To Boldly Go Where Shatner Went Before…

Star Trek fans can’t get enough of their favourite show. There are ten movies, 600 episodes, a gazillion novels, a bunch of comics and now they’ve started making their own; a group of Trekkies based in Maryland, U.S.A. are filming a Trek series called “New Voyages”.

It’s not the first time that fans have taken things into their own hands. Trekkies have a tradition of writing their own stories that goes back to the original voyages of the Starship Enterprise. They distributed their efforts through clubs, then the convention circuit and now the Internet. The more extreme ‘fen’ (the fannish plural of ‘fan’) are notorious for dressing up like their idols, forming alien factions and singing folk songs in Klingon.

“New Voyages” is something of a departure. Filmed with high resolution digital cameras on replica sets, this series takes off where the original Star Trek ended. Playing out the fan fantasy of being the guys on-screen, a plucky bunch of Trek-nerds have recast themselves as their heroes, facing the same jeopardy, saying the same lines, wearing the same lycra jerseys and ill-fitting trousers as the original Captain Kirk, Mr Spock and Dr “Bones” McCoy.

Following three weeks of principle photography in August, the crew spent four months in post-production editing, scoring and adding CGI space scenes to the first part of their masterwork. The resulting episode, “Come What May”, was released at www.5yearmission.com on the 17th of January 2004. The makers claim that over a million people have downloaded their hard work so far. And the verdict?

While the level of effort that has gone into this production is evident in every single frame – from the money shots of a computer generated Enterprise to the last stitch on every uniform – what’s missing is real creativity. This is Star Trek with Asperger’s Syndrome; an autistic space opera. It’s what a school play would be like if you got all the kids who are good at maths to write, produce and act in it.

Like a dog chasing its tail, the fan community has been quick to comment on the efforts of their peers. Though much of it has been positive, they’ve treated “Come What May” just like any other episode of Star Trek – pedantically pointing out continuity errors, seeking trivial background information about minor characters and making metanarratives of their own from the information on screen.

“Why is Chekov manning the navigation station if he’s now Chief of Security?” asked one respondent, pointlessly. “I guess the new transporter effect could be chalked up to ship upgrades,” he continued before observing that “there are no big alphanumeric characters on the consoles – they should have stuck to Michael Master’s classic blue prints”.

Other fans concentrated on more pressing matters. “The appearance of the cast detracted from my enjoyment somewhat,” moaned one of them, “Some of the guys had noticeable paunches and while none of the ladies were unattractive ‘per se’, I expect higher standards of beauty” he said, presumably while sucking down his third breakfast burrito of the morning. Others commenting on the spectacular height of Kirk’s quiff were told it was there for a good reason; the actor playing him is an Elvis impersonator. “These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, thang you very much,” he doesn’t say in the opening credits. So far, there’s been no explanation why the actor playing ‘Scotty’ did so with the same ‘Irish’ accent Tom Cruise has in ‘Far and Away’.

Viewers posting their own reviews at 5yearmission.com and other Trek fora had a unique opportunity to get into a direct dialogue with the program’s makers. Like them, Jack Marshall, New Voyages’ writer and director is a fan – but now he’s that most scary of all things; a famous fan. “Space; it is indeed the final frontier,” writes Jack on his Web site, sounding more like the Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons than a three dimensional person, “In order for humanity to survive, we must one day reach for the stars and spread across the galaxy leaving greed and all our plagues behind,” hopefully remembering not to spread our greed and plagues to the rest of the galaxy in the process. “We humans are explorers,” Marshall continues, carefully making the distinction between exploring and none exploring species, like porcupines, “We came from the stars, and to the stars we will return”.

Reality check here. Lest we forget, Jack is a (probably quite agreeable) 37 year old guy from Maryland who’s made a video with a bunch of his friends and put it on the Internet. He’s not the President of the United States. He’s not Captain Kirk. He is, however, donating any profit that is made from this venture to the Space Shuttle Children’s Trust – set up in memory of those who died when the shuttle Columbia disintegrated during its descent to Earth on the first of February 2003. So, by all means, take the piss out of Jack Marshall. Giggle at the wooden acting and the script that could have been stitched together by Bonobo monkeys – but marvel at the incredible attention to detail that has gone into making this thing and donate a few dollars to the good cause before clicking on to the next link. It would be the logical thing to do.

Internet, TV and Film

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