Star Trek: First Frontier is an ambitious, full-length, fan-produced film focusing on Robert April, the first captain of the original USS Enterprise. The fan film, with over 900,000 views on YouTube since it was released month, strikes many of the notes that made Star Trek: The Original Series so special. And even though Star Trek: First Frontier is not exactly a bases-loaded home run, it swings for the fences with such gusto—including building an 11-foot model of the USS Enterprise for visual effects shots—that it’s impossible not to love it. This production was not crowdfunded, but it still breaks many of the fan film guidelines set out by CBS in recent years. However, as its principal photography was all completed before the guidelines were set in place, the team behind it hopes that the movie is “grandfathered” in as a result.
“Even when you were in diapers, you used to look at the night sky, and talk about those distant stars and galaxies, and tell me how far they were away. You read all about it in your science book. You’d say, when I’m grown up, they won’t be so far”
– John April
Star Trek: First Frontier follows Captain Robert April as he returns from a dangerous mission in which he saved the lives of dozens of his crewmates, but all he can see in his mind’s eye are the people he was unable to save. The guilt of it manifests as a post-traumatic stress disorder, and though he puts up a strong front, he does not feel able to return to the stars that have drawn him onward since he was a child. “I am broken!” April says to his wife, Sarah. “I am not the man I once was! I have no idea how to be that man again.”
But April is pressed back into service by a series of attacks by the mysterious alien race, the Sa’ryn: bug-eyed, ’50s sci-fi-style monsters whose only motivation is destruction. “They have evolved to be cruel,” one character explains. “To become more vicious, to terrorize. That is what they do.” The Sa’ryn have been awakened from hibernation by Starfleet explorers and have taken some officers captive, including April’s sister. April is enlisted to take the newly built Enterprise out to find and rescue the hostages and to figure out how to stop the Sa’ryn’s deadly rampage through the galaxy.
There’s a lot to love in First Frontier. The project was the brainchild of director Kenneth Smith, who penned the story but instead of casting himself in a lead role, brought in a number of professionals. Robert Pralgo (The Vampire Diaries) plays Robert April as an intelligent but tormented man, learning to come to grips with his limitations. Tara Ochs (Nashville) is fantastic as Sarah April, a brilliant doctor who loves her husband but cannot figure out how to give him the help that he needs. The standout performance is by veteran character actor Barry Corbin (Northern Exposure). In the small role of April’s father John, he gives Robert the folksy inspirational speech that reignites his passion for space. However, other performances are on an uneven par, as with other fan productions.
The costumes are superb, looking like a gentle upgrade to the uniforms from “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before” without being a complete redesign. The sets are convincing, for the most part duplicating the pilot-era Enterprise interiors in excellent detail. The cinematography is solid with the exception of a few out-of-focus patches, taking a cue from Jerry Finnerman’s iconic imagery from TOS but dialing down some of the colors to suit a more modern palette. The score is borrowed directly from James Horner’s compositions for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, which at points seems to handcuff the action, as though the film was shot and cut to match the existing score rather than the other way around.
Some of the effects shots are fantastic. The 11-foot Enterprise model looks gorgeous, and even when Smith had to fall back on digital effects to speed up the production, many of the CG elements are quite convincing. In other spots, the film betrays its made-on-a-shoestring budget, with most of the matte effects feeling quite rough. There are a number of awkward edits, and at times characters and ships show up in places with little explanation, and April seems to make the same realization several times during a short stretch of story. The sound mix is annoyingly distracting, with the music and sound effects at times so overwhelming that you can’t hear the dialogue at all.
But every fan film is a learning experience, and this one was made with a lot of love and a metric ton of ambition. I wish the Sa’ryn had more of a motivation than their “all will die” motto indicates. At its best, Star Trek shines by having alien races embody some aspect of human culture that Starfleet’s encounters with them can explore. The script includes a number of action set pieces, but resolving them doesn’t necessitate any growth on the protagonist’s part, making them feel episodic rather than integral.
