Weekly Trek – May 2-8, 2016

The end of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005 was also basically the end of filmed Star Trek set in the universe that had been established in 1966 at the start of the original series.  Yes, JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek film did touch on it briefly, but for all intents and purposes, what has become known as the Prime universe was done on the big and small screen…at least as far as the studio was concerned.

The fans had other ideas.

As filmmaking tools and technology became cheaper and more accessible, Star Trek fans began making their own episodes and films (See, there was a reason I reposted that fan film piece yesterday.).  Many of these were done with shot in front of green screens with digital sets added later, but, as I discussed yesterday, some productions took on the massive task of building actual sets.

The best known of these Star Trek: New Voyages (aka Star Trek: Phase 2) and Star Trek: Continues, both of which I mentioned yesterday, are set in the original series era and have built amazing replicas of those sets for their productions.  Their goal is to create new episodes that feel as close to the original series as possible, and they have had professionals from the entertainment industry, many of whom worked on or appeared in Star Trek, involved both in front of the cameras and behind the scenes.

But perhaps the largest of these efforts, both in terms of the scale of the productions and the amount of Star Trek talent involved, have to be Star Trek: Of Gods and Men and Star Trek: Renegades.  Both of these films were produced by Sky Conway and directed by Tim Russ (Tuvok from Star Trek: Voyager). 

Of Gods and Men, which was filmed in 2006 and released in three parts between 2007 and 2008, is set just over a decade after the events of the first part of the film Star Trek: Generations and involves the return of the godlike Charlie Evans from the TOS episode “Charlie X.”   Charlie is looking for revenge against Captain James Kirk.  Kirk, however, is presumed dead after the events of Generations, so Charlie decides to use the Guardian of Forever from “The City on the Edge of Forever” to prevent Kirk from ever being born in the first place.  This action creates an alternate universe ruled by the Galactic Order.  It’s not exactly the mirror universe from “Mirror, Mirror,” but it’s pretty close.  That’s the basic set-up.  From there, the story follows the efforts of those who remember the original timeline to put things back the way they were. 

Renegades is was released in 2015 and is set approximately a decade after the end of Star Trek: Voyager.  After several planets containing dilithium mines vanish, Admiral Pavel Chekov suspects a conspiracy and, working with Tuvok, formerly of the USS Voyager, he assembles a crew to work outside of Starfleet to deal with the situation.  Unlike Of Gods and Men, which was done as a one-off, Renegades was intended to be the pilot for a new series, and a second episode will be going into production soon.

What is truly impressive about both of these projects is the number of Star Trek alums involved.  The cast of Of Gods and Men includes Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), Walter Koenig (Chekov), Tim Russ (Tuvok), Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand) and Alan Ruck (John Harriman) all playing their characters from the franchise, as well as many other Trek veterans including Ethan Phillips, Garrett Wang, Gary Graham, Chase Masterson, and JG Hertzler.  Renegades also has Koenig, Russ, and Graham along with Robert Picardo, Richard Herd, and Manu Intiraymi.  For their second episode they are promising the returns of Robert Beltran (Chakotay), Terry Farrell (Jadzia), Cirroc Lofton (Jake), and Aron Eisenberg (Nog).

I suppose all of that makes it sound like I whole-heartedly recommend watching both of these films.  I wouldn’t go that far.  Yes, it is fun to see these actors back in their Star Trek roles (and the other Trek actors in other parts), and, especially with Renegades, the CGI is fairly well done.  Since so many professionals are involved, the acting is generally better than a lot of other fan films, but it is glaring when someone less seasoned is sharing the screen with someone like Koenig or Graham.  The scripts for both are also a bit of a mess in terms of dialogue and plotting.  Of Gods and Men is all over the place trying to shoehorn in as many things as it can.  Meanwhile Renegades manages to both be too expository and not explain enough while leaving its many MANY characters as mostly cyphers. 

My bigger issue, particularly with Renegades, is that the production didn’t feel particularly like Star Trek to me.  Granted, this is a very subjective measure, but the film’s efforts to be dark and gritty aren’t what I’m looking for in my Trek.  Where is the optimism?  Where is the humanity?  Maybe that will come with subsequent episodes, but I have my doubts.

