Sunday, January 28, 2018

Star Trek Continues

Are you a Star Trek fan? Me, I have always been fond of the original series (mostly) as well as the movies (mostly) and several of the spin-off series (somewhat). Until recently, it had been decades since I've seen any of the original series' episodes—probably the mid 1980s, when the show was still in regular syndication. However, when I discovered a year or so ago that the original episodes had been remastered and were available on Amazon Prime, I decided to give them a look. Once again, I enjoyed watching them (mostly), particularly the digital upgrading of the old special effects, which were primitive even in their time and disappointed me as far back as I can remember. Unlike some significant percentage of Star Trek fans, I'm not such a purist that I would stand by some unwritten law to the effect of "thou shalt not tamper."

I believe it was on Facebook that I recently caught wind of the existence of Star Trek Continues: a fan-made production that continues the timeline of the original series (1966–1969), made to resemble the show to an uncanny degree. Produced by Vic Mignogna, who also stars as Captain Kirk, the series of eleven episodes purports to complete the USS Enterprise's five-year mission, leading up to where Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) begins. A week or so ago, with most of Star Trek's original series episodes fresh in mind, I took it to heart to watch Star Trek Continues in full over a period of several days.

And I really, really enjoyed it (mostly).

Indeed, the most striking aspect of the show is its resemblance to the familar Star Trek of old, down to the sets, the costumes, the camera angles, the four-act structure of the episodes—including fade-outs at the ends of scenes, where one might expect to see commercials. The majority of the music comes directly from the original series, with some additional compositions contributed by the ubiquitous Vic Mignogna. The special effects, courtesy of Emmy-award-winning SPFX artist Doug Drexler, are very much in keeping with the digital effects in the remastered episodes, so if you have watched those, the visuals prove gratifyingly consistent across the properties, and if not, the new effects work is many steps up from the old.
The USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) as rendered for Star Trek Continues by SPFX artist Doug Drexler
While the improved digital special effects work in the new series' favor, perhaps paradoxically, so do the the full-size interior and exterior sets, by way of their resemblance to the original's less-than-budget-busting constructs. The interior of the Enterprise—including the bridge, corridors, crew quarters, the shuttlecraft and bays—as well as planetary surfaces and structures, all match the appearance of the original series' sets to the detail. Indeed, the look, sound, and feel of Star Trek Continues makes it almost difficult believe one is not watching a licensed extension of the show.

But it really isn't. The new series was made as an unlicensed, non-profit fan production that CBS and Paramount Pictures, as well as Gene Roddenberry's estate, could have squashed before it began. But they didn't. In fact, Gene Roddenberry's son, Rod, has been quoted as saying, "I'm sure my dad would consider this canon, and as far as I am concerned, it is canon." I personally would go so far as to say I absolutely accept Star Trek Continues as canon. Given its serious, thoughtful scripts and performances, not to mention its near-flawless continuity, it would seem rather silly not to.

For the most part, it's the members of the main cast that represent the greatest departure from the feel of the original series. Few of them come as close to resembling the original characters, in either appearance or personality, as those in the J.J. Abrams reboot film series from the past few years. Regardless, once one becomes accustomed to the strange faces in the familiar roles, it's not difficult to accept these actors as the characters they portray. Although his tenor voice doesn't sound like William Shatner's, as Captain Kirk, Vic Mignogna captures many of Shatner's mannerisms and vocal rhythms such that, in no time, he becomes, for all intents and purposes, the real Captain Kirk. The same might be said for Todd Haberkorn, who neither looks nor sounds much like Leonard Nimoy, but whose earnest portrayal of Mr. Spock becomes easy enough to accept.
Todd Haberkorn (L) as Mr. Spock and Vic Mignogna (R) as Captain Kirk
The ladies of Star Trek Continues: Kim Stinger at Lt. Uhura, Kipleigh Brown as Lt. Smith,
Michele Specht as Dr. McKennah, and Cat Roberts as Lt. Palmer
If you close your eyes and listen, you would swear that the voice of Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott is none other than the late James Doohan, and you would be incorrect, but only just. Mr. Scott comes to life courtesy of Jimmy Doohan's son Chris, who seems as tailor-made for the role as his dad. And while his physical appearance doesn't much match Walter Koenig's, actor Wyatt Lenhart has captured Mr. Chekhov's voice and personality with striking precision.

