I'm intrigued by the need to bring in new elements to fan films to keep them from stagnating. Star Trek itself took a number of standard military tropes and set them on a starship in space to create something new for television.
But how it combined those tropes, along with the tropes of pulp SF, was in itself transformative. Thus creating something innovative for television.
On the other hand, fan films are re-mixing, but in ways that aren't immediately obvious. They're reproducing the look and feel of the original show, but they're doing so on a shoestring budget and utilizing tools and technology that would have been science fiction themselves forty years ago. What's missing is the creative influence of new ideas in story-telling.
Isn't the ultimate accomplishment of what you're describing to take elements of Star Trek, blend them with other influences, and put out something that is no longer Star Trek?
Not so much blend them completely, but learn the languages of other material than the very material that the fan films are copying so that their approach to storytelling is much more richer. Studying other forms of storytelling than TREK. Learning how those shows construct stories, how they build character, how they resolve plot threads, etc. So that fan film writers and producers can breath fresh life into the stories they tell.
But you're right, what I am ultimately taking about is the creative influence of new ideas into the storytelling. To find inspiration from something other than TREK itself. Take one of my favorite episodes, "Conscience of the King," its influence was HAMLET and MACBETH. That episode was very much informed by studying something other than science fiction.
As for the Abrams example, those folks took the things that made TREK fun and adventurous and combined that with the spectacle of the movies they loved (yes, even STAR WARS) to transform TREK into something that was once again exciting and interesting.
Doing that won't make these films any less TREK. After all, TREK is a format, a vehicle for a multitude of stories. Action-adventure. Dramatic. Thoughtful. The original TREK was much more interesting in its early first season when it wasn't locked into a formula, when it was a pseudo-anthology that didn't limit the kind of stories it could tell.
Hell, let's take a look at two other TREK feature films. TMP tried to combine the thoughtful, esoteric science fiction of the New Wave and 2001 to give us a story about the possible evolution of mankind with machine. TMP combined with these two elements with the TREK format to transform the source material. Whether successful is up for debate, but I admire the attempt.
Now let's take TWOK. Meyer infused that movie with high seas adventure, shoving more of those military tropes into it. However, that movie is very much CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER in space, more than the original TREK. Even Meyer admits to lifting the dead midshipman from the Gregory Peck movie. Meyer, not quite understanding TREK, took things that he was inspired by and combine that with TREK to give us his take on the material. And TWOK remains the more popular of the original TOS movies.
That's the beauty of TREK, it can tell any kind of story.
That being said, fan films are like an ouroboros in remixing only TREK, eating their own tails, soon they will consume themselves. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy fan films. They are my guilty pleasure. There is a lot of potential in them, and I'd like to see them take more risks, tell stories that matter with characters who don't merely drift from moment to moment, but drive the action.
My Name Is Legion wrote:
As one of the creators of the unfinished Exeter episode (writer, effects, some art design, but certainly not the creative force who made the whole thing happen; that would be Jimm Johnson, obviously, and I can't speak for him) I'm flattered by the notion that we aspired to "transform" what we were recreating but I'm not convinced that it's so, much less that we were at all successful at that. So many of those decisions that were discussed among us (again, not speaking for those made by the producers among themselves) were very much of the "how closely can we hew to the technique as well as the spirit of the original?" For example, our shots of the ship don't look old-fashioned next to Phase II's simply because we didn't know how to light them more dimensionally or animate more dynamically, but because we wanted them to look as much like something you might actually have seen on Trek TOS as we could.
Maybe, Dennis, I'm a bit overzealous in my enthusiasm for STARSHIP EXETER, which certainly does capture the original spirit of the original. And I love that it does try to replicate the 60s effects, which shows much more imagination to solve a creative problem than throwing up a CGI starship zipping around phasers at full blast, imo.
That being said, I've always felt that the writing was doing something more than other fan films in this particular genre, giving us characters that were actively trying to solve a problem rather than merely reacting to the events taking place. More than that, it feels as if there was also an attempt to play on several TREK tropes, like the pretty yeoman, rather than merely replicate them.
STARSHIP EXTER not only captured the spirit of the original, but gave us something wholly new with its characters and story. Then again, it's the high bar that all fan films aspire to reach for me. Well, that and "World Enough and Time."