The right captain at the right time – WHY WE LIKE PIKE! (Discovery editorial)

I usually write my weekly STAR TREK: DISCOVERY review editorials on Fridays and Saturdays after the new episodes premiere on Thursday night. But the family and I are leaving on tonight for the weekend. So I’ve decided to pre-write my weekly blog—not about the latest episode—but about a character who is rapidly becoming my favorite starship captain in Star Trek: actor ANSON MOUNT’s portrayal of Christopher Pike.

It was literally the last thing I expected going into season two. I mean, I hoped that the show would course-correct after the disappointing and often frustrating season one (at least in my opinion, but I’m not alone). I was curious to see how they’d handle Pike and some of his crew—Number One, Dr. Boyce, Yeoman Colt, and of course good ol’ (young) Spock. But never in a million years would I have predicted falling in love with Captain Pike and having him rapidly take his place as my favorite Starfleet captain!

Granted, it’s still early. We’ve only had 7 or 8 episodes featuring Pike…versus a hundred hours of Kirk, nearly twice that for Picard and Sisko and Janeway, and about the same amount for Archer. Upcoming episodes could ruin the character or make me start counting the minutes until Pike goes back to the Enterprise.

But I doubt it.

Part of the reason I like Pike (and so do MANY others) so much is the outstanding performance of Anson Mount. He really is an amazing talent…and if you haven’t watched his previous series Hell on Wheels, then you are missing some amazing television and yet another awesome character.

But it’s not just that Pike is being played by a top notch actor. William Shatner, Sir Patrick Stewart, and the others are all stellar performers portraying iconic captains. So why have so many fans (even ones like me who couldn’t stand Discovery a year ago) fallen in love with Captain Pike so quickly?

I think I know…

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Latest AXANAR Production Update video gets 4K views in fifteen hours!

Some folks ask why I give so much coverage to ALEC PETERS and AXANAR. The answer is simple: because there’s so much to cover! And trust me, if there were any news out of other major “in development” fan projects like Pacific 201 or Starship Farragut, I’d be covering them, too! In fact, last week I had a FANtastic interview with the production designers helping to put the finishing touches on the soon-to-be-released First Frontier.

Anyway, even though full production on the two remaining Axanar fan films hasn’t begun yet, Alec and the team are doing anything BUT resting resting on their laurels. Those who claim Axanar will never be made obviously haven’t been paying attention to how much time and effort are going into getting everything ready to launch this project. If the fan film is never going to be made, someone needs to tell all those hard-working folks in Lawrenceville, GA!

And Alec himself continues to be one of the hardest workers, now doing two regular livecasts on YouTube each week to generate donations to Ares Studios. Along with the Patreon (which is currently up to 198 donors giving $1,811/month…or nearly $22,000/year) the YouTube channel, with over 77K subscribers, is upping the total to more than $3,000 a month in contributions and revenue to help pay rent and utilities on the studio.

Alec posted his latest Production Update late Tuesday night, and it’s already been watched by more than 4,000 people. Among the items covered are how the Ares bridge is nearing completion and now will DEFINITELY appear in the Axanar films, how Ares Digital 3.0 is nearly complete (I’m one of the beta testers) and patch perks will ship soon, and plans now call for shooting to begin this summer. Alec’s and his team’s enthusiasm are clearly evident on the update video. Check it out…

Also, if you haven’t visited the Axanar YouTube Channel, now vould be a good time (as Chekov would say)! It’s up to more than 40 videos in categories including trailers, VFX sequences, donor updates, studio updates, production updates, convention appearances, and of course the weekly REEL TREK and AXANAR CONFIDENTIAL podcasts which usually have really interesting guests (including me at one point!).

There’s also a new playlist called “Fan Film Focus” which includes some exclusive behind-the-scenes content about other Trek fan productions. Like the rest of the channel, content for that section will expand over time.

NETFLIX now actively considering buying SPACE COMMAND fan series!

Late last year, writer/director MARC SCOTT ZICREE traveled to London where he met with NETFLIX to see if he could interest them in buying his independent, fan-funded sci-fi series SPACE COMMAND. Of course, there’s no guarantee of anything yet, but according to Marc in a recent mailing to donors:

Netflix is now actively considering Space  Command!  And if they buy it, they minimally would order an entire  season – twelve hour-long episodes!

