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The New Frontier

September 9th, 2008
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OK, this is my last posting having to do with Star Trek for a while — I promise!

But yesterday — believe it or not — marked the 42nd anniversary of the airing of the first episode of the original Star Trek series.  On September 8th, 1966, NBC aired “The Man Trap.”

Its a shame there’s no new Star Trek on TV these days to mark the anniversary.  But last week I spent a while talking about all the great Star Trek fiction that’s out there to be enjoyed.  Today I must add a post-script that novels haven’t been the only source of great new Star Trek recently.  The past few years have seen an explosion of Star Trek fan films across the web.  Now, a great many of these are very, very amateurish.  But there’s one that rises above the rest, and its called Star Trek: Phase II.  (The series began life as Star Trek: New Voyages).

This series is an attempt at creating a fourth season of the original Star Trek.  (The original series famously only lasted for three seasons — 79 episodes — before being cancelled.)  This is a very serious effort to produce complete, one hour (really approx. 45 minute) episodes that try to capture as close as possible the feel of 1960’s Star Trek.  (So far they have produced four episodes.)  And I must say, they get very close!  There is an extraordinary attention to detail in these productions — in the sets, the costumes, the make-up, and the visual effects.  You can tell that this is a true labor of love for everyone involved in its creation. 

What also sets this fan-film series apart from other efforts is that it has attracted the participation of a lot of industry professionals, as well as people who have been involved with official Star Trek work in the past.  Most notably, Walter Koenig (Checkov) and George Takei (Sulu) have each appeared in the series!  And not just in little wink-wink cameo roles — both have had major starring roles.  Mr. Koenig appeared in the series’ second episode, “To Serve All My Days,” an episode scripted with D.C. Fontana (who was one of the key writers for the original series).  That appearance was followed by Mr. Takei’s role in the third episode, “World Enough and Time.”  

Is the series something that looks like it could air on television?  Well, not quite.  But there is so much love on display here that its impossible to fault the series for an occasional shot or moment that seems off.  The writing is terrific and the visual effects are a LOT of fun.  (I particularly enjoyed the cat-and-mouse with the Klingons in “To Serve All My Days,” and the shots of the U.S.S. Excelsior in the future segments of “World Enough and Time.”)  And the acting — well, there are some weak spots, but not enough to dilute my enjoyment of this series.

The opening moments of the next episode, “Blood and Fire,” are available to watch here.  It’s a pretty cool combat sequence between the Big E and a Klingon warship!

The show has also leaked some images of upcoming episodes that are intriguing.  The show-runners have begun discussing their intention to begin transitioning the look of the series from that of the 60’s TV show to that of the movies — beginning to introduce new costumes, revised sets, etc.  To indicate this new direction, they actually changed the name of the series earlier this year from Star Trek: New Voyages to Star Trek: Phase II.  (Phase II was the proposed name of the new Star Trek TV series that Gene Roddenberry was working on in the 1970’s.  That series-that-never-happened eventually became the genesis for Star Trek: The Motion Picture, released in 1979.)  Now it seems that the fine folks behind this fan series are taking things one step further.  Apparently, damage sustained by the Enterprise in “Blood and Fire” will result in the ship undergoing a refit in the following episode.  Here’s what the new Enterprise will look like.  This is an intriguing combination of the classic Enterprise from the original series and the refitted Enterprise from the movies.  This is the show’s biggest leap outside the bounds of established Trek continuity — but I’m intrigued.  Can’t wait to see the complete “Blood and Fire,” as well as the other new episodes that are coming.

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