Hollywood for the remainder of the shoot the crew got one more night of location work at the former art deco Fred Harvey Restaurant at Union Station in downtown Los Angeles where Picard would face off the Borg in a holographic environment taken straight out of one of his Dixon Hill crime novels.

The soveregin class USS Enterprise - E, designed by John Eaves.

The final nine weeks of production were completed at Paramount where 5 massive soundstages were used to house the sets for the all new USS Enterprise-E.
Under the direction of production designer Herman Zimmerman illustrator John Eaves and graphic artist Mike Okuda designed the recently commissioned sovereign class vessel.

Alice Krige as the Borg Queen.

South African actress Alice Krige joined the cast for this final leg of shooting with her portrayal of the seductive and deceitful Borg Queen. In one of the most exciting reveals of any character in Star Trek history the queen's torso is lowered into her body and soon released from its restraints as she begins to move around engineering and confront Data about her plans all in one shot without any edits thanks to the magic of the wizards at Industrial Light and Magic.

The FX team at ILM also built multiple models and miniatures of the new Enterprise-E, it's escape pods, as well as the Borg cube and its escape sphere. The film featured the highest number of FX sequences of any of the previous Trek films with a total of over 200 opticals.

I.L.M.'s newly built model for the USS Enterprise - E.

For a scene featuring the Borg taking control of the Ship's deflector dish Herman Zimmerman designed one of the biggest sets ever in the history of the franchise. A recreation of the ship's hull and deflector array the size of a football field was built on stage 15 at Paramount for this key scene where Picard and company try to override the Borg's modifications to the dish.

Principal photography wrapped on July 2, 1996 and one of the first tasks for the publicity department at Paramount was the creation of a teaser trailer for the summer movie season.
Work on the teaser began before photography was completed on the film and way before any effects shots had been delivered. This forced the studio to use shots from TNG episodes such as "The Best of Both Worlds" and "All Good Things...”. Even a shot from Star Trek: Voyager made it onto the trailer. The trailer made its television debut on E news daily as well as other entertainment magazine shows.

E news daily also gave fans a first look at production on the film with a quick interview from actor Neal McDonough, who was portraying the newest member of the Enterprise crew: "Lt. Hawk". In the interview McDonough revealed how this was a dream come true for him, having grown up a trek fan. No footage from the film was revealed in this E news segment.

Neal McDonough as the ship's new helmsman: Lt. Hawk.

After completing an assembly of the film director Jonathan Frakes realized that he needed more Borgs in the film in order to truly give audiences a sense of the gravity the situation the Enterprise crew was facing. The Borg had taken over most of the ship, but the most amount of Borg they had on screen at any given time was usually less than 10. After seeing some of the film Paramount agreed to provide Frakes with the necessary funding to shoot more Borg drone inserts including one of the film's most effective shots were a group of drones enter a completely darkened sector of the ship with starfleet officers in retreat and all we can see of the approaching menace is their red lazer beams pointing at their human targets for assimilation.

It was now time for the great Jerry Goldsmith to return to the podium and conduct the recording sessions for his score to the film. Goldsmith, a veteran of multiple Trek films, had recently won the Emmy for his theme to Star Trek: Voyager. For this latest adventure in the final frontier he brought along his son Joel Goldsmith to assist in the scoring chores. One of the most memorable elements of the film would turn out to be Jerry's new main title theme, a sweeping, and highly stirring composition that opens the film and is revisited during the film's finale. To underscore the Borg, Goldsmith composed a menacing metallic march with a combination of ethereal synth textures. His theme from Star Trek: The Motion Picture -- which went on to become the theme to TNG, is also utilized in various cues as well as the end credits, while his famous Klingon theme (also from The Motion Picture) was used to underscore Worf's heroics throughout the film.

Legendary film composer Jerry Goldsmith visits the set.

On October 6, 1996 fans all across the U.S. were treated to a live broadcast on UPN celebrating Star Trek's 30th anniversary. "Star Trek: 30 Years and Beyond" not only featured the biggest assembly of Star Trek actors ever on the same stage, it also featured a quick glimpse at a scene from First Contact. A clip of the Borg Queen's sinister seduction of Commander Data closed one of the show's segments.

On November 11, 1996 during the television broadcast of the Deep Space Nine Episode "Let he who is without sin..." a 2 minute preview of First Contact was broadcast featuring more clips from the film as well as a quick interview with Jonathan Frakes. By then with only 11 days to go till the film's release Paramount's ad campaign was in full swing.

Television commercials for the film could be spotted multiple times a day, especially during prime time. This was the height of Trek's popularity and fans all over the world were ready to experience the Trek film that was gathering the most buzz since "The Wrath of Khan".

Teaser poster for Star Trek First Contact.

First Contact boasted one of the biggest promotional campaigns of any of the Trek films. Months before the film's release posters and billboards featuring the teaser art for the film began to show up in all major markets. Theatrical one sheets and cardboard stand ups went up in theaters everywhere. Pocket books and playmates toys were some of the first licensees to begin flooding stores with First Contact merchandise. Pocket books issued a hardcover novelization of the film's storyline featuring a behind the scenes look at the making of the film and 8 pages of stills. An audio book and paperback edition of the novel (without the behind the scenes chapter) followed, accompanied by a line of young adults books. Some of the young adults titles included a movie storybook, a book focusing on the character of Zefram Cochrane titled "Breaking the Barrier", and a book focusing on the Borg Collective.

Pocket Books novelization of the film.

Pocket books' assortment of books for young readers.

