Just as they saw The Wrath of Khan rescue the Star Trek franchise from the deathly pomposity of the first movie, Trekkers will be looking to First Contact to set the tone for the second phase of the series Generations having had the benefit of the reassuring presence of William Shatner, and the novelty of seeing him offed.
Unfortunately, left alone on the big screen, distinctly thin characterisation and a plot that looks like a distended television episode, let the new crew down slightly but there are still enough classic moments to keep fans happy. First Contact finds Jean Luc Picard (Stewart) aboard a new Enterprise heading off to do battle with the Borg, a rapacious cyber "collective" intent on assimilating the human race into its "hive", a process which involves slicing off limbs, drilling into eyeballs and generally mucking people about.
Having had his own brush with Borgification in the telly series, Picard is uncharacteristically vengeful. After plunging through a bargain basement optical effect, the crew finds itself on 21st century Earth, as Riker (Frakes) and Geordi (Levar Burton) now sporting a dinky pair of electronic eyes fight to ensure that man's first warp jaunt goes off without a hitch.
Debut big screen director Frakes wisely saves his special effects budget for two key sequences a battle with the Borg and a spacewalk on the hull of the Enterprise. Using these, a truly impressive opening shot and enough in-jokes and series references, he aims to distract Trekkers from the distinctly cheap-looking remainder. But what he loses is the cosy sense of family which the TV series drew upon, with most characters looking thin and lost on the big screen, and some (Dr. Crusher and Councillor Troy, in particular) almost totally ignored. And with a script that plunges right into the action, there's nowhere near enough time for those not familiar with the series to get to know and care about the characters.
The exceptions are Stewart as Picard, who gets his own scenery chewing big speech, and Brent Spiner as Pinocchio-esque android Data who has long had the most interesting role and for whom assimilation has its own attractions. However, with so many series showing simultaneously on televisions the world over, there's a sense that a movie is nothing all that special. Paramount execs may want to consider rationing their output a bit more rigorously if they're not going to overdose its audience.