29 May 2011 – Article has been updated with some additional info. You’ll find it in the Addendum section at the bottom of this page.
STAR TREK:OF GODS AND MEN
It is really easy these days to be cynical about so much. When so much of what we see, or hear, or do is… toward venal ends, and suspect goals. So few things these days, seem to be done… for the love of doing it.
STAR TREK:OF GODS AND MEN is one of those few.
A fan film, seemingly to end all fan films, I became aware of the existence of this three part web film through a British podcast called GEEK SYNDICATE. Hosted by the Nuge and Dave, the Internet based audio-show covers all things pop-culture (If a newbie to the show start with episode 89, as they take on Buzz Aldrin… hilarious and brilliant!). From comics, to tv, to movies, to technology, to happenings on the web. One of the happenings it praised was… OF GODS AND MEN.
So working my way to the STOGAM site , I took a gander at the first 2 parts, and was well impressed. A fan film, but directed by a major talent and starring major talent?? The cast read like a who’s who of Star Trek lore.
And prior to actually seeing the third part I received notice of this big screen screening of the whole film with stars in Attendance. I signed up immediately.
They had me at big screen.
So I went, I saw, and I have to say… I really enjoyed it.
The Fine Arts Theater where the screening occurred, is conveniently located in Beverly Hills. With available residential/street parking in walking distance. Entering the place after being checked off on the VIP list, I found a packed theater lobby.
I immediately saw the still stunning Nichelle Nichols, surrounded by fans and photographers, and in another section Walter Koenig also surrounded by fans and well wishers. I moved out of the traffic area to the edge of the lobby with other gagglers, and I people watched a bit. There were more than enough people clamoring for the stars attention, I didn’t want to add to that number, so went in and found a decent seat, and put my reporters hat on. I’m being metaphoric there.
The Fine Arts Theater, is a throwback to the one screen theater of yesteryear. The interior garishly decorated, you get a sense of the place being used for school plays, or dance programs, and occasionally for films. It’s a lived in, familiar feel to the interior. Like School Auditoriums of not that long ago.
I watched, and listened. Two rows in front of me the cast and crew of the film began to assemble. Being still new to LA, there’s still an oddness for me of seeing stars in person. I grew up far from these tinseled lights, and while I don’t get star-struck, there is this moment of surrealism.
I would think, for a star as well, there must always be something slightly… unreal and surreal, about you watching yourself in a film, while you are also being watched by fans. Both of “you” being watched by fans. The you of the screen and the you in person.
There’s something both paradoxical there and endearing, that plays out unspoken, and typically uncommented on, but plays out never the less. A little bit of movie magic, that is a tiny throwback to ancient man gathering over an open flame, to share stories of wonder.
Some of the other stars in attendance were Garrett Wang, Gary Graham, Crystal Allen, William Wellman Jr, and of course the ravishing Chase Masterson (The thing about Ms. Masterson is she’s so stunning, people tend to overlook the fact that she’s a fantastic actress. Scenes work, that otherwise wouldn’t, because she’s always processing, she’s always projecting, so when she has a close-up there’s more than a pretty face there, you get the sense of depth, of a backstory, of history.. which is hard to do with just your eyes, just a look, or a smirk, or a nod, or a phrase. In the old days we would call that, star power. Whatever you call it, she pulls it off).
But to be fair, time has been kind to all the women of Star Trek, or perhaps the casting directors are supremely smart to pick women who don’t age like the rest of us mere mortals. Nichelle Nichols, Grace Lee Whitney, Crystal Allen, Chase Masterson… I’m convinced there is a painting of these women in a Paramount closet somewhere, that is getting older, while these women continue to just get better looking.
Now moving away from the beauties of Star trek and allusions to Dorian Gray, let’s discuss a little about the crowd.
An eclectic cross section of people, with only one person in costume… it didn’t seem to be the stereotypical trekker crowd. Having never been to a Trek Convention I could be talking out of turn, but I got the vibe the people there were still the audience for it. Some 20 somethings, lots of 30 and up somethings, it was people who had grown up watching the show in syndication… but not con-goers, or rabid fans, but people who had quietly grown up on this pioneering show… and people who quietly… missed it.
While sampling the crowd, I noticed Walter Koening, sitting in the back of the theater, an old trick of pros, so they can gauge the audience reaction, and potentially make a quick departure should that be necessary.