But we’re not resting on our laurels.  We’re now actively working to set meetings with Amazon, Apple and many other networks and VOD platforms that might give Space Command a good home.

This news came right on the heels of the public release of the second half hour of the two hour pilot episode, “Redemption,” starring (among others) DOUG JONES (yep, that Doug Jones); ROBERT PICARDO (from Voyager) ; and MIRA FURLAN, BRUCE BOXLEITNER, and BILL MUMY (from Babylon 5). Each turns in amazing performances. And in upcoming episodes, we will see even more famous faces.

Space Command got its start waaaaaaay back in 2012 with an early Kickstarter that brought in a staggering $212,000 from more than 2,000 donors. It then took five years for the project to reach post-production, where a second Kickstarter raised an additional $108,000 that would help complete the first hour of the 2-hour pilot episode “Redemption.”

The first half-hour segment of the pilot premiered last summer at San Diego Comic cons and debuted on YouTube for fans in August. Then a third Kickstarter raised $102,000 more for post-production on the second hour of the pilot. Marc is also selling individual $7,500 shares in the venture for supporters looking for a return on investment if/when the series sells.

A fourth Kickstarter is on its way soon, funding production on the second hour-long episode, “Forgiveness” (40 minutes of which has already been filmed). There is also now a VERY impressive first issue of the Space Command Comic Magazineposted online…check it out!

In the meantime, Marc released the completed first hour in January. It’s REALLY worth watching—especially for the captivating performances of Doug Jones, Robert Picardo, and Mira Furlan…truly some of their best work! It includes bookend commentary updates from Marc along with scenes (at the end) from upcoming episodes. Take a look…

And as an added bonus, below is the first half-hour that was released last August. I’m including it here for comparison/contrast. Y’see, Space Command is a work-in-progress, and VFX and color correction are an ongoing process. For example, after the release of the first half-hour, some folks noticed that in the scene where two characters are driving in a convertible (originally shot against a green screen), neither actor’s hair is moving in the wind! So that was fixed in the second release…along with many other little and not-so-little tweaks. So if you want to test your “eagle eye,” here’s your chance…

Keep on SPOCKIN’ me, baby! (STAR TREK: DISCOVERY editorial review)

FORECAST: Moderate chance of SPOILERS

In season one, many readers wondered if I was just a “hater” and wouldn’t like anything I saw on STAR TREK: DISCOVERY no matter how good it was. But so far in season two, Discovery has been batting .667 with me, with four positive reviews and only two episodes so far that I felt warranted criticism.

So now that we’ve reached the halfway point of season two and the search for Spock has finally moved into the “found him!” stage, what did I think of the seventh episode, “Light and Shadows”?

I’ll let Spocko sum up my feelings…

Yep, I loved this episode. For a second week in a row, I watched through the entire episode without stopping or stepping away. I was completely engrossed, and the episode seemed to pass so quickly!

Of course, I should note that this was also the SHORTEST episode of the season so far, with a run-time of just 40 minutes. For comparison, the season premiere was a full hour, episodes 3-5 were about 50-52 minutes each, episode 6 was 56 minutes, and only episode 2 was under 50 minutes (only 44 minutes). So this latest episode was definitely a short one (which also means less expensive to make…but don’t tell anyone!).

Okay, before I get to reviewin’, I wrote some song lyrics after watching this episode—as a tribute to Michael Burnham’s “trek” through the two seasons of Discovery. If you don’t want spoilers or have any loyalty whatsoever to the Steve Miller Band, skip this next part…

I went from Shenzhou to the Disco all the way to the Mirro…
then Kaminar down to Vulcan and more…
Section 31 where the things they have done are taking me to Talos IV.
So keep on Spockin’ me, baby! Keep on Spockin’ me, baby!

Ahem. Okay, let’s dive in…

Continue reading “Keep on SPOCKIN’ me, baby! (STAR TREK: DISCOVERY editorial review)”

THE ROMULAN WAR fan film is now being made on THREE CONTINENTS!

