Contributor: Rick McGimpsey
Fan films (or any sort of fan fiction) are a mixed bag. Some of them are awful, some are good, others have low budgets and others are made with actors who previously starred in official productions lending their support. This mixed bag can lead a lot of people to simply scoff at the entire practice and assume all of it is poorly acted, terribly written tripe. This is a bit unfair since a lot of talented people occasionally take a hand at producing fan films and could arguably evolve into a more lucrative career in filmmaking in their future. Whether it is a well-produced short film or a labour of love filmed in the backyard these types of films are a controversial subject. And there is, of course, the whole debate about copywrite and other legal matters aside. There is also many arguments against fan films as an unworthy activity for those with talent who should, in the eyes of the critic, be making more original content of their own. I must confess that I often have expressed this latter view; however, I cannot knock a group of guys and gals for having a ton of fun. And in the end for a lot of these people that is all that matters. They had fun.
The films I am reviewing here are three productions made by a few friends of mine. Promising them a fair and honest critique of their work I am putting forward this review as both an internet blogger and a fan of Star Trek.
This particular trilogy is set in the Mirror Universe and so each of these characters are playing Mirror Universe counterparts to the ones they play in their usual fan film productions. I must confess that I have not watched any of their productions aside from these three so any criticism I offer should be taken with due consideration of my ignorance of this series.
The first film is called The Hill and is probably the weakest of the three shorts. The low production value is negligible since fan films should not be judged on that merit anyway, but I had a few qualms with the writing and editing of this film which made it less enjoyable than the other two.
It is extremely extremely difficult to follow for one thing, but I think this largely due to my not having followed the other shorts in this series. The film is shot entirely in a wooded park on and off a path which I think was one of the mistakes this production made. I think the setting would have been less obvious if it was shot in a more open area or at least shot away from the path which immediately exposes the set as a park. Also being away from an indoor set and using low budget equipment the film suffers from poor lighting and cinematography which makes some scenes hard to make out. There is a character who has green hair who falls in some grass and due to the lighting and the fact that she is too close to where the camera’s line of vision ends at the top of the screen that she is hard to make out. This and other technical flaws are what stand out the most about some of the issues that The Hill has that the other two films do not.
The Hill opens with two characters running along a path. One is our main lead, Captain Minard and the other is a woman wearing a black outfit and the green hair. I did not pick up on what her name was and sadly I struggled with this with the other characters as well. As I noted it is very hard to follow and it took me too long to figure out that Minard was in fact chasing the woman rather than running with her which I initially thought.
Minard eventually captures her and another guy and tries to coerce them into finding some quadlithium he is searching for. He kills the guy, but the Green Haired Woman he leaves alive on the condition she remains loyal to him. She is trying to protect her son and agrees to help him for his sake. Who her son is, where he is, and why he might be in danger is not clearly stated in this short and it is possible I missed it in some quick dialogue or something. A lot of the dialogue compresses the plot and backstory and combining that with not seeing the previous films this film quickly becomes inscrutible. The motivations of the characters is never clear to me and why they act the way they do is never properly explained. Also the Mirror Universe element to their behaviour is not done well in my opinion and often feels like I am watching a bunch of really sweet and kind people who are not used to being rough trying to hard to sound tough which is not natural to them. There is a character named Yara who is probably the strongest example of this. Her character’s rudeness and abrasiveness is so ingenuine and hammed up that I am more than certain that the actress playing her is probably nothing like this character at all and is probably a very easy person to get along with in real life. It is clear to me that these actors were told to be “mean as you can be” without any clearer direction than that.
Later in the short Yara warns the Green Haired Woman that Minard is not to be trusted and that his mind and humanity has been warped and mutated by a crystal he has in his possession. What this crystal is is another element not cohesively explained and I found myself lost whenever it was brought up. The confrontation between Yara and Green Hair is written in a rather jumbled fashion and it made me think Yara is a piss poor negotiator. Before warning her of Minard’s transformation Yara greets her with “hello, freak” which would indicate that she was more intent on threatening her than warning her about Minard. In fact nothing Yara does in this short makes a lot of sense. At the end she destroys the quadlithium with her hand phaser which angers Minard who starts attacking and threatening her. He rants a bit about his plan to take over and gain power before finally ending his speech with a “who’s with me” ultimatum. Green Hair joins him explaining that given how feared he is by his enemies he must be able to protect her son. This is illogical to me considering that I would I prefer to keep my kid thousands of miles away from someone with a lot of enemies no matter how powerful they may or may not be. I don’t think anyone under constant threat of attack would be a safe choice of protecting anybody and her logic here is questionable. Yara also changes her mind and joins him and the transition from opponent to ally is so quick and jarring that I struggled to buy it as a viewer. The actions, dialogue, and motivations of many of the characters make little sense and this is likely due to contraints on the film’s runtime. Perhaps if CBS’s draconian policies about fan films allowed longer productions perhaps the plot holes, compressed dialogue, choppy editing, and illogical character behaviour would only be dents that could hammered out with more time available. Alas this is not to be.
I am good friends with two of the people involved in the making of this film and I say this with love as a friend and honesty as a reviewer that The Hill is messy and in need of improvement. The writing is often jumbled, hard to follow, and illogical; and the story is nearly impossible to follow or comprehend. The transition from wide angle to close up shots is not well edited and often leads to sudden dips in picture quality which is jarring to a viewer.