Still, Star Trek: First Frontier captures a lot of the love of exploration and discovery that TOS built into the DNA of the Star Trek Universe from the very beginning. When Captain April invokes a blessing over the Enterprise in the film’s closing minutes and the ship heads out into the great unknown, any Star Trek fan will feel a sense of satisfaction and anticipation for what lies ahead. “The Good Lord has seen fit to provide us with plenty of stars to sail by. May he also see fit to provide a strong wind in our sails and safe passage on our journeys.”
Make it so.
Watch Star Trek: First Frontier
Behind the scenes on First Frontier
Ever since seeing the Star Trek: The Animated Series episode “The Counter-Clock Incident,” First Frontier producer Kenneth Smith has been fascinated with the character of Captain Robert April. Before Kirk, before Pike, April was the one who took the original USS Enterprise out of drydock for the very first time. What struck Smith so deeply about the character was his sense of deep satisfaction with his life. “When [he was] given the opportunity to relive that life, he turned it down. That always fascinated me,” Smith said. “I knew he must have had some amazing stories to tell to be that satisfied with his life with Sarah. He would be the first married Captain.”
His interest in the character led Smith to ultimately create this 80-minute fan film, detailing his version of April’s first voyage aboard the Enterprise. When his attempt at crowdfunding the movie failed, Smith decided to pay for the production himself, pursuing a seven-year journey step by step. Along the way, Smith collected some impressive talent for the production, including a moving opening narration by Nichelle Nichols.
And his passion for The Original Series led Smith to attempt what no other fan production has done: construct a full-size, physical 11-foot model of the original Enterprise herself and shoot the visuals with old-school model photography techniques.
For more on this project, visit the official Facebook Page.
Keep up with the news and analysis of Star Trek fan productions at TrekMovie.com.
I guess there are no black or brown people in April’s world. Star Trek is a bout diversity, I guess they forgot that!
No need to bring up race but talk all you want.
Black lives matter
Haha I noticed that too but they do have a token Asian even though they make up nearly 40 percent of the earth’s population. Actually my comment is half tongue in cheek, because this is a fan film and I assume the makers are using their enthusiastic friends and family for the cast. Good work to actually get this off the ground and sincere congrats on the overall look and feel. I will have to check it out when I get a change. I enjoyed many of the other fan films based on TOS and I expect to do the same with this one.
The article notes they cast actual actors, not just their friends and family. Either way, could have brought in some non-white members of the fandom.
How do we know they didn’t try?
You didn’t even watch it. Some important characters are not white at all.
I would love to see a fan film where there’s only one token white guy. That’s way closer to what the real future will look like.
They’re on their own ship. Stupid comments beget stupid comments
Yeah, it’s a super-white cast, which is quite sad.
Is that really what you took away from this? No black or brown people? It must be exhausting going through life obsessed with the colour of someone’s skin or what’s between their legs. I pity you.
Now THAT was a stupid reply.
Came here to say this. Representation is important especially in Star Trek projects.
You must really hate when people talk about racism.
The first voice heard is that of a proud woman of color.
Sometimes you make a fan film with a group of friends, maybe just maybe you don’t have friends of every ethnicity (Hey maybe we should have a “Friends diversity act” and have quotas to full fill). My opinion is: If you need to bring up colour, … you are automatically racist or full of prejudice. Colour shouldn’t matter, no matter on which side of the colour spectrum you are. Also, SJW are known to draw the victim card when they run out of arguments.
But it’s Star Trek. Diversity is explicitly a mandate in casting. It’s a fan production, the alien is a non-white actor, there’s an African American playing a minor role as a crewman and Nichelle Nichols graces the opening in VO, but I feel zero shame for noticing halfway through that the rest of the cast is white. This reverse racism psychology some people try to pull to attack inclusion efforts is not productive.
For a production where they actually were able to cast many roles with professional actors, that has to be seen as an unfortunate misstep IMO. It’s not the end of the world, and not something we need to dwell on out of all the wonderful things they managed to do so passionately, but it’s a valid thing to note.