One of the fan productions I’m most looking forward to at the moment is MARK NACCARATO’s project focusing on the battles and strategies of THE ROMULAN WAR with Earth. Presented as a war documentary (similar to Prelude to Axanar), Mark’s stories will pick up where Star Trek: Enterprise frustratingly left off: just BEFORE the ware between the Coalition of Planets and the Romulan Star Empire began.

Leading up to the planned May 2019 premiere of the full fan film, Mark has released a series of short “enhanced” audio dramas called WAR STORIES. They typically present personal logs or subspace correspondence made by someone involved in the war, usually recorded by a trained voice actor reading the script. (I say “usually” because I am definitely not a trained actor, but I recorded one myself!) The releases, while available in audio format for listening only, are ALSO available on YouTube with added VFX and other graphics to look like Starfleet archival footage. They’re REALLY cool.

For anyone who hasn’t seen and heard these War Stories releases yet, you can view them all on this YouTube playlist. They are only 17 and a half minutes total, so it’s not even that much of a time investment. In fact, anyone who says you can’t tell a decent fan film story in 15 minutes or less NEEDS to watch these four productions, as they each do it in under five minutes! (Well, one is a two-parter.)

This is one of the few fan projects set in the NX-era. Another is the series of amazing and powerful short films produced by AARON VANDERKLEY in Australia. If you haven’t watched them yet, you should check them out.

Now Mark Naccarato and Aaron Vanderkley have joined forces for the latest War Stories production, “The Fighting Fourth.” So that’s America and Australia teaming up for the first time. BUT! Let’s also add in a third continent—Europe—as Britain’s own SAMUEL COCKINGS, the hardest-working Trekpert in geek fandom, has lent his talents with some amazing CGI animation. Just take a look at this trailer…

“The Fighting Fourth” will be released first to donors very soon. So if you’d like to see it early, contribute a buck or three to the still-active Indiegogo campaign (now funding post-production costs).

Continue reading “THE ROMULAN WAR fan film is now being made on THREE CONTINENTS!”

Behind-the-scenes on STAR TREK: FIRST FRONTIER! (a MUST-SEE interview with MATT GREEN and SCOTT LYTTLE)

The era of the “big” professional-looking Star Trek fan films is NOT yet over, folks! In fact, fans are still awaiting four major productions that predate the guidelines of nearly three years ago: Axanar (of course), Pacific 201, the series finale of Starship Farragut (with a cameo by the late-great Stan Lee), and Star Trek: First Frontier. And one of those four fan films is about to cross over from post-production to release…and it’s just weeks away!

I’m sure you’ve already guessed from the title of this blog that it’s STAR TREK: FIRST FRONTIER, a professional-quality fan production that was first conceived back in 2013 by writer/show-runner KENNY SMITH. The story features the first captain of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701, Robert April, and his crew on their maiden voyage. The actors are trained professionals, the uniforms and sets constructed to look pre-Pike era (TOS, not Discovery), and the production crew were mostly industry folks with experience. I know the guidelines preclude most of the above now, but all of the production footage was “in the can” nearly a year BEFORE the guidelines were ever announced.

After an aborted 2015 Kickstarter that only raised $30K of a $130K goal, Kenny decided to fund the production himself, filming scenes using a mix of practical sets and green screen shots later that year. Originally planned for a September 2016 release to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, and even though all the live action scenes were filmed, post-production would end up taking three times longer than anticipated!

But they had a very good excuse! The production decided NOT to use traditional CGI animation and instead built a physical 11-foot model of April’s Enterprise (estimated materials and labor cost $30,000) and filmed the VFX the old fashioned way…in a studio in front of a giant green screen!

But they didn’t stop there…

After shooting that gorgeous starship model in early 2017, they next went on to construct an equally-amazing 1/24th scale hangar deck and shuttlecraft for a number of VFX scenes that take place in that area of the ship. Photos of their incredible miniature shuttle bay have only just begun to circulate, and fans’ jaws are dropping left and right!

Fortunately, the two gentlemen in charge of the construction of these incredible models took pictures and videos along the way…hundreds in fact! And I’ve got most of them to show you in this exclusive Fan Film Factoraudio interview with a special video montage “bonus.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you MATT GREEN and SCOTT LYTTLE, the men behind Captain Robert April’s Enterprise and hangar bay…

ALEX KURTZMAN finally brings HOPE to STAR TREK: DISCOVERY! (editorial review)

SPOILERS…GET YER SPOILERS HERE!

