Review: Star Trek – Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men

Fan-made movies/installments/episodes of any show are the ultimate expression of both love and hardcore geekery.  And no franchise in the history of science fiction has inspired more such productions than Star Trek; not just any version of Star Trek, either, but the mothership– James Kirk’s original vehicle.  There’s something about that pioneering show that continues to inspire enormous dedication and passion from thousands of fans, nearly five decades later.

Prime among such fan efforts is the New Voyages series, which in many ways was a philosophical precursor to the upcoming new “official” Star Trek movie, in that both visions have re-imagined the original iconic characters with new actors, something unthinkable a few years ago.  But New Voyages, despite its admirable efforts, good stories and impressive special effects, was always an amateurish fan production.  Simply put, the acting sucks and the dialogue and direction are highschoolish.  I still heartily recommend all the New Voyages episodes to anyone who adores the orginal Shatner/Nimoy series, but beware that this is just well funded fan fiction.

Enter something called Star Trek: Of Gods and Men.  It’s a genuine fan-made full-length Star Trek motion picture, supported by the New Voyages cast and crew, but driven by hardened industry professionals, including actors from all four official Trek series: Star Trek, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise.  It’s even directed by Tim Russ, who played the Vulcan Tuvok in Star Trek: Voyager.

My understanding of the legalities of such production is limited.  But I believe that Paramount lets fans get away with making these video love letters so long as no one tries to disrespect the core material or, more importantly, make any money off of the effort.  Therefore, both the New Voyages episodes and this epic Of Gods and Men movie are completely free of charge.  To view the latter, just visit the production’s official website, download a bittorrent, or watch the streaming content on Youtube.  I recommend the latter.  You can begin here:

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=wEl0vq0CCLU

Now, I am very pleased to report that the movie is good.  In fact, I found it more enjoyable that the last couple of official Paramount Star Trek movies (Nemesis and Insurrection)… That is, if you keep reminding yourself that this is a free production put out by mostly amateurs in their free time.  Be prepared to forgive some sloppy writing, cheap special effects, sometimes problematic acting and odd pacing and you will be presently surprised by the quality of your overall viewing experience.

The story is set 12 years after Captain Kirk has presumably been killed on the Enterprise B (see Star Trek: Generations), even though we all know he was actually sucked into the Nexus, and would not be killed until Malcolm Mcdowell gets his hands on him 80 years into the future.  Suddenly there arrives a mysterious man from the past, a man with strange godlike powers, who is looking menacingly for Kirk.  It’s not too much of a spoiler to reveal that this man is the now sexagenarian Charlie Evans from the original series episode Charlie X, in a role played by William Wellman, Jr., who looks eerily like a grown-up Robert Walker, Jr, the original actor who filled Charlie’s shoes.

Charlie lures Uhura, Chekhov and Captain John Harriman (Allan Ruck from Star Trek: Generations) to the planet where still stands the Guardian on the Edge of Forever, that weird time-travelling structure that first wowed us in the best ever Star Trek episode, City on the Edge of Forever.  There, Charlie goes back 70 years into the past and murders James Kirk’s pregnant mother, thus preventing the birth of our hero.

Fans of science fiction know what happens next.  One pivotal individual, if removed from the soup of factors that establishes causality, can be the difference between the Utopia of the Federation and the nightmare tyranny of the so-called “Galactic Order”, an evil empire led by a mysterious, godlike being whose identity will please and thrill hardcore fans of the original series.

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The movie is driven by a handful of main characters: All Ruck (Harriman), Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), Walter Koenig (Chekhov), Gary Graham (from Enterprise) and to a lesser extent Tim Russ.  Also contributing important scenes are Garret Wang (Harry Kim from Star Trek: Voyager), the babe-tastic Chase Masterson (Leeta from Deep Space Nine) and J.G. Hertzler (also from DS9). For the dedicated fanboy, there is literally an armada of cameos from other Trek actors, and part of the fun of this movie is trying to identify the various random aged faces.

Nichols and Koenig are famous not only for their iconic roles, but also for never having been given starring vehicles.  Nichols’s timing is a bit off in some of the dialogue, but she does an admirable job nonetheless, and it’s great to see a strong, older, black woman be given something meaty to do on screen, as well as a complete back story.  But the real standouts are Koenig and Ruck.  These two could, in my opinion, carry their own big budget, cerebral action movie.  As Of Gods and Men shows us, you don’t need to be young and spry to be an action star.  Both Nichols and Koenig are in their 70s, while Ruck is just under 60.  Their dynamic is believable and sometimes even touching.

It’s difficult to put a finger on exactly why I found this admittedly cheap and sloppy production so engaging.  Maybe because it was cheap and sloppy?  You can only do so much with volunteer labour and private funding, with no expectation of profit or even of recouping your investment.  I think that a big part of the movie’s appeal is that it’s not trying to steal our cash; it doesn’t care about attracting viewers or sponsors.  There will be no one trying to hock models of the spaceships designed for the film.  There is no Burger King tie-in or on-screen product placement.  There are no superfluous characters who have been added in the background only because they “look cool” and thus can be marketed as an action figure.  There is no focus-group casting or test audience re-editing.  This is a pure, though flawed, artistic effort with a singular intent: to express love for the core material and to share that love with the fans.

If you need to see $10 million on the screen, you will not enjoy this film.  If you need your acting and dialogue to have been workshopped and test marketed, you will not enjoy this film.  If you’ve only seen a couple of the original Star Trek episodes, you will not enjoy this film.  But if you are over 25 years old (preferably over 40!) and have spent a goodly chunk of your life watching and re-watching the various incarnations of Roddenberry’s greatest brainchild, then I strongly suspect that Star Trek: Of Gods and Men will be an enjoyable experience for you, and may even bring you some closure for the lesser characters on whom the major motion pictures could not afford to waste valuable screen time.

I, for one, hope there’s a sequel.

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