This Is No Time to Argue About Time – Star Trek: First Contact (1996) 4K Ultra HD

That Star Trek: First Contact is, without question, the best of the Next Generation crew’s feature films may lead to it being a bit overrated. This cast is so beloved from their years on television that fans desperately wanted (and still want) them to have at least one great movie as well. Personally, I’ve always felt that First Contact is a pretty good Star Trek film, but never transcends into greatness. A rewatch now solidifies that opinion.

First Contact does many things well, and is a respectable step up from its immediate predecessor, 1994’s Star Trek: Generations, in a number of ways. All the same, this entry doesn’t really come close to hitting the heights set by the franchise’s best installments, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan or Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Perhaps it’s not fair to compare every Trek movie against those two, but this one often seems to be in that conversation. For me, the results on screen don’t quite hit the same level, no matter how much I want to believe they will every time I start watching.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996) - James Cromwell as Zefram Cochrane
Title:Star Trek: First Contact
Year of Release: 1996
Director: Jonathan Frakes
Watched On: 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Also Available On: Blu-ray
Various VOD rental and purchase platforms

First Contact was released at an awkward moment when the Star Trek franchise had started to wane. After The Next Generation ended on television, spinoff series Deep Space Nine and Voyager failed to appeal to the same broad audience and had much smaller viewerships. While the Generations movie was a solid box office hit, it met with a mixed reaction from both critics and fans. By 1996, Star Trek felt a little tired. Nonetheless, the producers rushed right into making a new movie lest they lose whatever momentum they still had. Captain Picard and his crew maintained enough good will to merit another adventure.

Despite its many failings, Generations felt like a proper big-screen theatrical feature with some scope, ambition, and high production values, plus a self-contained story that could be followed even by someone who hadn’t watched much of the TV show. In comparison, First Contact feels more like like an elevated television episode. Its plot directly follows and references events from the series, expecting that anyone watching should already be familiar with bio-mechanical villains the Borg and with Picard’s experiences being assimilated into their collective. As far as that goes, it would’ve made a really terrific two-parter if it’d aired during the regular run of The Next Generation.

However, even with a budget $10 million higher than Generations, First Contact overall feels cheaper and smaller in scale than the prior movie. Its model and miniature special effects look decidedly like models and miniatures, and (as you’d probably expect) the 1990s CGI doesn’t hold up terribly well. The film gives us a brand new Enterprise, but its interior sets look hardly any different than those in the last one and the ship seems smaller on the inside than it looks on the outside. Aside from one big space battle at the beginning, most of the action is confined to inside the Enterprise or in a small, nondescript planetside camp. To help keep costs down, the plot relies on that old Trek standby of time travel, bringing the crew back to Earth, specifically a very rural region supposedly in the mid 21st Century with no particular visual indication of the time period.

I’ve never been sold on James Cromwell (fresh off an Oscar nomination for Babe) playing an important figure from the mythology of the franchise as a drunken hippie. Another former Oscar nominee, Alfre Woodard, is given a lot of screen time for a role that serves basically no purpose in the story. The narrative would function almost exactly the same without her.

As director of this outing, longtime cast member Jonathan Frakes gives main star Patrick Stewart some compelling character moments and manages to sell him as a convincing action hero. Frakes keeps the pacing brisk and the plot tight, with a mostly well-balanced streak of humor that doesn’t feel as forced as Data’s emotion chip hijinks in Generations. The film has some effective suspense and action, and (in spite of how obvious it is that stuntmen are being hoisted by wires in slow-motion) a zero-gravity scene on the exterior hull of the ship is a pretty novel sequence I don’t recall ever being attempted in Star Trek before.

Of course, First Contact is probably best remembered for introducing the concept of the Borg Queen, played with deliciously disturbing seductiveness by Alice Krige. (Roger Ebert had a great line saying that she “looks like no notion of sexy I have ever heard of, but inspires me to keep an open mind.”) That her existence and personality flatly contradict everything previously known about the species across multiple Trek TV series is forgivable when the Queen is such a compelling villain who adds so much to the film.

