Posted by: bkivey | 25 March 2011

Set Phasers to Awesome

Regular readers know that I’m a fan of Star Trek: The Original Gangsta, or as it’s more commonly known, Star Trek: The Original Series or just TOS. Given that the show only ran for three years and was canceled after the 1969 season, the balance of the Enterprise’s five year mission would seem to have been curtailed. What’s a fan to do?

Well, if you’re James Cawley, you get the idea in 1997 to produce and shoot ‘new old stock’ episodes: original scripts set in the TOS universe with dedicated (obsessed?) fans playing the original roles. Then you spend the next six years collecting every bit of TOS props you can get your hands on. Meanwhile you spend well into six figures of your own money constructing near-perfect replicas of the TOS sets using the original blueprints. Find some like-minded people to fill out the cast and production crew, enlist some state-of-the-art effects folks, get some professional-quality equipment, and start shooting episodes. Oh, and by the way, due to copyright restrictions, you’ll never recover a dime on any of this.

The result is Star Trek: Phase II, arguably the best fan-produced incarnation of TOS. As the FAQ section of the website informs, the idea was to shoot original episodes within the framework of TOS. To a remarkable extent, Mr. Cawley and company have succeeded. Distributed exclusively on the Web from partner sites, each of the five extant episodes uses the same format as TOS, from the NBC logo at the beginning of each installment to the credits, score, sound effects, lighting, pacing, characterizations, and storylines. Advances in technology have made the production values perhaps even better than the original professional version, and the special effects are what you’d expect from a modern production. The quality of the effort is enhanced by the fact the crew spend a couple of weeks shooting each episode, plus weeks more in post-production, while TOS had to produce a complete episode every week for months at a time.

Like most cool things, I found out about Phase II years after the fact.  Nevertheless, I watched the pilot and four episodes after my curiosity had been piqued by an unrelated search for something else. The episodes would be decent if they appeared on commercial TV. When you consider the fact they’re funded and produced by people out of their own pockets, they’re quite remarkable. The quality is such that several TOS alumni on both sides of the camera have lent their talents.

Except as noted the episodes are set up to be downloaded and viewed in ‘acts’. Formats are Windows Media Player and MPEG4. I use RealPlayer, but any number of programs will work. You’ll also need a file unpacker to open the files.

Come What May – The pilot episode. A decent story, but the sound isn’t very good and it’s obvious the cast is trying to figure out how they want to approach the show.

In Harm’s Way –  A remake of the TOS episode The Doomsday Machine with some Guardian on the Edge of Forever thrown in. Snazzy special effects, but it looks like the CGI folks are more interested in showing off than supporting the story (aka “Lucas Syndrome”). The ships are shown to handle more like F-15’s than ships of the line.

To Serve All My Days – A combination of two ‘classic’ TOS episodes, Journey to Babel and The Deadly Years. The cast and production really hit their stride here. In a major break with canon, a prominent supporting character is killed off. Then reappears in the very next episode. Say what?

World Enough and Time – A TOS alum is central to the story. Scotty gets off a pretty good line by proxy. This episode exceeds the TOS 51 minute length that previous episodes limited themselves to. The episode requires the WinRAR file utility to unpack, and each ‘act’ is the complete episode.

Blood and Fire (Pts. I and II) – The most recently released episode. A gay relationship is a prominent plot point, which I am certain wouldn’t have been the case if the show was still filming in 1969. A guy with a red shirt dies, despite McCoy’s assurance to the contrary. There’s a lot more byplay among supporting characters than was usually the case in TOS, and trimming five minutes off the ending would have improved the episode.

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