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

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