Relieved at how well the Next Generation crew proved they could carry a movie without Capt. Kirk propping them up, fans embraced Star Trek: First Contact and propelled it to become another strong box office success. In fact, it was the highest-grossing Star Trek theatrical release up to that point. It continues to be regarded fondly more than two decades later, and I would say deservedly so. It’s a fun movie that I like a lot. Even so, it’s not in the same league as Wrath of Khan. I can’t help wishing it were just a little better.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996) Alice Krige as the Borg Queen

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

Star Trek: First Contact was first released on Blu-ray back in 2009 with a video transfer that was pretty good but suffered a slight sense of mushiness due to DNR. It wasn’t nearly as bad as some of the other Trek films released at that time (and I have trouble capturing the problem in a screenshot), but still left me a little underwhelmed.

Several clues point to the new 2023 Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD coming from the same underlying film scan used in 2009. For one thing, the image aspect ratio measures 2.35:1, not 2.39:1 as the new discs for Generations do. I’d expect that if all four movies in the set had been remastered from new 4K film scans at the same time, they’d share the same calibration as each other in that regard. As encoded on disc, both the old and new Blu-rays for First Contact sync up perfectly to the frame, and match identically in all attributes of picture geometry and image around the edges. In contrast, the two copies of Generations have small differences from one another in all those areas and were difficult for me to match up for a frame-to-frame comparison.

Looking first at the standard Blu-ray in the case, The new 2023 disc appears to have dialed back the DNR for greater clarity of fine details and better resolved grain texture. On the other hand, it also seems to have had a gamma boost to brighten mid-tones, which causes faces to look almost distractingly bright throughout the whole movie.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996) comparison - 2009 BlurayStar Trek: First Contact (1996) comparison - 2023 Bluray

Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to take 4K HDR screencaps yet, but the HDR grading on the Ultra HD disc does better with skin tones, for more natural facial complexions. However, the contrast in general seems a little too strong. The movie never looks dim, but most scenes have a very sharp fall-off from bright portions of the frame to dark, which makes it look digitally manipulated. Movies shot on 35mm film typically have a less stark contrast range.

The 4K disc looks very sharp, with plenty of detail and no apparent DNR. The stronger contrast gives it a perception of being sharper than the comparable 2023 Blu-ray, but I’d wager that the actual amount of detail visible in both is closer than the first impression suggests. If anything, grain looks a little weird on the 4K copy. I can’t tell whether that’s due to the higher resolution or to Paramount messing around with digital grain management tools. Regardless, even if not perfect, the Ultra HD is on balance the preferred viewing option for the film.

The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack is a direct port from the 2009 disc. The mix has moments of extremely aggressive surround activity, especially during the space battle and the introduction of the Borg Queen. It also has selected instances of rumbly bass, but the track isn’t particularly dynamic overall. As a result, fidelity seems a little flat.

Jerry Goldsmith, composer for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and the Next Generation series’ theme, was brought back to do the music for First Contact. He contributes a lovely opening melody, but much of the rest of the score is derivative of his older work, and I find his insistence on playing the “Klingon Theme” every single time Worf appears on screen irritating.

Star Trek: The Next Generation 4-Movie Collection 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray

The only extras on the 4K disc are three audio commentaries carried over from older video releases, plus a text trivia track that first appeared on DVD but was missing from the 2009 Blu-ray. The accompanying new Blu-ray in the case holds the remaining supplements, all likewise recycled from earlier video copies.

The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray edition of Star Trek: First Contact is available either separately or as part of a 4-Movie Collection box set with Generations, Insurrection, and Nemesis.


Note: All screenshots on this page were taken from standard Blu-ray editions of the film and are used for illustration purposes only.

4 thoughts on “This Is No Time to Argue About Time – Star Trek: First Contact (1996) 4K Ultra HD

  1. ‘I find his insistence on playing the “Klingon Theme” every single time Worf appears on screen irritating.’
    Could be mistaken, but isn’t that the director’s/editor’s/producer’s fault? Surely Jerry Goldsmith didn’t have a say in when exactly his cues would pop-up? (or did he?)


    1. Goldsmith wrote his score to-picture. I’m sure the use of the Klingon theme would’ve been his idea. I don’t think Frakes or Berman would’ve been knowledgeable enough to insist on it.


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