Act 2 of the Trek-celebrity-filled independent fan film Of Gods and Men (available this weekend) delivers a dark, yet fun midpoint for this long-awaited production. This second outing is stronger than the first first both technically and dramatically. Now in the heart of the story we get to see the actors (which is OGaM’s strong point) really push the edges on this different sort of Star Trek story.
The second act takes place entirely in the OGAaM alternate universe created by the actions of a vitriolic Charlie Evans (William Wellman, Jr.). The story begins with the destruction of Vulcan by a weapon of seriously mass destruction used by the evil Galactic Order. Fleeing the planet are many ships, and G.O. Captain John Harriman (Alan Ruck) brings aboard the alternate versions of Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Tuvok. A desperate escape plan by Ketrick (Walter Koenig) and Ragnar (Gary Graham) is the main narrative of this chapter, as the characters begin to realize that their feelings of déjà vu might be real.
The use of professional genre actors really helps keep you engaged in Of Gods and Men and Koenig and Nichols are certainly the highlights for Act 2. Nichols shows a sense of seriousness when required (such as in a pivotal mind-meld scene) and yet still has the compassion and ease of Uhura. Koenig is able to give his tortured alternate Chekov (also named Ketrick) sympathy and believability in a role that could easily have become cartoonish. And the scenes between Koenig and Nichols evoked past moments between the two in "The Trouble with Tribbles" and Star Trek IV, although in OGaM they were playing it for dramatic instead of comedic effect. Other guest stars also stand out. Ruck’s version of Harriman is angry and smart (clearly trying to make up for the inept Harriman of Generations). And JG Hertzler’s erratic yet imposing Koval truly feels like a different character than his more familiar Martok.
Nichols and Koenig…together again
It is probably best that Act 2 doesn’t have a lot of special effects as this allows the actors and the drama to tell the story. Although adequate (and better than typical fan films), most effects shots are still not at the level of the latest from Star Trek New Voyages (now Phase II) or your average Sci Fi Channel movie. The escape from Vulcan scenes were especially troublesome as some ships seemed as if they were made of paper, impairing the emotion of the sequence. Even when the effects are better, such as an interesting shot for the Enterprise going to warp or a nice shot of a Vulcan shuttle, the camera movements are so dramatic that they tend to bring more attention to the effects than necessary. While director Tim Russ should be complimented for making the alternative universe look and feel different, the effects need to express his ideas better.
Vulcan shuttle (from TMP) makes an appearance in one of the better fx shots
While Star Trek of Gods and Men is playing in the Star Trek mythos, it also dares to be different.Unique camera angles and the framing of actor’s faces, along with editing in an almost documentary style, provide a fresh look to the Star Trek formula, continuing the distinction of the regular and alternate universes. Again, Russ and his camera team deserve credit here. However, the New Voyages TOS sets being used by OGaM were not made for some of these modern camera techniques, resulting in the tops of sets being periodically exposed…something that can take you out of the moment pretty quickly. There are also some other technical issues with the production such as uneven sound levels, which are generally forgivable in a fan film, but would not pass for a true professional production. But for the most part the production design, costumes, make-up and hair are quite good and often rival the original television shows.
Russ likes close-ups
However, Shakespeare tells us, the play’s the thing. How is the narrative of OGaM?
Written by Ethan H, Calk, Jack Trevino, and Sky Conway from a story by all three along with Russ, the second chapter continues OGAM’s willingness to be creative within the confines of the Star Trek format. The narrative is compelling, mostly because it is willing to surprise. Act 2 really focuses on the story and tones down avalanche of continuity nuggets that at times proved more of a distraction in Act 1. The story in OGAM Act 2 also flows more naturally and makes more sense, where in the first act there were some moments of confusion that could have used some additional exposition. In fact it is recommended to re-watch the first part before Act 2 as it all fits together much better now. It appears that the OGAM team’s usage of ‘act’ is apt for each of their releases. Although both Acts 1 and 2 have definitive end points, it appears that the three parts for Of Gods and Men are really not stand-alone episodes of a mini-series but more the three acts of a single
As with the first episode, OGAM is timely, and it cannot be said that this film is afraid of providing commentary on today’s political and social concerns. The story is really asking questions about freedom and how best to maintain freedom under a tyrannical government or against an implacable foe. Dialog such as Koval’s "You must dominate, or be dominated" or Ragnar’s "It’s always the same, we fight for them and they condemn us" provide much to consider. The best moment is an argument between Uhura and Ketrick where she argues that she and Tuvok do not deserve to die, but Ketrick counters with "What have you done to deserve life!? You hide behind your righteous pacifism while others die fighting for their freedom!" The script asks tough questions about what those who complain about social ills are willing to do in a way that is reminiscent of the "Civil
Disobedience" speech of Henry David Thoreau. When talking about those who complain about social concerns, Thoreau said, "They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have it to regret." Ketrick intones the same to Uhura. It is this kind of social commentary that provides OGAM its unique status among fan films.
The stars of "Of Gods and Men" take a moment
The second act of the fan independent film "Star Trek: Of Gods and Men" will be available on March 15 at 1701 hours (5:01 EST). With the new streaming from Dragonfly, the technological problems of the first chapter seem to be solved (although the true test will be on Saturday)
For more, visit StarTrekOfGodsAndMen.com, which includes behind the scenes information and interviews.
Thanks to my wife and fellow sociologist, Mary Jo Tenuto, who contributed to this review
[EDITOR’S NOTE: I am still reviewing applications for the position of ‘FanMade’ columnist to handle future fan film news, previews, reviews. John stepped in to get this review out on time, but as soon as a new columnist is on board he can go back to playing with his toys.]