Thursday, November 30, 2017

Star Trek Continues Review

Before I begin my review of Star Trek Continues, I have to ask, have any of you ever heard of Star Wars? Yes? Some of you. How about Doctor Who? A few more, good. I'm asking, because I need to explain something about continuity.

The unbroken and consistent existence or operation of something over a period of time.

Star Wars recently released Rogue One (2016). And despite being filmed nearly forty years apart, fans could almost seamlessly edit the end of that movie to the beginning of the original 1977 Star Wars. It works because the director, writers, and producers understood the importance of franchise continuity.

And if you're familiar with Doctor Who, which began in 1963, you'll see over fifty years of (relatively) continuous story telling. Okay, in all fairness, after so many episodes, there are occasionally some glitches. But for the most part, current episodes still reference things that occurred to characters decades ago. They keep things somewhat consistent, because they have a lot of respect for the source material.

Star Trek, which began in 1966, was created by the Great Bird of the Galaxy, Gene Roddenberry. He envisioned a fantastic future for humanity, with a United Federation of Planets, exploring the stars, and all the possibilities that it would entail. Written, for the most part, by real science fiction authors, then tweaked (for better or worse) by DC Fontana and/or Roddenberry himself, (and if you believe the rumors, William Shatner as well). 

The show wasn't about "pew pew" or explosions. It was about imagination. Sure there were occasionally phaser fights, hand-to-hand (or ship-to-ship) combat, and plenty of dramatic tension, but for the most part, it was inspiring. Today's scientists and NASA engineers will often tell you how they were encouraged to begin their careers thanks to things they saw in Star Trek. Even I started my career in audio, partially because the faders in the transporter room looked like faders on a recording console. Roddenberry invented an amazing universe, giving us a unique and creative way to think way outside the box. With stories about traveling back in time to fall in love with a woman destined to die, or trying to defeat an indestructible Planet Killing Machine headed towards a heavily populated sector of space, we got a chance to boldly go.... 

Check out this top ten list for an idea of some of the more popular episodes:

Personally, I would have made Doomsday Machine number one, and maybe added/changed some of their choices, but you get the idea about the brilliant writing involved.

Sadly, this series was cancelled after three seasons. And as you can imagine, millions of fans cried out, and began an epic letter writing campaign to the network. So mighty was the demand for it's return, that an animated series was created a couple years later. And amid sheer volumes of support at sci-fi conventions, all our dreams came true when Paramount finally released Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. Well, in all honesty, maybe it wasn't everything we wanted. It was... okay. I wouldn't consider this movie to be a great representation of the series, but some elements were there, and it was nice to see the adventure continue. We would have to wait another couple years before the sheer awesomeness of Wrath of Khan hits theaters, which is still one of the best sci-fi movies ever made.

Since then, the entire Trek franchise has had varying degrees of success. Some incarnations I enjoy more than others. And in my humble opinion, successful does not necessarily mean 'good'

Speaking of 'not necessarily good', here is me and my crew at Megacon in Orlando, 2017
The most important thing to take away from Star Trek: The Motion Picture, was the re-introduction of characters we loved. We felt satisfied knowing those characters, and the universe that contained them, survived the end of the five year mission. Their lives changed, but what happened that led to those changes? Kirk took a promotion and a desk job, Spock returned to Vulcan, and McCoy went back to being a good ole country doctor.

Yet still fans wondered, how the series would have ended when the Enterprise finally returned to spacedock. What events occurred to make our favorite characters change their lives so drastically? *Dramatic music swell before commercial break*

Meanwhile, on modern-day earth, Al Gore invented the internet (allegedly)! And as computer and video technology grew, fanboys and fangirls suddenly were able to create their own versions of favorite shows, and share them with the rest of the world. Fan films have become so popular, that even  Lucasfilm has an annual awards ceremony celebrating independent Star Wars films (check it out here).

And as you can imagine, Star Trek is no exception! Um... well, actually they are the exception. Recently, Paramount became so annoyed by fan films (partly because they were good?), they had a legal ruling about what was allowed. Check out the official rules here. Fortunately for us, there were plenty of versions of Trek Fan Films that were already online or in development prior to that court decision.

