Lately, instead of filling my insomnia hours with non-American television, I've been working my way through a marathon of Star Trek fan films.
Some of them are truly awful. Bad acting, bad writing, bad sets, bad lighting, bad make-up, bad photography, and worst of all, bad sound. I can forgive a lot, so long as they just give me good sound.
Others are near-misses. The actors deliver their lines just a shade off how they should. Some of the punches and kicks in the fight scenes are telegraphed. The writers have some idea what they're doing but needed another draft (or two). The camera is almost where it needs to be, but still a few feet away from the right framing. These fan films are so close to what they should be, the film they could have been is so clear to any viewer, that the near-misses are sometimes even harder to watch than the bad ones. But I can forgive a lot with the near-misses. They're labors or pure love, and the sound is usually good.
Then you have the rare ones. The ones that make you wish those fans could turn them out more quickly. The ones that make all those hours wading through the awful ones worthwhile.
Happily -- at least for me -- Rob Caves and the people at Hidden Frontier are some very prolific fans. And they don't lack for ambition. Nearly every set is virtual, with the actors shot in front of a green screen. Which was exactly my problem with them for years. Up until somewhere around the sixth or seventh season -- yes, even fan series on the Web have seasons -- a flickering green halo surrounded every actor. It felt like watching a Trek film shot using Kirlian photography, and within five minutes, I always had a raging migraine even worse than ones I suffered during my long-ago, stressful days of living with an anorexic who also had full-blown OCD.
I would check in with their site every so often, though, always hoping they had killed that dreaded halo. And then they did. And they also learned to use virtual sets without also making everything feel claustrophobic.
The Hidden Frontier series is over, but they have several others going now. And I'm thoroughly enjoying The Helena Chronicles, which follows a Federation starship that went too far during an off-the-books mission to find a way to save another Federation starship trapped in the Andromeda galaxy. Now, the Helena and her crew are being hunted by the Klingons, the Orions, the Federation, and just about every sentient race in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants.
This fan series is great fun -- and I can forgive a lot if they give me great fun at 2 AM after I just spent 14 hours editing environmental studies and other textbooks. In fact, I can even forgive this series featuring probably the most annoying character in all of Star Trek fan filmdom, Corey Aster. I understand that Corey's husband -- yes, his husband, so to all fan film-makers, please, if you're going to be ground-breaking by using gay characters, please, don't give us one who even young Wesley Crusher would want to smack upside the head and shout, "Man up!"
Where was I? Right. I understand Corey's husband is on the Odyssey, the Federation starship trapped in the Andromeda galaxy, but I can only take so much soulful pining and whining before I also want to smack him upside the head and shout, "Man up!" (In my defense, even J.P. Tepnapa, the actor who plays Corey, has said, "He tends to create his own pity party of one before he gets out of it. If I knew him, I might slap him a few times." Now that's an actor who understands his character.)
Luckily, the rest of the show more than makes up for this. It's flat-out fun. And it also has good sound.
Their other series, which I'm enjoying even more, is Odyssey. During an overly long first episode that featured far too many "character" scenes with Corey Aster and his husband, Ro Nevin, the Odyssey finds itself trapped in the Andromeda galaxy. Sure, it sounds like Voyager, but from the second episode on, Odyssey usually ends up doing a lot more with a lot less. Ro Nevin finds himself in command with half a crew, little fuel, and thankfully, absolutely no time for the soulful pining and whining in which Corey Aster indulges.
I have a serious crush on the Romulan First Officer, Subcommander T'Lorra. She's a welcome dose of hard-headed realism to offset all that Federation idealism. At times, she even reminds me of a green-blooded Jack Bauer. And you just know she would never put up with a Corey Aster whinge-fest. She'd give him a extended time-out on a just barely M-class planetoid.
And then we have Star Trek: New Voyages, now Star Trek: Phase II.
This one is in a class by itself.
Sets and costumes so detailed they may as well have come from the Paramount warehouse. Effects that match anything Hollywood puts out. Writers from the original Star Trek contributing stories and scripts. The camera exactly where it should be. Actors from the original Star Trek, like Walter Koenig, George Takei, and even the great William Windom. As well as younger actors who almost channel the original characters. Sure, James Cawley's Captain Kirk can sometimes "out-Shatner" Shatner, but that's part of the fun. And sure, J.P. Tepnapa will be playing Sulu in future episodes, but I'm looking forward to seeing him in a role that doesn't make me want to smack him upside the head and shout "Man up!"
Their latest episode, "Blood and Fire," is even written and directed by David Gerrold. Yes, that David Gerrold. The man who wrote "The Trouble with Tribbles" and one of my favorite still-unfinished series of novels, The War Against the Chtorr.
"Blood and Fire," like all the New Voyages episodes, is well beyond a "fan" film. This is as close to a new episode of the Original Series as we'll ever get -- right down to the late-sixties NBC peacock. Just watch the opening scene below, and then tell me I'm wrong.
Now go ahead. Tell me I'm wrong.