Friday, November 8, 2013

The Voyage Continues - Star Trek Fan Series Part 4.

In 2005 Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled. A very divisive show, it took a while for it to find its footing, much like TNG, DS9, and VOY before it, but by that time the world was growing weary of the same production elements reformulated. There are many different arguments about what went wrong where, but despite improving quality, the show was hemorrhaging viewers, and was eventually put to rest. Many felt the last episode “These Are The Voyages“ was ill-advised and showed all the things the show had done wrong, while at the same time hinted at the storylines that fans had wanted all along. It was a dark period for Star Trek. For the first time in 18 years there was not a live action Star Trek show on television. People started to wonder, “Is this the end of Star Trek?“ Obviously in retrospect, it was not, and I really don't think there ever will be an end to Star Trek, but there was now nothing but the books and comics to keep us going. However, Trekkies had been through this before. Star Trek: The Animated Series was cancelled in 1974. In that time there were rumors of another Star Trek show, Phase II, for years! Star Treks popularity had grown via reruns. Star Trek Conventions were getting bigger and bigger every year. It was 5 long years before Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released in 1979. In that time books, comics, and fan fiction took center stage and developed the stories that fans were rabid for. It seems, history repeats itself.

James Cawley had been collecting props and costumes from TOS since the early 90s. His collection led him to William Ware Theiss the Costume Designer for the original Star Trek. Through this relationship Cawley found in his possession blueprints for the Starship Enterprise sets. Using Cawleys own money, and working with Jack Marshalls “Cow Creek Films“ production company, they built down to the foot recreations of the sets in Port Henry, New York. In 2003 work on a Pilot episode, “Come What May“ began and Star Trek: New Voyages was born. The idea was to pick up where TOS and TAS had left off in 1974 and create a 4th season of episodes done in the same style, mimicking everything from the intro, costumes, jewelry, hairstyles, sound effects, stories and color palette with new, modern VFX to add a little bit of flair, but not to stray too far from the original look. “Come What May“ was released in 2004 and sent a shockwave through the fan film community. Here was, to date, the most impressive Star Trek fan film the community had ever seen. Everything worked. The recasting of the TOS crew was mostly spot on, with a few weak points but ultimately, playful and fun performances. The sets were amazing, the music well done. The look of the actual film and some of the lighting was off, but improved with every subsequent episode. Cawley played Kirk, with a flair and swagger that both refrenced William Shatner and let Cawley improvise. Jeff Quinn played Spock with a cold detachment and a more alien, quizzical approach reminiscent of my other favorite Vulcan, Tuvok. John Kelley completed the trio as Leonard McCoy with the grounded, concerned older brother with a furrowed brow, providing a performance that reinterpreted rather than mimicked DeForrest Kelley. As the series progressed the cast and crew would rotate, in fact even Cawley has given up the mantle to the new Kirk, played by Brian Gross, seen here in a vignette released last winter.

I think most impressive is the production talent that Cawley has assembled here. David Gerrold, a writer on TOS, contributed adapted screenplays for his own abandoned TNG story "Blood and Fire", an AIDS allegory featuring the first gay Starfleet crewmen. The original Chekov, Walter Koenig returned to reprise his role in 2006. This opened up other Star Trek alums to contribute; George Takei, Grace Lee Whitney, D.C. Fontana, Marc Scott Zicree, Michael Reeves and Denise Crosby, to name a few, have all been involved with many, many more actors and staff returning in some way. They knocked it out of the park and at the same time inspired the next generation of fan films.

2006 was the 40th Anniversary of Star Trek, and there were no official Paramount or Star Trek CBS film or TV releases that year. It was rather depressing as a fan not being able to celebrate the series with any new content. In stepped Tim Russ and James Cawley again. Using the New Voyages/Phase II bridge sets in Port Henry, the creation of a new mini-series was developed with a truly absurd cast of Star Trek Alums; Walter Koenig as Captain Pavel Chekov, Nichelle Nichols as Captain Nyota Uhura, Star Trek Generations Alan Ruck as Captain John Harriman, Garrett Wang as Commander Garan, William Wellman Jr. as Charlie Evans, J. G. Hertzler as Koval, Tim Russ as Tuvok, the list goes on and on. The series was written by DS9 writers Jack Trevino and Ethan H. Calk with certain location scenes being shot at the famous Vasquez Rocks in Los Angeles. The fan service here is unparalleled, except possibly by Deep Space 9s "Trials and Tribblations". Truly a one of kind endeavor, there most likely will never be a project like this again, its as fun as it seems, with great production values to rival those of New Voyages. This same team is now working on a follow up series, Star Trek: Renegades, which Ill go into in my next post.

Starship Farragut is a new ship with a new crew, but with familiar adventures taking place in the 23rd century. A sister ship to the Enterprise, its layout and design is the same, but the crew are different. John Broughton dreamed up Starship Farragut in 2004, delivering to the epic Farpoint Convention in 2006 with a slick presentation and the right level of special effects. Their first episode, “The Captaincy” revolves around the new Captain Jack Carter's first command mission. It is impossible not to compare Farragut to Phase II, especially with the cameo by the New Voyages crew in the episode. They both have incredible workmanship and attention to detail in the sets. Where the Phase II crew are a bit flashier with their recreations of our old heroes, the new crew, Jack Carter, the new, young Captain, is more relatable and grounded then the hard nosed captain of the other ship. The pre-existing relationship between Carter and his SIC, Michael Bednar as Commander Tacket, is comforting and feels like more modern Trek, through the PRISM of 60s American-Exceptionalism. Holly Bednar as Lt. Commander Michelle Smithfield has a presence and attitude towards Command with is sorely lacking in ranking female officers in Star Trek.

It is also absolutely of note that Starship Farragut, who are still releasing episodes that continue to increase with the already high level of quality, have also made two animated episodes in conjuction with NEO f/x, in the style of Star Trek: The Animated Series. The look and feel is spot on! It really is incredible that this amount of work has gone into a project for which there is legally no profit to be made. Also of note, Starship Farragut contains the first appearance of Vic Mignogna as Captain James T. Kirk, who will reprise his role in the upcoming Star Trek Continues, which I will be writing about in my next article, coming either Monday or Tuesday.

Alright folks, despite some missed deadlines due to real life considerations, I am reaching the end of my first set of featured articles for Trek Is Not A Dirty Word. The last in this series will be focusing on Star Trek: Renegades and Star Trek Continues with some look ahead at what we may come to expect in the future from Star Trek Fan Films. Tell me what you think and dont forget to subsscribe! I also have a Twitter account, @TrekINADW so, you know, if you do the whle Twitter thing...
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