Okay, before I get to my review, please indulge me as I provide my own introduction to the sixth episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s second season, “The Sounds of Thunder.” And if you haven’t seen the episode yet, you totally will NOT understand this…

Faster than a speeding human…
More powerful than a Ba’ul wrist restraint…
Able to take command when Pike or Lorca aren’t around…
Look, up on the bridge!
It’s a kelp!
It’s a tall, thin alien!
It’s SARUPERMAN!
Yes, it’s SARUPERMAN…
Strange fugitive from another planet
Who came to Starfleet and proceeded to learn 90 different languages.
SARUPERMAN…
Who can sense the coming of death…
Crush ominous floating robots in his bare hands…
And who, disguised as Commander Saru,
Mild-mannered first officer of the
USS Discovery,
Fights a never-ending battle for balance, blueberries, and the Starfleet way.

Okay, now that’s out of my system. On to the review…

Ever since last June when Discovery show-runners Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts were reportedly fired because of cost overruns and also for mistreating the staff writers, fans have been waiting to see what new showrunner and Trek Tsar Alex Kurtzman would do to the series. Would he be the savior who finally straightened out all of the problems with Discovery that made it feel, to many fans, like the show was NOT Star Trek?

Or would Kurtzman proceed to screw things up even worse? Does Kurtzman even “get” Star Trek (as he claims to be a true Trekkie)? After all, this was one of the three writers of Star Trek Into Darkness, a film many fans felt was the worst and weakest of the three reboot Trek movies.

Was Kurtzman to be Discovery‘s salvation or ruination? We would all find out with the sixth episode of season two, Kurtzman’s first episode as showrunner….

Continue reading “ALEX KURTZMAN finally brings HOPE to STAR TREK: DISCOVERY! (editorial review)”

DREADNOUGHT DOMINION finally launches with “TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES”

DREADNOUGHT DOMINION didn’t set out to be a tongue-in-cheek Trek fan film parody…and it doesn’t plan to be one for much longer. But for the last ten months, GARY DAVIS and RANDY WREN have taken this passion-driven fan production in some very quirky directions.

Back in 2015 when the first two episodes (“Haunted” and “Anchors Aweigh“) were released, Dreadnought Dominion was actually pretty serious. Those two episodes set up the backstory of the main characters as the USS Dominion prepared to launch. But then the show-runner and lead actor, Frank Parker, Jr. (playing Commodore Samuel Grissom) left the series, leaving Gary and Randy to pick up the pieces and move on.

In late 2016, Dreadnought Dominion did a cross-over fan film with Starship Valiant called “Chain of Command.” With Dominion still waiting to launch Gary’s character of Captain Jason Brousseau takes command and makes Randy’s Commander Stephen Denson his XO.

The following summer, a Mirror Universe version of the same episode, this one titled “Command and Conquer,” showed the same scenes taking place in the Terran Empire. It was a fun little project, and both fan films featured MICHAEL L. KING from Starship Valiant and VANCE MAJOR playing his fan favorite character of Erick Minard.

And Dominion still hadn’t left drydock!

This past summer, Gary and Randy became the first fan filmmakers to shoot a project at Stage 9 Studios (now renamed THE NEUTRAL ZONE), site of the former Star Trek Continues sets in Kingsland, GA and now available to all fans to use. (Support the Patreon for The Neutral Zone by clicking here.) They released two back-to-back vignettes, “Reality Check” (which purposefully broke the fourth wall) and “Silent Acknowledgement” (featuring the first deaf character and actress in a fan series). You can read a great two-part interview with Gary and Randy here.

And yet, after six complete fan films, Dominion was still in drydock!

Acknowledging the ridiculousness of the situation, Gary and Randy created one final script to get them on their way: “Technical Difficulties.” They scheduled filming for the same weekend that owner RAY TESI opened up his TOS sets in Kingsland free to visitors for a Fan Appreciation Weekend. It was a huge success, but it also afforded the Dominion folks to go somewhere only one Trek fan project (“Walking Bear, Running Wolf”) had ever gone before: they filmed before a live studio audience!