I agree. It seems like a very unfortunate example of unconscious bias based in who the creators know, their social circle.
I have to say that one of the first thoughts I had was “Where in the United States was this made?”
That cast doesn’t look like any crowd I see in urban Ontario where I live or where I grew up on the west coast – and I’m leaving aside the city of Toronto which is more than half BIPOC.
I expect someone from London, or Birmingham or Manchester would say the same.
So, it not just that it’s not reflecting Star Trek’s representation and values going back to TOS, it just doesn’t look like reality to me.
Star Trek is not solely about diversity. It’s about the human adventure. Don’t lose sight of the message just because there weren’t enough colored people to alleviate to satisfying your wokeness.
I don’t think that wokeness has anything to do with my sense that this doesn’t even look like my suburban Canadian high school or university classes in the 70s and 80s, let alone the demographic of our kids’ schools today.
WOW. You must be a boomer.
“Colour shouldn’t matter, no matter on which side of the colour spectrum you are.”
If you’re white, you are absolutely right. Your color does not matter as it is reflected everyday in nearly everything you see.
If you are not white, then color does matter because you seldom see persons of your color, and when you do many times these images are negative.
“Color not mattering” is a very convenient world view for those who are not people of color. For the rest of us color matters ALL THE TIME because it is the first thing people note about us.
Wrong person to reply to, but I agree!
LOL it never ceases to astound me that somebody can be the type of person to unironically use the term “SJW” and be a Trekkie.
Agreed. And for some reason the “Wrath of Khan” soundtrack which takes you out of the world on the first note.
Lt Tai is of latin decent and in a same sex relationship, there is the asian guy, and that one female is clearly Andorian. Get your shit straight before you start bitchin’
I’d like to take the Andorian and the counselor to Risa.
World War 3 (2026 – 2053)
Asians and Black Africans were the highest percentage of races killed in Star Trek’s War World Three… This would explain the limited number of those races throughout the Star Trek universe.
Again, it’s a fan production, so they aren’t bound by canon to inform any decisions they make, but that’s not only not canon, but also suuuuch a stretch, especially in 2020.
We don’t need an in-universe explanation to justify why the TOS guest roster is almost entirely Caucasian. We know the unfortunate real world reasons but at least TOS had a groundbreaking regular cast, despite never giving Uhura and Sulu enough to do.
OH PLEASE. No one is buying that crap.
Perhaps similarly to the Klingons their appearance has somehow changed in this century, or they have self segregated to a distant corner of the Galaxy.
They always do. I never watch these crappy fan films, they always try to live in the past. Just looks horrible.
Would you have said the opposite if had been an all non-white cast?
This deserves to be canon.
I like what’s in here. Fan films are not like the real thing but this one shines on its own.
No. No fan films “deserve” to be canon. That’s not how this works.
I thought these things weren’t allowed beyond a certain length anymore.
It said it was made before CBS changed the guidelines.
It does say that, doesn’t it? Right there in the first paragraph. Not sure how I missed that!
Being filmed prior to the guidelines, doesn’t supersede it having to follow the current guidelines. I suspect this will start being pulled down pretty soon. How hard would it have been to break it up into 4 20 min episodes instead of skirting the guidelines Cbs/ paramount have instituted.
Actually I believe it does.
If ViacomCBS had any issues, they would have pulled it by now – it’s been 6-7 weeks. The “guidelines” are just that “guidelines” and every film is a case-by-case basis if it crosses any. This film was self funded, shot 5 years ago before the deadline,runs 90 or so minutes, and has several professional actors – there’s 4 points – but ViacomCBS has done nothing. Trust me, ViacomCBS knows about this film, and has for some time.
But then there are several active fan film series domestic and international that breaks the “series” rule in the guidelines and ViacomCBS has done nothing about them either. Again, “Case-by-Case”.
Remember, the guidelines were put in place by a CBS and Paramount THAT NO LONGER EXISTS – it’s now ViacomCBS with most of the people who were there when the guidelines were in place now gone.
Perhaps it’s time for the current ViacomCBS to clarify the status of the guidelines.
