Good news for lovers of classic Star Trek! New classic episodes are in production and frankly they are better than the original series. The bad news is that they are so slavishly faithful to the original series, so sixties in tone and mindset that they just remind you of how bad the original series actually was.
Recreations of Star Trek, mostly made by amateurs in someone’s basement, have been around nearly since the series kicked the bucket in 1969. Fans had to do something to get their Star Trek kicks, so they made their own costumes, built their own amateur plywood sets, got out their Super 8 cameras (the more moneyed used 16mm) and boldly went badly where no amateur knockoff had gone before. Decades passed and the technology matured. Special effects crept in, and films were shot on video. They could often be found in backrooms at Star Trek and science fiction conventions. If you knew someone who knew someone maybe you got a hold of the videotapes. Curiously, some of these fan efforts were quite good; good enough that you could almost overlook that they were amateur efforts. If you were a fanatical enough Trekkie, it really didn’t matter. It beat the heck out of a fanzine.
They were amateur of course to not draw the wrath of Paramount Pictures, which owns the very profitable Star Trek franchise. Paramount occasionally went after these nonprofit endeavors anyhow, despite that these were money-losing ventures for its “producers”. Which makes the endeavor by Farragut Films and its venture capital partner Dracogen Investments curious. For they are cleverly and very deliberately knocking off the original nearly fifty year old show. They may be skirting lawsuits by filing as a non-profit corporation in the State of Maryland. The result is Star Trek Continues. It is full of Grade B actors, which would be a problem except with the possible exception of Leonard Nimoy, the original series was full of Grade B actors. No one in this casting, at least so far, is demonstrating that they are Grade A actors, but they clearly are a notch above the original cast.
If the cast seems a little too familiar, it’s because Star Trek actors have become generational. At least that’s the case with Chris Doohan, son of actor James Doohan who portrayed Chief Engineer Scott in the original series. Doohan has got Scotty down cold, perhaps because he was a wee lad when his Dad was in the original series. Actually Chris Doohan does a better job being Scotty than his father. Unfortunately, he’s not as much fun as Simon Pegg, who has portrayed him in the two most recent Star Trek movies. But he certainly looks the part.
If there is a five-year mission for Star Trek Continues, it must be to be faithful to the original source material. Just how faithful? The producers are insisting on the 4:3 camera ratio used in the original series. The same annoying music is used, and the sets seem unchanged as well in all their kitschy 1960’s glory. It has better special effects than the original series, now easily animated on a computer. It appears to that the animations are somewhat understated to be faithful to the original source material. Moreover, the actors portraying the original cast, although obsessively faithful to their mostly cardboard characters, bring a little humanity and complexity to their roles. Nowhere is it more welcome than in Vic Mignogna’s portray of Captain James T. Kirk. He may tug at his gold shirt the same way William Shatner did in the original series, but he is clearly the better actor, as are all of them with the exception of Todd Haberkorn as Mr. Spock.
All but one episode of the four episodes appears to be behind a Vimeo pay wall of some sort, but if you are a classic Trekkie that won’t be a problem. Plus, you can get your Star Trek fix! And if you really want to pretend it’s William Shatner instead of Vic Mignogna portraying Captain Kirk, just squint your eyes a bit. You may find though that you prefer the new cast. You may also find that both the original series and these four recreations kind of suck, at least in comparison to the much better produced and acted Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In the episode you can watch for free, “Pilgrim of Eternity”, you also get an actor from the original series: Michael Forest, who played Apollo in the “Who Mourns for Adonais?” in its second season. Apollo has gotten a little chunky, not to mention gray, but Forest does a good job of reprising his role more than forty years later. Actually, the eighty-something actor does a better job, in that he seems far more human than god-like.
So classic Trek fans, no more excuses. You have four more episodes to enjoy and if you watch them you will help fund more of them, so get watching and tell your Trekkie friends. For me, despite the better acting, one episode was enough. Star Trek the original series was revolutionary for the late 1960s, but oh dear God, it seems so dated in 2013. It’s become a lost art form hard to appreciate, like minstrel shows. New Trekkies looking at the original series or this incarnation are doubtless asking themselves how it achieved such a cult following in the first place. Frankly, the original series deserved a civil burial, not more episodes.