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Review of "Star Trek: Of Gods and Men" by Bernd

Star Trek: Of Gods and Men, Parts I-III

Stardate 6712.4: Twelve years after Captain Kirk has vanished in the Nexus, Captain Uhura, Captain Chekov and Captain Harriman visit Starfleet's "newest" ship, the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-M that was commissioned to commemorate Kirk, who is presumed dead. But instead of a celebration this Enterprise has to respond to a distress call from the planet M-622, where the Guardian of Forever is located. On the surface Uhura, Chekov and Harriman are greeted by no one else but Charlie Evans, who wants to take revenge on Captain Kirk. He alters history by killing Kirk's mother prior to his birth. Uhura finds herself on Vulcan, where she is married to Stonn. Harriman is the captain of the GSS Conqueror GOC-1701, part of the ruthless Galactic Order. Chekov is a freedom fighter in this timeline. He calls himself Kittrick and is Harriman's sworn enemy since the captain killed Chekov's family. The Conqueror uses a powerful weapon, the Omega device, to destroy the peaceful planet Vulcan that refuses to join the Order. Only few vessels escape, among them a shuttle with Uhura and a young Vulcan named Tuvok. The two are imprisoned on the Conqueror. Tuvok restores some memory of the old timeline that is in Uhura's mind. Kittrick/Chekov and his comrade Ragnar escape from the cell. They take Uhura and Tuvok with them and occupy the auxiliary control room, from where they take over control of the ship. Tuvok is fatally wounded though, but before he dies he manages to get some memories to resurface in Chekov's mind as well. Uhura insists on restoring the old timeline, which would require Chekov to set a course for M-622 and ally himself with Harriman. Chekov grudgingly agrees. After they have captured Harriman and convinced him to collaborate, the three officers beam down to M-622 again, where they meet Charlie. But the crew of the Conqueror beams them back. In the meantime starships of the rebels have arrived, as well as a fleet of the Galactic Order, including the flagship. A battle ensues. As Uhura beams down yet again to convince Charlie to repair the timeline, the leader of the Galactic Order follows her. He turns out to be Gary Mitchell, the man who once acquired god-like powers and who has not been stopped by Kirk in this timeline. He and Charlie Evans use their power against each other, which ends in a draw. Mitchell returns to his ship to destroy the Guardian of Forever with the Omega device. But Harriman and Chekov are faster. They set a collision course for Mitchell's ship. Charlie Evans eventually decides to fix the damage he has done. After the timeline has been restored, Uhura visits Vulcan and marries Stonn. Harriman too comes to Vulcan, as the Federation Ambassador to the planet.

This fan film consists of three parts, each of which is some 30 minutes long. "Star Trek: Of Gods and Men" is officially described as a mini-series, although I tend to regard it as a single movie that only happens to have been released in three parts.

"Star Trek: Of Gods and Men" has a lot in common with the six TOS movies. Not only because it is set in that era, unlike other projects such as Starship Exeter, Starship Farragut or Phase II / New Voyages, but also because it tells a "big" story that does not have to be continued but "only" needs to blend in continuity-wise. This gives "Star Trek: Of Gods and Men" an inherent advantage in terms of storytelling potential. The film is designed to maintain close ties most of all with the TOS movies. It is set in the year 2305, twelve years after the disappearance of Captain Kirk in the Nexus as seen in "Star Trek Generations". This enables Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, Alan Ruck and several other Trek alumni to reprise their roles that have aged with them. It greatly benefits the movie that no one among the cast has to deny gray hair and wrinkles. Well, except for Tuvok, who should be a very young man (by Vulcan standards) at the time. But Tim Russ, who also directed the whole thing, doesn't strike me as being too old for his role.

I have almost unreserved praise for the directing and for most actors' performances. Especially Nichelle Nichols takes the chance to excel in her role as the seasoned Uhura as rarely before. Her log entries give the story a structure. Her lines carry weight when she delivers them, and they somehow bring order and calmness to the perhaps too chaotic plot. And when she speaks to Charlie in the end and sings "Charlie is my darling" just as in TOS: "Charlie X" I almost shed a tear. Koenig as Chekov, on the other hand, is visibly on edge and perhaps over-acting much of the time. We may excuse that with "Kittrick" being a broken man who seeks revenge in the alternate timeline. But after a while his insistence that he fights for freedom gets on my nerves. I don't think any character in any movie ever spoke out the word "freedom" so often. The lines may not be Koenig's fault, but I like his normal-universe Chekov that appears at the beginning and in the end a lot better. Alan Ruck could only win when he decided to appear in this fan film. His character of Captain John "Tuesday" Harriman in "Star Trek Generations" is not exactly among the most popular in the eyes of the fans. I don't think his performance in the big movie was bad in any way, but Ruck added uncertainty to a character that was written to be somewhat incompetent and comic relief. The incompetence is gone in "Star Trek: Of Gods and Men", while Ruck maintains his portrayal of Harriman as very cautious, especially as the alternate version. Harriman's restraint and open-mindedness is important for the plot too, although I don't think that a man who orders the destruction of a planet, irrespective of the circumstances, should be granted forgiveness, much less so quickly. 

