Discussion in 'Fan Productions' started by Maurice, May 2, 2014.
I love the main title theme, took the Trek lounge music and ran with it...
Maybe. But these were the pioneers! Stone knives and bear skins might be overstating it!
I actually just the other week updated the "Come Get Some" playlist (link) on YouTube so that it plays just about everything Exeter related, including all the making of materials released to date.
Since this thread is breathing again for the moment, here's something fun I put together on a lark. Not quite finished, but good enough to share.
Nicely done. (I thought aridas had dropped by.)
I'm a big fan of Exeter. For my money it is the best fan-film series.
I just ran across this in my docs. I intended to put this on my old blog, but never got around to it. My personal review of this film:
Fanfilm Review: Starship Exeter, “The Tressaurian Intersection”
CAVEAT: I helped complete this show, but my work was largely confined to some preproduction art and the act four edit and its VFX. As such, I’ll demur upon discussing those aspects. My close association to the show and its makers may lead you to suspect I cannot be wholly objective, and I cannot blame you, but I will give it as honest a critique as I can and leave it to you to decide if there’s any undue bias. (my Story by credit was a thank you for my suggesting a fix to a problem, but my contribution to that was fairly negligible compared to the others).
Starship Exeter “The Savage Empire” was a watershed in fanfilms, being the first one to not only achieve something of a passable simulacrum of an actual Star Trek episode, but also being the first one to be widely distributed and seen (overloading the mac.com servers, as reported on Slashdot). That’s not to say it was particularly good, but it was certainly a fun lark, and the ambition demonstrated was admirable. Its follow-up, “The Tressaurian Intersection” (TTI from here out) was vastly more ambitious, and had post-production been completed in a timeframe of two years it would have pretty much blown away any of its contemporaries. But it took a hair under a decade for it to finally be completed and intervening years of reduced cost and increased sophistication of filmmaking technology rendered it perhaps a bit antique upon completion. Most viewers compare it not to its contemporaries but to the long line of more recent HD productions. Still, it stacks up pretty damned well except for its now vintage NTSC SD photographic resolution and largely amateur cast. But that it stands up as well as it does is pretty amazing given it was shot way back in 2004.
The story is pretty straightforward. A starbase and its planet have been devastated by an incredible “weapon of unimaginable power” and the Exeter searches for a missing sister ship which had sent a distress call while investigating. Aboard the shipwreck they find no survivors, but discover the attackers were a race called Tressaurians, whom Garrovick has a storied history with. They also locate the source of the devastation: a captured alien device, which Garrovick decides to recover rather than destroy. Science officer Harris determines that it isn’t a weapon, but a device for shifting space into a parallel universe. She deduces also that its well beyond Tressaurian technological sophistication or understanding. Some ship to ship conflict with the Tressaurians is interrupted by the surprise arrival of Tholian ships. The Tholians tell Garrovick they blew away the Tressaurians for stealing “a valuable prototype device”. Not realizing the Exeter has the prototype, the Tholians tell Garrovick to get lost, then zip away. Garrovick orders pursuit, wanting to know what the device is a prototype of. Some time later they discover the answer: the prototype was a test article for a vastly bigger device that the xenophobic Tholians intend to use to shift their territory into another universe, but at the cost of 20 million Tressaurians that inhabit the disputed sector. Despite his hatred of the Tressaurians, Garrovick decides he has to do something to save them, but has no idea how to do it.
TTI is a vastly better show than “The Savage Empire”. It’s better written, better directed, better designed, better photographed, etc. As Arnold Rimmer might say, it’s “Better better.” What it loses is its predecessor’s goofy charm. The earnest community theater quality and nudge nudge wink wink of “The Savage Empire” is largely absent here, which makes the show more professional but a bit less fun. If anything, the vastly improved production values and far better script actually serve to make any weaknesses stand out even more by contrast. That aside, it’s a fast paced, action packed affair. Lean and mean and largely devoid of the fatty excesses that even the best Trek fanfilms too often wallow in: connect-the-dot continuity and callbacks, out of thin air technobabble solutions, TNG style dialog in TOS settings, Skype calls with admirals, lead characters who are reactive rather than driving the story forward, and cramming the story with too many characters thus serving none of them well.
TNG “Tin Man” scribe Dennis Russell Bailey’s script has a professional’s structure and economy, and manages to walk the tightrope of playful pastiche without teetering into fan pandering. Director Scott Cummins delivers a lot of good shots and staging, with many interesting angles and setups and a liberal use of dollying and tracking that even high end Trek fanfilms a decade later rarely attempt. We’re not stuck in an endless and bland series of master shot, two shot, and singles epidemic in fanfilms. Sure, not every shot is a winner, and there are some cases where directional continuity goes to hell (possibly by dint of editorial), but by and large it’s well done. The lighting quality is variable. Sometimes it’s really good, sometimes it’s kinda flat. Editorially it’s generally tight and everything moves along at a brisk clip. In fact, sometimes it moves a little too quickly and there are spots where it might have been better to have a thoughtful beat or a moment to breathe.
