Star Trek Continues

ld_star_trek_cast_ll_120820_wmainI’m an old school Trek fan. Specficially TOS (The Original Series), the classic 60’s show with Shatner, Nimoy, Kelly, Doohan, Nichols, Takei, Koenig et al. I love the interplay between the characters, I love the killer retro look and sensibility, the appealing primary color palette.  If you haven’t checked out the Animated Series, it’s like a lost fourth season, with much of the same talent both in front of and behind the camera returning. DC Fontana and some of the other writers handle scripts, all the principals return to voice their characters. I discovered it a few years ago on Netflix Instant and it was like going home again for a little while.

But TOS lasted three (four with TAS) seasons and that’s it.

My wife is a big Next Gen fan, but I’m not. The sterile look never really grabbed me like classic Trek, and while the characters and stories are great, I never latched onto them like the original. I got some enjoyment from Voyager and Deep Space Nine, and from the last season of Enterprise when it started doing what it had originally promised, but I’m not a fan of the new movie universe at all.

Nothing ever quite took hold of me like Classic Trek.

star_trek_tos_zps73d073cdA fellow writer, Bobby Nash, was raving about this fan production Star Trek Continues, the other day on his Facebook page, and the stills intrigued me, particularly the re-enacted pose of the TV Guide cover featuring Kirk and Spock looking up at the camera with their arms folded. It was a nifty insider homage, I thought, and the actors playing Kirk and Spock really looked the part.

Reading a bit on it, I realized the crew behind the web series had managed to raise in excess of $120,000 on Kickstarter (Kirkstarter they called it) to get the show running and I was understandably curious.

So I caught the first episode on Youtube (Pilgrim Of Eternity – check it out HERE). It was a sequel to the Who Mourns For Adonais? episode, in which the Greek God Apollo turned out to be a powerful alien being which required the subservient worship of humans to thrive. At the end of that classic episode Apollo is defeated by Kirk and crew and fades out, calling to his fellow exiled Olympians.

startrekcontinues-cast1Right from the get-go I could see where that Kirkstarter money had gone. They have perfectly recreated the 60’s era Enterprise set. The bridge, the corridors, the crew quarters, even the Jeffries’ tube made an appearance. The costumes were spot on, and most importantly, the lightning was perfect. This looks like a hi-def episode of Classic Trek, precisely like the remastered editions that came out a few years ago, right down to the aspect ratio.

I’ve seen some very well-produced fan films of Trek, Star Wars, and superheroes. There is some very impressive work out there, but one uniform problem I’ve had with them is the quality of story and acting. You can have a technical, visual masterpiece on the screen, but if you can’t capture the mood and story of the original, all you’ve got is a pretty copy of something far superior – like a digital photograph of a white sand beach in sunny Puerto Rico. The postcard is never quite as nice as being there with the sand in between your toes.

Now, the STC cast play their parts well. It took me maybe thirty seconds to accept this wasn’t Shatner, Nimoy etc. before I started being drawn in by the story.

Yeah, the story.

In a fan production.

It was pretty cool, and full of nods to the original show without coming across as fan service.

They got Michael Forest to reprise his role as Apollo (here physically diminished by an energy drain) and he picked up the part like he’d only played it the other day, yet with the experience that comes with age, actually making the role…better than the original.

I showed it to my wife.

“The acting’s not bad,” I said. “And the story’s pretty….good.”

So we cued up Lolani.

Man!

lolaniThe show took off for me at this point.

The STC guys took the old nudge nudge wink wink boy’s club trope of the green skinned Orion slave girl and brought it into modern day context without destroying the sixties framework. They took an eye candy character and gave her nuance and heart, and presented as subtext a condemnation of the poor treatment of women passed off as cultural more existing today. THAT’S Star Trek! Plus, they brought in Lou Ferigno….as a quality, imposing villain….in green body paint!

Plus, Vince Mignogna, who I kind of dismissed as passable in the previous episode, shined in this outing.

ferignoAnd the third episode, The Fairest Of Them All, set in the mirror universe, is even better!