But it was obvious that would not be necessary with this crowd. To the right of me sat a casting agent, who worked on some of the Trek properties. To the left of me sat Karen Hart, her husband Mike (I’m so bad at names, that if I got that right, I’ll be amazed) and their friend, whose name I would definitely get wrong if I tried to remember it.
Karen turned out to be a composer/performer of some note, as well as being pretty darn fascinating. For more on Mrs. Hart’s work, go here… http://www.karenhartmusic.com/home.html. We spoke a little about how we ended up here, and somewhere along the way names like Cash, and Buckley and Seal came up.
And we worked our talk back to Sci-fi, notably her not being enamored of most recent television, particularly science fiction. Though she was a fan of the original series. That and the cajoling of her husband brought her here tonight.
I think that’s what most of the crowd shared, not her husband cajoling them :) , but rather a disappointment with current science fiction, particularly as it relates to the 40 year old franchise of Star Trek.
The Trek TV shows have gotten for the most part progressively worse (If I had to rate them they would go STAR TREK, DS9, THE NEXT GENERATION, and following distantly VOYAGER and ENTERPRISE— send hate mail to…), and the films have likewise lost their way.
Which brings us to the reason we were all assembled in that theater… OF GODS AND MEN.
Before I get into my review of the film, I have to mention the 2 minute rap that occurred to open the proceedings.
I still find it laugh out loud funny, that someone thought the best way to warm up a crowd of sci-fi fans, was with a rapper. MC something something. It was inexplicable, but thankfully short. Which was followed by the producer, Sky Douglas Conway, introducing the film and the stars.
Okay onto the film. The lights dim… and away we go.
The film was made for the web, so blown-up of course it’s a little pixelated, it’s not 35mm film we’re watching here, but that said it was a perfectly acceptable picture.
Avoiding a play by play, let me summarize that this no-budget tale of a powerful foe from yesteryear seeking vengeance from a dead Captain Kirk, is better than the majority of multi-million dollar star trek films Paramount has done. Exceptionally well directed by actor/director Tim Russ. All the beats are note perfect. Hey, somebody give this guy a big screen film to direct!
Add to that a really FANTASTIC script, and the flick earns its praise. It is well performed by everyone, but Nichols, Koening, and Alan Ruck bring the money. Nichele and Walter have proven countless times their ability to command the screen, and this film is no exception.
The surprise for me was Alan Ruck. Alan Ruck has been working in movies and tv for over 20years, in everything from FERRIS BULLER to YOUNG GUNS to STAR TREK, but this is the first time he’s gotten to be a hero and a badass, and I think he relishes it, because he gives a nuanced and commanding performance. I personally think it is one of his best performances.
That said everyone is great. The film is witty, action packed, suspenseful, and sexy.
The producer and director, Sky Douglass Conway and Tim Russ, should be applauded for getting this great cast together, and making this fiction a reality. However it is not for the casual or new fan, I mean the film is deep in the original Star Trek lore, and for maximum enjoyment and understanding you should watch or re-watch two episodes from the original Star Trek series. CHARLIE X from Feb 1966, the 2nd episode of Star Trek ever aired and WHERE NO MAN HAS GONE BEFORE, the 3rd episode of the first season.
With those two episodes under your belt, you watch this film and you can really appreciate the brilliance of the script.
Writers Ethan H. Caulk and Jack Trevino who bought cut their teeth on DS9 (the best written of all the Star Trek spin-offs) and producer/writer Sky Douglass Conway, based on the quality of this film, should officially be handed the keys to the Star Trek toys.
And talking about good writing, looking back at the 1st season of Star Trek to research this article, I realize just how impressive and well written that first season was. It really was “boldly going where no one had gone before”. And seemingly that is something TV and film doesn’t do too much anymore.
Which makes STOGAM all the more note-worthy.
Now a little bit on casting, particularly two notable casting choices:
Daaman J. Krall stars as Gary Mitchell (Krall does a good job, but too bad they couldn’t get the original actor Gary Lockwood to reprise his part. The script makes a big point of building to the reveal of the bad guy, and it’s a little meaningless because you don’t know who Krall is supposed to be. It’s not till the expository dialog by Nichelle that you figure out who this guy is supposed to be. However if the reveal had shown Gary Lockwood that would probably have worked much better)
William Wellman Jr stars as Charlie X, a role originated by Robert Walker Jr. Robert Walker jr. was (and as of this writing “is”) the spitting image of his father, a famous actor who starred with Spenser Tracy, among others. So While Wellman did a great job, it would have been nice if Robert Walker Jr. could have reprized his role. (Oh well, maybe in the remake :))
Those substitutions aside, the actors did admirable jobs… and it comes across.
