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Reviews of Starship Farragut by Bernd

The Captaincy

Stardate 4625.1: After the previous Captain Alvarez has retired, the newly promoted Captain Carter takes over command of the U.S.S. Farragut NCC-1647. Although the ship's crew is not yet complete, it is called off to planet Diotama III to investigate the apparent destruction of the U.S.S. Quintillus by what seems to be a new Klingon weapon. A landing party beams down and runs into Klingon cross-fire. After disabling the Klingons, Carter and his crew discover a cloaking field that hides a huge weapon embedded in a mountain top. After some more skirmishes they manage to overpower the Klingons and free Commodore Broughton from captivity. The rest of the Quintillus crew is dead. Carter overloads a phaser to blow up the ground facility, but the Farragut still has to take care of the actual weapon that was hiding in orbit. After firing all weapons the Farragut barely escapes the shock wave of the exploding weapon. Commodore Broughton is transferred to the Enterprise, while the Farragut heads back to Mars.

I like the way this first episode of Starship Farragut introduces the troika of Captain Carter, Commander Tacket and Lieutenant Commander Smithfield. Even though these three overall remind me of Kirk, McCoy and Spock, it is a good recipe that may work any time again. In any case I appreciate the effort not only to advance the plot but also to work on the character relationships. Security Chief Prescott, who  feels remorse for failing to protect his previous captain and is overzealous since that incident, always quoting regulations, is another fine addition. He may even be the best worked out character of the whole episode.

High praise goes to the visual effects of the episode, done by NEO f/x. My favorite VFX scene is a zoom-out from the window in the captain's quarter that ends up showing the whole ship inside the drydock in orbit of Mars. Another highlight is the battle against the Klingon weapon. Generally all beam and explosion effects are top-notch and couldn't be better in a 2-million-dollar TV episode.

On the downside, the episode suffered from a rather bumpy dramaturgy. Only the very beginning with the attack on the Quintillus from a Klingon perspective was really exciting, as was the first phaser fight with the Klingons and the destruction of the ground and the orbital facilities in the end. The rest consisted of a lot of walking through the woods and of random people showing up with phasers or disruptors and turning the tables on the other party.

John Broughton Sr. was little convincing as Commodore Broughton, who appeared to me as a poor reissue of Commodore Decker ("The Doomsday Machine"), and who provided rather comic relief than real conflict. Well, and one general problem of fan films becomes apparent in Starship Farragut too, that some characters and many extras look just like the fans they are and not like we would expect from Starfleet personnel or Klingon warriors. I mean no offense, and I freely admit that I would look just as bad in Starfleet attire!

Regarding the score of "The Captaincy", some passages, especially the more symphonic ones in the end credits and several scenes without live action, are excellent. Some others sound a tad too much like MIDI instrumentation, even if they are technically no MIDI sounds. I needed some time to get accustomed to the score. But in hindsight I have to say it always blended well with the visuals, and only occasionally it tried to imitate the dated style of the TOS background music.

Summarizing, "The Captaincy" is below average and scores 3 points in my review, but only by the high standards that were set by canon Trek. But it is a promising start of the fan film series Starship Farragut created by John Broughton, placing it in the first league of fan productions. The series has a lot of potential, and I will be damned if it the screenplays, the directing and even the acting won't improve with every future episode. Perhaps Starship Farragut will not become quite as distinguished as New Voyages. But I think it was a good decision to create a TOS-era series in its own right, rather than trying to outperform or only to imitate the arguably best fan film series made so far. So other than borrowing costumes and probably set pieces from New Voyages and having James Cawley and his crew appear in a cameo, it looks like Starship Farragut will follow its own path.