The props are good. The Tressaurian masks and gauntlets are perfectly TOS-like in their cheesy foam latex glory. Their weapons are weird and wonky and alien and kinda stupid but fun.
The costumes are sometimes good, but many seem poorly fit to those wearing them. Garrovick’s green wraparound is terrible, ill-fitting and too casual for the story it’s in. Costuming should tell us something about the character, and this thing sends the wrong message. When we see him in a standard uniform in the film’s final moments it’s immediately apparent that’s what he should have been wearing all along.
The are lots of little nods to the things that influenced the filmmakers, from a ship name and registry from the book The Starfleet Technical Manual (USS Kongo, NCC-1710), through a captain (Kosnett) portrayed in the Star Fleet Battles game, and to the Tressaurians themselves, whose appearance evokes the Gorn dolls made by Mego in the late 70s, but no one nudge-nudge wink-winks it. If you notice, you notice, and if not, they don't draw attention to themselves.
The sets are great. The bridge feels big, the corridors long, and the cargo bay on the Kongo suitably roomy. That some of the other settings are miniatures is astounding, giving the show a scope it wouldn’t have if they hadn’t been employed, and they’re somehow more convincing than most digital sets and set extensions in fanfims made much later. The short planetside scene in the Teaser opens things up and the weird landscape helps sell we’re out in space and not in a park in Minnesota masquerading as planet Andoria (as charming as that was).
As ever, I’m not going to critique the acting because these are largely amateurs and they’re doing their best. But I will say I still enjoy Joshua Johnson’s (aka Joshua Caleb) B’fuselek because he’s kind of weirdly compelling and he really commits to doing that odd accent and unusual body language. The best performance is Michael Buford as Mr. Cutty. Watch him staring hopelessly at the viewer when they find the wrecked starship Kongo: he’s got no dialog but he’s fully inhabiting that moment. Many of the other performances are very surface (typical of fanfilm acting), but with Cutty you can see the wheels turning. I’ve seen some people critique him for overacting, but I think part of that is a matter of contrast: he’s actually acting and it looks more intense than it actually is when some others around him are dishwater dull.
The story structure is mostly right on, which is something you’d expect from script written by someone with a pro Trek credit. The teaser ends with a helluva hook: a starship saucer smashed into the ground. Act two ends with a completely satisfying and textbook midpoint twist, simultaneously revealing that things are not what they appear to be (the Tressaurians stole the “weapon”), parting the curtains for the protagonists and the audience (said “weapon” is actually a prototype belonging to the Tholians), raising more questions (“prototype of what?”) and complicating the problem for the heroes (adding secondary and more powerful antagonists and a moral question of whether to risk the ship to save a hostile race). The final climactic moment is exciting and the melancholy button is a nice contrast to the typical gung ho or mawkish fanfilm finish. Likewise, things set up in the first act play out and pay off in the final act: notably B’fuselek’s headaches and the effect of the prototype, and using one “weapon” against its big sister is one of the most clever sci-fi conceits I’ve seen in a fanfilm and really satisfying. That said, the setup for this eureka moment is the clumsiest affair imaginable, especially given that in act two Harris delivers the ideal metaphor about throwing rocks in ponds and the intersection of the resulting ripples. But instead of paying off that setup—or ever referring to it again—the script forces Garrovick to deliver the awkward-as-fuck line “you… start to collapse… in on yourself” just so he can have a lightbulb moment to get the idea to use the prototype to make the big device “collapse in”.
The act one and act three climaxes are merely functional but not terribly satisfying. Act one’s is the weakest as the “lock-in” moment where the hero commits to facing The Problem posed by the story doesn’t deliver because we’re left to guess why Garrovick chooses to risk attempting to recover the “weapon” instead of just blowing it up. Sure, it’s easy to assume he wants to give it to Starfleet to study it in hopes of finding a defense, but guessing that shouldn’t be the audience’s job at such a key moment in the story. The act three climax suffers from a similar problem of unclear motivation despite an endless log entry trying to rationalize it. Garrovick’s change of heart as regards the Tressaurians just doesn’t feel motivated by a single thing seen on screen. The action-packed final moments of the act are fine as plot but emotionally it doesn’t resonate as it oughta. It's a kluge and it feels like one.
