Still looking at fan adaptations this week. It turns out, animated Star Trek fan works are a thing, along with fan podcast series. Two weeks ago, Lost in Translation looked at Curt Danhausen’s memorial to James Doohan, “The Quintain” and how he used Filmmation’s art style and approach to animation to be a one-man studio. This week’s review, Star Trek: The Paradise Makers, looks at what a team can do.
The Paradise Maker is a two-part series from Sagittarii Productions, with special effects by Tommorrows Magic. The feature runs over two hours, all animated. It took the team four years to complete. Animation styles include rotoscoping and chroma-key to add in architecture and iconic Star Trek gadgets.
The feature uses a known idea from Star Trek: TOS, that of Star Fleet officers going rogue. There have been a few in Kirk’s time who have ignored orders and gone their own way, including Commodore Matt Decker in “The Doomsday Machine”, Garth of Izar (“Whom Gods Destroy”), Commander Spock (“The Menagerie”), and even James T. Kirk himself (Star Trek: The Motion Picture among other events). Dr. Xiang LI’s self-aggrandizing fits in.
The animation style fits in with the Filmmation series while being a little more fluid. The aquashuttle comes from the animated series, though not lifted directly. The use of chroma-key allows for using real settings and architectural photos and film to save time. Even then, the small team still needed four years. The regular cast of characters are recognizable in appearance. Lost in Translation has mentioned before on how difficult it is to portray Spock, so props to Jay Prichard for tackling the role and trying to balance cold logic with hidden human emotion.
The Paradise Makers fits in the first season of Star Trek, with Dr. Mark Piper (“Where No Man Has Gone Before”) retiring and new Ship’s Surgeon Dr. Leonard McCoy reporting for duty. The Enterprise and the Bowfin appear as expected, with the animated series having influence for stylization and requirements for animation. Animation also allows for sets that the live action series didn’t detail, such as ground installations on airless worlds, something The Paradise Makers shows early in Part 1. There’s always a tradeoff; more time needed but fewer restrictions save those imposed by the setting.
The plot would fit in with the original Star Trek. The feature is a morality play on what happens when ambition is not tempered. Dr. Xiang Li risks the lives of the planet and of the crew of the Enterprise all to become a god. Even Garth of Izar at least waited until he became a captain before playing god. However, as Arthur C. Clarke puts it, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” something Star Trek touches on repeatedly.
The Paradise Makers was put together by fans of the original Star Trek. Ideas that appeared in the original and the animated series appear, with nods to the progression of today’s technology. The feature has core elements of Star Trek from the superficial – the gadgets, the sounds, the music – to the building blocks, including the message wrapped up in a captivating story. The Paradise Makers also shows what a team can do to put together a feature, even if it takes them four years to complete.
The look at fan adaptations continues with T7 Production’s “Darth Maul: Apprentice”, a Star Wars fan film. T7 is a pair of German filmmakers whose goal is to bring Hollywood-level of production quality to German movie making.
“Darth Maul: Apprentice” features Maul as he makes the transistion from apprentice to Sith and Darth Sidious’ right-hand being. The final test, four Jedi Knights and a Padawan. The fan film doesn’t contradict Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. It gives an insight on how Sidious trains his minions.
T7’s goal is front and centre in the film. The choreography is top notch. The fight ebbs and flows providing the characters and the audience a chance to breathe and to ramp up the tension. The camera angles build the scene up, giving the audience a good idea of what’s happening and what is around.
The fan film is heavy on action, but uses the action to develop Maul, showing him becoming Sith. The Jedi are fodder, there for him to hate. The one moment where he makes the key decision is done without word, just facial expression, adding to Maul’s mystique. In The Phantom Menace, Maul runs on hate; here, he’s just getting fueled up.
The music by Vincent Lee adds to the action, adding crescendo where needed and fading to keep the tension. Before the final battle, the music takes cues from Westerns as two gunslingers face off before drawing their guns. The music is something that would be expected from The Mandalorian.
“Darth Maul: Apprentice” shows what a small team can do with today’s video equipment with a bit of effort. While T7 is using high end, today’s dedicated video equipment can produce professional quality works. Even today’s smartphones can take videos that only bulky, expensive professional equipment could do just decades ago. For the amateur and the budding professional, video creation is within reasonable budgets. Drones can take shots that once could only be done by helicopters, with more finesse available given the skill of the drone pilot. Today’s filmmakers have an edge previous generations didn’t have – the silicon chip – allowing for skilled amateurs to create works that would have made professionals in the past jealous.
Continuing the look at fan works today with a Star Trek animated fan film, “The Quintain” by Curt Danhauser, part of his continuation of the animated series. Have a watch; it’s only twenty-three minutes long.
Lost in Translation has reviewed Filmation’s animated Star Trek, a series that is and isn’t considered canon, depending on the episode and how the studio feels any given day. “Yesteryear” is accepted as being part of Spock’s past, but other episodes haven’t been that embraced. For an animated series in theory aimed at a younger audience, the series touched on adult themes, turning the series into a continuation of the original Trek and an introduction into the franchise for pre-teens. The Filmation budget meant reuse of animated scenes and actions, to save time and money, but the restrictions allowed the production team to determine what was important for the episode.
With “The Quintain”, Danhauser wanted to do something for the 100th birthday of James Doohan, Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott on the original Trek and the voice of a number of characters on the animated series, including Lieutenant Arex, the Guardian of Forever, Koloth, Korax, and Kor. Danhauser goes further, playing all but three voices in “The Quintain”. The episode brings in a few elements from the movies, including Scotty’s nephew, Peter Preston, who appears in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, adding some more depth to the relationship between the two.
Danhauser mimics the Filmation style well in the episode. The character designs, even for the new characters, would fit into an episode of the animated Trek. Danhauser uses animation to expand the diversity of the cast, adding more Federation species on to the Enterprise, something a live action budget would be hard-pressed to do. For a one-person studio, the Filmation style is an asset, providing a way to keep the animation under control.
“The Quintain” has character moments, action moments, and a satisfying twist. Danhauser caught the essence of Star Trek, live action or animated. The efforts and work as a one-person studio pays off in an entertaining episode that is almost indistinguishable from Star Trek: The Animated Series.
Fanfilms are a way for budding filmmakers, actors, and crew to get a taste of what making a film is like. But what happens when the fans are professionals already in the business? Star Trek Continues answers that question.
Going back a bit, I mentioned the approach taken with fanworks, how, because they’re made by fans, there’s the possibility of something lacking either through inexperience or lack of budget. With Star Trek Continues, lack of experience isn’t a factor. However, even with permission from Paramount, for-profit doesn’t work, so budgets could be a limiting factor.
Star Trek Continues was meant to finish off Captain James T. Kirk’s five year mission and be the bridge from the original Trek to Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The cast includes Vic Mignona as Kirk, Todd Haberkorn as Spock, McCoy portrayed by Frank Namecek for two episodes then by Chuck Huber for the remainder of the episodes, Chris Doohan as Montgomery Scott, Grant Imahara as Sulu, Kim Stinger as Uhura, and Wyatt Lenhart as Chekov. New regular characters were introduced – Dr. McKennah (Michele Specht) whose role as ship’s councellor is an experiment by Star Fleet; Chief of Security Drake (Steven Dengler), Kipleigh Brown as Helmsman Smith, backup to Sulu; Martin Bradford as Dr. M’Benga, picking the role from the original series as played by Booker Bradshaw, and Cat Roberts as Lt. Palmer. A solid lineup, indeed. Chris Doohan is the sone of James Doohan, who originally portrayed Scotty, and while they may not look exactly right, the mannerisms are dead on.
The cast is a strong point for the series. The characters are easily recognizable, not just physically, but in personality. Star Trek Continues also shows just how difficult it is to play Spock. Leonard Nimoy made the character both alien and familiar, given audiences the empathy to understand Spock even if the character found that illogical. Zachary Quinto had the extra challenge of portraying a younger Spock along side Nimoy, who had brought the character through an arc of understanding and bringing his warring selves together in peace. Haberkorn does figure out the role after a few episodes, getting more comfortable in the role. With McCoy, Namecek brought out the warmer side of McCoy, the doctor who cares for all life. Huber brought out the more acerbic McCoy; both are viable approaches to the character. Mignona has William Shatner’s style of acting down pat, not overblown but still fitting the story and the series. The series makes an effort to expand several characters’ roles, especially Uhura’s. Stinger is allowed to have Uhura as more than the woman opening hailing frequencies. Chekov receives a promotion as he tries to figure out what his Star Fleet career will be.
The guest cast includes actors from a number of other science fiction franchises. Michael Forest reprises his role of Apollo from “Who Mourns for Adonais?” Erin Gray, who played Col. Wilma Deering on Buck Rogers in the 24th Century, plays a Star Fleet Commodore in two episodes. Lou Ferrigno, from The Incredible Hulk, puts on green makeup again as an Orion. Colin Baker, the sixth Doctor, makes an appearance and Nicola Bryant, who played his companion Peri, appears in the two part finale. John de Lancie returns to Star Trek alongside original Battlestar Galactica alumna Anne Lockhart in an episode about racism and barriers. Gigi Edgley from Farscape and Rekha Sharma and Jamie Bamber from the new Battlestar round out the guest cast. Special mention to Marina Sirtis for portraying the /Enterprise/’s computer, originally voiced by Majel Barrett, and to Michael Dorn for taking the computer role in the third episode.
The episodes themselves span the range of setting up continuity, returning to ideas explored before, and morality plays much like in the original series. “Fairest of Them All” takes place in the mirror universe after the alternate Spock sends Kirk back to his proper universe, showing the fallout of the events in “Mirror, Mirror.” “Come Not Between Dragons” shows how a situation can change once more knowledge is discovered about it. “What Ships Are For” is as subtle as the original series episode, “Let This Be Your Last Battlefield”; subtle as a sledgehammer and just as needed today as the original episode was in 1969, covering refugees and efforts taken to keep them out.
The music is as important to the story as the dialogue. The score is based on the works of Alexander Courage, re-recorded for the series. Star Trek Continues could have just used a recording of music from the original series. Instead, a new arrangement is recorded to match the action of the episode, whether it’s a battle in space, a romantic scene, or the ramping up of tension. The final episode has the score bringing in elements of Jerry Goldsmith’s music from Star Trek: The Motion Picture.
The sets are indistinguishable from those found in the original series. Sound effects are accurate. Various regular locations onboard the /Enterprise/, such as the bridge, sickbay, engineering, and quarters, are faithfully recreated down to the props. New sets, such as for planets visited, may be made with modern techniques but reflect the style from the original series. Camera technology now allow for shots not previously possible, but those were used to accent the style of the original, not replace. Someone unaware of the nature of Star Trek Continues seeing the sets would be convinced that they were watching the original.
Costuming follows the approach taken with sets. Star Fleet uniforms are recognizable. Romulan uniforms are recognizable. The colours are bright, almost Technicolor. Even the guest stars’ outfits, new to the series, carry elements that fit in with the original series, from fabric to design. The truly alien creatures, such as the ones from “Come Not Between Dragons”, even with the better articulation thanks to modern technology, still look like they came from the original series.
What can fans in the business do in a fanfilm? What they set out to do. They have the experience and the love of the original to bring out the what drew audiences the first time again to give an ending to Captain Kirk’s historic mission. Star Trek Continues is very much Star Trek thanks to the effort of cast and crew.
Fanfilms have been around for a while. The Internet has made it easier for audiences to find them. Prior, tapes needed to be circulated and copied, with screenings done at conventions and club gatherings. Today, well, YouTube exists. It’s easier today to stumble across a fanfilm.
Let’s go back to 1997, twenty years after the release of Star Wars. The Galaxy Far Far Away feels inviting. For the longest time, there wasn’t much done with the setting, not after Return of the Jedi. Fans created droids, built model starships and snubfighters, and dressed in costume. Once home video got inexpensive enough for the masses to own, coupled with editing software, fanfilms started to take off. This is where the fanfilm “Troops” comes in. Created by Kevin Rubio, “Troops” crosses Star Wars with the popular reality series Cops. Have a watch.
Lost in Translation has covered Star Wars many times, the latest being The Mandalorian. Cops got touched upon briefly during a discussion of Machinima. To expand, if one hasn’t seen an episode of Cops, the series was built around the idea of having a camera crew ride along with an officer or deputy of the featured police department. The only dialogue comes from the officer, talking about how he or she became an officer and notes about where the filming is taking place. The series is still running, now on the Paramount Network, and has clips on YouTube.
Rubio’s “Troops” follows stormtroopers on Tatooine following up on calls that tie into events of Star Wars. A Grand Theft Droid call leads to the destruction of a Jawa sandcrawler, but the droid is safely recovered, if a little far from home. A domestic dispute call that goes tragic after a farm couple get into argument about why their nephew ran away from home. And even a disturbing the peace call from the Mos Eisley cantina to start the end credits. This is Star Wars, behind the scenes and a few paces behind what Luke does on screen.
The filming, though, follows the style of Cops. The camera is handheld, isn’t steady, and has to keep up with the troopers. The cameraman remains silent, letting the troopers provide the narration and dialogue. The camera is there in the action as an observer, getting close to the stormtroopers. The segments are introduced by the callouts from dispatch. The troopers themselves have accents that come out of the TV series.
Star Wars has opened itself to a wide range of storytelling techniques. The original movie takes its queues from The Hidden Fortress and The Dam Busters. Other entries have taken inspiration from a wide range, including spaghetti westerns with ronin influences. Slipping in Cops, especially on Tattooine, isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. Kevin Rubio added a dash of humour while the characters treated the situation seriously. The result is a fanfilm that still stands up over time.
Lost in Translation has looked at fan works in the past. When reviewing a fan work, the quality isn’t as important as the understanding of the source works. Crossovers add a wrinkle, as two or more sources are being brought together and something has to give to make the story interesting. Crossing four or more sources is a challenge to have everyone involved have a role while keeping each source unique. Along comes “Galactic Battles”. It’s easier to watch it than to read a synopsis, so go ahead an watch the short film. Keep watching past the credits.
“Galactic Battles” brings together four separate sources, two film series – Star Wars and the JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot – and two video game series – Halo and Mass Effect. Each of the settings is obvious. The main setting, from Halo, gets the narrator explaining the newfound peace, thanks to the Master Chief. The Normandy from Mass Effect and the Enterprise from Star Trek have appropriate lighting, complete with lens flares for the latter. The Millennial Falcon gets the Star Wars wipes at the beginning and end of the ship’s appearance.
The creators did their homework. They are well aware of the details of each setting. The music blends the themes of all the sources, melding them as the camera switches view. The controls for each ship are unique and recognizable. The costumes are appropriate. Bonus points for having Garrus, one of the aliens, specifically, a Turian, from the Mass Effect series. The Master Chief’s armour is well done, too. Everyone is recognizable, from red, gold, and blue uniforms on the Enterprise to Joker and his baseball cap from Mass Effect.
The little details matter. The circle wipe when Star Wars first appears, how Shepard enters and leaves a scene, the lens flares on the Enterprise‘s bridge, the view from the Master Chief’s HUD, all add to the feel of the sources. Getting Mark Meer, who played the male Shepard in Mass Effect to reprise his role also helped. Details can make or break a major studio’s adaptation. With fan works, they are necessary, and “Galactic Battles” delivers.
The short is a visual masterpiece. Jupiter hanging in space as the battle rages on provides colour to what would normally be just black space and metal ships. The special effects, sound as well as visual, matches each setting’s contribution. Phasers sound like phasers, not like TIE fighter lasers or Reaper cutting torches. There’s care taken to make sure each element looks and sounds appropriate, even in the post-credits sequence.
The key issue with making a crossover meant to appeal to fans each original source is making sure characters from each one has a hand in solving the problem. With “Galactic Battles”, the solution starts with Spock, but Shepard, Master Chief, and Han all have a role to play in putting the solution in action. The breakneck pace doesn’t let up as they put the daring plan into action.
“Galactic Battles” is a fun fan short to watch. It handles each original source well, keeping the little details that define the originals.
And for those interested, there is a behind the scenes look to “Galactic Battles”, showing what it took to make the short.