If you walked into any toy store or even department stores such as Walmart and Target you'd find an entire section devoted to Trek toys right next to that holiday season's top toy lines such as Disney's 101 Dalmatians. Playmates' line included a series of very detailed action figures. At almost seven inches tall each of these figures featured even better sculpts than Playmates' previous offerings, which were already some of the best sculpted and detailed figures in the market at the time. A series of 9 inch collectible figures was also part of the collection.

The Enterprise E, the Phoenix, and the Borg Sphere also hit toy aisles as highly detailed ships with lights and sounds straight from the film. Playmates also released a role play phaser blaster with the new design from the film.

T-shirts, caps, mugs, collector's pins, and even hockey jerseys also hit stores such as Suncoast, Comic Book shops, TV shopping channel QVC, and the official Star Trek fan club catalog.

Marvel comics soon issued a comic book adaptation as a mini series and as a trade collecting all the individual issues. Trading cards in the Wide Vision format also hit stores. A parody of the film was featured in MAD Magazine. The parody was based on one of the early drafts of the script and utilized many of the elements that got cut from the final draft which never made it onto the film.

A stroll down your local grocery store would reveal such goodies as First Contact chocolate bars and Kellog's cereal boxes with First Contact and Star Trek 30th Anniversary packaging.

You could even find a line of bath and hygiene products featuring the Borg and the new Enterprise-E at your local pharmacy. Even Citgo gas stations partnered up with the film by putting together a national TV spot promoting the film and their gas stations. NASCAR racer Michael Waltrip drove the #21 Citgo/Star Trek First Contact car during that year’s Winston Cup. Fans could also buy a die cast bank in the shape of the Citgo / First Contact Nascar car at select locations.

First Contact bubble bath, lip balm, and more.

Days before the film's release the reviews began to pour and critics reaction to the film was unanimous. Reviewers were praising First Contact for being the first Trek movie that audiences could enjoy even if they weren't Trekkies or Trekkers.

"A smashingly exciting sci-fi adventure that ranks among the very best in the long-running Paramount franchise".
-Joe Leydon, Daily Variety

"Blessed with clever plot devices and a villainous horde that makes the once-dread Klingons seem like a race of Barneys, First Contact does everything you'd want a Star Trek film to do, and it does it with cheerfulness and style".
-Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times

"Under the suave direction of Jonathan Frakes, who also plays the Enterprise's second-in-command, the movie glides along with purpose and style".
-Richard Corliss , Time Magazine

"By the time Worf (Michael Dorn), knocking off a slimy attacker, growls a Schwarzeneggerish ''Assimilate this!'' we've already done so, with pleasure".
-Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly

"Two thumbs up, way up."
-Siskel & Ebert

The film had its gala premiere on November 18, 1996 at the Famed Graumman's Chinnesse theater in Hollywood. The event was a charity fund-raiser for Amnesty International, afterwards a huge bash was thrown across the street at The Colonade, a Hollywood night club at the time which no longer exists.

In the following days multiple talk shows featured the cast from the film including appearances by Patrick Stewart on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Brent Spiner on The Late Show with David Letterman.

Theatrical one sheet for First Contact.

Finally on Friday November 22 Star Trek: First Contact opened in theaters all across the U.S. to the biggest opening weekend box office receipts of any Star Trek film, even beating out the previous record holder Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home. Proving that Trek fans are amongst the most tech savvy members of the viewing audience the official site for Star Trek First Contact reported more than 5.7 million hits on the film's opening day, nearly twice as many as the 3 million hits reported for the Independence Day website on its opening.

First Contact merchandise was flying off the shelves as the holiday gift giving season went into full gear. A few weeks after the U.S. debut of the film European audiences got their first look on December 6 with the Royal Premiere for First Contact at The Empire Theater in London. Cast and crew were joined by such guests as Prince Charles at the event. The film quickly went to the top of the box office world wide breaking records in top international markets such as England and Germany.

As of 2008, First Contact holds records for the highest worldwide gross of all the Star Trek movies made to-date (over $150,000,000), as well as for highest 1st-weekend gross (over $30,000,000). The film has a 91% fresh rating on rottentomatoes.com based on the accumulated reviews for the film and is still regarded by trek fans everywhere as the best of the TNG era films.

International Poster for First Contact (United International Pictures).


- In the early outlines for the film, the character of Lt. Hawk is referred to as being gay. Further appearances by the character in some of the novels revealed his full name to be Sean Hawk. The novels also introduce the rest of Hawk's family, who all hail from the Mars colonies, as well as his Trill partner Ranul Keru.

- A miniature replica of the Zefram Cochrane statue is kept by Captain Jonathan Archer in his quarters aboard the NX01 on Star Trek Enterprise. He used this statue as a weapon in a third season episode, stabbing a Xindi reptillian on the chest with it. James Cromwell reprises his role of Zefram Cochrane in "Broken Bow", the two hour pilot for the series.

- Actor Jeff Coopwood provided the voice of the Borg in the film. His voice was digitally layered multiple times to create the collective voices effect.

- The story titled "Suicide note" and included in the Next Generation anthology book titled "The Sky's The Limit" takes place after the events depicted in First Contact.

- A potential origin for the Borg Queen is presented in one of the stories in tokyo pop's star trek manga volume one.


  1. WOW!!!

    What a post. How do you find the time to do it? Great writeup, great pics, great post all around.

    Kudos from Kang and Kodos!

    Best post yet.

  2. Oh, and congrats on your mention in today's Trekmovie.com link page!!

  3. Excellent post! Very in-depth research you got there! Congrats! I saw this being mentioned at the trekmovie site. If you like, come check out my blog at www.alexrosscollector.com

  4. This could well be the longest post I have ever seen! Full of interesting stuff though. For instanace, I don't think I ever saw First Contact: The Ceral - feel left out! Great article, well done


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