Star Trek is the Madonna or Lady Gaga of pop culture science fiction. It keeps on reinventing and renewing. It’s also truly the phoenix of TV shows, and film franchises. And while somewhat bigger names like Star Wars or more flashy, newer sci-fi productions like Avatar or The Matrix come along like a new digital port in a binary storm, Gene Roddenberry’s 1966 broadcast television show simply keeps on blossoming and reinventing itself in so many ways. Yes, the J.J. Abrams directed films in 2009 and 20013, “Star Trek” and “Star Trek: Into Darkness” respectively certainly have helped, but long before that, starship Enterprise kept getting new adventures directly from the fans themselves. There are quite a number of Trek fan productions warping about these days, but a new and thoroughly dynamic kid on the block, “Star Trek: Continues”, may have captured the TOS vibe more expertly than the others.
The Original Series – “Who Mourns For Adonais?”
Trek has a lot of mileage on it now. Back in the day of 1967, the William ‘Kirk” Shatner (Boston Legal) led show was in its second season, and still relatively fresh. At that time, the show – according to less than accurate NBC Nielsen ratings data – was sputtering along. It was to be cancelled by the end of its sophomore year, but resurrected through a famous letter writing push launched by fan Bjo Trimble.
When the Michael Forest guested episode premièred, it pre-dated Erich von Daniken’s ‘ancient astronaut’ theory positing that extraterrestrial aliens could have visited Earth many centuries or even eons before, posing as godlike beings similar to those in Greek, Roman and ancient Egyptian lore. The Trek episode was broadcast a year before von Daniken’s “Chariots Of The Gods” was published, and therefore, it is one of the earliest examples of the ancient theory being dramatized in entertainment and pop culture.
The popular sci-fi franchise, “StarGate”, – both in the Roland Emmerich directed feature film starring Kurt Russell and James Spader and in several TV series – plays with this notion to a large extent and depicts godlike aliens from ancient Rome, Greece, Egypt and China. The difference in StarGate, and perhaps other dramatic explorations of the theory, is that for Apollo in Star Trek, the Michael Forest fleshed out character holds on to the myth, fantasy or even biblical notion that he and his brethren were Gods to ancient humanity. Unlike the flim-flam aliens in StarGate, Apollo dearly wants to – and to a large extent does – believe he’s the ancient Greek god of music.
Though the TOS episode is interesting – mainly because of the ancient astronaut theory – the outing is memorable mainly for the excellent performance of Michael Forest. In both physicality, voice and intensity, he totally commands the screen and we’re never in doubt that even though he may not really be a god, he could certainly fool most anyone into thinking he was an immortal. The poignancy of the tale, as the crew realize how to defeat the crazed Greek powerhouse is by ignoring and not paying him attention is highlighted by Forest’s witheringly sad final scene. As he fades away, wracked by mournful sobs, we want to reverse course and somehow keep him around. Forest gives us that rare ‘villain’, one that is both menacing, scary, yet still charismatic, attractive and even likeable. Perhaps only Khan and The Borg Queen, in all of Star Trek lore, rate along in the same category.
“Star Trek: Continues” – Pilgrim Of Eternity
Various ST fan productions enlist the professional assistance of Hollywood talent from the original Trek – both in front of and behind the camera. Big names like George Takei – Mr. Sulu, Nichelle Nichols – Uhura, and Walter Koenig, – Chekov have reprised their roles, done production chores and helped to publicize the fan based efforts.
“Star Trek: Continues” – starring Vic Mignogna as Captain Kirk and Todd Habverkorn as Spock – is yet another fan effort. The sets – like the others – are beautifully copied and recreated off the original 1960’s mod, futuristic design. The lighting – muted, moody, yet starkly scientific is perfect, and the FX are updated, yet still give off that same retro feel as the original. What really stands out in purely technical terms is the use of the original series music. From the opening music cue, where a holographic cowboy threatens Kirk with his revolver, we can hear that this is a classic Trek outing starting. Music is such an important component to any film production and the expert use of it here is to be commended and celebrated.
Then there is Michael Forest.
Mr. Forest is 84 years young. He must be drinking from the same spring water well Betty White, Don Rickles and Bob Newhart is, because this senior still acts and moves in a way that puts most 30yo’s to shame. His fine performance is the crown jewel of this episode. The solid and clever script supports him at every turn and gives us a wonderfully playful and logical twist to what we saw come before – 45 years prior. Like the Khan introduced “Space Seed”, and the feature film, “Star Trek: II: The Wrath Of Khan”, this is to be watched along with “Who Mourns For Adonais” as a great, fun double header – a worthy way to wrap up the character which gives fans a satisfying and substantive ride.
Fan productions of all stripes – like the many Batman efforts – keep on churning out quality work and impressing both hardcore and casual fan alike. Star Trek web shows, however, are arguably in a class by themselves. Many give the viewer the feeling as if the classic 5 year mission never did get truncated by two years. If “Star Trek: Continues” keeps on producing such quality tales of classic trek, as “Pilgrim of Eternity”, they will be by far the stand out fan production among so many which crowd the internet broadcast channels today.