There’s something you ought to know: Star Trek Lives! Not merely in the Rasputin-like, unkillable sense that it just won’t go away, no; rather, in the infinitely more appealing sense that the franchise torch continues to be carried even if it wasn’t passed in either the conventional or metaphorical way. More like it was found by the roadside and hoisted aloft. Vic Mignogna is our modern Prometheus, and Star Trek Continues is his flame.
Where fan fiction once existed solely in the pages of various knock-off publications, first mimeod, then xeroxed, later posted to electronic bulletin boards and newsgroups, and more recently to websites and blogs, the possibility of professionally produced television episodes and even movies is a product of both modern computer and video technology and the dedication of those sufficiently inspired to put in huge amounts of work, as well as treasure. Independently produced video might be cheap relative to studio releases, but sets, costumes, and props eat up a lot of cake, particularly when the producers are legally forbidden from earning any profit from their labour. The Paramount/Viacom/CBS behemoth are forgiving up to a point but are happy to descend like a bag of hammers when their trademarks are infringed upon. Presumably they see these independent productions as free advertising and so leave them be to tread that fine line between personal bankruptcy and bankrupting litigation.
Outside of television and theatres, Star Trek has pretty much continued its existence through books and comics, the latter of which are currently licenced to IDW Publishing. IDW’s fare are more hit than miss, from the current ongoing series adapted from the J.J. Abrams film reboot to the surprisingly effective Planet of the Apes crossover story (with Boom! Studios), Star Trek / Planet of the Apes: The Primate Directive. The ably illustrated, but altogether loopy Star Trek / Green Lantern: The Spectrum War (with DC Comics), on the other hand, is yet another reminder that while anything is possible, not everything is a good idea.
Speaking of the rebooted film franchise… There’s no doubt that J.J. Abrams and his stable of writers are very successful, and have had more than one interesting idea. The usual problem with shows such as Alias, Lost, or Fringe was a strong premise eventually undermined (sometimes sooner, sometimes later) by the addition of strange concepts, sucking out first the inner and imposed logic and then the enjoyment. He (they) have confused demanding work from their audience with being provocatively weird. When it came to the new Star Trek, while imposing a reboot in the form of a divergent time-line was clever and allowed new writers to find new ways to play with old toys, instead of waiting to devolve into the weird and illogical those issues were embedded from the outset. It’s hard not to nit-pick over the new zero to infinity warp drive that allows a sixteen light-year trip to Vulcan in a few minutes, or the God-like galaxy spanning transporter technology. Abrams has even distanced himself from elements of Star Trek Into Darkness (such as the basic plot), which bodes ill for the next film, the franchise, and pretty much anything else with which he’s involved. This will probably inform you as to when I plan to see the new Star Wars movie. Still, good things do happen; to wit: Mignogna’s Star Trek Continues.
A quick glance at Wikipedia’s “Star Trek fan productions” will tell you that there are too many of all kinds to easily or fairly list. Each has its merits and each its drawbacks but the sheer diversity, if not quantity, suggests something that will appeal to most Trek fans. Among this deluge, Continues stands apart from its peers for several reasons. A theatrical production, no matter the medium, rests upon a fine balance between script, performance, and production. Though far from perfect, Continues in general manages to strike this balance. So far as actual, ah, “Trekishness” is concerned, it is not merely an homage or pastiche of the original series but a real extension of Gene Roddenberry’s vision, something that was lost in the “real” world as Rick Berman’s Next, Post, and Pre-Generation series and films abandoned hope and wonder for endless political intrigue and military conflict, occasionally punctuated with peculiar alien spirituality. The Abrams films manage only to up the ante in this regard. The original sometimes suffered from overly maudlin or histrionic scenes so it’s natural that Continues has the same dramatic lapses, leaning more toward the former; however, as we might have done fifty years ago, we can appreciate these lapses with vague amusement as they tend not to detract from the overall production.
What you will notice, indeed what might stun you, is the attention to detail. Complete, permanent sets have been constructed based on the original blueprints, which – combined with appropriate lighting, sound, music, props, and costuming – can easily confuse you into the belief that you’re watching lost episodes from the 1960s. That is, until you see who are wearing those costumes. Performances are undoubtedly the weakest link, which isn’t to say that they’re bad, particularly the core group and, generally, guest performers. Mignogna’s Kirk is very good and continually improving; Chris Doohan’s (son of James Doohan) Scotty is above average; and Chuck Huber’s McCoy is impressive enough to rate a favourable comparison with Karl Urban’s interpretation of DeForest Kelley’s classic, curmudgeonly surgeon. The obvious problem with all of this is that of interpretation; Mignogna channels Shatner channeling Kirk, and so on. Again, the core cast does an estimable job, but it’s still an issue of copying a copy. Spock is played by Todd Haberkorn, and while his performances are good, one is never lulled into believing that they’re watching Leonard Nimoy or even Zachary Quinto playing Nimoy playing Spock. Were Continues truly its “own thing” rather than a continuation – and the actors free to fully express themselves and invent their own characterizations, including the supporting cast (Uhura, Chekov, etc.) – we might witness some novel and splendid performances but, then, we might not watch at all; we’re in it for the Trek, after all. On the other hand, as awkwardly enigmatic as former Mythbuster Grant Imahara might be, as an actor he makes a marvelous engineer. (Happily, his perhaps too earnest performances in no way detract from George Takei’s legacy.)
Another strength of the show lies in the judicious use of guest stars. This is remarkably common among fan productions, and necessarily pro bono as a means of circumventing the auspices of SAG–AFTRA. Even a WGA (East or West) approved script would likely devour so much of each episode’s budget that paying the electric bill would become onerous (if it isn’t already). It is great fun to see Lou Ferrigno as an Orion slaver or Michael Forest reprise his role of Apollo from “Who Mourns for Adonais?”, while Marina Sirtis lends her talent as the computer voice, a sort of recursive homage as the late Majel Barrett played the computer through every series and film as well as Sirtis’ Troi character’s mother on Next Generation. From out of left field, Colin Baker, better known as the Sixth Doctor, has a cameo in the fourth episode, “The White Iris”. There are many more examples; so many, in fact, that you might contrive a “spot the guest star” drinking game.
With more strengths than weaknesses, notably the excellent production (including special effects), engaging scripts, and good performances, it’s a pleasure to know that five episodes are presently in circulation with a sixth in production. The most important consideration is that Star Trek Continues maintains the heart and soul of Roddenberry’s creation: that there is hope for mankind and the future is a thing to anticipate with wonder.
For episodes and information, please see http://www.startrekcontinues.com/.