Thursday, February 12, 2015

Star Trek at 50 - Beyond Shatner, Nimoy, & Kelley

As Star Trek begins hitting its 50 year milestones (which will culminate in the 50th Anniversary of the airing of the first episode on September 8, 2016), it seems like a good time to look at where Star Trek is today.

50 years ago, The Cage was in the can and the 11 foot model of the Enterprise had been delivered. Today we have three concurrent productions of Star Trek. Oddly enough for a franchise that started with a series that lasted only 3 years before launching a series of films, and spawning four other series with unique characters, today's Star Trek has ignored all of that. We aren't revisiting Picard, Sisko, Janeway, or Archer; it is Kirk that features in all the current productions.

Probably the most widely known are the feature films with Chris Pine playing Kirk. While they have been wildly popular, most fans of the original series have not appreciated the writing. I find the cast to be expertly chosen and they act the parts well, but the two movies they have done so far were created by people who were not fans of the original series and don't seem to understand it at all. They are more action adventure and less substance.

The other production is actually a pair. Star Trek: New Voyages and Star Trek: Phase II share virtually everything, but there are some major differences, including who plays Kirk. New Voyages is a continuation of the series. It has seen the return of Walter Koenig, George Takei, D.C. Fontana, and David Gerrold, as well as others. James Cawley both produces and stars and Kirk. Partway through production they decided to take a different approach. Before Star Trek arrived on the big screen in 1979, it was destined to return to the small screen in Star Trek: Phase II. Several scrips were written, sets were built, and work began on redesigning the ship. In the end all that got scrapped, but now Cawley and his production team are picking up a lot of those pieces. They have done two of the stories and the Enterprise has received a partial refit. Also Cawley has stepped down as actor to concentrate on production and Brian Gross has taken over the role of Kirk.

This production has been around a while. It started out with fairly low production values and has gradually increased. It has also had quite a variety in actors and features Scotty with a mustache. The writing and acting has been stellar. A far better offering that what the two movies by J.J. Abrams gave us. Chris Pine may be a fine actor, but his acting can't overcome the bad writing and questionable production choices.

The third production has been different from the beginning. Vic Mignogna has been associated both with the New Voyages/Phase II production as a director and guest star, and with Starship Farragut (where he first appeared as Kirk). Mignogna and the producers of Starship Farragut joined together to create Star Trek Continues. Starting with the vignettes, the production has striven to match the original series. The first was a remake of the last original series episode, Turnabout Intruder. While not an exact shot for shot remake, it shows how close they are trying to get. In my opinion they nailed it. Mignogna stars as Kirk, with the usual complement including Grant Imahara of Mythbusters fame as Sulu and Chris Doohan filling his father's shoes as Scotty. In the three released episodes, they have had Michael Forrest reprise his role as Apollo, Lou Ferrigno as an Orion slave trader, and Eric Grey as a Starfleet Officer. The production values match the original series and it is endorsed by Rod Roddenberry, son of Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barrett. Colin Baker is slated to guest star in their fourth episode.

For fans of the original series, Star Trek Continues is as close as you will get to that long dreamed of fourth season. Star Trek: New Voyages/Phase II is not more than a step behind. Every story out of both those productions IS Star Trek where the movies missed their mark. All three productions have new stories in the works. Episode 4 of Star Trek Continues has been filmed and episode 5 is in production. Star Trek: Phase II (as it will be know from here out) has three episodes in production at various stages. The film series is now in different hands, with Simon Pegg (Scotty) writing the third film (who happens to be friends with Chris Doohan). It gives hope the films might recover from the disaster that was Star Trek Into Darkness. What it does promise is an exciting 50th Anniversary for 2016. There will be plenty of new Star Trek and it will all feature Kirk and crew, even if the actors aren't the same. Each of these productions does the characters justice (well, we hope the new movie will succeed where the other two failed) and is a tribute to the vision Gene Roddenberry had.

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