We have to bear in mind anyway that, unlike in the familiar Mirror Universe, all the people in the alternate timeline of "Star Trek: Of Gods and Men" are the very same characters with different experiences and not just look-alikes whose personalities may be extremely different than we know them. Unfortunately the movie takes the alterations to the characters, especially to Chekov's and Harriman's, a bit too easy. It builds new emotional attachment and new conflicts rather effortlessly, some of which end in a big bang, while others are neglected or even forgotten in the following.

Interestingly and most likely coincidentally, parts of the plot of "Star Trek: Of Gods and Men" are very similar as in the big-budget movie "Star Trek (2009)" by J.J. Abrams. In both movies the villain goes back to the time when James Kirk is born or should be born. In both movies the planet Vulcan is completely destroyed. The decisive difference is that in the fan film the characters are committed to put everything straight again, even though it will be very uncomfortable and against the odds. "Star Trek: Of Gods and Men" does not destroy Star Trek's assets, but reaffirms their importance, restores and preserves them for future generations. Maybe some fans would love to see future episodes in the desolate alternate timeline with "Silvereye" Gary Mitchell as the evil overlord. But I am glad that this new timeline is being treated by characters who know the truth as the unfortunate development that it is. Well, this is the reason why "Star Trek: Of Gods and Men" scores five points, just one less than Abrams' blockbuster movie. The latter is definitely the superior movie; everything is done with a much higher budget and perhaps with more consideration and attention to detail too. But the first excels as a Trek movie, it has much more of the old spirit in it than the reboot, and not just because of the impressive array of familiar actors.

But speaking of the desolate alternate timeline, I wonder why it had to be so similar to the Mirror Universe (MU) of TOS: "Mirror, Mirror" in the first place, at least visually. The symbols, uniforms and customs are much the same. Even the scars and goatees (Well, Harriman has a beard already in the Prime Universe of the time). And just as the MU, the alternate timeline appears to be strangely entangled with the Prime Universe, because how slim would be the chance of Harriman, Chekov and Uhura meeting on the same ship without such "divine interference" (which is another clear parallel to "Star Trek (2009)")? Well, the story needs an alternate timeline, rather than the MU that has nothing to do with time travel. Still, it begs the question why this alternate timeline has much the same characteristics as the well-established MU.

The plot is full of déjà-vus such as the distress call with the barely operational Enterprise being the only ship in range, a coincidence that doesn't really become more plausible by Chekov's explicit statement that he has experienced all this before. And while Vulcan is obliterated a bit like in "Star Trek (2009)", the way that Captain Harriman makes the rebels watch it is reminiscent of "Star Wars Episode IV". Unfortunately, just as in this other science fiction franchise, no one really mourns the loss of the planet but carries on as before in "Star Trek: Of Gods and Men". This one aspect is handled better in the big-budget movie. Overall "Star Trek: Of Gods and Men" could have done more to develop the characters and not just the plot.

One important point of criticism of "Star Trek: Of Gods and Men" is that it is too fond of symbolism. Most blatantly it carries on with Trek's fixation on the name "Enterprise", as the movie throws yet another vessel of that name into the mix, with the contrived registry NCC-1701-M. "M" for "memorial" apparently. Come on! While a justification was required to use the TOS-style New Voyages sets, it still doesn't feel right. The movie brims over with references to previous Star Trek installments anyway, and often expands on them or interpolates between them, which can be unfavorably labeled as "continuity porn". While it is basically a good idea to tie together loose ends, I think it is overdone here. For instance, we've got the Guardian of Forever, Charlie X, Gary Mitchell and Stonn - characters and concepts from no less than four different TOS episodes that significantly contribute to the plot. Of course, the real-life explanation may be that the authors tried to incorporate as many old roles and as many old actors as would commit themselves to the fan film. Well, it is nice in spite of my reservations how Charlie immediately recognizes Uhura as the "singing lady" and, of course, his crush Janice Rand too. It is also a good idea to pick up Spock's guiding principle of "the needs of the many" and turn it into a key element of Vulcan philosophy (that Uhura challenges in the alternate timeline). However, I didn't really like the rather gratuitous reference to the Omega particles (VOY: "The Omega Directive"), for instance. Overall, less may have been more.