I mean the film is of course captive to its budget, but that acknowledged… it really is, in the face of its limitations, a fantastic achievement. And should do two things 1/ motivate would be filmmakers to just do it, and not use lack of funds as an excuse and 2/ spur Paramount to toss money at all of these guys to remake a big screen, big budget, 35mm version of this… or just give these guys money to make another Star Trek film or series.
Those two things would happen in a sensible world.
The first one has and is happening. The film motivates everyone who sees it. As far as the 2nd one, unfortunately Paramount has repeatedly proven themselves pretty blind, deaf, and dumb to quality… but who knows… maybe they’ll surprise me this time.
All in all a great event, great film, and a great crowd. And the after movie Q and A was equally brilliant.
Darn it! I have to start carrying my camera, or recorder… if I had I could have posted the Q and A for you guys. I’ll remember for next time.
There are a few more big screen showings planned, so check the STOGAM site (www.startrekofgodsandmen.com) to stay informed. And if you enjoy the film as much as I did, consider purchasing the making of DVD. It looks well worth it.
There are only three Star Trek movies I think enough of to own… WRATH OF KAHN, UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, and FIRST CONTACT.
Addendum: 29 May 2011 – This review was originally written before the JJ Abrams STAR TREK reboot. So just wanted to add a few comments.
I would add the JJ Abrams STAR TREK to the list as well. Also Paramount is a bit of a mess when it comes to triple and quadruple dipping and that makes determining what version… is the best DVD or Bluray for you to own, a bit difficult and time-consuming. Taking that into consideration, I’ve done some of that research/homework for you, to hopefully help make that decision making process… easier.
First, Avoid the 2009 Blu-ray versions of any of the earlier Star trek films (WRATH OF KAHN, UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY, and FIRST CONTACT), and stick to the 2disk DVD Directors cuts. Links are below. You just get more bang for your buck, and Paramount in a year or two will release Director’s cut version of the movies on Blu-ray, with better mastering.
However I would recommend the Star Trek Original Series Complete Seasons 1-3. Paramount did an okay job on those Blu-Rays, with exception of cheap packaging, and no labeling on the disks.
The 2004 Star Trek Original Series Complete Seasons 1-3 DVDs are better packaged than the blu-rays, and come with labeled disks, but the Bluray’s offer you remastered images and the option between viewing with CGI effects or original effects.
Pretty cool. So not perfect, but you gain more than you lose, by going with the Blurays over the DVDs for Star Trek Original Series. Also the very reason the 40 year old series could be processed into HD Blu-rays was because it was shot and mastered on film, the same as any movie, As opposed to many shows of the 80s and 90s, including DS9 and TNG, that were cheaply mastered and processed on video, meaning the original masters are not on film, so no true HD is possible with these shows, they top off at 480i.
For a pretty absorbing read on why you wont be seeing true HD Blurays of DS9 anytime soon go here and here.
So bottom line the existing DVDs of DS9 are the best you’re going to see of the series for the immediate future, if not the indefinite future. At the very least until technology goes up, and the cost goes down. So, below I have put a link to the DS9 set, as well.
For the JJ Abrams STAR TREK they did a good job on that Bluray, so would suggest the 3Disk Bluray. Though only 2 of those 3 disks I consider worthwhile.
Well that’s my suggestions and links are below.
Hope This helps.
End of Addendum 29 May 2011
Other Fan Films you may want to check out, and that I recommend are:
THE GREEN GOBLIN’S LAST STAND (Created long before there was ever a Sam Raimi Spiderman– and in many ways looks like it influenced that movie)
BATMAN DEAD END- 10 minute short by Director Sandy Collora, done way before the Nolan Batman films. I am not a fan of the Nolan Batman films, I hated the first one and thought the 2nd one was serviceable but flawed. I don’t think Nolan’s interpretation of Batman works, which is why the Nolan movies are more interesting when his Batman is not on the screen. Nolan just doesn’t get Batman. Collora in this 10 minute short gave Hollywood a blue-print on how to do Batman right. Unfortunately they ignored it and we get Nolan’s transformer/lego style Batman instead. See previous reviews if you want to hear more of my DARK KNIGHT bashing (oh I don’t really bash it!—much :) stop crying!). Oh and it’s worth mentioning this stars Andrew Koenig, Walter’s son, in a great turn as the Joker.
Okay kiddies, till next time, in the words of Don Cornelius… “Peace, Love and…. SOUL!”