Monday, October 28, 2013

The Return of Star Trek

In the last couple of years, an ambitious project has been launched to try to continue the  "Five-Year Mission" of the original Star Trek TV series. Fans of the show know that we got only about 70 episodes across three seasons when the series originally aired, through the opening voice-over spoke each episode of a much longer mission. By the time Star Trek: The Motion Picture arrived in the mid-1970s, they simply skipped past the end of that mission. There are, one could argue, ample untold stories still lurking in that missing time-period, covered only by the animated TV show and countless novels.

Well, the makers of "Star Trek Continues" are devoted to filling in that missing span of time. They've successfully raised over $100,000 on a Kickstarter campaign (with over a week left as of this writing, if you're interested in contributing). Here's the pilot episode if you'd like to check it out:

If you've seen other Star Trek fan-made webisodes, a few things about this one truly stand out:

1. The camerawork, lighting, make-up, costumes, sets, etc. - all of the "basics" of TV production - are excellent. Not just "pretty good," but really outstanding. The sets, in particular, are beyond incredible. They are so true to the originals that you'd swear they'd gone back in time and shot using the sets at Desilu.

2. The special effects are updated and look much, much better than anything from the original series, without going too terribly overboard. It stands out just a smidge, but mostly in a good way.

3. The sounds and music are spot-on, both in their use of original audio as well as the way those sounds and music are applied (which is to say, it would be easy enough to filtch the sounds and music off the web and jam them on top of the video, however using the correct sounds, the correct music at the right times takes a more refined touch).

4. The cast is, by and large, composed of professional actors who know their craft. Lead actor Vic Mignogna does a credible portrayal of Shatner's Kirk, and if Todd Haberkorn's Spock isn't perfect, it's close enough to get the job done. The biggest distraction for me with both actors is that their voices are higher-pitched than either Shatner or Nimoy, so they always sound off. The actor playing DeForest Kelley's McCoy probably felt the least true to the original, while Chris Doohan, son of the late James Doohan, really embodies his father's Montgomery Scott. Grant Imahara, whom I enjoy on Mythbusters, should probably stick to busting myths. I don't think acting is his thing. He does seem to be enjoying himself, though, which is something. Every time Grant delivers a line, I think, "That's just how I'd do it." Which is in no way a compliment - I'm a terrible actor.

5. The story feels very true to the original series. The fact that they brought back a character (and actor!) from the original series to reprise the role and pick up that storyline was a masterstroke. It won't be feasible for every episode, but I think whomever wrote this episode (I couldn't find a writing credit for it anywhere, which is kind of a problem) deserves kudos for really capturing the feel of Roddenberry's original.

And that's really the best way to sum up this pilot episode - it does a credible job of capturing the feel of the original. Their website mentions that attention to detail and quality are extremely important, and I'd say it shows in the product. It's not perfect (I still think it sounds like Kirk and Spock are huffing helium every time they speak, and I don't know what to make of Bones), but the effort that went into this is truly impressive. I gave up trying to watch Star Trek fan-series on YouTube years ago because they were just so bad. The writing, the acting, the photography - all the key elements that they needed to get right were so often wrong. But where they failed, these guys excel. I hope they manage to produce many hours of high-quality, entertaining Star Trek episodes, and I salute them for this magnificent tribute to the classic work.

Some interesting tidbits that I noticed about the pilot episode:

1. As mentioned above, Scotty is quite ably played by the son of James Doohan, the original Actor.

2.  Michael Forrest reprises his role as Apollo from the 1967 episode "Who Mourns for Adonis?" His real-life wife portrays Athena.

3. Marina Sirtis, who played Counselor Deanna Troi on Star Trek: The Next Generation, voices the computer (previously always handled across nearly every iteration of the franchise by the late Majel Barrett-Roddenberry).

4. Jamie Bamber - who played Apollo in the recent re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica - plays the hapless "Structural Engineering Officer" Simone.

5. The role of "Paladin" (and I have no idea which character that was) is played by Emmy and Academy-award-winning visual effect artist Doug Drexler. He also has a credit in "Visual Effects" for the episode, and is also credited with the "USS Enterprise," which I presume means that he created the CGI ship used in the pilot (and did so magnificently, I would add).

6. There's absolutely no writing credit on this thing anywhere. No screenplay credit. No nothing. Closest I found was a "script supervisor" which ain't the same thing by a longshot. It's a shame, because somebody really did a pretty good job on this.