The guidelines would only allow two 15 minute episodes if I recall. Luckily, this was filmed before and they could release it as intended.
It was shot before the guidelines. If ViacomCBS wanted to do something about it, they would have by now.
Phase 2’s last episode was also filmed prior to the restrictions and that has yet to see the light of day. How are these people getting away with this?
Phase 2’s last ep still had work to be done on it that couldn’t be done after the hammer dropped. Even says so on their website
Actually, it was the last 3 in various states of completion.
P2 is run by a bunch of cowards who kowtowed to CBS in order to license their sets as a for profit museum attraction.
That was a childish, uninformed and stupid response.
Childishly expressed, perhaps, but their “museum” is a re-creation and NOT a curated institute acquiring 1960s era artifacts and restoring them.
Their license is pretty much the same commercial type Universal Studios got to sell tickets to watch select fans make and be in a Trek “episode”.
And now they are adding the TNG Bridge to the “museum”…
Not sure what the point of building a physical miniature is when you light and comp it in such a way that it LOOKS like it is whole-cloth CG. And that’s coming from a huge fan of miniatures. Really wish they had the TOS strong keylight look in the exteriors. I just spent a couple minutes skimming through, haven’t actually watched all of any single fan film in my life. The guy playing April seems to have some gravitas, that’s something anyway.
I suspect the poor lighting was done precisely for the look you fingered, as they likely anticipated eventually resorting to CGI which the article mentions?
Wow, pretty cool that some fans take their enthusiasm to an extreme and we get to watch the fruits of their hard work. I really liked many of the other TOS fan films on YT. The look of this fan film is great and I look forward to checking this one out sometime when I get the chance.
The one pet peeve I have with the fan films (and I know many will say it is ridiculous haha – guilty as charged) is that according to a network memo from the 1960s both TOS producers Gene and Bob Justman made it quite clear that the delta insignia was to be worn by all starfleet personnel regardless of the ship they served on. I know this was never corrected on the TOS shows and each ship and starbase had a unique insignia, but I am happy that the prequels like Discovery are adhering to that intent and going forward it would be nice to see the fan film prequels do the same.
A for effort, the review sums up my impressions from skimming it as well. Just a shame they couldn’t enlist an audio engineer to donate his time – sound mix is the biggest issue.
Yeah. The score is way too loud – and, maybe it’s just because I listened to the Horner scores so many times as a kid, but the music is distracting and doesn’t really fit here.
I know it’s a fan film with a limited budget, but everything else is so well-done that the sound/music really stand out.
Back when i was 12 or 13, i read Diane Carey’s classic ‘Final Frontier’. It remains perhaps my very favorite Star Trek novel, and defined my perception of April.
‘First Frontier’ offers a completely different take — but as regards the Enterprise family, it’s fully as convincing. I watched it once, and then again, about a month ago… It is actually a very satisfying view; not easy when all we’ve got is a TAS episode with the Aprils and few other canon references.
This felt like a feature-length pilot, and follows in the footsteps: the fresh-out-of-spacedock ship (‘Broken Bow’); the sensitive and mysterious mission as impetus (‘Caretaker’); the troubled, reluctant hero that has no desire for the job (‘Emissary’). With the Nichols voiceover, there’s even a sort of cameo from some preceding luminary.
But in many ways, it has the most to do with TMP and ST09. Both function primarily to introduce us to the ship and to get the crew together on the bridge at the end. In that regard, the central conflict — the story that gets the Enterprise family together — is really secondary.
And that’s fortunate, as the central conflict story is pretty nowhere. But, well, that too follows in the footsteps of TMP and ST09.
OK, the balancing of the sounds and music and dialogue are a mess. Ditto for some of the editing, visual effects, and so forth. It’s annoying, and the sound issues are a relatively simple fix.
When i realized that they were using just the Horner Trek scores, i worried that it would be too conspicuously ‘Horner-scored films’ derived. But that quit bothering me early, and overall they did a nice job. (On these fan-film productions, i always wish for fresh music — but low budgets force hard choices. They did a nice job with Horner here.)