Still, both films are very watchable, and, as I said earlier, they are an opportunity to see these characters on screen again.  And, unless Bryan Fuller plans on giving any of them a call to appear in his new Star Trek series, they may be your only opportunity. 

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Made With Love

(This post first appeared in 2014.  I have updated it with current information.)

For as long as pop culture has been around, fans have wanted to get involved by creating new material for the properties they love.  There’s nothing particularly deep or surprising about that idea.  Just considering Star Trek, which is one of the fandoms I know best (And don’t worry.  This post is not going to be all about Trek.  I promise.  That’s what Mondays are for.), fans of the series began writing and publishing their own stories in fanzines in the late 1960s while the series was still on the air.

At first fan fiction, art, and parody/tribute songs were the most prevalent forms of fan involvement, but as technology advanced, so did the ability of fans to play in the worlds that they loved so much.  The arrival of inexpensive digital video cameras along with reasonably-priced editing and effects software in the early 2000s led to the rise of the fan film.

This isn’t to say that fans weren’t at least trying to make their own films prior to this.  In the Fall of 1994, several of my friends and I attempted to make our own Trek-ish movie based on my fan fiction.  However, all we had was a basic VHS camera for filming and two VCRs for editing.  The sound mixing board my roommate bought was as high-tech as the project got. 

Once good tools were available to the fans, though, the floodgates opened.  Star Wars fans were some of the first to really take advantage of the new capabilities, and, in the days before YouTube, the fanfilms section at TheForce.Net provided one of the best repositories of fan creations.  In researching this post, I was happy to see that the archive is still there providing links to many older fanfilms.  Most are Star Wars related, but some branch out into other fandoms, such as superheroes.

Star Wars made sense as a first step due to both its enormous popularity and the relative simplicity of its environments.  It actually became something of a joke that most fanfilms were basically “Jedi and Sith meet in a forest and fight.”  One of my favorite fanfilms from this time, The Formula, is actually a comedy about friends attempting to make one of these fanfilms.

As prices came down on two other technologies, 3D rendering software and compositing software, the Star Wars films became more advanced with better looking ship sequences and the ability to put actors in virtual environments.  Broken Allegiance is one of the most impressive of these mixing small sets, virtual backgrounds, fantastic costumes, and, yes, people fighting in a forest.

Star Trek fanfilms had a few more obstacles to deal with (I said this post wasn’t going to be all about Star Trek.  I never said that there wouldn’t be some Trek content).  Sure you could make a film about characters on a planet, but Star Trek without a starship (Or space station) just feels lacking.  And a Starfleet vessel isn’t just a cockpit.  There’s the bridge, transporter room, sickbay, quarters, and various other places on board to think about.  Building sets for any of these, much less all of them, was beyond most fanfilm groups.     

Accessible compositing software, which allowed actors to film in front of green screens and have virtual sets put in later, let Trek fanfilms come at the problem from another direction.  Shooting in front of green screens, groups such as Star Trek: Hidden Frontier and Star Trek: Intrepid began making not just a standalone fanfilm but whole series of episodes.  Hidden Frontier ran for multiple online seasons and led to many spinoffs.  

For other Trek fanfilm groups, the goal remained to create full physical sets, and in the early 2000s, two separate groups did just that.  Starship Exeter and Star Trek: New Voyages (Also known as Star Trek: Phase II) built sets in the style of the original Star Trek television series and began producing episodes.  Exeter made two, the second of which remained incomplete until May of 2014.  New Voyages, meanwhile has released eleven episodes (with a twelfth coming soon), many of which have included people involved with “actual” Star Trek, either in front of the camera or behind the scenes.  George Takei, Walter Koenig, and Denise Crosby have all appeared, and episodes have been scripted by original series writers DC Fontana and David Gerrold.

More recently, Star Trek Continues joined the ranks of series with full sets, and, like Star Trek: New Voyages, it boasts the appearances of many professional actors, including Michael Forest, reprising his role of Apollo from the original series episode, “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, Jamie Bamber, Erin Gray, and Lou Ferrigno.  Vic Mignogna, the driving force behind the series, is a professional actor as well (And, while I don’t know that he would call himself an actor, Grant Imahara from Mythbusters plays Mr. Sulu).  Also like New Voyages, Star Trek Continues aims, as its name states, to continue the original series.  As of this writing, they have released five episodes, with two more slated to come out this year.

