Star Trek First Contact boasts some spectacular visual effects.
Special visual effects usually aren’t the main attraction in a Star Trek production. And not all of its visual effects are equally successful. But Star Trek First Contact made it clear to any moviegoers who may have still doubted: Star Trek could play in the big leagues of eye-popping, amazement-inducing special effects.
Surprisingly, the only Academy Award for which the film was nominated in 1997 was Best Makeup. (It lost to The Nutty Professor.) Independence Day took home the Visual Effects trophy, for which Star Trek First Contact didn’t even receive a nod. But Star Trek fans don’t need the Academy’s stamp of approval to admire the breathtaking visual effects the movie contains.
It’s hard to pick only three moments that capture the smart, story-serving spectacles that fill this film. But, on First Contact Day 2023, here are our picks for the three best visual effects in Star Trek First Contact.
Starfleet Engages the Borg at Earth
“The Best of Both Worlds” didn’t show us the Battle of Wolf 359. (“Emissary,” the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pilot episode, gave us some pretty good glimpses of it during its opening sequence.) But early in its run time, Star Trek First Contact more than makes up for televised Trek’s lack of Starfleet vs. Borg action by depicting the fleet’s desperate stand against a Borg Cube at Earth itself.
An armada of mostly digital starship models boldly goes up against a physical, thirty-inch-square Borg Cube model far more detailed than the one seen in “The Best of Both Worlds.” And this Cube contained a surprise: the Borg Sphere that travels through a ghostly, shimmering vortex back in time to assimilate Earth.
From our first sight of the Borg Cube to the reveal of 21st-century assimilated Earth, the battle against the Borg in Star Trek First Contact lasts only just under four minutes—and much of that time is devoted to scenes set on the Enterprise bridge. But the battle sequence’s fast-moving spaceships and pyrotechnics, that would be at home in any Star Wars movie, give it an epic feel all out of proportion to its length.
The Flight of the Phoenix
The Phoenix, Dr. Zefram Cochrane’s breakthrough warp-capable ship, is a gorgeous sight in and of itself. Watching it launch at the climax of Star Trek First Contact is always exhilarating.
The moviemakers placed a fiberglass Phoenix command module atop an actual Titan II rocket at the Titan Missile Museum. In Star Trek First Contact: The Making of the Classic Film, construction coordinator calls placing that set “one of the most important things we did for the movie” (page 76),
The launch of the fictional Phoenix captures all the thrills of a real-life rocket launch. And when the ship sheds its missile casing minutes after escaping Earth’s gravity, and extends its Original Series-style warp nacelles, what Star Trek fan doesn’t get a little misty-eyed?
Death of the Borg Queen
Although Star Trek has seen Borg Queens since, the fate of the Borg Queen played by Alice Krige felt very final in 1996. Her organic flesh floats away in the plasma Data releases from the Enterprise’s engines, leaving a Terminator-esque metal skeleton to writhe on the deck.
According to the “making of” book:
"Krige performed the Queen’s death throes in makeup, reclined against a blue-screen backing. ILM match moved the performance with a digital model of the Borg Queen’s head and melted her flesh . . . . MastersFX then provided a chromium-plated skull and spine as a vacuum-metalized prop that Patrick Stewart wielded in the aftermath of the scene (pages 137-138)."
Sir Patrick indeed handles the Borg Queen’s remains like the true Shakespearean thespian he is, as if he were Hamlet handling Yorick’s skull. But it’s the visual effects that sell the idea that the Queen has shuffled off her cybernetic coil.