But Star Trek is ultimately about people; and it does it best, accordingly, when it has a big heart. And ‘First Frontier’ has plenty of heart. The writing job on the characters was quite good.
And, in common with the feature-length pilots earlier, i found myself eager to see more of this crew…
… and, yes, that fabulous 11-foot Enterprise model!
Obviously we won’t get that (thanks very much, CBS), but it’s a satisfying trip.
Quick addendum RE feature-length pilots… April leaning forward and ‘Let’s see what’s out there,’ recalls (or anticipates) Picard at close of ‘Encounter at Farpoint’.
Oh just read your post, agreed on Final Frontier.
That story flowed so well, it will always to be me the first mission of the Enterprise, granted as the unnamed Empress at the time. Even the discussion between George Kirk and April on naming the ship rang true.
That story has such good flow…. wish someone would make it into a film!!
This film does have a few rough spots. But the script is good, the performances by the lead actors are top notch, and the film has heart. It’s clearly a labor of love and I very much enjoyed watching it.
I am going to watch and I am sure I am going to love it, but I got to say, why wouldn’t you make a fan film of Diane Carey’s Final Frontier?!?! That was easily among the best Trek stories ever that captures all the good in Trek in one amazing adventure.
“Final Frontier is the story of a secret mission gone horribly wrong–and a moment in time when the galaxy stood poised on the brink of one final, destructive war. And it is the story of a legendary ship–and a man we know as the father of Star Fleet’s greatest captain.”
Had Robert April as the pacifist explorer that knew he needed Kirk’s Dad aboard (security officer/military) in a universe before both could co-exist in a JTK type.
And it had great situational comedy and amazing starship combat.
“I am going to watch and I am sure I am going to love it, but I got to say, why wouldn’t you make a fan film of Diane Carey’s Final Frontier?!?!”
Well that’s pretty simple, for copyright reasons. Making a fan film is one thing, using an official story can probably get you into real trouble with the company and probably cut you off from making future films.
You’d think you’d be able to get a free sign off given it would sell more novels I bet.
My preference though – CBS uses that awesome 1701 set and does it officially.
Well you can say that about every Star Trek novel. ;)
And it doesn’t stop CBS or Paramount from making an OFFICIAL movies/shows dealing with novels, but never done it. Many fans thought Picard might be about the Destiny novels that fans seem to love but sadly didn’t happen. Those I heard a lot about as well.
incredible. thats passion and love for trek. love it.
Great review – absolutely hit the nail on the head from what I had noted while watching it. It’s good to enjoy a TrekMovie article thoroughly again.
The sound mix was very off at times, especially where music was concerned. Some of the effects appeared as if they still needed work here and there.
My biggest gripe were the design of the aliens. They looked as if they should have been in season 2 of Lost in Space…
This is no way meant to detract from the overall of the film.
The story and acting were stellar.
With what they had, the end result is a testament to what can be done with so few resources.
The Enterprise model looks gorgeous. I would love to see them take on a build of the TOS production version.
The bridge was likewise amazing.
Does anyone know if they have plans for anything else Trek related?
Also, do they have anything other than Facebook page?
This was good, some scenes were a little fake,but still good only comments are the
Men are too bulky for Starship personal & Captains.
Other than effects, seem correct,as too
the people of color things, there was a few
Granted ( Asian, Hispanic, black, and of course aliens (blue, black, yellowish, but no
Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans.
Still guest, stars was very nice to see and hear(Beginning dialogue).
A well made efforts, for a independent
Film feature, fascinating!!
This is what frustrates me with Star Trek cannon. I have read books on the series, listened to audio books and i have seen all the episodes and movies for the entire franchise. The story about first contact has been depicted and described several different ways… Johnathan Archer was depicted as the original captain in stories that claim that the first enterprise was a top secret project. This was enforced by the Enterprise series… I am a Trekkie at heart but I wish there was more control over the cannon like there is in Star wars.
