As the script took form, the search began for a director. Even as the producers were offering the director’s chair to a number of disinterested A-listers (including Ridley Scott and ‘Die Hard’ auteur John McTiernan), a number of cast members threw their own hats into the ring. Ultimately, the job fell to Jonathan Frakes. Frakes by this point was well established as a television director, having helmed several episodes of the various Berman-era ‘Trek’ series. ‘First Contact’, though, would mark his feature debut. This was hardly the first time a ‘Star Trek’ star had found himself in that position (Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner made their feature debuts with ‘Star Trek III: The Search for Spock’ and ‘Star Trek V: The Final Frontier’ respectively), though that history doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence.
Captain Picard awakens from a nightmare recalling his assimilation by the Borg. In short order, he receives a communique from Starfleet Command. It’s the call he’s been dreading for the last six years: a Borg ship has destroyed a Federation outpost and is now on course for Earth. The Enterprise is ordered not to join the fleet defending Earth but rather to patrol the Neutral Zone. Picard and his senior crew all recognize this for the flimsy pretext that it is. Despite (or perhaps because of) his experience with the Borg seven years ago, Starfleet doesn’t want Picard placed in a position where he’d have to face the Borg again. As it becomes clear just how badly the battle is going, Picard decides (with no objections from the crew) to ignore their orders and head for Earth. The Enterprise joins the battle just as the Defiant is crippled and beams the survivors – including Worf – aboard. Thanks to Picard’s unique knowledge of the Borg, the tide quickly turns and the invading cube is destroyed. As the ship explodes, it launches a small, spherical vessel that opens a temporal vortex. The Enterprise crew realizes what is happening as Earth changes before their eyes and quickly follows the sphere into the past.
In Bozeman, Montana, two people – Lily Sloane and Zefram Cochrane – wander out of a bar only to quickly run for cover as the town is bombarded with weapons fire. In orbit, the Enterprise emerges from the temporal vortex and destroys the Borg sphere, which is busy firing on Earth. With the Borg ship destroyed, they now have to figure out when they are and what the Borg were trying to do. Scans of the atmosphere place them about ten years after World War III, and Data soon narrows it down to April 4, 2063. It immediately becomes obvious. They’ve arrived the day before Zefram Cochrane made his first warp flight, an event that resulted in Earth’s first contact with an alien species.
Picard heads to the surface with Crusher and Data to assess the damage and (hopefully) locate Cochrane. Once on the surface, the team makes its way to Cochrane’s launch silo. The staff has apparently all been killed, but the test ship – the Phoenix – has suffered only minor damage. As Picard and Data examine the ship, Lily appears and opens fire. Data draws her fire and is about to disarm her when she collapses. Crusher determines that Lily is suffering severe radiation poisoning and takes her back to the Enterprise for treatment as Picard instructs LaForge to bring a repair team to the surface. Meanwhile, the Enterprise is suffering some odd malfunctions in its environmental systems. When an engineering team investigates, we learn that Borg survivors have managed to transport aboard undetected. As the Borg begin to overrun the Enterprise, Crusher is forced to revive Lily, who she had intended to keep unconscious for the duration. She activates the ship’s Emergency Medical Hologram, telling it to delay the approaching Borg as she and her staff escape into the Jeffries tubes and Lily sneaks away.
The repair team arrives, accompanied by Riker and Troi. Sensing something amiss, Picard returns to the ship with Data. Upon reaching the bridge, Picard orders Data to lockout the main computer, preventing the Borg from taking full command of the ship. Soon after, the captain briefs a security team on the plan to retake the ship. The Borg, he explains, have set up shop in Main Engineering, and their objective is to breach one of the plasma coolant tanks. The plasma coolant will liquefy organic matter on contact, killing the Borg.
As they move out, he reminds the team to show no mercy – including to assimilated Enterprise personnel. Two teams head for engineering, one lead by Picard, the other by Worf. Worf’s team encounters Crusher, who informs them of the missing twenty-first century woman. They continue toward engineering and reunite with Picard’s team. As is typical, the Borg ignore them the Starfleet officers as they don’t consider them a threat… until they try to open the door to the engineering section. The Borg quickly adapt and the door does open – unfortunately, only enough for the Borg to pull Data inside. Picard orders a retreat and makes his way into the Jeffries tubes, where he is ambushed by Lily, who takes his phaser and demands to be taken home. She relents when Picard opens a bulkhead, revealing their position in Earth orbit.
Back on the surface, Riker finds Troi at the local watering hole, and to his surprise and amusement she’s at least half in the bag. He also locates Cochrane… when the renowned scientist throws a bottle at his head for daring to unplug the jukebox. Later, Riker, Troi, and LaForge are trying to convince Cochrane that they’re telling the truth about their mission to ensure that his warp flight proceed on schedule. Though initially skeptical, he’s convinced when they train his telescope on the orbiting Enterprise. With this and a crash course in future history, Cochrane reluctantly agrees to pilot the Phoenix as planned. Meanwhile, the Borg now control much of the Enterprise, but have stopped their progress through the ship after seizing deck 11, which puzzles Worf as it contains no vital systems. In engineering, Data is addressed by the Borg Queen, an enigmatic figure who appears to lead or at least represent the Borg’s collective consciousness. Though Data assures her that the access codes to the ship’s computer are stored cannot be forcefully removed, she reactivates his emotion chip and reveals a patch of organic skin that has been grafted onto his arm. He is soon overwhelmed by the sensations this new flesh allows him to experience. Elsewhere, Picard leads Lily through the ship, telling her about the Federation and the Borg as they go. After provoking a response from a pair of drones, Picard leads them (and Lily) into a holodeck, where he activates a Dixon Hill holonovel. With the safeties turned off, he’s able to kill the Borg with a holographic Tommy gun, giving into his anger before Lily manages to calm him down. He pulls open the chest cavity of one of the drones to retrieve its neural processor – a chip that will include a record of all the instructions it’s received from the hive mind.