Those first and third act ends' weakness are largely the caused by the failure of the subplot involving the eager Ensign Richards and Garrovick’s rebuffing of her seeing him as a role model. The unclear motivations driving his decisions at the end of acts one and three hinder her connection to him, and as such her telling him he’s a hero feels naive. His choice to go “above and beyond” is meant inspire the sacrifice she makes at the climax, but since his motivations are murky the inspiration doesn’t ring true. Had it worked the ending would have been far more devastating. The subplot ought to be the emotional and thematic heart of the story, but the execution fails to carry it off.
The aforementioned act three briefing room scene is a mess. You can intuit the problems because of the overlong and overwrought Captain’s log which doesn’t just hang a lantern on the Captain’s conflicts but parks a klieg light on it without providing any useful illumination. Furthermore, this band-aid narration actually draws attention to the problem its meant to cover. Like a teen wearing a turtleneck to hide a hickey, it makes you notice it because it’s trying too hard to not make you notice it. (Having seen the script, the edit trail and the footage left on the cutting room floor I understand how this happened, but what matters is the final product, not the best of intentions.)
Since I was heavily involved in this in Act 4 I can't honestly comment on this other than to say I agreed with the decision to try to replicate the look of a 1970-era production with all the limitations that imposes on the opticals.
For its underscore “The Savage Empire” leaned on the crutch of using actual cues from TOS, which certainly gives it the sound of TOS but created a mild uncanny valley effect. TTI eschews that and only touches on TOS cues for one thing, with its Exeter theme being a reworked variation on the TOS cue “Space Radio” introduced in “Mudd’s Women”. The rest of the score is entirely original music, and it gives the show a unique identify because those familiar with TOS music are not constantly playing “name that tune” with all-too-familiar library cues. Ben Jasmine’s score runs from the show start to the end of Act Three and does a neat job of sounding 1960s small TV show orchestra-like without being a lifeless or shameless copycat. Hetoreyn’s score for act four goes in more movie-like direction which really sells the action but sometimes feels too big for the modest show it’s accompanying.
I know it’s for dramatic reasons, but it’s awfully convenient that the Kongo saucer crashed just over the hill from the ruins of Starbase 16. Did they pilot her down there hoping to find survivors? It was clearly attacked after the “weapon” was used in the vicinity of the Starbase. And why did the landing party beam down so far away from the base in the first place?
Garrovick’s complex operation of the computer via a handful of rocker switches is laughable, and the scene only survives this unintentional comedy because the music and editing creates the drama otherwise absent in the scene.
The Tressaurians are fast when they need to be but then waddle like they’re wearing brick-laden diapers otherwise. It looks silly and inconsistent and undermines their threat.
In the end TTI ends up being what I hoped it would be after discovering The Savage Empire: a fun, action packed adventure with just enough depth to keep it interesting, but shedding some of the more cringe-worthy elements of its predecessor. Is it perfect? No. Far from it. As a fanfilm goes it does what it checks off most of the boxes it needs to be to an entertaining ride to without ever overstaying its welcome (that Captain’s log aside), and that’s a rarity in the fanfilm scene.
Somewhat dated but enjoyable; good job to those involved. Seems like the cast should have been a little more diverse with more people of color, YMMV.
Sure, more diversity would be better, but one of the three leads is a person of color, and there are at least two more obvious dark skinned people (the redskirt ensign seen a few times on the bridge and also appears in "The Night Shift", and a woman seen in the corridor whose face you don't see but she's clearly dark-skinned), so 3 out of the 27 people I know of who portrayed Exeter crew is1 in 9 or 11%... and I'm counting B'fuselek as "white".
The Kongo... now that ship is lily white.
Nice review, @Maurice. TTI was extremely influential to me personally, but I feel like you've articulated most of the important problems, as well as highlighted its achievements.
Hey thanks, I think it IS possible to be objective about something you worked on, especially at a remove. And I think you can be critical and honest about the flaws of something without that meaning you're a #hater or #naysayer or what have you. I always say don't just learn from your own mistakes, learn from other people's mistakes, too.
A few details, perhaps of interest.
On the plus side, I like how Commander Harris changes from mini-dress to pants for landing parties.
On the minus-ish, I never understood why Vandi Richards' hair was so effed-up all the time. It didn't exactly look bad; it wasn't ugly per se, at all. But it didn't look "regulation" to me. Perhaps there was some in-joke that I didn't get. It was like mega "bed hair," or something.
Oh, yes, the miniature work for the Kongo interiors was fabulous. I really like the interpretation of the reverse wall under the emergency manual monitor in main engineering. That was utterly convincing.
Most fan productions have been pretty terrible at showing diversity. I think we all need to try and do better.
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