The visual effects are on a high level but not quite top-notch throughout the episode. Planetscapes and starships are beautifully animated. There are even insects on the planet Vulcan! Only the light effects are generally too colorful and the space battle sometimes reminds me rather of a video game than of a TV episode.

Nitpicking: Why doesn't the Guardian of Forever protect Uhura, Chekov and Harriman when Charlie alters history? Did Charlie reprogram the gate in some fashion? Charlie himself seems to keep all the old memories. And the second time Uhura too remembers the intermediate timeline. -- Charlie uses the Guardian to kill Kirk's mother before he was born. But why doesn't he go back in time himself? He can't really earn anything with his revenge on Kirk, considering that he obviously keeps all the unpleasant memories from the old timeline. And most importantly, Kirk is already presumed dead by the time Charlie alters the timeline! -- Harriman's men should have tried harder breaking through the forcefield behind which Chekov and his people are hiding. They give up way too easily, considering that the ship is controlled by the enemy! -- To paraphrase something from another Trek movie, why does Gary Mitchell need a starship? Why does he even bother to live with his inferior subjects, after some 40 years as a god?

Remarkable quotes: "I'm a freedom fighter, no a doctor." (Kittrick/Chekov), "Personal log, stardate 7615.1 It doesn't seem like a year has passed, since we restored our normal timeline. As I conclude my last entry as captain, my thoughts are not on that single grain of sand we might disturb accidentally, but on the fact that we are endowed with free will and can choose ideas that can either lead to deadly consequences or to joyous rewards. So truly, our destiny lies not in the stars but within ourselves." (Uhura), "Don't worry. This one's neutered" (Janice Rand, about the Tribble she gives to Uhura)
Remarkable cast: We have got Nichelle Nichols (as Nyota Uhura), Walter Koenig (as Pavel Chekov), Alan Ruck (as John Harriman), Grace Lee Whitney (as Janice Rand), William Wellman (as Charlie Evans) and Lawrence Montaigne (as Stonn), all in their old roles. In addition there is Cirroc Lofton (as Uhura's and Stonn's son Sevar), Chase Masterson (very sexy in green as the Orion Xela), Garrett Wang (as Commander Garan), J.G. Hertzler (as Koval, a Klingon), Ethan Phillips (as data clerk), Crystal Allen (as Navigator Yara), Gary Graham (as Ragnar), Herbert Jefferson ("Boomer", as Galt), James Cawley ("New Voyages" Kirk, as Commander Kirk), Jeff Quinn ("New Voyages" Spock, as a Romulan helmsman). This is the by far most impressive cast ever to grace a fan film.
Remarkable ships: Among many others, we see USS Enterprise NCC-1701-B, USS Enterprise NCC-1701-M (obviously a replica of the original Enterprise), GSS Conqueror GOC-1701 (with an additional bulge in the secondary hull for the Omega device), GSS Lee GOC-1944 (Federation-class dreadnought), GSS Destroyer GOC-1218, GSS Kaylynn GOC-0605 (Abramsverse registry?!) and USS Liberty NCC-1071. The flagship of Gary Mitchell is a rather ugly Klingon-Federation hybrid. The rebels have a heavily damaged First Federation sphere in their ranks. Finally, there are ships as they appeared in TAS and cargo containers from Franz Joseph's SFTM, as well as new fighter designs. We also see the saucer separation of an original Constitution class (or a variant thereof).
Remarkable prop: Ragnar is using what looks like a Cardassian PADD.
Remarkable location: The scenes involving the Guardian of Forever were filmed at Vasquez Rocks (although the planet set for the TOS episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" was built in the studio).
Remarkable facts: Twelve years after Kirk's death Sulu is on an extended mission in the Gamma Quadrant, Scotty is still missing (obviously, because his ship crashed on the Dyson sphere), and McCoy and Spock are negotiating with the Klingons. Captain Uhura is head of Starfleet Linguistics, while Captain Chekov is waiting for his promotion. -- In the alternate timeline, Chekov used to have a wife, Irina (TOS: "The Way to Eden"), and a son, Pyotr (TOS: "Day of the Dove").
Rating: 5

 

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Last modified: 25 Dec 2015 
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