The acting is not stellar by any means, but I think there is a certain charm to some of them. Especially in the case with Minard and Yara. While I do not buy their respective actor’s performances as genuine you can tell they are having fun with the roles and you can’t help but smile at the clear love and attention these filmmakers put into the project despite the low budget, poor writing, and often wooden acting. The other actors in the film are much more wooden and hardly emote anything at all and a lot of times when they are onscreen and speaking I feel like I am watching a local used car commercial
I think The Hill is a clear case of talented filmmakers who will get better with practice and time. My advice for the future is compress less dialogue and film in a more open area. I didn’t hate the film, but it is admittedly the weakest of the three movies.
The second film is called Command and Conquer and it is my favourite of the three. Taking place onboard a TOS era star ship and featuring music from the original series this film has a very strong Star Trek vibe that The Hill lacked. The acting is no better, but the camera work and production value is improved upon significantly.
I think this movie’s strongest point is that it knows precisely what it is. While The Hill took itself a bit too seriously at times this movie is frequently tongue in cheek with its humour and plays out more as if it is fully aware that it is a fan film. There is a very funny moment in which two conspiring officers are talking on a three-way channel with their commanding officer and one of them, not knowing about the third party, blurts out details of their plot leaving the second man awkwardly evading their captain’s suspicious accusations. The writers of this took the Machiavellian tactics of the Mirror Universe characters and shaped it into something darkly comic and it works perfectly. I really enjoyed the scene and it was the highlight I think of all three of these productions.
On the down side this film once again lost me on some plot details and after watching this and the third film I am still unclear on what exactly is going on. I concede that I may be missing backstory from other films, but as a whole these three films by themselves are difficult to follow and I would not recommend watching them without some context known first.
Command and Conquer also has some slight editing issues, but not as many as The Hill did. There is one awkward moment in which Minard teases a captain about a planned romp with his “captain’s woman” and when he ends the transmission the shot lingers a few seconds too long on Minard’s expression which makes the scene move from humourous to just awkward.
I accept that these sort of technical issues are standard fair of fan films and if I was dared to do better I am sure I would make something a lot worse, but I felt for the sake of fairness that these issues be mentioned at least in passing. All in all I really enjoyed Command and Conquer. It’s tone was right for its type of production. It did not take itself seriously and you could tell that these filmmakers knew that this movie has the production values of a local used car ad and had fun anyway. You can see the fun in everyone’s eyes and demeanour. This is cosplay at its finest. With a script and camera added it becomes a fun little project to enjoy privately or share with friends. It’s obviously nothing like Gods and Men or Axanar, let alone any of CBS’s official productions, but the fun and fandom is very much alive and I daresay it is more alive here than it is in the J. J. Abrams movies which were made with a clearly low opinion of Star Trek in mind.
The third and final film, Dark Glimmer, is also its shortest. It is literally just Minard betraying an officer and murdering her before beaming himself and his captives away from the bridge. The opening shot is a CG effect of their ship’s nacelle in the foreground and a damaged vessel in the far background running derelict. While this is a cheap computer effect it is well shot in a cinematographic standpoint and shows a solid aesthetic vision on the part of the director. Dark Glimmer still suffers from the same deadpan delivery of lines, but it is less confusing than the first two and this was as much fun to watch as it was to make I bet. Vance Major, who plays Minard, enjoys this role. You can tell he does. Many of the other actors carry the same vibe and its makes one almost wish they could be on set while these films are made just to see them have fun.
I cannot say in all honesty that I think these films are well-made or even very good, but I did enjoy them. What I think I enjoyed most was how much the actors enjoyed being in them. If a viewer approached these without taking the subject matter seriously and instead looked at it as a large group of friends young and old making a passion project together you can’t help but be affected positively by their enthusiasm and love for what they are doing. They can’t act. Their cinematography is a work in progress. The editing is choppy. The fight scenes are badly choreographed. And the production design has a very transparent shoestring budget. And yet for all of that there is a clearer and stronger love for Star Trek latent in these filmmaker’s projects than in Star Trek Into Darkness or even Discovery. Those projects are blatantly taking the Star Trek brand and modernising it to the point that hardcore Treksperts often feel alienated by the mainstream demographic these productions are clearly trying to attract. The Hill, Command and Conquer, and Dark Glimmer are made by Star Trek fans who love Star Trek, live and breathe Star Trek, and furthermore understand and appreciate Star Trek. The creators of the J. J. Abrams films and Discovery have lost a bit of their Star Trek-yness (it’s a word because I made it up) while these fan films haven’t.
The time and budget constraints have obviously diminished their quality and there are some things they need to work on and improve. But all in all I think these three movies are fun, mildly entertaining, exercises in hardcore fandom that anyone who enjoys cameraderie among friends can get in on, appreciate, and give a smile and nod at. Despite my own criticism I find myself wishing I lived closer to where these films were made just so I could talk a few of my friends involved into giving me a walk on role. I am no actor, but neither are they and that didn’t stop their passion. They had fun and it was fun seeing them have fun.
These three films were shot at Starbase Studios and produced by Vance Major Films.
Here are links to all three films which can be found on Youtube: