In the interest of full disclosure I must say that I have never been a fan of the so-called Star Trek fan films. Sure I can give them credit for good effort and they seem like they are a lot of fun to do, but in the end they usually are no more impressive than community theater…and often worse. The efforts of the Star Trek New Voyages team have so far been the shining star of this lot with very impressive production design, sets, costumes and even some stunt casting, but to date they have still fallen short of being something that I could consider a professional production due to too many weak links spoiling otherwise good work. This is why I am happy to say I was pleasantly surprised after watching latest episode "World Enough and Time" starring George Takei. Although it is not without its flaws, this fourth episode from New Voyages is certainly the best Trek fan production ever made and likely the first that could quality as a truly professional production worthy of the name Star Trek.
You know you are in for something big right from the outset as the episode opens with a beautiful shot of the USS Excelsior, cutting to a scene on the bridge of Captain Sulu’s ship first seen in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. This setting with Takei’s Captain Sulu and his trusty sidekick Commander Rand (played by Grace Lee Whitney) is used as the framing device for the episode, where we soon zoom into the mind’s eye of Sulu…back to when he was the helmsman on the USS Enterprise (as portrayed by John Lim). The episode soon jumps into the action involving Romulans and a secret weapon and some explosions and some nasty interdimensional distortions. This forces young Sulu (and a certain Dr. Lisa Chandris ) to have to fly over to a destroyed Romulan ship to get some data only to lose the shuttle and have to be beamed back, but bad things happen and wammo you got yourself a 30 year older leather-clad Sulu standing on the transporter platform looking like something out of Mad Max.
Although this seems like just an excuse to use Takei, the episode is based on a Star Trek Phase II script written by Michael Reaves in the 70s which called for Sulu to be aged by the transporter. The adaptation written by Marc Scott Zicree (who also directed the episode) cleverly uses the interdimensional aging to bring in the character of Sulu’s daughter. Alana Sulu, the product of a union of Hikaru and Lisa Chandris on the planet
TCaliban [oops that was a bad typo…sorry], is an excellently drawn character who is played with a subtle charm by the alluring Christina Moses. Both the character and performance fits in the fine tradition of memorable Trek guest characters such as Amanda (Spock’s mother) or even Edith Keeler (who gets a mention in the episode). The only element that didn’t work for me was the hint at some romance between Alana and Captain Kirk, especially after she calls out the Captain for having a different girl on every planet. However, like with Edith Keeler, getting the audience to both buy into and care about this character is the key to making this episode effective.
It is to George Takei’s credit that he shares the spotlight in this episode, but where George is – he shines. Like with the previous episode "To Serve All My Days" featuring Walter Koenig, Takei truly gets a chance to show his range and give the viewers an in depth look at his character. Takei has a number of both quiet and compelling scenes with most of the major stars of the series and seems to help them raise their game. When the episode gets close to the end and Takei is faced with his "City on the Edge of Forever" moment and the veteran actor leaves no dry eye in the house.
The excellent performances of the two guest stars leads to my only issue with "World Enough and Time." One of the reasons I have never been big into the fan films is mostly to do with the acting. When you are confronted with bad acting you can no longer suspend disbelief and the magic of being engrossed disappears and suddenly you realize you are just watching a bunch of people dressed up silly pretending to be spacemen. Without a doubt this episode has the best performances ever for STNV, however when judged compared to professional productions there are still a few members of the troupe that are clearly just amateur fans who are trying their best but are not believable actors. Probably the most problematic is Charles Root who plays Scotty. He is essentially doing a bad impersonation of Doohan (who himself was ‘doing’ and accent). This wasn’t helped by the script which seemed to throw more Scottishisms at him than a Glaswegian pub. Also John Kelly who plays Doctor McCoy just doesn’t seem to have the notion of our favorite country doctor down. You don’t get any of the sense of passion that inhabits the critical ‘Bones’ character and none of the right chemistry with Spock and Kirk. On the other hand James Cawley delivers his best Kirk (and best Kirk hair) yet. He is no longer ‘doing Shatner’ and seems to be making his own way with the character while not diverting too far. Also performing well is Jeff Quinn as Mr. Spock who brings a subtleness to the character, but could work a bit more on the internal struggle that is the half human half Vulcan [NOTE: this is actually Quinn’s last episode with STNV]. John Lim is also surprisingly good as the young Sulu, but does ham it up in an emotional closing scene for the episode.
The production design for "World Enough in Time" is the best effort yet for the STNV crew. The sets were always excellent, but they have never looked better…much of which may be due to improvements in the lighting and the direction. The costumes (many of which are made by Cawley himself) are flawless…with the exception of some on the brief scenes on the USS Excelsior which seemed to use off the rack costumes and had a few continuity glitches. It was a treat to see perfect environmental suits as well as a scene in a virtual shuttle bay. Also the music, sound editing and the sound design were excellent and never took you out of the episode…as is so often the case with these types of productions. Much of the credit for getting this all together must go to Producer Cawley and writer/director Marc Zicree. The only wrinkle is that the episode seems overly long at over 50 minutes. Some of the (albeit nice) character moments seems to drag. and distract from the drama and tension revolving around the crisis of the Enterprise being destroyed by the interdimensional field.
One area of big improvement is the special effects, done by the team at the DAVE school. In previous outings the effects were far too modern to fit within the TOS sensibilities of the show. Now the barrel rolls are gone and the show fits much better, albeit still with some modern touches. The Enterprise herself is believable in both the way is lit and moves, but unfortunately not all scenes are consistent. There are a couple of instances where it appears the team could have used more time as the ship has that plastic model look. [NOTE: TrekMovie.com has been told that some of these shots will be fixed in the final version] A real delight are the new opening credits done by none other than friend of the site and digital designer extraordinaire Daren Dochterman. Daren will be supervising the next episode and working with the DAVE team and so things can only get better with regards to the effects.
In the end fans of fan films and Star Trek New Voyages are sure to be pleased. But for those like myself who have not really bothered with fan films should really give this one a chance.
"World Enough and Time" premieres Thursday night (8/23) both live in Beverly Hills (where yours truly will attend) and in a streaming event at the Star Trek New Voyages site.
Related: More info and images from STNV WEaT
UPDATE: New Streaming site for SNTV WEaT