In this one Mignogna once again impressed me with his tyrannical Kirk counterpart, but Todd Haberkorn, knocked it out of the park as Spock. I admit my first impression of him in the part was, well, he doesn’t quite have that resonant but flat voice and he’s a little more human looking than Nimoy. But I forgot all that in this episode. He’s got Spock down pat. There’s a great scene where he and his former captain part ways, and Kirk screams his name as the shuttle doors close….loved it.

The rest of the cast hasn’t escaped my attention either. Grant Imahara was seriously echoing the dark version of Sulu in this one, and the lovely Kim Stinger had me from the first singing in the galley as Uhura. Chris Doohan, son of James Doohan, carries on the Scotty role his father originated so admirably it borders on uncanny, and Michelle Specht is a welcome addition as ship’s counselor Elise Makennah.

stc_fairest_06If I have any criticism it’s more Bones, my favorite character. I haven’t quite seen enough of Chekov to make a judgment either way.

Yeah, the whole show has me giggling in a good way.

This is a labor of unfettered love for 60’s era Trek and if you’re a fan like I am, you need to check this out right now. This is stellar work, I think even transcending the appellation ‘fan film.’

I can’t wait to see more (and I hope they open up for script submissions!).

It’s probably the greatest gift a Trekkie could ask for.

Check their website here.

http://www.startrekcontinues.com/

DT Moviehouse Review: Atlantis: The Lost Empire

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I take a look at Disney’s underrated animated film Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

(2001) Directed by Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise

Written by Tab Murphy with Story credits including Kirk Wise, Gary Trousdale, Joss Whedon, Bryce and Jackie Zabel, and David Reynolds.

Tagline: Atlantis Is Waiting…

What it’s about:

In 1914, underappreciated scholar Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox) seeks to carry on his deceased grandfather Thaddeus’ quest for the legendary lost city of Atlantis. He keeps getting dismissed as a fringe academician until he is contacted by an old colleague of his grandfather’s, wealthy eccentric Preston Whitmore (John Mahoney), who recruits Milo to advise a fully funded and outfitted submarine expedition to find Atlantis. The expedition is led by a motley team of mercenaries including Commander Rourke (James Garner), his femme fatale second in command Helga Sinclair (Claudia Christian), dynamite expert Vinny (Don ‘Fr. Guido Sarducci’ Novello), Doc Sweet (Phil Morris), plucky engineer Audrey Ramirez (Jacqueline Obradors), geologist Mole Molierre (Corey Burton), sardonic communications expert Wilhemina Packard (Florence Stanley), and irascible cook Cookie Farnsworth (Jim Varney, in his last major performance), as well as a virtual army of gun toting red shirts. After their sub is wrecked by a mechanical submarinal guardian, Milo and the mercs find themselves in the highly advanced society of Atlantis, led by King Nedakah (Leonard Nimoy) and his daughter Princess Kida (Cree Summer). However, when Rourke comes face to face with the priceless secret energy source that had preserved Atlantis for 8,000 years, he shows his true colors and attempts to seize it for himself. It’s up to Milo and friends to stop him.

Why I bought it:

In 2001, this was the best animated movie I had seen since 1999’s sublime The Iron Giant.

It’s a 50’s style sci-fi adventure movie in the vein of 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Journey To The Center Of The Earth, beautifully animated in top shelf Disney style, with fascinating, almost geometrical designs (notice the fingernails of all the characters are like diamond wedges) and conceptual work by Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame (particularly noticeable in the look of the gigantic Atlantean guardians).

While it doesn’t have the emotional impact of The Iron Giant, it’s exciting and nostalgic in the same way, and there’s not a musical number in sight (but a great evocative age of discovery score), something refreshing in animated movies at the time, and a daring if sadly unsuccessful experiment by Disney.

The voice work is all top notch too. The character animations perfectly compliment the actors’ styles, mimicking even their body mannerisms at times (particularly in the case of Milo/Michael J. Fox). Aside from the stars and the swan song performances of the always great Jim Varney and Florence Stanley, the minor characters are diverse and interesting to watch.