The involvement of Hollywood professionals in fan productions has certainly upped the quality level of the episodes and raised viewer expectations.  And interest does not seem to be waning.  Right now, two projects are in various stages of production that promise to blur the line between fanfilm and professional production even further.  Both Star Trek: Renegades and Star Trek: Axanar are utilizing casts made up almost entirely of professional actors including Tim Russ, Walter Koenig, and Robert Picardo, in the case of Renegades, and Kate Vernon, Michael Hogan, and Richard Hatch in the case of Axanar.  Both projects raised over $100,000 dollars each in Kickstarter campaigns to make their films possible. 

Fans of other properties, meanwhile, have continued to use the technology available to them to create better and more-professional looking projects.  The duo, Not Literally, have released several incredible music videos for parody songs that celebrate their favorite fandoms.  Aside from several Harry Potter-themed videos, they also made “Through Time,” a fantastic Doctor Who video, and the very clever “A Character I Used to Know,” which expresses feelings that fans of Game of Thrones know all too well.  And while it’s decidedly less high tech, I couldn’t bring up Game of Thrones music videos without linking to the “Ultimate Birthday Rap Battle” (Warning: LOTS of language in this one.  Skip it if you’re easily offended.).

With the cost and technological barriers greatly reduced and, thanks to the Internet, free distribution, creators of fanfilms and videos are able to share their visions and their love of various properties with the world.  We’ve come a very long way from my days of editing with two VCRs and a pause button.  Hmmm…maybe it’s time to get another movie together.  Anybody want to back a Star Traks Kickstarter?

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Retro Girl

Once upon a time a girl had a dream of being a super hero. An age-appropriate powerful female superhero who didn't fight crime in precarious barely-there outfits or defer to a male leader. But could such a hero be found? There have been many in comics but they don't often make it onscreen with their independence intact. We've been clamoring for a Black Widow standalone film since she first burst onscreen in Iron Man 2. Wonder Woman is finally getting her due in film and Jessica Jones is reinventing female power on TV screens. But I found a different hero who fit the bill. Retro Girl.

"Who is Retro Girl?"

Retro Girl was born in the comic series Powers and recently came to onscreen life in the Playstation original series adaptation of the same name. In a very liberal and loose explanation of the show, Powers imagines a world in which a great many people have super abilities (or powers, hence the title) as diverse as flight, infra-red vision, super strength, power draining, teleportation, and the like. Rather like X-Men except in the Powers world these abilities are so common they're rather like blue eyes in ours: not everyone has them but they're not that remarkable if you do. So not everyone with an ability is a hero (or, as in X-Men, a 'mutant' or 'freak'). The Powers mirror the celebrities of our world: there are D list to A list Powers, some are nobodies, some are criminals, and a select few (with the help of agents and clever branding) rise to the top to become true superheros and stars. Retro Girl is basically the Queen of the Powers. She has super strength and flight but it may be said her keenest ability is that of managing her brand and career. She's cream of the crop not just because she's a hero (she is qualitatively a 'good guy') but because she understands how to market herself and remain forefront in the public consciousness through the years. She's played pitch-perfectly by Michelle Forbes whom you may know as Ensign Ro from Star Trek: the Next Generation or Admiral Cain from Battlestar Galactica or Mitch Larsen from The Killing among so many other notable roles.