While still "acceptable" in their parts, none of the other main cast members quite hit the right notes for their characters. Chuck Huber looks and sounds not so unlike Dr. McCoy as played by the late, great DeForest Kelley, but his rather wooden, by-the-numbers performance lacks assurance and, most crucially, a strong chemistry with Mr. Spock. And unfortunately, neither Grant Imahara as Mr. Sulu or Kim Stinger as Lt. Uhura offer performances matching the caliber of Mignogna, Haberkorn, or Doohan, although both actors do manage to shine at various moments.

As a favorable balance, Kipleigh Brown plays a strong Lt. Smith, whose character first appeared in the original series episode "Where No Man Has Gone Before," and who offers a few dramatic surprises, particularly during the last few episodes of the new series. Michele Specht comes aboard the Enterprise as Ship's Counselor Dr. Elise McKennah, whose character paves the way for future ships' counselors on board Starfleet spacecraft, the primary example being Counselor Deana Troy in Star Trek: The Next Generation, played by Marina Sirtis—who also provides the ship's computer voice in Star Trek Continues.
Mother and daughter play the same role. Joanne Linville (L) from the
original series, and daughter Amy Rydell (R) from Star Trek Continues

Several veteran Star Trek players, as well as other noteworthy actors, make appearances in the show, such as Michael Forest (who reprises his role as Apollo from the original series episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?"); John DeLancie (Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation, though here he plays an unrelated character); Colin Baker; Jamie Bamber; Lou Ferrigno; Anne Lockhart; and many others. Perhaps most notably, actress Amy Rydell appears as a Romulan Commander, the same role played by her mother, Joanne Linville, in the original series episode "The Enterprise Incident." In character, Rydell is a spitting image of her mother, as you may notice in the photo above.

Happily, for the most part, the new series' scripts are patterned after the best of the old and, with a few exceptions, deal admirably with non-fluffy topics, such as discrimination, personal ethics, and self-sacrifice. Many of the episodes relate directly to events from the original series, such as the aforementioned "Who Mourns for Adonais?", "Mirror, Mirror," "The Tholian Web," "The Enterprise Incident," and "Where No Man Has Gone Before." It is, in fact, the latter episode—the "second" pilot for the original series, and the first to star William Shatner as Captain Kirk—that provides the basis for the final two-part episode of Star Trek Continues ("To Boldly Go"), thus bringing the two series full circle. "To Boldly Go" also addresses and settles major plot points that have developed over the course of the series, as well as opening the door for the events to come in Star Trek: The Motion Picture, making it the most satisfying and all-around best episode of the new series.

Is Star Trek Continues a worthy successor to the original series? Apart from the generally less-accomplished cast, I'd call it far superior to the J.J. Abrams reboot films, and possibly go as far as saying it is equal to or better than most of the myriad Star Trek spinoff series. As a labor of love, it stands out far beyond any fan-made production that I have ever encountered. To say that it is sincere is an understatement; it is an expression of rarely matched creative integrity, succeeding on multiple levels—thematically, artistically, and dramatically.

If you are even a casual Star Trek fan, do yourself the service of checking out Star Trek Continues. It's not perfect—sometimes far from it—but in general it embodies the best of what Star Trek stood for from the beginning, sometimes in ways that exceed the original.

You can watch all the episodes for free, as well as find additional information about the production, at Star Trek Continues. Also visit Star Trek Continues on Facebook.
Vic Mignona as Captain Kirk
Michele Specht as Counselor Dr. Elise McKennah
Chris Doohan as Mr. Scott
Kim Stinger at Lt. Uhura
There's trouble in Engineering in "Come Not Between the Dragons"
Mess not with these gentlemen!


James Robert Smith said...

I'll be damned. I'll give it a look.

Stephen Mark Rainey said...

Don't expect perfection, but do expect sincerity. If such sincerity had gone into a pumpkin patch, the Great Pumpkin would live there.