ERIC L. WATTS of the fan film Bjo Awards pointed out, “It’s worth noting that the producers of this episode took advantage of the presence of several attendees…who happened to be in TOS costumes and casting them as background characters, particularly in Engineering, which gave those scenes the unexpected benefit of looking like the ship had a full crew complement aboard.”

The result, as you’ll see below, is a fun and original fan film, full of gags and laughter, that has the added benefit of finally—after some technical difficulties—getting the dreadnought Dominion out of drydock and finally on to her missions in space…

STAGE 9 STUDIOS is now THE NEUTRAL ZONE…and its PATREON has hit WARP SPEED!

After STAR TREK CONTINUES completed its run of eleven amazing fan films shot on an awesome array of TOS sets, those sets sat unused in an industrial space in Kingsland, GA for many months. The sets were subsequently purchased by avid Trekker (and really nice guy!) RAY TESI, who renamed the facility STAGE 9 STUDIOS. Ray also took over paying the rent, utilities, and maintenance.

Ray opened up the sets to fans to come see and film on. Already, numerous fan projects have been shot there, including multiple episodes of Dreadnought Dominion, the upcoming Constar Chronicles, the wildly popular Ghost Ship which premiered last Halloween, and even a few others. The sets are being offered FREE to fan filmmakers as long as they pay for the electricity used during filming. It’s a great deal!

Unfortunately for Ray, though, what’s “free” for fans is still costing him money each month, which is coming out of his retirement savings. Granted, Ray is happy to spend his own money to keep the dream alive, but he is also asking for help from fans out there like you and me.

Last June, Ray launched a Patreon campaign to raise donations—given monthly by supporters in increments as low as $1/month or as high as $100/month (the average is about $15/month per donor). After an initial spike, the next six months of the Patreon were fairly flat in the range of about $150/month (approximately 5% of the monthly rent).

Last week, however, everything changed!

First of all, Stage 9 Studios was renamed THE NEUTRAL ZONE (for reasons that will be explained below). At the same time, Ray used the name change to start promoting the campaign much more robustly. The result, as you can see below, has produced eye-popping results in just 7 days! The number of patrons has nearly doubled while the amount donated per month has nearly tripled to almost $500…!

This brings Ray about 15% of the way to covering his monthly rent, so there is still a ways to go. Bu if YOU would like to help keep fandom’s TOS dream alive, please click the link below (or at least share it with others)…

https://www.patreon.com/neutralzonestudios

In the meantime, Ray has some other news to share with fans. Take it away, Ray…

Continue reading “STAGE 9 STUDIOS is now THE NEUTRAL ZONE…and its PATREON has hit WARP SPEED!”

DISCOVERY’S fifth episode of season 2… far from perfection! (editorial review)

SPOILERS UP THE WAZOO!!!

Oh, well.

After four very positive reviews from the guy known for his generally critical reviews of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY‘s first season, some of my readers were beginning to wonder if Jonathan had been replaced with an alternate universe doppelgänger.

Not this time, though. “Saints of Imperfection” was just that: imperfection. Now, it’s not that I expect every episode of Discovery to be” perfect”—that starship sailed long ago!—but this one was far from it. In fact, it regressed into a lot of what I used to complain about often in season one: sloppy and lazy writing, rushing to “hit the beats” without giving characters or viewers a chance to emotionally process all that’s hurtling at us, unbelievable plot contrivances, predictability, and a host of other annoyances (at least in my book).

Granted, this was the final episode produced under the supervision of former show-runners Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts, who were reportedly fired because of cost overruns and also for mistreating the staff writers. Both reasons are very evident in this episode. Although the VFX looked gorgeous and could easily win an Emmy later this year, I can understand why the budget for Discovery was blown. And while I love watching exciting VFX, I much prefer a good story with characters I care about.

And that brings us to the writing, which surprised me because the writer, Kirsten Beyer, wrote the strongest episode of season one, “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” (the one on the forest planet where Saru freaks out), and is also the only staff writer who has several published Star Trek (Voyager) novels. In other words, Kirsten knows her Trek and her writing. So what happened to so totally derail this episode and backslide into many of the old problems of season one?

Continue reading “DISCOVERY’S fifth episode of season 2… far from perfection! (editorial review)”