Why does Retro Girl matter? To you she may not. A goodly number of people - even those keen on comics and comic-related shows - haven't heard of Powers, much less Retro Girl. But that doesn't detract from her impact. She matters because she's a woman, to start. She's one of the biggest names in the Powers community and she's nobody's sidekick or partner. She's a force on her own and respected as such in the show. She matters because, and I say this delicately because my intent is in no way to dismiss the power of youth, she's over forty. Retro Girl's age is not specifically stated but it's clear she's not a twenty-something newcomer. Michelle Forbes, the actress portraying her, was fifty when she donned the suit. It's not only refreshing, it's VITAL to have older actresses taking on lead roles in a great array of scenarios and genres. Hollywood has a distressing history of relegating women to 'witch', 'wife' or 'mother' in the wings as fading support after they "age out" - which in Hollywood is around twenty-five. Leading men age and their onscreen romantic partners get younger in an inverse function. So to have any woman over forty seizing a role that is written powerfully and as a lead is important. It can't be dismissed. She matters because she's human. "But didn't you say...?" Yes, I did. Retro Girl is a Power, she's a bona fide superhero celebrity in the world of Powers. But she is achingly human. In the show she works out. She consults on her brand with assistants and agents. She shows up to events in her signature color of red and knows exactly how to present to the public. She gets tired. She longs for a legacy. She isn't married, she isn't a mother, she has a different legacy in mind: one of passing the torch to a young Power who can replace her in the world so she can finally rest. She wishes for anonymity. She wants to reconnect with her past love. She is haunted by those she can't save. But she is also ambitious, strong, independent: she can't be controlled by what others want and she finds retirement impossible because she can't ignore her inclination to assist those in need, to use her abilities to better lives in some way.

Retro Girl matters because she is the whole package. She is a woman in control of her own destiny and direction. She knows herself, she knows where she's going. She's strong and uncompromising while still maintaining a vulnerability and a very real humanity. She's a real person, full of nuance and complexity. And she's a hero.

I love that she exists as an example of why women need more of these roles. She's fantastic and she's necessary. And I admire Michelle Forbes for making her so real. So perhaps Retro Girl was really the only obvious choice for my Calgary Expo cosplay this year. My homage to Michelle's Retro Girl and my plea for more strong older female heroes on our screens in every capacity.

Outfit (head to toe): Dark Knits Boutique

Photography: Chianti Images

HMUA: Corinne for VampireNomad Palette

Outfit (head to toe): Dark Knits Boutique

Photography: Chianti Images

HMUA: Corinne for VampireNomad Palette

- Corinne Simpson

Nathan's Laserium: Calgary Comic Expo! Time!

What are you doing this weekend? I am working nightshift. But don’t cry for me, rather just go have tons of fun at Calgary Comic and Entertainment Expo! Yeah it’s that time of year again, so I am happy to kind of rerun my convention-attending-helps-you-out-some-guide. Best thing about it is, it works for any comic convention!

There’s so much going on that every person can have a completely unique and almost infinitely-customizable convention experience. You could grab a convention-exclusive action figure, hit up a panel discussion on writing queer and queer-friendly comics, get a one-of-a-kind sketch card from a professional comics artist, see a massive movie star hype her newest movie and take pictures of the most amazing cosplayers in their hand-made costumes of your favorite characters, all by noon on the first day. And you still have three-and-a-half days to go!

It's all about modulation. Not moderation, modulation. By all means gorge and binge and binge and gorge at a con, but do it wisely using these tips.

 

Money: You want to carry quite a bit of cash on you, as many vendors are cash-only. If you really want to make life easier on them, have a wad of bills smaller than a $20. Everyone pays in 20s, and then the vendors run out of change very quickly. Now, what should you do with your money? Completely up to you of course, but I like to get stuff that you can't get anywhere else. Sketches, convention exclusives, that sort of thing. Autographs and photos with celebrities are not my thing at all, but it's a huge part of a convention. Where else are you going to have a second or two to chat with Sigourney Weaver, say, or George Takei? Everyone bemoans the fact that Comic-Cons aren’t about comics anymore, but I advise against buying comics- you can get those anytime, right? One exception being independent comics purchased directly from the creators.

 

Time: There's so much to do, especially at big conventions like SDCC. You can easily lose hours just waiting in line, or getting to and from the convention center. There are things you want to go to or do that you will miss out on. Not a lot you can do about that, I guess, though cutting down on time-wasters like hitting the snooze button can help. Bringing food also helps, then you don't have to stand in line for meals or going off-site. Which brings me to...

 

Blood Sugar: Sex magic? No, but close. Managing your blood sugar is probably the single-most effective piece of advice I have on pretty much everything, conventions included. Don't want it too high, don't want it too low. Eat your meals, preferably healthy ones, and bring snacks to refuel throughout the day. Apples and power bars are very effective. Also, try to drink water rather than soft drinks. You don't want to have a sugar crash. When you're hungry, everything becomes an annoyance, if not an excuse to full-out hulkify. But when your stomach is happy, you are happy. Things roll off that much easier.

