Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Events on the Horizon

While the dust is kicked up around the Axanar situation, you may well have missed the arrival of Star Trek: Horizon.

Based on the franchise, Tommy Kraft has brought a fresh new story to the universe and, most importantly, it's not set during the oft-used Kirk-era of The Original Series. Oh - usual warning, SPOILERS ahead.

Horizon instead takes us back to the time of the Romulan War and the years we glimpsed through Enterprise. This time we're not on the NX-01 but the Discovery under the command of one Harrison Hawke.

Horizon is very much a story of time, reintroducing us to the Iconians and introducing us to a terrifying technology that they managed to steal away from the Elway before they could use it. It's a scene we actually saw a few months ago as a teaser but my god did it leave a lot for us to discover.

Flash forward a few thousand years to the Discovery making a run for Earth territory carrying a Romulan defector. The escape results in the loss of Hawke's helm officer who, it also turns out, he was romantically entwined with. Seeing Romulan Birds of Prey laying down a barrage of fire onto the NX Class starship is incredible. The acting alone is spot on from everyone involved even at this early point in proceedings and, to be honest, it just gets better and better from there.

Turns out that the Romulans are preparing for a big push just around the corner from Earth and someone needs to go and sort it out before it gets nasty. The Discovery, Enterprise and a couple of Vulcan ships take on the mission. The Romulan defector, T'Mar, joins the crew at the helm although her presence isn't welcomed by all.  On the flip side, the Romulans are being aided by their own "Future Guy" in the effort to win the war but this time it's not a big help as the coalition fleet manages to save the day and destroy the weapon. Problem is that in the process the Discovery's brand spanking new tricobalt torpedoes set off a reaction which throws the ship out of time and into a distant galaxy where they arrive at Horizon. Without giving too much away, the movie tells the story of that mission and the need to stop the Elway weapon from being used plus some hallmark Enterprise Temporal Cold War elements mixed in for good effect.   

So let's get into the movie a bit more. For one thing the acting on all accounts is damn fine and spot on. Paul Lang as Captain Hawke provides a solid element of control as the commanding officer of the NX-04 and manages to sprinkle his performance with some more "human" touches than you might expect from a character who has been relentlessly experiencing the horrors of the Romulan War. Marc Bowers as First Officer and Science Officer Jackson Gates is a more calming influence within the crew and steps up to the plate when required. Ryan Webber perhaps has the most interesting role to play within Horizon providing the foil to Callie Bussell's altered Romulan T'Mar. 

Their relationship develops from hostility to a mutual "cease fire" but not friendship across the course of the movie and I think that's a good choice should this ever be expanded into other episodes. It is a cast which is fully utilised and everyone gets their moment in the limelight and for that Tommy and the production team must be congratulated. No-one hugs the camera and there is a use and purpose for every character. I actually expected Ensign Sutherland (Ashley Croft) to be a bit of a side character but she's well included during the away mission to Horizon plus she helps open up some more to T'Mar's character during an early interaction.

As for the Romulans, there are two key players. Firstly in the early events of the story, Admiral Verak, ably portrayed by Ryan Husk and latterly Daekon played by Rocco Guirlanda. The two "villains" of the piece do split the narrative with Verak being the main opponent when the coalition fleet attacks the hidden Romulan weapon and Daekon holds his own in the events surrounding Horizon. They are pretty standard Romulan characters although Daekon is perhaps provided more breathing space in terms of development moreso because of his role in the conclusion of the story. 

There is a little bit of moustache-twirling villainy in the air with Guirlanda's character but it does help up the ante. Also significant to the story of Horizon, Daekon and the Temporal Cold War is Amelia Yarris. Seemingly killed off in the opening few minutes of Horizon during the Romulan battle, she flits in and out of the show through Hawke's dreams and actually has a decent part to play when all the different strands are brought together. Her path is a little forecast and won't take a great amount of thinking to work out where it's heading by the halfway point but the payoff, at the least, makes sense and actress Jeannine Thompson carries the part off very well and makes it believable.

The story itself is very clearly set out as I've noted. It is quite simple, easy to follow and well explained from the start. The hectic battle which introduces us to the Discovery and her crew is excellently executed and for a one-off production I was blown away. Kraft and the production team have utterly amazed me with their attention to detail in every way. The phasers, uniforms, tricorders, consoles and overall environments are just as you would expect and have seen during the four years Enterprise was on our screens.  A lot of the production does use green screens/backdrops to create the full environment but the way in which it's filmed draws your eyes away from the backgrounds and onto the main characters. Their performances do make you forget that a lot of what you're seeing is all being created inside a computer and really helps you invest in the story.

I actually think this way of producing, as opposed to the standing sets of Continues or New Voyages means that Kraft and co have been able to be a lot more expressive in their artform and do a lot more than you might chance with "real" props. Certainly the pounding the Discovery gets in its first appearance is testimony to that in the least. It also means that we are granted some stunning vistas and alien environments and technology when we are taken to Horizon. 

There are definitely a few sequences I can immediately think of which would otherwise not have been possible if not for the use of CGI. Saying that about the internal visuals it also has to be said for the space battles and realisations of the Earth, Vulcan and Romulan ships that appear throughout. The texturing, the lighting, the finished article is just beautiful to watch and I think it's actually an improvement on some of the visuals even CG Enterprise gave us 15 years ago. 

The space-bourne sequences are in the minority and act as an accompaniment rather than a major part of the story. They are important but are used effectively with the narrative rather than being a good excuse to have some stuff blowing up. What CG has done for Horizon is allow it to really embrace the universe and do whatever it wants. Bridge of a starship? Check. Alien world complete with killer drones? Check. 

Horizon is unique in the fact it has avoided doing the "inexpensive" classic 60's Star Trek and has broken the boundaries to passionately embrace the prequel era and the technical wizardry that those later produced episodes brought viewers. It's a brave move that could have easily looked cheap and nasty but the commitment of the actors plus the brilliance of the digital recreations on screen had me captivated and enthralled from the first scene. If you've yet to see Horizon you are missing a true diamond from the fan film community. I fear we may never see a sequel but this rally does go to show what a limited budget and total belief from all involved can produce. 

Tommy Kraft should be proud of this achievement and I'm sure that his skills will be in great demand particularly from other fan productions in the future. Horizon is a great action adventure story which sits perfectly in the Star Trek universe. It has heart, it has a soul and it has dared to explore something and somewhere different, drawing on elements from the franchise's past but yet successfully adding to it and remaining faithful to the core material. At an hour and a half this is perfectly paced and totally enjoyable. Get yourself a brew, get comfy and watch it. This could well be the film future productions use as their benchmark and could well be a turning point in how fan movies look for the next fifty years.

Were you impressed with Horizon? Will it have an impact on future fan productions? Let me know your thoughts below!

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