Anything that is not in television and movies is generally considered “not canon”. The exception is some of the comics were considered Kelvinverse canon, but even that may not be the case if filmmakers or show runners decide to do different things in the shows or movies.
The reason for this is that there is `’fandom.” Star Trek was saved not necessarily by it’s creator – but by legions of fans who wrote their own stories and self-published them. That spirit of possibilities is what has always permitted different takes in the “official” published Star Trek literature. Now, 50 years later, it’s also true in fan made films and even in official “pocket universes” which give alternative takes on familiar stories.
Nx-01 was the first enterprise or did they forget there was already a series about that with Capt. Archer, which I might add, was quite fabulous!
While you are correct….Archer was the 1st captain of “an Enterprise” which was an NX class starship… in a non-federation state. Capt April was the 1st captain of the Constitution Class NCC class starship under the Federation…
A kind review for a well-intentioned attempt at Star Trek.
Got to respect their passion.
Just can’t sit through these fan films though. But thats OK I guess lol
Star Trek Continues is worth a watch as a whole.
I would love to see another production with this cast and crew if they learn lessons from this one:
Boy you guys were right about the sound mixing, holy moly.
Other than that, interesting story and overall looks pretty solid, except for those birds flying over San Fran 😂
It is a good film. Watched half and really enjoying it.
I Love this fan Star Trek episode! My only criticism was that Captain April needed to shave. But his acting was superb! (I did 22 years in the US Navy so seeing officers unshaven is taboo in my world!) Bravo Zulu.
I agree. April should have been clean shaven. I understand that the producers/creators were going for the “seasoned” , “battle weary” look. But an officer should always be clean shaven.
The production was really great for a fan film. Yes, things could have been better regarding special effects and such, but on their budget? Impressive.
The special effects explosions and such were very crude, like something I used to do in the mid-90’s on my own video editing. Outside of that, they made a darn good try, but the story was loose and the interpersonal relationship drama fell flat. I don’t blame the actors. I blame the writing. If the personal drama doesn’t aid the story, then don’t have it.
I think the whole essence of Star Trek was completely missed in this fan film.
With very, very poor special effects and some awful editing and camera work it is nothing short of cringe worthy. I had to stop watching it 3 times it was so bad and then continue at a later time or date to complete the agony.
The writers have attempted to create an all action, unknown aliens are evil, plot and yes most of the cast was white. Although there was one Asian, Hispanic and African American officers in the film this didn’t do enough to show how diverse the Star Trek universe is.
Even the title sequence was a bit of a nightmare, with the stuttering U.S.S Enterprise attempting to flash across the screen, reminiscent of The Original Series opening credits.
I guess this fan film is ideal for Halloween!
Is it me, r is the deflector dish too big?
Thoroughly enjoyed this!!I I really liked the plot and especially the actors..they did an outstanding job. I always wonder what it’s like, from the perspective of a young actor who didn’t grow up with TOS, to wear makeup and costumes and perform on sets that are all replicas of a 50 year old sci show. It’s got to be a hoot!
The not so good” Yeah, the STII music was distracting for me as well. Wish they would’ve gone with TOS and it yes, was a bit loud in parts. Even with the imperfections though, you can tell it was from made from the heart and that one heck of a lot of work went in to it.
Cheers mates! Thanks for entertaining me for a bit!
I really hope the production team would consider trying to find someone to properly score this fan film. It deserves as much. It looks really good. The current soundtrack though, I just can’t sit through the movie with the wrath of Khan soundtrack. :( It’s so overused. Surely there were other options.
Sorry, but even the opening credit sequence is horrible. All the ships look really bad and don’t know how to fly.
Well, it’s a fan film…..
Really impressive. Good “final” contribution to the fanon of TOS-inspired fan films that bridged the era between ENT and DSC.
The use of the TWOK score is a tad off, they should have used 50s and 60s style scifi scores instead. The movie looks like a true TOS prequel with throwbacks to 50s invasion flicks. The score is off.
But nonetheless really awesome…
This is so highly unwatchable bad.
It actually makes STD look good…which is not meant as a complement.