And now, enter Star Trek super-fan Vic Mignogna

Mostly known for his voiceover work, Vic has over 250 acting credits listed on his IMDB page. And like many of us, he grew up watching Star Trek, having the same questions about the end of the series. But unlike most of us, he has the money, skills, resources, and a lot of talented friends, willing to donate their time and efforts to answering those questions.

So in 2013, Vic began his own ongoing mission, to create an eleven episode adventure, and finally continue the Original Series, giving fans much needed closure on what happened next. 

One of the episodes for Star Trek Continues, recreates the ending scene from the original series, Mirror Mirror. Someone posted the comparison video.

On the surface, Star Trek Continues makes a flawless connection to the 1960's episodes. Between the sets, sound effects, music cues, simplistic effects, props, pacing and even the editing is identical to what was originally aired on television five decades ago. The attention to detail is outstanding, showing how much everyone involved appreciates this show and loves what it did. If you could take one of Vic's episodes back in time and show it to someone, they would be convinced it was a new unaired episode of Star Trek, with different actors. 

And, admittedly it does take a moment to get used to different actors playing your favorite characters. As much as Vic can appear very Kirk-y, you have to accept that it's not William Shatner. You have to overlook that, it's not really Nimoy, or Kelley, or Doohan... oh wait, that IS Doohan! Scotty, is quite accurately played by his very own son, Christopher Doohan.

And this is another area where Star Trek Continues truly shines. Traditionally, acting in fan films is rated, 'good enough'. But by the grace of Landru, not only is the main cast pretty freakin' good, we get to see some sci-fi legends as well. Between John de Lancie, Erin Gray, Lou Ferrigno, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Daniel Logan, Colin Baker, Gigi Edgley, Anne Lockhart... and yes, even Rod Roddenberry himself, son of Gene, have appeared in episodes! 

But with so many special guest stars, I don't want to take away from what the main cast does. Of course Vic channels his inner Kirk so well, it's very easy to convince yourself, it really is Shatner. And after a few minutes, you learn to accept everyone without question, as they quickly endear themselves to us, making us care about each member of the crew. 

"...But Deeesher, how is the writing???"
Some that know me say I can be rather picky. I'm never looking for a big budget, I'm just looking for the heart and soul of what came before. Whether it's Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, comic book characters, or Star Trek, I want a good story from someone who gets the universe it's based on. With Star Trek, I imagine it could be an alternate reality, because already, it seems we are on a different path. Obviously there was no Eugenics War in the 90s, and most of our cell phones are a mix of communicator and tricorder. Maybe we are in the Mirror universe??? But following the path of the original series, at the risk of repeating myself, once again, Vic and his crew nailed it! 

I'll even go further to say that the episodes, Fairest of Them All, What Ships Are For, Pilgrim of Eternity, as well as the two-part finale, To Boldly Go, are some of my favorite Star Trek episodes ever. I put off watching the finale, because I really didn't want this series to end.

But sadly, it did end. And like Star Wars Rogue One, you can watch the finale, and easily transition into Star Trek: The Motion Picture without missing a beat. Too bad it's not considered canon.

A collection or list of sacred books (or shows) accepted as genuine. 

That's right, since Star Trek Continues is a non-profit 'fan film', not produced by Paramount Pictures, it is not officially considered part of the Star Trek universe. If only Gene Roddenberry were here to weigh in on this series...

Oh but wait, his son, Rod Roddenberry had some thoughts after attending a screening at Las Vegas in 2014:
"I do have to say, and I said this after 'Lolani', I'm pretty damn sure my dad would consider this canon. The fact that you do stories that mean something, that have depth, that make us all think a little bit, I really think he would applaud you guys, and I applaud you guys. And, as far as I am concerned, it is canon. So thank you."

And mic drop...

I was fortunate to meet Vic at a convention a couple years ago for an autograph. When I brought him the picture to sign, his eyes lit up and he said proudly, "Now that's what I'm talking about...!" For the next few minutes we discussed Star Trek, and how much I appreciated everything he was doing. He was very cool, and maybe one of my favorite celebrity interactions, because he didn't seem like a 'celebrity'. We were just a couple of squeeing fanboys talking about our favorite show. 

Truly, you, and everyone involved in this series, have earned your place among the stars.
Oh... I have something in my eye...