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Review of Pacific 201 by Bernd

Pacific 201, Parts 1 & 2

The year is 2200. After a memorial service for the crew members who died on her ship's recent mission, Commander Alisa Vandre is summoned to Starfleet Intelligence for a debriefing. Flashback to the mission: Vandre's ship, the USS Pacific NCC-201, is in orbit of an anomalous planet. When that planet is about to break apart, the landing party, including herself, barely escapes with a shuttle. But back on the ship, it turns out that the shields are no protection against the planetary debris because of the gravitational differential. Several of the crew are killed by the impacts, and the Pacific is dead in the water. A Romulan vessel appears and offers help in an audio transmission. Then, however, Crewman Lawrence discovers that science officer Rader is hiding classified information about the Romulans from him. The actual reason is a military reconnaissance mission for which the exploration of the planet serves as a cover. Anyway, Lawrence talks with two of his cremates, who become convinced that the captain and bridge officers are conspiring with the Romulans, and that all witnesses would be killed. They decide to sabotage the planned rescue of the Pacific, and to destroy the Romulan ship by suddenly reversing the tractor beam. Lawrence, however, informs Captain Isaac Demir of the plan. As Demir enters the tractor beam control room to apprehend the mutineers, they manipulate the beam in a way that the Romulan vessel is destroyed, and everyone in the room is killed. 49 crew members have been lost by now. As there is no way to get the propulsion systems repaired, it is up to Vandre as the acting captain to find volunteers to stay behind on the Pacific, while the rest may board the shuttles to escape from the anomaly. Fortunately another ship, the USS Velocity, arrives in time to rescue the complete remaining crew of the Pacific. On Earth, the interrogator from Starfleet Intelligence tells Vandre that Starfleet Command shares her sentiments about the mission and dismisses her.

"Pacific 201" was created by EC Henry and has been in the making for five years until the second part was finally released in December 2020. The infamous new fan film guidelines issued by CBS had quite an impact on the production, as they required to condense the story. Although I don't know the original script, I don't think this was to the disadvantage of the film, which achieves a good narrative flow in the given time of a bit more than 30 minutes.

Unlike most other notable fan film projects, "Pacific 201" is set roughly halfway between Star Trek Enterprise and The Original Series, in a so far unexplored era of the Trek chronology, at least as far as live action productions are concerned. It does not try to revive or even to re-enact TOS, and hence avoids a direct competition with the styles and with the actors of the original. I think this is a huge advantage for "Pacific 201". As soon as a fan production occupies the exact same era with the same ships and technology, or even uses the characters from TOS, fans will pay close attention on how faithfully the film follows the original (even if they deny that canon has any relevance for them). In the perception of such a film, the look and feel may easily supersede the story. Vice versa, if producers focus on the "revival" aspect and on questions of style, they may not recognize or may actively discard worthwhile story opportunities. TOS revivals are fine, but I think that fan fiction, just as well as canon Trek, should boldly go, and not shoehorn even more new adventures into Spock's busy biography.

In addition to "Pacific 201" leaving the TOS setting and characters alone, it also doesn't feel like I am watching fans in costumes. The acting has a level of professionalism as it can be found in few other fan films. And although she does come across as a bit sober, Margaret Herbener is convincing as the principal character Commander Vandre, who is given a hard time both in the crisis and in the frame story. Well, her involvement in the former could have been a bit more extensive in hindsight because after all her decisions on the ship were called into question.

Fan films are usually quite heavy on dialogue, and have to face the criticism that they tell too much and show too little. In "Pacific 201", Commander Vandre's interrogation serves as a framing device. This readily justifies some more overall verbosity. On the other hand, the frame story doesn't really matter a lot, considering that there is rather little conflict potential in it, none of the lines really qualifies as memorable and it is resolved rather quickly in the end. Also, there are a couple of events in what appears as her personal recount that she can't have actually witnessed. As already mentioned, it would have helped, had Vandre been even stronger involved in the main storyline aboard the Pacific.

In an effort to break the spell that fan films tell and don't show, this production includes a number of action scenes that are well-staged and thrilling, especially the escape from the planet with Vandre hanging on the ladder of the shuttle, and the sparks and debris coming down as the Pacific is hit by rocks.

The story about the mistrustful crew members, who suspect that their superiors conspire with the Romulans, rings a bell because something similar happened in TOS: "Balance of Terror" when Lieutenant Stiles accused Spock of being a Romulan spy. I think that "Pacific 201" is based on the classic theme on purpose, which is both a homage and makes a lot of sense because it is only 40 years after the Romulan War, and many in Starfleet would have grown up with their parents' narrations of the war. On the other hand, I doubt that holding back classified information from a crewman would be sufficient for him to incite a mutiny. I think the story should have given Lawrence more reason to mistrust his superiors but perhaps that was in the lines that were removed from the script due to the fan film guidelines?

Another aspect that this film has in common with the classic "Balance of Terror" is the theme of the invisible enemy, or of the ship dead in the water. Although the Romulan threat is only imagined this time, "Pacific 201" has an even stronger submarine feel to it than the TOS episode, thanks to the dark and crammed sets.

The particular charm of the setting in the year 2200 lies in the possible combination of ENT and TOS styles. The sets, props and uniforms include familiar features from both eras, and are immediately credible as an intermediate style. The design of the shuttle evokes the rounded shapes of the ENT-era shuttlepod, but is substantially larger and has TOS-style lettering. The bridge of the Pacific is overall simplistic as in TOS (including monitors with blue illuminated frames), but comes with control panels that are reminiscent of those in ENT. Similarly, the uniforms consist of blue sweaters with ENT-era department stripes but TOS rank insignia. We already have a Starfleet at the time, but the UESPA (as the scientific branch?) is still around as well.

The starships of the film are original designs, and overall plausible as an intermediate step between ENT and TOS as well. Yet, I don't think the USS Pacific is a great design because it is too simplistic in its basic shapes (disks and tubes) while too busy in the details (greebles, fins and antennae). The USS Velocity is a rather ugly tube ship. Perhaps it is unattractive on purpose, but with the exception of the warp drive it doesn't look very much like Starfleet. I like the Romulan vessel, although I would personally prefer it to be a bit more rounded.

The visual effects of "Pacific 201" are top notch for the most part. The scenic shots such as the Starfleet Intelligence building, the surface of the unstable planet and the Pacific in the debris field are awesome. As soon as actors are involved, not all of the visual compositions with green screen are totally convincing. There are some noticeable discrepancies in the lighting, or unrealistic depth of field effects. Overall, however, I applaud to the efforts to create vibrant visuals, not only for the space scenes where CGI is a no-brainer.

"Pacific 201" comes with an original musical score, and most notably with one theme that repeats all over the episode in a couple of variations. I think this was composed very skillfully and always matches the visuals and the mood of the scenes. We can also hear the Romulan theme from "Balance of Terror" at one point in the episode.

Overall, "Pacific 201" is clearly among the best fan productions I have seen. It excels with its unique setting and styling, with good acting, with mostly convincing and sometimes superb visual effects and, last but not least, with an intelligent story.

Rating: 9

 

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Last modified: 13 Oct 2021 
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