Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Second Bite of the Cherry: Continues Goes Green

It's all green, green, green it seems at the moment for us at SKoST Towers.

Just as there was with the arrival of the much-delayed Kitumba from the Phase II stable, the Star Trek fanbase were going just as mental over LolaniWe'll dispense with the oft-used plot synopsis and just talk about the show. There's a lot to chew over I can say.

Pilgrim of Eternity relied on an established character and acted as a sequel to a story from The Original Series but here the web-series has cut loose and taken on a tale that is 100% its own. The results are mixed and even while I was listening to the theme closing the episode, just adding a few last touches to my inked notes I was still undecided as to my thoughts on the show. 

"Hmmmm..." I said in thought. My wife (of two days) looked up from the laptop "What's up?"
"I'm not sure what I thought of that...I want to like it but...."

I gurned a lot of facial expressions over the next few minutes trying to come up with an explanation, reasons - even just one conclusion...but nadda. Which is why it's taken so long to put finger to keyboard. 

The nearest thing I could equate Lolani to was a football match. It's a game of two halves. At first we're into a hostage rescue where the crew are prey to the wiles of the seductive Orion girl, Lolani (Fiona Vroom above) but then it's a murder story and at that point I was just finding it very uncertain and misfiring a lot. When legendary Hulk actor Lou Ferrigno turns up it switches again into a classic Star Trek tale of morals and right and wrong dilemmas of which Roddenberry himself would have been proud. That second section is very much powered by the excellent Ferrigno and the dinner scene just sparkles as the Orion slaver takes centre stage in what is the pivotal scene in the story and changes where the narrative is going. 

For me that arrival, that scene marked an important step and it's a shame it takes so long for Ferrigno to turn up. He's luckily not a scenery chewer and handles the role of Zaminhon with a rumbling grace that almost makes you want him to succeed. It's a heavy plot, moreso than Pilgrim of Eternity and certainly more detailed in it's thread. I found on occasion though that there were times where the proverbial "ball" was dropped or made my forehead go all Klingony with strife and confusion.

The journey to the arrival of Lou Ferrigno is a little tangled and the limited fan-funding did show through on more than one occasion which doesn't help this rather on-occasion powerful and multi-facted story. The dialogue is mixed and I seriously preferred Pilgrim of Eternity for it's story and script. Here there's a lot of hokey dialogue and on occasion there's a verge on cheesy but then there are some cracking scenes which help balance them out. At times I was half expecting Lolani to ask Kirk to tell her about that thing called love but we avoided that one at the very least. Vroom too seems a little uncomfortable but does give a sterling effort in the role - a shame that there are a couple of points where her makeup slips. She gives a layered performance here from frightened, bruised and battered slave girl through to her eventual form in almost a butterfly-like transformation that seems to take leaps and isn't that visible on the screen. It's those around her that change (and not due to the Orion Attraction) and there does seem a little bit of a disjoint in how it all fits back together at the end.

Ok, I'm being perhaps a little harsh and the fact that a lot of people went out of their way a lot to bring some new Star Trek to the fans always has to be given the highest praise but I couldn't get away from an uncomfortable feeling all the way through. I genuinely cringed at the dance scene but Mignogna's Kirk-Fu almost made up for it save for a few clear total misses that are "landed". Nice bit of a homage to some of Kirk's Greatest Hits and for that, well done Continues. However, while we're on the subject of Mignogna, let's talk Kirk. 

Vic's efforts in producing Continues cannot be faulted. The quality is there, the vision is there - as is a lot of Shatner. Whether he's negotiating, fighting or just taking a seat in the captain's chair, Mignogna exudes Shatner almost at every step. For some this might be welcome and truly fitting with the concept of "continuing" The Original Series even in the feel of the characters however I think that's where Chris Pine and James Cawley have an edge - making the role their own and not trying to match the unique qualities of the Shat. I applaud Vic for his interpretation of Shatner, but perhaps it should have been an interpretation of Kirk? That said, clearly this emphasises the love Vic has for the role and the passion for his work, again something we here at SKoST cannot deny - and he does get a chance to go full Romantic Kirk as well with a sly smooch thanks to those Orion pheromones.

