The first Next Generation film that wasn't Generations, Star Trek: First Contact takes place as a far-distant sequel to the two-parter episode "The Best of Both Worlds," which took place over two seasons and was cut in half by a whopper of a cliffhanger, when Captain Jean-Luc Picard introduced himself as "Locutus of Borg." Six years later, he still experiences traumatic flashbacks to his time spent as part of a hive-minded killing machine. When the Borg show up to threaten the earth, Starfleet expressly forbid the Enterprise to come to help in the battle, but, defying orders, the crew are forced to travel back in time to prevent the entire world's population from being assimilated, and to ensure that two pivotal events in Earth's space-travel history take place: the first warp-speed space flight, and first contact with extra-terrestrial life forms.
First Contact makes an interesting use of time travel: as discussed in John Scalzi's Redshirts, normally shows like Star Trek will travel either to a significant historical date, or to sometime around the show's own air date. Here, the Enterprise goes back but to a date in our future: 2063, a dark period around the time of the Third World War. Of course, out of this darkness, a bright future dawns.
I left reviewing this film far too long, and had to re-watch it before writing up this post. As such, I'd forgotten how much happened in a relatively short time (and how little happened in its predecessor, Generations. Nothing happened in Generations, because that would imply that it existed, which I'm unwilling to acknowledge.) There are two main stories in this film. Picard's fight against the terrifying Borg, who have assimilated half of the Enterprise's crew (the most casualties so far?) and captured Data. The usually calm, moral and, well, Patrick Stewartish Captain Picard is driven half-mad with his desire for revenge. "The line must be drawn here! This far - no further! AND I WILL MAKE THEM PAY FOR WHAT THEY HAVE DONE!" We know he has gone too far when he accuses the Klingon warrior Worf of being a coward! Picard is kept from going completely overboard by Lily, the 21st-century Earth woman caught up in the battle, who compares him with Captain Ahab of Moby-Dick. First Contact is not the first Star Trek film to draw on this novel: Khan, too, imitated Ahab in his all-consuming pursuit of Captain Kirk and the first Enterprise.
Meanwhile, on 21st century Earth, Geordi LaForge, Will Riker and Deanna Troi meet up with the man who would become the legend Zefram Cochrane, inventor of warp-speed space travel. He is perhaps not the man they had expected: most uncomfortable with the thought of being believed a hero, being in reality motivated by cold hard money. But Riker tells him, "Don't try to be a great man. Just be a man, and let history make its own judgements." Riker then reveals, this is a quote from the future Cochrane himself. This whole plot is as heartwarming as the Borg story is disturbing: the not-too-distant-future setting bridging the gap between the world as we know it, and the Star Trek universe. Certainly it reawakened the long-forgotten longing of a little girl in the early- to mid-'90s, lying on her bedroom floor poring over her space encyclopedia and dreaming of visiting distant planets. The score is a quiet, haunting theme that not only reminds me of the BBC's Chronicles of Narnia music, but evokes the exact same wistful feelings. And the first contact itself! The aliens push back their hoods, and are, of course, Vulcans, making their traditional greeting. When Cochrane can't replicate the salute, he takes the Vulcan's hand, and it is beautiful: the very, very beginning of the alliance between these two races, an alliance that would expand to include so many more.