As a history buff, I was particularly impressed by all the cool background stuff casually dropped in the character of the African American Dr. Strongbear Sweet, who mentions growing up on an Indian reservation with a father in the famous 10th Cavalry (The original Buffalo Soldiers) and being present with the Rough Riders at the charge up San Juan Hill (the 10th was also at San Juan Hill). “I’ve got a sheepskin from Howard U and a bearskin from Old Iron Cloud.”

How cool is that?

Every frame of this movie displays an obvious love of craftsmanship and design. The movie is packed with period detail and seamlessly mixes real technology with fantastic steampunk-y inventions. Besides the Nautilus-esque submarine, I particularly liked the truck with a catapult that launched the motorized one man gliders.

In addition, the Atlantean stuff is superbly well realized, from the architecture and the retro-tech flying machines based off the sleek designs of sea creatures, right down to the invented language (there’s a neat little short on the development of that on the DVD special features).

Rourke is like Gaston’s abusive father.

I’ve heard complaints about the story and single dimensionality of the characters. I didn’t see it personally. It’s a fun movie, action packed. The good guys are likable and relatable and the bad guys (particularly James Garner, who even pitches his beautiful lieutenant off a balloon to her death to lighten the load) are suitably ruthless. There are even a number of permanent deaths (including a whole slew of gas mask wearing red shirts) which really surprised me at the time.

As in all good adventure movies, the stakes are necessarily high.

Best bit of dialogue:

Most of Jim Varney’s dialogue cracks me up. He reminds me of a John Ford stock character. The one I keep thinking of is after an attack on the camp by fireflies (literally giant flaming flies). Cookie gets singed in the backside and drops trou, declaring;

“Dang lightning-bugs done bit me on my sit-upon! Somebody’s gonna have to suck out this poison. Don’t everybody jump up at once.”

Best scene:

Actually the entire climactic sequence takes the cake for me.

After Princess Kida melds with the power source of Atlantis (alternately described as living and sentient and as the collective will of all Atlanteans, but definitely containing the spirits of members of the royal family it has previously merged with) and is transmogrified into some kind of brilliant blue water elemental being, Rourke and Helga (and an army of red shirts) decide to take her to the surface and sell her to highest bidder (the Kaiser is alluded to).

Milo uses the Atlantean power crystals to get the flying machines running and takes off in pursuit with a contingent of Atlantean warriors and the rest of the mercenaries, whose consciences get the better of them after Rourke murders King Nedakah.

What follows is a thrilling subterranean aerial battle between the Atlantean craft and Rourke’s mechanical gliders, full of plasma blasts and chattering Maxim machineguns, and ending with an explosion that immolates the paralyzed Helga and sends a crystallized Rourke (he is transformed horribly by a scratch from one of the power crystals) smashing into the fan of a crashing balloon.

The explosion also triggers a dormant underwater volcano which threatens to envelop Atlantis, until Princess Kida calls on the power source to activate a series of gigantic mystic stone automatons which rise from their 8,000 year slumber to erect a protective energy shell over the city against the avalanche of magma.

It’s a sweeping, exciting sequence in the tradition of the best kind of pulpy adventure.

Would I buy it again? Yes. Also of note, Disney intended to produce an ongoing television series involving Milo and Kida (and the good mercenaries) searching the globe for Atlantean artifacts. After the movie flopped at the box office, these plans were abandoned, and the three produced episodes were put together and released as Atlantis 2: Milo’s Return. It’s too bad the show didn’t go through, because the three episodes are enjoyable excursions to different parts of the globe and delve into different mythologies (native American and Norse). The first episode involves a seaside town that makes a bargain with a sea monster – it’s EXTREMELY Lovecraftian in tone, an obvious homage, particularly when you consider the excised end postscript scene (which is still viewable on the DVD special features), which features a woman asking her unseen baby for a hug and having a wormy tentacle emerge from the bunting!

NEXT IN THE QUEUE: Attack The Block