Remarkable dialogue: "I suppose you wanna quote to me the regulations on this one." - "According to regulations, I cannot comment on a conversation I did not witness." - "There is hope for you yet, lieutenant." - "For you too, sir." (Carter and Prescott, after Carter has ordered to take the obstinate Commodore to sickbay)
Remarkable prop: We see a new Type-3 phaser rifle, with an embedded Type-2 phaser.
Rating: 3

For Want of a Nail

Stardate 4847.3: The Farragut is the first Federation ship invited to visit Solon Prime. The Solonai have developed a technology that allows to observe history, which they might share with the Federation. But when Captain Carter and a landing party beam down, this technology interferes with their transporter, and they find themselves in Pennsylvania in the year 1776. They meet George Washington, whose men have just retreated from the advancing British troops. In the meantime Batarus, the chief scientist from Solon Prime, has used the transporter in the same fashion to visit Earth's past. But his mission fails, revolutionary soldiers witness his arrival in a "plume of fire" and take away his temperature compensation device and the beacon that would allow everyone's return to the 23rd century. Smithfield and Tacket are working with the Solonai to retrieve the landing party and the renegade scientist. But all they beam back is the beacon. The crew are trapped, and Doctor Holley can't help Batarus, who dies of some kind of fever. Carter decides they have to minimize the damage to the timeline, and he arranges a little demonstration that the "plume of fire" could be a natural phenomenon of ignited gas. Meanwhile on Solon Prime Tacket has managed to open a so far unknown seventh gateway through space-time, and the crew are finally beamed back - before George Washington's eyes. Back on Solon, council leader Alondar explains to the crew that everything they changed in the past has no impact but in an alternate timeline. In the year 1776, George Washington has accomplished the foundation of a new nation, but he muses that he may be meant for something greater...

"For Want of a Nail" is very captivating from the very beginning, and although it is twice as long as a normal episode and has many long-winded dialogues it never becomes tiresome. It is definitely better written than the first Farragut episode on all accounts. Something else to notice is that the acting has improved, just as I was hoping for. In "The Captaincy" almost everyone seemed to be struggling to get everything right, and the performances appeared a bit inhibited, even stiff. In "For Want of a Nail" the actors are visibly having fun in their roles. It seems that the only thing the two Farragut episodes really have in common is the walks through the woods. And I have to revise my first impression that Farragut could not compete with New Voyages, because already this second episode is right up there with the best fan films ever made.

The character relationships are further worked out. Carter and Prescott are trapped in Washington's camp where quoting the manual doesn't really get them anywhere, while Smithfield and Tacket are struggling to get them back, albeit with different priorities concerning the risk of damage to the ship. Among the other crew members only Doctor Holley plays a significant part though.

It is great continuity when Carter mentions Hodgkin's Law (TOS: "Bread and Circuses") as a possible cause for the parallel development of the plant life that they encounter before they know it actually is Earth, and Holley corrects him that this law is only supposed to apply to cultural developments. Also, I like Prescott's suggestion that the Solonai may just be testing the crew by creating a fake reality (as e.g. in TOS: "Spectre of the Gun").

The revelation that every alteration of the past has an effect "only" in a parallel or alternate universe has gained a whole new relevance since the new Star Trek movie and the "Abramsverse". Interestingly Carter cares about that alternate timeline and the possible damage in it just as much as about his own, and he urges the Solonai not to use their technology any longer. This, of course, is in strong contrast to "Star Trek (2009)", where everything is accepted as if it were God-given. But I am digressing. The best of "For Want of a Nail" is yet to come, in the form of the cue with the apple in the very last shot. It took me about one second of bafflement to understand that I just witnessed the creation of a rather familiar alternate universe. An amazing twist that I had to rewatch several times, although it does not make much sense that the events from the episode would turn Washington or his successors into ruthless dictators. Anyway, it was an in-joke that only die-hard fans would understand, and as such an awesome ending of a great fan film!

The effects were once again superb, although there were no space battles this time. The episode only has some problems with the lighting. While it is definitely great to use a real building instead of a cardboard and plywood set, the windows and the door of the house in Pennsylvania are highly overexposed, which I found quite distracting. There are some minor issues with the lighting of the bridge, but only in some scenes, when there are spotlights on the captain's chair and other prominent places, and anyone who walks off the spot is immediately in the dark. Well, and speaking of shortcomings in the sets, I noticed only one more, that the walls on Solon Prime looked too obviously like cardboard.

