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Star Trek: Of Gods and Men

March 6th, 2009
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In case you haven’t figured this out by now, I am an enormous Star Trek fan.  But I have lamented before on this site that, for a number of years now, there haven’t been any new Star Trek TV shows or movies to entertain me.  (And frankly, I wasn’t that wild about the last two Trek movies OR the last two Trek TV series, so it’s been even LONGER since I was able to enjoy any consistently GREAT official, live-action Trek.)  However, I have been really digging Pocket Books’ recent Star Trek novel releases (just recently I reviewed the spectacular trilogy Star Trek: Destiny)… and there has been some UN-official Trek product out there to enjoy, as well, like the terrific fan series Star Trek: Phase II (which I discussed here, and I reviewed its most recent episode, “Blood and Fire” Pt. I, here).  

Today I’d like to discuss another notable Star Trek fan production, albeit one with a pretty remarkable pedigree — Star Trek: Of Gods and Men.

Inspired by the success and near-professional quality of Star Trek: Phase 2, director Tim Russ (who played Tuvok on Star Trek: Voyager) and his team have assembled a group of film professionals to produce this feature-length project (which was originally released on-line in three 30-minute installments).  In front of the camera, Star Trek: Of Gods and Men stars a rather remarkable assemblage of former Star Trek actors: Walter Koenig (Pavel Chekov), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), Alan Ruck (Captain John Harriman of the Enterprise B from Star Trek: Generations), Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand), J.G. Hertzler (Martok from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Garrett Wang (Ensign Kim from Star Trek: Voyager), Ethan Phillips (Neelix from Star Trek: Voyager), Cirroc Lofton (Jake Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Chase Masterson (Leeta from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and many others.  

A number of the above actors (like Koenig, Nichols, and Ruck) reprise their roles from the shows, while others play entirely new characters (Hertzler, Wang, Lofton, Masterson, etc.).  Either way, one of the great joys of this film is getting to see this terrific group of actors again on screen, interacting with one another and a lot of other familiar faces from the different Trek series.  Special props to actor Gary Graham, who has played a variety of roles on the different Trek series (most notably Vulcan Ambassador Soval on Enterprise) for his dynamic turn as Chekov’s partner Ragnar — it’s a small role, but it’s one of the most compelling performances of the film.

But without question the stars of the film are Koenig, Nichols, and Ruck, and they acquit themselves very well.   All three are fine actors, and as the leads they get a lot of screen-time and some meaty scenes.  Ruck completes a thorough redemption of Captain Harriman (who was depicted as a pretty pathetic figure in Generations), and his energetic performance steals every scene that he is in.  In addition to directing, Russ does a great job as Tuvok (a character who I always felt had the potential to be a lot more interesting that the material he was usually given on Voyager).  J.G. Hertlzer plays another Klingon, a new character named Koval, and he chews the scenery like nobody’s business — he’s a lot of fun to watch.  I also really enjoyed Garret Wang’s performance as Commander Garan (another new character).  I thought Wang was criminally under-utilized on Voyager, and it’s nice to get to see him have a little bit more to play here.  (A third character from Voyager, Ethan Phillips, has a very small role but is also way more entertaining than he ever was on Voyager — leading me to be even more annoyed than I already was at the way that Voyager wasted these talented actors).

In case you couldn’t tell from that cast, this is an ambitious epic.  It takes place on a variety of different planets, space-ships, and other environments.  For the most part, the production team did a great job in creating all of these different alien worlds, many of which are familiar to Trek fans (Vulcan, etc.).  It helps that a lot of time is spent on the bridge of the S.S.S. Conquerer (an alternate-timeline version of the Enterprise).  The team was able to make use of Phase 2‘s terrific Original Series Enterprise bridge sets, so those sequences all look great.  The over-all look of the film is top-notch — not quite professional, but still of a very high quality.  The make-up is great, the costumes are great.  This isn’t some slapped-together, no-effort production, by any means.

Unfortunately, the film’s script is its weakest link — it doesn’t really live-up to the potential of having all of these amazing Trek actors involved.  The story starts with an interesting idea — an old, vengeful Charlie Evans (the super-powered youngster from the early Classic Trek episode “Charlie X”) returns, and uses the Guardian of Forever to erase Captain Kirk from existence.  This creates an altered timeline in which we see the chaos that the universe has fallen into without the heroics of James T. Kirk to put things right again and again.  The galaxy is in disarray, and old friends have become the bitterest of adversaries.  But this is a familiar Star Trek idea, and the film doesn’t really take us narratively anywhere that exciting or different than any one of a dozen other Trek altered-timeline stories already have.  (See: Classic Trek‘s “The City of the Edge of Forever,” Next Gen‘s “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” DS9‘s “The Visitor,” Voyager‘s “Year of Hell” and many, many others).  As a result, once the initial excitement of seeing all of the great actors again dies down, it becomes apparent that we’re treading in familiar waters and I must admit that some boredom sets in.

There are some fun surprises as the film unfolds (the revelation of the Classic Trek character who is the big villain was great, and I won’t spoil it here), but for the most part it’s pretty predictable.  The film is also weighed down by some cheesy dialogue, and some fairly significant plot-holes.  (As an example: the film is set twelve years AFTER the events of Star Trek: Generations, even in the alternate timeline.  So it’s pretty ridiculous that all of the Federation starships look like they did back in the Original Series.  The reason for this is of course so that the production team could use the Phase 2 Enterprise sets, which replicate the look of the Original Series, but the one line thrown into the script about Federation technology having regressed is a pretty poor cover.)

I was also surprised to note that the film stumbles with its visual effects.  Perhaps I have been spoiled by the terrific visuals of recent episodes of the fan-made Star Trek: Phase 2, but I was expecting a similar quality here.  Instead, most of the space-ship effects look rather simplistic and pixelated.  The film culminates in what should be an epic space-battle, in which fleets of ships of a variety of different races converge.  But the weak effects make these sequences confusing and dull.

Am I judging Star Trek: Of Gods and Men too harshly?  Made on a tiny budget, the production team had no-where near the resources available to an actual, professional Trek episode (and CERTAINLY nothing compared to a Trek movie), so maybe I shouldn’t be holding it to professional standards.  But with such talented people involved, it seems to me that the folks behind Of Gods and Men WANT their effort to be seen as a professional-quality effort.  And after enjoying the astounding efforts of Phase 2 in producing episodes that are just-a-hair-short of being at the level of actual televised Star Trek adventures, I don’t think my standards are too high.  

So, in the end, Star Trek: Of Gods and Men isn’t quite the triumph that recent Phase 2 episodes have been.  But every single person responsible for it should still be commended for their efforts at putting together a tribute to everything they (and so many fans world-wide) love about Star Trek, in all of its incarnations.  While it won’t be something that I’ll revisit as readily as I have the last few Phase 2 episodes, if you are a Star Trek fan then Of Gods and Men is definitely worth your time to check out.  

I love that these days there are so many avenues for Star Trek stories to be told, other than just through official Paramount Pictures productions.  I really hope that all the fans and industry professionals out there who love Star Trek will continue creating Trek adventures, in whatever format they can.  I can’t wait to see what’s next.  

(And I’m still hoping that J. J. Abrams will soon show us all how it’s done with his big-budget, official new Star Trek movie opening in May!  Cross your fingers!)

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