 

Body Odor, Hygiene, and Personal Space: Do everyone a favour and wear deodorant. Use mouthwash. It gets hot, you get sweaty, that's natural. You can cut down on eau de convention just by maintaining your personal hygiene. Change your clothes at least once a day! If you have a massive backpack, try to be aware of where it is when you are swinging around. No one likes getting hit in the face with someone's backpack. And DO NOT put your bag down on a vendor's table, especially on an art portfolio. The convention floor can be pretty crowded, but if you are relaxed, don't do sudden stops and swerves, it goes pretty well. Be patient! And if taking photos with cosplayers, keep in mind that even though they are smiling and pleasant, most of them would prefer if you didn't put your sweaty, germy arms around them. And please, please, please read your convention's anti-harassment policy and be diligent about following it. Cosplay is NOT consent. Some cons don't have such a policy, so just pretend they do and follow it anyway. Don’t harass anyone, cosplayer or not. Right? Right!

Everyone thanks you.

Personally, I love taking photos of cosplayers, and prefer not to ruin the photos by having me in the picture. If you are polite and choose the right moment (ie. not when they are sitting down for a bite to manage their blood sugar or something) the vast majority of cosplayers are happy to pose for you. Try not to block traffic, and asking them about their costumes is a great ice-breaker, as long as you're genuinely curious and not just testing them on their geek knowledge.

It’s easy. Just don't be a dick, right? So easy. Makes it fun for everyone.

- Nathan Waddell

 

Weekly Trek – April 25- May 1, 2016

As I have mentioned in several of my Sunday posts, CBS is currently in the process of developing a new Star Trek television series.  While we know very little about the show itself (nothing really), we do know who is going to be serving as executive producer: Bryan Fuller.  Over the last several years, Fuller has made a name for himself with shows like Pushing Daisies and Hannibal.  He was also responsible for one of my sadly short-lived favorites, Wonderfalls, and I am looking forward to seeing the television adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel, American Gods, that Fuller is currently working on.

Fuller got his start in Hollywood, though, thanks to Star Trek.  In the early 1990s when Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were on the air, the franchise had a very unusual open submission policy, meaning that anyone could submit scripts to the show.  To this day I kick myself for not taking advantage of it. 

Fuller, however, did.  He was a huge Star Trek fan and his spec script lead to an opportunity to pitch stories for Deep Space Nine, a couple of which he sold.  From there, he was hired on as a staff writer for Star Trek: Voyager, joining the show in its fourth season.  By the time the series ended after its seventh season, Fuller had risen to the position of co-producer.

I’ve expressed before that I think he is an excellent choice to run the new Star Trek series.  Not only does he know Trek inside and out, he’s proven himself to be a unique voice.  His shows tend to be visually-stunning and a bit outside of the norm.  I’m excited to see what he comes up with for the new series.

But before he takes Star Trek into the future, you might be interested to see what he worked on during his past on Voyager.  Honestly, it’s a mixed bag.  There’s some good, some ehhhhh, and one hooooo boy.

Probably the best on the list is “Living Witness,” in which a backup copy of USS Voyager’s holographic doctor is brought online 700 years in the future by an alien race that once encountered Voyager’s crew.  It’s an interesting study of how the way history records an event can differ from what actually happened.  Admittedly, though, Fuller is one of three writers listed for the episode, and the story itself was actually Brannon Braga’s.

Fuller was responsible for the story and co-wrote the teleplay for “Bride of Chaotica!”, a fun romp in which a race of photonic aliens end up taking over a holodeck program based on a 1950s science-fiction serial.

I would, however, avoid “Spirit Folk,” which is another holodeck malfunction episode.  This one is set in the Irish village of Fair Haven, a program which the crew had been running for some time.  Because of this extended use, the characters in the program begin to notice that the Voyager crew can change aspects of the world by what seems like magic.  It is…not good.  One reviewer at the time actually declared it to be the worst episode of any Star Trek ever made.  I wouldn’t go that far, and this particular reviewer was really hard on the series anyway.  Still, it is, as I said, not good. 

Fortunately for all of us, Fuller is capable of much better work.  We just have to wait until next year to see what he has in store for his new Star Trek.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter