active maas

The blog of thriller writer Robert Maas

The Treks of my tears

Vic Mignogna is a fan with a plan: to boldly make the two seasons of the original Star Trek that we lost when the show was cancelled in 1969.

Fan-financed drama takes time to build momentum, but he’s already off to a solid start. In the past three years he’s created five episodes of Star Trek Continues, beautifully crafted with a phenomenal attention to detail.

The sets, the costumes, the lighting, the camera angles, the original music and sound effects, even the 4:3 screen ratio and fades where ad breaks should be — everything is spot on.

Mignogna’s created a respectful facsimile of the opening credits and, in more recent episodes, a great set of stills for the closing credits, ending, naturally, with the green-skinned dancing Orion slave girl we met in ‘Lolani.’

Indeed, Continues is built with such painstaking reverence and dedication that the occasional spot of CGI is as jarring as it is in the remastered version of TOS, which I assume no other self-respecting trekkie can stomach.

Throughout, Mignogna and his team — with one exception I’ll come to later — conduct themselves without the hint of parody or knowingness that would shake the venture to its foundations.

I’m not quite weeping for joy, but it wouldn’t take much to push me over the edge. A single moment of magic, and it’s come damn close in those first five episodes. I’m certainly willing to ignore the occasional wobbly set furniture and the incompetent closing of the Galileo shuttle doors.

Of course, we’re in an awkward time warp here. There is no way of knowing how TOS might have developed in those two missing series that would bring us up to the fulfilment of the original five year mission, but let’s assume it at least altered a little in those years.

We would now be in production in 1969–70, when attitudes to everything from hairstyle to race relations would have been somewhat different to those of 1966, when the series premiered. Things moved fast back then. The hippie ethos had been and gone, America was waking up to the true nightmare of Vietnam, and you can imagine a somewhat darker Star Trek evolving during 1970.

However, it’s a delight to have “to boldly go where no man has gone before” restored to the opening monologue. The ridicule it received was unjustified — the ‘boldly’ is, poetically, in exactly the right place — and its perceived sexism was clobbered so incompetently in The Next Generation that you forget the problem is actually a grammatical one.

‘Man’ here is used to mean ‘mankind.’ It should be the far less inspiring “To boldly go where man has not gone before.”

It is true that the Enterprise included an alien among its ranks, but still this was a human adventure first and foremost. The criticism falls flat anyway, since TOS was pioneering in its sexual equality.

Mignogna’s crew is a hit and miss affair. Unlike the J.J. Abrams reboot, Mignogna’s facsimile doesn’t rely on star turn imitations, though his own Captain Kirk is astonishing — far better than the jackass played by Chris Pine in the movies. Mignogna has William Shatner’s mannerisms, facial expressions, phrasing, and screen presence down pat. He has everything except Shatner’s commanding voice, but his Kirk-on-helium delivery is endearing.

Neither Spock (Todd Haberkorn) nor Bones (Larry Nemecek in the first two episodes, then Chuck Huber) have bedded well into their roles. Though it’s tempting to say that nobody could truly follow in the boots of Leonard Nimoy and Deforest Kelley, it’s worth remembering that Karl Urban does a dazzling Dr. McCoy, arguably the one redeeming feature of the Abrams blockbusters.

So it’s possible to rise to the stature of these legendary figures, but none of the supporting actors on Continues is up to the task. Bones snaps out his catchphrase with weary regularity and occasionally raises an eyebrow, but has no charisma. Spock has all the gravitas of a school kid on his first prom date.

Pleasingly, Scotty is played by James Doohan’s son Christopher, who does a very good Scottish accent and, merely by his slight familiarity, is one of the show’s successes. This is far more than can be said for Abrams’s reinvention which turns Montgomery Scott into the show’s comedic relief in the form of the execrable mugging of Simon Pegg and his equally execrable alien sidekick. Doohan was, of course, capable of moments of hilarity, but he was also capable of affecting drama. Pegg is not.

Now that Pegg, so endearing in his fandom-based series Spaced (which was much like a more anarchic version of The Big Bang Theory before that series degenerated into a domestic comedy), has worked himself practically to the captain’s chair of the Abrams franchise, I very much hope he’s kicking himself.

Sure, he’s getting paid handsomely. But Star Trek Continues should be everything he believed in: geekdom played straight, with a reverence and excitement that the Hollywood system has stripped out of the official Star Trek franchise leaving the series sterile, emotionally impoverished, and bereft of anything that truly differentiates it from any other SF-tinged thriller. He ought to be dying to defect.

The lesser cast is equally problematic, with a familiar figure (Grant Imahara from Mythbusters) as a particularly unconvincing Sulu. Kim Stinger’s face is a little too shopworn to be Uhura, and her love handles, though pleasing, mean her midriff-baring episode might have been dressed differently in the body-conscious 1960s. (It’s the one truly cringeworthy moment in Continues’s ‘Mirror, Mirror’ scene comparison video — Nichelle Nichols looks so buff!) As yet, Mignogna hasn’t written Stinger any scenes to tell if there’s an actress of quality in the costume.

Its groundbreaking equality aside, female roles were always a problem with TOS, and this is no exception. What’s interesting is the way Mignogna tries to evoke the attitudes of the time to hint at the changing face of moral and social questions as we now know them, without straying too far from that 1966 time warp I mentioned before.

‘Lolani’ — Continues’s best episode by far — takes familiar TOS tropes and diffracts them through almost 50 intervening years of female emancipation and empowerment. It’s brilliant.

I’m not sure TOS would have based an entire episode on the question of whether a rape victim has the right to kill her attackers in self-defense. It’s certainly way above anything Abrams would be interested in. But that’s what makes it so good. ‘Lolani’ showed that within the 50-minute, 4:3 constraint, Mignogna can do pretty much anything he wants. And what he wants is to tell great stories. I’m beginning to love the man.

This brings me to the big problem with Continues, something that grates in every episode. Mignogna has brought his wife along.

We’re actually witnessing an interesting experiment in reverse continuity here, as Mignogna is hinting at the change in attitudes that would, by The Next Generation, mean that each Star Fleet vessel had a ‘counselor’ on board.

Here’s the transition in genesis, and though Mrs. Mignogna’s Elise McKennah doesn’t have Deanna Troi’s telepathic abilities, she’s still very much the shrink on the bridge.

We may be heading toward Marina Sirtis’s starchy female professional, but we’re not there yet. Michele Specht plays McKennah as a flirty, sexually knowing vixen with a permanent bad girl smirk, tumbling red hair and a scaffolded physique that would give your dad palpitations if this were 1969.

McKennah is, essentially, the good looking girl who’s strolled into Comic-Con just to see what reactions she gets from the nerds. Look at the way she oozes around the bridge with her pheromone-wafting, titular charge in ‘Lolani’!

Specht’s role, which is the only major character not in the original series and so the one that can most easily be claimed and developed by an actor, ought to be a fascinating one. Joan Holloway (played by Christina Hendricks) in Mad Men comes immediately to mind. But the series can’t pull it off, and McKennah is fast turning into the Jar Jar Binks of Star Trek Continues.

And here’s the thing: until we’ve accepted her, McKennah’s an irrelevance. Because if Vic Mignogna really does want to make another 50 episodes, he’s going to need scripts. Lots of high quality scripts.

And yes, these scripts exist. Right now, if you listen hard, you’ll hear the patter of envelopes tumbling onto Mignogna’s hall carpet as every Trek fan digs out their old fan fiction and scoots it his way. Indeed, surely the time is right for the world to see my very own episode Tribbles Vs. The Borg?

There ought to be some impressive bonfires in the Mignogna neighborhood for the next few years.

Vic would do well to ignore all of this material, rather than spend more than a few seconds of his time distracted by it. As star, producer and writer, he can better utilize his talents elsewhere. Besides, the series is bound to attract high caliber SF writers as it gains traction, just as TOS did.

But even the professional hacks will want to focus on the familiar triumvirate of captain, science officer and surgeon, with occasional star turns for that supporting crew we’ve all grown up with, and won’t want too many superfluous characters to have to work in.

Decker and Ilia had the decency to get off the bridge by the end of The Motion Picture, leaving us with a bunch of old friends to carry the franchise. Star Trek is rich enough and busy enough and has too many places to go without needing to constantly rehearse for Troi. And if it did care so much about continuity — well, it’s a slippery slope down to a clunky proto-Data, the Klingon pandemic, or (god help us) Wesley Crusher.

Given the choice I almost, but I do mean almost, would prefer to have Simon Pegg turn up for one of those delicious cameos that look like becoming a highlight of the show. But there are a hundred other people I’d rather see in Star Trek Continues first.

Hey Bill, how about it? I’ve got a great role for you as a half-Borg Cyrano Jones. In one scene you get to crush some tribbles with your bare hands. Just because you’ve always wanted to.

Poems Found-S

Robert Maas’s latest release Poems Found In The Wreckage Of A Multi-Generational Spaceship is available to buy at Amazon.


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