Nitpicking: George Washington was a very tall man (a bit more than 6 feet or 182cm) for his time. But Mark Hildebrand, who plays the general (and who wrote the episode), measures some 2 meters and dwarfs any of the 23rd century crew members, including Prescott. 
Remarkable dialogue: "Now then. Who are you? I expected that a few Europeans might take an interest in our little insurrection. But I must say I'm a little lost as to where you might be from." - "Franistan, mon général. It's a smaller kingdom near... near..." - "Russia." (Washington, Carter and Prescott)
Remarkable costume: The crew is wearing never-seen-before winter jackets. Well, they were going to beam down to an ice planet, but the jackets also come in handy for a winter in Pennsylvania.
Rating: 6

The Price of Anything

Stardate 5133.4: Dr. Gene Carter, Captain Carter's father, has discovered a plant that may cure the Freydox syndrome, a disease that 700 million people in the Federation are suffering from. This nektos plant is going to be cultivated on the farm planet Cerronos IV. It turns out that Gene Carter is suffering from Freydox syndrome himself and does not have much time left to complete his mission - and to come to terms with his son with whom he has not been in touch for years. In order not to raise too much suspicion of the Romulans and the Klingons, they take a shuttle to the colony. However, something collides with shuttle, and the pilot is killed. Jack Carter and his father barely survive the crash on a Class-K planet. They run into a Romulan cook who is afraid of something. Actually, a cloaked Romulan supersoldier ran out of control, caused the crash with the Farragut shuttle and now threatens the lives of the survivors. On the search for the overdue shuttle Tacket takes the Farragut into the Neutral Zone and runs into a Romulan Bird-of-Prey. The ships exchange fire. Tacket lures the Romulan ship into the solar wind, which makes their cloak ineffective, and fires. The Farragut tows the Romulan vessel out of the corona and releases it. When the two Carters are beamed up, Gene Carter is already dead, but the nektos plant is safe. It is brought to the colony, in the hope of one day helping millions of people.

John Broughton and his crew have done a great job with "The Price of Anything". It is unquestionably the most professionally produced episode of the series so far. The camera work, lighting and sound have achieved a high standard that is almost on par with million-dollar TV series. The score of the episode is simply awesome. It gives especially the action sequences a TOS-like feel, but without imitating TOS. Starship Farragut is the most distinctive fan series in this regard.

The visual effects are among the best I have seen in any fan movies. Kudos to NEO f/x. I especially like the shuttle in space and the crash landing. The cloaked Romulan, on the other hand, doesn't feel quite as realistic and reminds me a bit too much of the dated effects from TOS (or of the monster from "Forbidden Planet").

At times it is still visible that the cast doesn't consist of professional actors. But once again I can attest John Broughton, Michael Bednar, Holly Bednar and the rest that they have come a long way since "The Captaincy". It has taken some time, but by now they have internalized their roles to an extent that they really act like 23rd century Starfleet officers and not like fans in costumes.

While "The Price of Anything" is an exciting episode, the underlying story is rather disappointing. It consists of various clichés and doesn't include any unusual twists. Father and son Carter do have a couple of good scenes together. But overall it is a cookie-cutter father-and-son conflict that comes out of the blue, for which no particular reason is cited and that doesn't strike me as particularly interesting. Also, the confrontation with the Romulans remains totally unresolved. Captain Carter does little to save the Romulan cook's life. The supersoldier simply drags the poor guy away and kills him off-screen, which I find quite disillusioning. Commander Tacket releases the defeated Romulan vessel from the tractor beam, upon which it leaves the scene without further notice. The Romulan supersoldier is not defeated or weakened in any fashion, and his existence is not even mentioned by Carter in the end.

Nitpicking: How can Dr. Carter be so sure that the nektos plant will provide a cure that he doesn't want to "waste" it for a clinical test, not even on himself? -- In the vastness of space the Romulan scout vessel collides with the shuttle. How slim is that chance, unless the supersoldier intentionally caused the crash?
Remarkable location: I like the location shoot in the desert (not Vasquez Rocks, but some other place with impressive rock formations). The scenes on the planet are visually powerful and very cineastic with their orange hue. 
Remarkable cameo: We can see Vic Mignogna, the new Kirk of Star Trek Continues. I like him. Nothing against James Cawley of Phase II, but I find Vic Mignogna more convincing after seeing him only two minutes in the role.
Rating: 8

Conspiracy of Innocence

Stardate 6594.3: Commander Tacket finds evidence of a civilization on a planet that was believed to be uninhabited. After a first radio contact with Castillion Prime, Captain Carter decides to beam down with Michelle Smithfield. However, they are stunned and hooked up with some machine right after their arrival. Carter and Smithfield are then interrogated separately by two inhabitants of the planet, who express skepticism about the peaceful mission of Starfleet. After a while, Commander Tacket beams down with a security team to rescue the two overdue officers, but he himself is killed. Back on the Farragut, Carter is distressed by the death of his friend and unable to make decisions. When a Romulan Bird-of-Prey suddenly attacks the ship, Carter notices that there is something wrong with his perception of the whole situation. It turns out that he and Smithfield are still on Castillion Prime, connected to a machine that is exploring their minds, to make sure that their intentions are peaceful. The two adults who questioned them actually look like children. Some 500 years ago one of the moons of Castillion Prime exploded, shifted the planet's axis and caused an ecological disaster. The Castillions used a rare mineral as a shield, with the side effect that they did not age any more.

I dig the plot of "Conspiracy of Innocence". The idea that suspicious aliens explore the intentions of the crew before they bother to talk to them is not new, but is very much in the spirit of TOS. The outcome that the Castillions are children (although many are over 100 years old) and are likely very peaceful leaves me with a content smile on the face, much like in TOS: "The Corbomite Maneuver" (and less like in VOY: "Innocence" where the revelation of the true nature of the children was rather disappointing). While Starship Farragut overall does not strive to be as much of a TOS revival as its sister series Star Trek Continues, I think "Conspiracy of Innocence" is the most TOS-like episode of the series so far. I like that, although some variations of the "It's only a dream" theme in official Trek (for instance, TNG: "Frame of Mind" or DS9: "The Search") show much more exciting plot twists.

While overall everything makes sense in the story and the directing is mostly good, I think the narrative flow is lacking at times. For instance, it could have been more interesting to switch back and forth between Carter's and Smithfield's interrogations, instead of turning it into something like a long exposition on what the mission of the Farragut is about. The story is hampered by too much exposition anyway. Furthermore, I don't like the lame reiteration of clichés (such as the captain's prerogative to beam down against the advice of his security chief) or some character interaction that just doesn't work out (such as between Smithfield and the austere transporter chief Dupree).

As already mentioned in my review of "The Price of Anything", the production values of Starship Farragut have improved a lot in the past few years. I don't know how far Starship Farragut profits from newly hired people and better equipment that was purchased or rented for the production of Star Trek New Voyages. In any case "Conspiracy of Innocence" exhibits the same high standard. The visual effects of the planet (once again by NEO f/x) are stunning, the lighting and camera work is top-notch, and the score wonderfully supplements especially the eerie and the sad moments of the episode.

Unlike Star Trek Continues, however, Starship Farragut is still a series whose main cast consists of enthusiasts, rather than professional actors. There is no question that their performances have improved considerably since "The Captaincy" several years ago. But I think that the acting of John Broughton, Holly Bednar and Michael Bednar has hit the wall by now. My impression of John Broughton in "Conspiracy of Innocence" is that he restrains himself in situations when his character should just let it out. I am all for new adventures with the current cast, and perhaps there is a way for John Broughton to let his character appear more interesting again.

Remarkable scene: In his dream, induced by the Castllions, Captain Carter suddenly steps out of a turbolift and on the cramped bridge of a Romulan Bird-of-Prey.
Remarkable behind-the-scenes fact: This episode is co-directed by Vic Mignogna, who plays Captain Kirk on Star Trek Continues.
Rating: 7

 

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