Coming in just under the wire, today the fan series Star Trek Phase II released their first (and only) episode of the year (and their first since changing names from New Voyages). "Blood and Fire, Part 1" has generated a lot of buzz for its controversial subject matter, but is it also good Star Trek? TrekMovie weighs in with a full review below. [SPOILERS]
REVIEW "BLOOD AND FIRE, PART 1"
Right from the start, "Blood and Fire, Part 1" shows off why Phase II is the most well-known of the fan films. The teaser throws you right into the action of a battle between the Enterprise and a Klingon warship with unrivaled effects and all the on-set antics you would want to go along with them, including plenty of classic Trek ‘everybody lean right’ moments and lots of console explosions. This is followed up with an introduction to Phase II’s new Spock, Ben Tolpin, who immediately shows the calm competence we expect from our favorite Vulcan. Add to that some witty banter between Kirk (James Cawley) and Chekov (Andy Bray) and a dramatic well-delivered concluding Kirk close-up and warning that ‘there will be consequences’ and we have what may be one of the better opening teasers all of Trek, including the ‘real’ Trek. So does the rest of the episode match up?
"Blood and Fire, Part 1" kicks off with action
Although the first act does drag a bit, director David Gerrold delivers a nicely paced episode, and even comes in a little short of normal length. This helps "Blood and Fire, Part 1" feel more like a traditional episode, unlike the previous two outings from New Voyages which felt bloated. The story of "Blood and Fire" revolves around a distress call from the USS Copernicus which appears abandoned and headed in a death spiral towards a star. In fact, the Klingons from the opening teaser seem to only be a plot device to damage the Enterprise, but perhaps they will play a bigger role in Part 2. A no-win scenario involving Kirk’s orders and his mission team on board the Copernicus is at the heart of the story, but there is also a secondary plot involving Kirk’s nephew Peter Kirk (Bobby Rice) who has joined the Enterprise crew to be closer to his husband-to-be Alex Freeman (Evan Fowler), both of whom end up on that ill-fated boarding party.
Like with past New Voyages episodes, there seems to be too much emphasis on the guest star ‘B story.’ Barely into the first act and we get a long romantic scene between these two new characters and it seemed a bit gratuitous. Although both actors put in good performances throughout the episode, but they seemed uncomfortable in the overly-long intimate scene. Call me a traditionalist, but I think Star Trek is really about Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the core crew and so it seems out of place to devote half the first act (and so much of the episode) on a romance between two new guests actors. Even if a younger version of Peter Kirk appeared in the TOS episode “Operation — Annihilate!” he is essentially a new character here. It might have worked better had the romance been with one of the regular cast, but perhaps it would be a bridge too far making of the core bridge crew Star Trek’s first gay character.
Kirk’s Nephew (Rice) and his boyfriend Freeman (Fowler)
For the rest of the episode the script from Gerrold and Carols Pedraza (based on an unused TNG script by Gerrold) flows like a Trek episode should, with a good mix of action and character moments. The pair know their Trek giving each of the cast dialog that rings true to their characters. The only exception would be the scene when Kirk is presented with the ‘Order 9’ no-win scenario and, although it raises the stakes and serves the plot of the episode, he seems un-Kirk-like in acquiescing so easily. Being that this is coming from the same writer as "Trouble with Tribbles" there is also quite a lot of good humor in the episode, although some of the jokes seemed to be uncharacteristically breaking the fourth wall, including a moment when McCoy talks about red shirts with targets on them. That being said, one of the funnier lines involves Peter Kirk invoking the name of "Mr. Sulu" during pillow talk with his boyfriend, a line made even funnier due to the real life George Takei being the only openly gay Star Trek actor from the main cast. Also, like many classic Trek episodes, "Blood and Fire" has some scary, almost horror-film, elements too it. The Regulan Blood Worms infecting the USS Copernicus deliver some frights and a (probably too over the top, but pretty cool) gross out moment. The only issue with all of this is that there is a bit of a kitchen sink feeling with the different emotions going from tension, to fright, to romance, to humor, sometimes creating awkward transitions.
Kirk (Cawley) and Spock (Tolpin) share a lighter moment
The classic weak link of all fan films is the acting, often being delivered by fans with little or no acting experience. Although "Blood and Fire" does suffer from some of this to an extent, it is probably the best outing for the troupe so far. Both John Kelley (McCoy) and Charles Root (Scotty) show marked improvement in making the characters their own and move away from imitation of the original actors. But Kelley could dial down the attitude a bit as he sometimes plays Bones classic irascibility as antagonistic. Kim Stinger also does well playing Uhura, sharing a delightful scene with Root, Kelley, Cawley and Bray, whose Chekov is sometimes better than Koenig’s original. As mentioned before, Ben Tolpin, a professional actor, is a welcome addition to the cast, who has quickly made Spock his own. "Blood and Fire" also introduced Patrick Bell who was not very convincing playing the Vulcan Lt. Xon (a character planned for the unproduced Phase II series from the 70s). As for the Captain himself, Cawley also showed improvement playing the part of Kirk, but he is always best when he is playing Kirk and not when he sometimes falls into playing Shatner playing Kirk.
(L-R) Chekov (Bray), Uhura (Stinger), Scotty (Root), Kirk (Cawley) and Bones (Kelley)
Like with "World Enough and Time" and the ‘Night in 1969’ edition of "To Serve All My Days," the effects are outstanding and in line with work you see from the ‘Remastered’ Star Trek and other current Sci-Fi TV series. Joel Bellucci and the Phase II visual f/x team have created a look that is both in line with The Original Series, but still brings new modern techniques. This not only goes for the space shots, but also small touches to the live action, like graphics added to the main view screen and our first look inside Mr. Spock’s viewer.
USS Copernicus in space…
…and in Spock’s viewer
The Phase II production continues to be top notch including everything from the sets to editing to the hair and make-up. Although there don’t appear to be any new sets, the redress of the USS Enterprise standing in for the Copernicus was very well done in giving you the sense of a different ship that is in serious distress. This episode also introduced some newly designed props (like a cool phaser rifle) as well as some genuine Phase II and TMP era uniforms (crew jumpsuits and Scotty’s radiation suit). All in all a flawless recreation of the look of Original Series, with some nice new additions befitting the transition towards the TMP era.
Peter Kirk tries out his new phaser rifle while on board the Copernicus
"Blood and Fire" ends on a big cliffhanger, leaving a lot to be resolved in the concluding part. Although there was much touting of this episode as an AIDS allegory, we only get the barest hint of that in Part 1, so perhaps that social commentary has to wait until Part 2, as will those ‘consequences’ for the Klingons who do a disappearing trick for the rest of the episode. Also coming in part 2 is the guest spot of TNG’s Denise Crosby.
All in all "Blood and Fire is another good entry from the Phase II team. The episode did start off with a bang and provided a few highlights on the way, but the rest of the episode didn’t deliver as well as the opening teaser. Although there are improvements from previous episodes, I would still rank this one as second behind last year’s "World Enough and Time," guest-starring George Takei. Regardless, I am very much looking forward to Part 2 to see how this all plays out.
What will happen to the Enterprise crewmen on board the Copernicus?
…Find out next time on Star Trek Phase II
Majel Tribute added
After the news of the death of Majel Barrett Roddenberry, the Phase II team added a short but touching acknowledgment to the beginning of the episode.