Friday, 24 January 2014

TREK REVIEW: Star Trek Continues: Pilgrim of Eternity

Star Trek Continues actually kicked off with this first episode back in May, but having had my appetite whet by Phase II, I decided it was time to check out some other fan productions. Seeing that I have just re-watched 'Who Mourns For Adonais?' for the Captain's Blog, it seemed sensible to follow it up with the unofficial sequel.

I'm immediately going to have a problem with this concept, though, for one reason: I don't actually much like 'Adonais.' It's very well made, but it has a misogynistic tone that makes it very difficult for me to actually enjoy. So a sequel is going to have a hard time proving itself to me. Like 'Adonais,' 'Pilgrim of Eternity' is very well made, but I found it hard to really enjoy.

Judging by this first episode (the second is still in production), Star Trek Continues is going very much for a faithful revival of the original series. Unlike Phase II, this production does not seek to adapt unmade episodes planned by the official production team. 'Pilgrim of Eternity' is an entirely new script set during the fourth year of Kirk's five year mission (along with Phase II and the animated series, not to mention IDW's 'Year Four' miniseries and a host of other licensed and unofficial productions). By making the first episode a sequel to an original series story, the team behind this have guaranteed a certain level of interest from fans, and the inclusion of the original guest star from that episode only serves to increase that interest.

This is a very professionally made production. Everyone involved is an industry professional and the acting, for the most part, is top notch. Vic Mignogna, director, co-writer and producer, plays Kirk (if you're in charge of production you get to be Kirk, it's the rules). He really nails the part, capturing much of Shatner's original performance without being a parody or a slavish copy. Michele Specht plays a new character, Dr. Elise McKennah, who provides both an emotional foil for Kirk and the obligatory eye candy (don't worry, it's perfectly equal here: Mignogna gets his shirt off for a good, lingering look). As a real life couple, Mignogna and Specht naturally have some great chemistry. Todd Haberkorn does well realising Spock, perfectly reproducing Nimoy's delivery in some scenes. Also impressive is Kim Stinger, reprising the role of Uhura from the New Voyages/Phase II series.

As previously mentioned, it's the guest star who is the big draw here. Bringing Michael Forest back to play Apollo is a coup, and he impresses as an older, more regretful version of his character. The arrogance of his original performance is there, but tempered by newer, more traumatic experiences. We learn that the gods moved on to a higher realm, but that this was not able to support them, instead draining them of their energy until they ceased to exist. This is a clever explanation for why the previously youthful Apollo now appears as man well into his eighties. Almost as big a fan draw is the casting of Chris Doohan, son of James, as Scotty. Reprising his father's role, Doohan totally convinces, not only replicating much of his father's performance but delivering a decent one in his own right.

One performance I'm not quite sold on is Larry Nemecek as Dr. McCoy. It's a perfectly fine performance in itself, but it doesn't feel like McCoy to me at all. I had reservations over the version of McCoy in Phase II as well; I guess this character is one just one that's particularly tough to cast right. Nemecek is better known in Trek circles as a prolific author, and there are some other nice cameos from the franchise. Doug Drexler, the effects wizard who created the impressive starship renders for both this series and Phase II, has an appearance as a holo-gunman, while Marina 'Troi' Sirtis provides the computer voice. As well as Trek alumni, there's an appearance from another famous sci-fi face: Jamie Bamber, who played another Apollo, in Battlestar Galactica.

In terms of production standards, there is nothing to criticise here. The sets are a faithful reproduction of the originals, with the music and effects adding to the sense that this could be a lost episode of the original Star Trek. It feels perfectly in keeping with the original. If anything, it feels too traditional. Story wise, this is very similar to the episodes on which it is based. Gender roles are strictly enforced, with the male characters being brusque and action-focused, and the females compassionate and sensitive. It all feels very old-fashioned, and while this is isn't necessarily a bad thing, it feels to me like a missed opportunity. The original Star Trek is a product of the 1960s and can be viewed as such; a lot of allowances can be made. To make something in the same way now, with the same social hang-ups evident, is harder to justify. Things have moved on, and so has Star Trek (for better or worse). The only forward-looking aspects here are the brief inclusion of a prototype holodeck/rec room, bridging the original series with the animated series and TNG technological developments, and the inclusion of Specht's character as a ship's counsellor, another nod in the direction of TNG.

I think my biggest problem with this production is the same as the one I had with the original episode. At the end of 'Adonais,' we were supposed to feel sorry for a raging egomaniac who had just committed a rape. Bringing him back here for another sympathy turn is not something I really wanted to see. There's a great deal of development given to the character, and the script isn't afraid to show that he is still capable of returning to his cruel old ways. Kirk, Spock and McCoy struggle to decide whether they should trust the weakened alien, while, understandably, Scotty is furious as the very idea of helping him. The scenes of debate between the four characters are some of the episode's strongest. On the other hand, there's an uncomfortable scene where McKennah relates all the wonderful things she heard about Apollo from his victim, Carolyn Palomas. In the end, Apollo redeems himself by sacrificing his remaining energies to save a life, but I don't buy the idea that this somehow proves that he is now a noble person, or that it makes up for his previous crimes. Kirk makes a very questionable decision regarding what to do with Apollo, although it's hard to see how many other choices he might have had. If nothing else, the final scene of this episode is beautifully done.

Star Trek Continues definitely has great potential. As I said, the production itself is magnificent, it's simply the script I'm not hot on. If, in future, the series could present something a little more up-to-date, more forward-looking, then I'm sure I'll be a big fan.

Watch the episode here. 

No comments:

Post a Comment