Cast-wise, Lolani has a Big Four in the driving seat with Mignogna backed by the seemingly very young but still capable Todd Haberkorn as Spock, Larry Nemecek as Bones and Chris Doohan as Scotty. All do an admirable job to back up their placing in the opening credits and if Shatner and co had made it into a 1969 - 1970 season perhaps Doohan Snr would have made his way from the end titles to a more elevated status. The acting from these guys is great but sadly they don't get enough time to explore their roles here with the limelight firmly elsewhere. Larry is just grumbly enough and there's the right kind of twinkle in the eyes of Chris that would make his dad proud. Really good to see and with that pinch of their own personalities in there as well. My other concern thoiugh is for the actors behind Uhura (Kim Stinger) and Sulu (Grant Imahara). 

Sadly they get sidelined with barely a decent line between them for the duration of Lolani while better scenes and dialogue are headed off by crew addition Dr Elise McKennah (Michele Specht) and Kenway (Matthew Enway). McKennah has some wonderful sparring with Mignogna's Kirk and the relationship between the two does verge from flirty to comical on occasion but there does seem to be some good chemistry here that could do with more exploitation in future stories. I wasn't convinced by Specht's arrival in the show but her role as the counsellor has moved on greatly and works very well in light of the dealings with Lolani here. Indeed, Lolani's best scenes are when she is with either Mignogna or Specht.

Kenway's story is the larger focus here due to his involvement with the title character but I just don't buy the role. Is it love? What does he want? Kenway seems a little weaker than I might expect from your usual redshirt and his motivations do seem suspect by the episode's conclusion as do some of the decisions that Kirk makes by the end of the story. Getting teary-eyed and sentimental goes against the grain of the role itself that Mignogna has tried so closely to follow. The problem with Kenway is that we have a guest star helping a guest star which detracts from the main cast and some of the drama is lost because at least one of the main protagonists isn't key to series. Hopefully it won't be a one off performance and his return next time will help build the role - making him a one episode character will only weaken the story.

It also seems that the two big Star Trek series in Phase II and Continues have something of a Buck Rogers-faceoff going on with Gil Gerrard turning up in the recent Kitumba and now former Colonel Wilma Deering, Erin Gray appearing here, twice, as Commodore Gray. Definitely one of the senior brass you wouldn't want to cross, even on a good day. If you were also wondering that's Boba Fett from Attack of the Clones playing Ensign Tongaroga.

I had hoped for a little bit more grit however this is a story that would have fitted perfectly in the three seasons of The Original Series which is definitely where Phase II has an edge - they are pushing the boundaries and trying new things while Continues is doing just that - continuing. Kirk gets the girl, for a bit, replete with romantic music and there isn't even a glimpse of vaseline on the lens or soft focus. Admirably those fantastic behind the scenes people have achieved the true look of the 1960's series in lighting and overall mood. There's all sorts of purples and greens bringing back the feel of the original show. Even the external shots of the USS Enterprise feel more like the models by Matt Jeffries than the CGI stunners of Phase II. That said they are beautiful and set the mood superbly. Not that they look unfinished but just very authentic especially if compared to the Mike Okuda remasters of recent years. The sets too deserve a credit. From the bridge to the crew quarters through to the transporter room and the briefing room it's as though the production team literally beamed them straight out of the 1960s, added some twists to bring in 21st Century with a graphic or an effect to wow us.

I had planned to launch this review after the premiere of Phase II's The Holiest Thing to see how the two shows are comparing however with that delayed we chose to go with this as a solus post. With the benefit of a week or so's breathing space since the launch of Lolani it's a credit to the original show and all involved should be praised. My opinion still stands that it's not quite up to the level of Pilgrim of Eternity but yet there has been progress, development and everyone involved seems a lot more comfortable that in the previous installment. I also suggest that it would be harsh to compare this episode across to Phase II as they have a ten year headstart on experience at the least. By the end of the story there's a real sense though that Continues has captured the essence of The Original Series maybe in a closer fashion than Phase II. In fact it's better that the two shows do have some form of divergence that echoes from their very titles. 

While Lolani has been a slight disappointment it's still exciting to see a new episode of Star Trek brought to the screen for the fans at the least. Ok, I'll also admit that with two weeks of mulling over the show I'm beginning to see the attraction of Mignogna's Kirk (don't let on though). There's a lot of love and dedication evident here and while I've pointed out some niggles it's a step - more a staircase - above a lot of the fan productions that are loitering around the internet these days. 

Just one request I suppose - More Please - and soon.

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