Thursday, January 03, 2008

REVIEW - Star Trek: Of Gods and Men

I do not think it is too much of a stretch to say Star Trek: Of Gods and Men is the most eagerly anticipated fan film release of the last few years. When you consider the level of Hollywood involvement, which ranged from Star Trek luminaries such as Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig, to lesser-known Star Trek alumni such as Crystal Allen and Lawrence Montaigne, the direction of fellow Star Trek alumnus Tim Russ, and the chatter about not being a fan film coming out of the OGAM camp this level of anticipation was certainly to be expected. The expectations grew throughout 2006 and 2007 as the release date was pushed back several times. Finally on December 22nd of this past year the first thirty-minute episode was released and fandom heaved a great sigh of relief as they scrambled to their computers to view the episode. So many scrambled, in fact they managed to take down the OGAM website which lead to delays in some fans being able to view the episode. In my case I was about as far removed as one can get from high speed internet access over the Christmas weekend which means by the time I was able to view the episode most of the bandwidth issues had been resolved.

Star Trek: Of Gods and Men begins on a run down station, which seems more appropriate for the Firefly universe than Star Fleet, manned by Ethan Phillips. Phillips is confronted by a mysterious stranger who only wants to know about James Kirk and quickly leaves, taking the entire station with him, when he learns that Kirk had passed away twelve years earlier. We then move to the newly built replica of the original Enterprise (Kirk's Enterprise not the one captained by Count Bakula) intended to be a museum under the command of Peter Kirk (played by New Voyages' own James Cawley). Uhura, Chekov and Captain John Harriman, who was last seen being a complete yutz in Generations, are all on hand for a dedication ceremony when they receive a message from an automated beacon and, as they are the only ship in the sector, the must rush off to investigate. They arrive at the planet and are confronted by the mysterious stranger who then goes through the Guardian of Forever and makes some change to the timeline which thrusts our three main characters into completely different roles. Harriman is a captain of a starship serving the Galactic Order. Uhura is married and living on Vulcan where she seems to be an anti-Galactic Order activist while Chekov is cast a terrorist fighting against the Galactic Order.

So how did OGAM measure up to the eighteen-plus months of fan boy anticipation?

Not very well, it saddens me to say. Of course I have only seen the first third of the story, however I just cannot get over a couple of the issues I have with the piece, most of which are technical or execution related rather than story related. I will be the first to admit that some of these issues reach a level of fan-boy wankery to which I am almost uncomfortable admitting however in fan films I feel as much attention must be paid to the mechanics of the universe as the other aspects of the production. My biggest fan-boy complaint, and the only one I intend to address in this review, is how they deal with the mechanics of the Guardian of Forever. In the original episode, "The City on the Edge of Forever*," the landing party is unaffected by the changes McCoy makes to the timeline. In OGAM the landing party is directly and immediately affected by the changes Charlie has made to the past. Not a terribly important thing in the grand scheme of things but it was enough to bug me and put me in the wrong frame of mind.

On a more general note I thought that many of the special effects, particularly those of planetary surfaces, were not on the same level as delivered by other prominent fan films and compared poorly with those from Babylon 5, which is over a decade old at this point. There also seemed to be a desire to put in effects for the effects sake. The two most glaring instances of this are the birds on Vulcan and the omega weapon sequence. The birds on Vulcan were a nice touch that did not add anything to the scene. The time spent designing and animating them could have been better spent on other effects shots. The greater sin lies with the sequence which runs from the firing of the Omega weapon through the impact on the target. The entire sequence takes just about 40 seconds, most of which is spent watching the Omega weapon move through space and while 40 seconds does not sound like much time, the sequence really felt like it dragged on too long. Now even though the amount of time wasted watching this sequence bothered me, my biggest problem with the sequence was the number of changes the weapon underwent during the time from when it was fired until impact. This bothered me on a purely physics nerd level and is edging into the uncomfortable fan-boy wank moments I mentioned earlier. In the case of this weapon I think it is fair to assume that any energy which is converted to light is energy that is being wasted. Therefore the more light this weapon produces the less energy it will be able to deliver on impact or during its subsequent detonation. Transforming from one display of light to another, while indicating a state change in the weapon, is additional energy loss. Therefore all the transformations the weapon goes through during its travel time represent wasted energy, something I would think you would try to reduce in a weapon. Of course this is probably my mind just trying to come up with some excuse for not liking the sequence which did nothing to build tension and ends up just being a minute of rasterbation on the part of the CGI artists.

Performance wise I do not have too much to say. OGAM has a stellar cast of Hollywood and Star Trek talent and they all performed as well as one could expect. There were moments that felt flat but that is going to happen from time to time. Overall the performances were good considering what the actors had to work with.

Now that was a whole bunch of negativity that has left you wondering if they did anything right in OGAM and why James is so full of hate. There are Alan Ruck's performance as Capt. John Harriman, Cirroc Lofton's performance as Sevar, and J. G. Hertzler's performance as the Klingon Koval. I very much enjoyed each one. Of particular note for the inner fanboy is the redemption of Ruck's Capt. Harriman. One of the big complaints about Generations was the character of Capt. Harriman and how he came off as indecisive and a poor choice to captain the flagship of the Federation, the Enterprise-B. In OGAM Harriman appears to be more of a character and less of a poorly conceived foil for Kirk. Plus in the alternate universe he has the high-noon inducing Chase Masterson as his Orion slave girl Xela and you have got to give him mad props for that if nothing else. As for J. G. Hertzler it is always fun to watch him chewing up the scenery as a Klingon.

Aside from the performances Star Trek: Of Gods and Men feels no more accomplished than some of the high quality fan films that are being released these days despite their protestations that they are not a fan film.** While I spent most of this review bitching about what was wrong with OGAM I did not feel I wasted time by watching it and I will watch the forthcoming episodes, however my expectations have been lowered and I think there is better work coming out of the Areakt Pictures (Hidden Frontier, Odyssey, and Helena Chronicles), Intrepid, Farragut, and New Voyages crews.

* If you have not read The City on the Edge of Forever by Harlan Ellison you are missing out on both excellent prose and an interesting look at Star Trek history. If you are a fan of the show I HIGHLY recommend this book. Also as a contrast to this book you should read David Gerrold's The Trouble With Tribbles. It gives a very different take on the birth of a Star Trek episode.

** This is purely hearsay however as I understand it after the premiere of To Serve All My Days at the Star Trek 40th Anniversary celebration in Seattle, WA one of the producers for OGAM said something to the effect of, "Unlike what you just saw we are not a fan film." I have seen this report repeated in a couple of places and have never seen anyone dispute the accuracy so I am accepting this as the truth. To a certain extent this quote informed my viewing of OGAM and ultimately this review. If you are going to say things like this then you sure as heck had better deliver the goods and in my final analysis OGAM did not. The latest episode of New Voyages is better on all counts and I think the latest episode of Starship Farragut shows more promise. Aside from setting up OGAM for The Jinx, this sort of statement illustrates one of the problems that bothers me about fandom. There seems to be quite a bit of fractiousness amongst the fans and this is good for absolutely no one. Right now I am talking specifically about Star Trek fandom and ignoring the larger divisions which seem to define sci fi at large. You know what? I have more to say on this subject but it is probably worthy of a post all on its own.


Scanner said...

I first watched this recently, and offhand I had the same pondering that you did regarding the effects of the time change. I quickly reasoned it out (read as 'forced myself to play devil's advocate to my own query) that the individual responsible had adjusted the Guardian when he created the time doorway so that the "protective bubble" did not include those on the planet this time. Since the image of Terra was different (more holographic), one can assume that he was able to access a higher (or different) level of chronological pathway.

Being this as it may be, I too felt that Harriman was short-strawed in Generations... even as unlucky as events played out, you don't reach the rank of Captain without being able to handle the reins. :) I found that actor's double performance to be wonderful.

Marko said...
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Marko said...

First: Hidden Frontier is complete amateur-time crap. I can't believe you would suggest the OGAM isn't even as interesting as that waste of bandwidth. New Voyages/Phase II, which is pretty good, hasn't produced anything new in a while and Farragut stalled at two episodes, which were ok at best. Second: Your over-analysis of the super-weapon's waste of light and energy is beyond nit-picking. You have no problem with the fact that all Star Trek shows and movies feature sound while in the vacuum of space? You believe that the Borg could regenerate themselves by standing in front of a wall-mounted plasma lamp from Spencer Gifts? Oh, and it doesn't bug you at all that everyone in the Trek universe travels faster than light and skips back and forth through time like it was a cakewalk? While we're at it, why would a Borg wear high-heels (Seven-Of-Nine)? Why do 95% of all aliens look exactly like humans with sh*t on their faces/ears/heads? Why does Zefram Cochrane in First Contact look nothing like he did in TOS? I could go on… Personally, I thought Of Gods and Men was full of excellent performances and had a phenomenal cast. The effects were so-so (Tuvok's ears) but the story was unique and interesting. If nothing else, the film was a massive achievement considering its grass-roots origin. I highly recommend it to any Star Trek fan.