Friday, 12 May 2017

Franklin My Darling... The Official Starships Collection Special Seven

"Wait a minute, is this your ship?"
"No Montgomery Scotty, it's yours."

Camera flips to a dedication plaque and the audience realises that we are onboard a Federation starship; the USS Franklin NX-326.   

With perhaps just as much build-up and ceremony in the real world, collectors of the Official Starships Collection will this week see the next in the line of larger special models arrive with the release of that very starship from the third Kelvin timeline feature, Star Trek Beyond.   

There has been an immense amount of hype and a ton of promotional shots of this one over the last few weeks and I can assure you all that they are all correct. The Franklin is a damn masterpiece in every sense.   

Delivered in its distinctive special box, the Franklin is solidly packaged with the stand and base sections slotted into the polystyrene block. She comes in at 20cm from tip of saucer to warp engine exhaust port and is, in my humble opinion, one of the most well-built models in the series. Now the NX refit was special because Eaglemoss took all of their wins from the regular NX-01 and scaled it up but here the big success has to be how the manufacturer has managed to age the ahip and make it look used and dirty.   

This is a good, sizeable special model with a very distinctive look. As you will recall from the film, the Franklin was the first warp four starship pre-dating the Enterprise NX-01 but was mysteriously lost and never heard from again. Towing that line very successfully, the Franklin model is heavily weathered to emphasise the bleak conditions the starship has survived.

As always let's start at the front and the leading edge of the saucer. That discolouration caused by burial for a fair number of years is evident right away and even on the one that came to me the ship's NX registry and name are partially worn away through the layers of grime. The primary hull is beautifully curved with a layered effect and a lined pattern that was originally proposed as a folding entry hatch curving around the upper body of the ship. Eaglemoss have produced every nuance with the Franklin especially in the different surface textures on the hull and the different levels of the structure as your eyes make a path from outer edge into the central superstructure.

The panel divisions are very precise and the added grime only enhances the distinction in the construction of the starship. Every line stands out and a slight error would easily be picked up. The finishing details and flourishes on the Franklin aren't excessive but still give the ship a decent level of depth and realism that has rarely been seen in the collection. Can you imagine this ship in pristine condition for example without the intensive weathering?

The recessed viewscreen is quite a draw for the eye too being set back into the central command module and being such a prominent feature on a small starship. Anyone else think that the Franklin and the Discovery have some striking similarities when it comes to primary hull detail?

Behind that is a nicely complex superstructure that indicates where the main bridge is situated. The layered section of the bridge is wonderfully detailed front to back not just with the recessed metalwork but also with the venting and grilles that lead you from the bridge back to the open curve at the rear of the primary hull.

The brilliant thing with the Franklin is that it isn't over-complicated. While there is extensive panelling and detail for the eye to behold there is a certain simplicity to the design and finish that an aztec paint scheme might well have overkilled the end product.  It's also a well-weighted beast with a satisfyingly heavy saucer section that reassures you of its quality. 

At the rear of the saucer things get even more interesting with layering gone mad, some smaller access panelling, venting and teeny impulse engines. While it might not have a lot of colour variation, the back of the Franklin offers something different in the elliptical cutout between the warp engines and the way in which this open space is stepped into the forward section of the starship. It's visually beautiful and gradual and you can feel how your gaze is drawn from the red of the impulse engines through and up to the back of the bridge module.

On the underside of the saucer the grime and the detail isn't as in-your-face. The contrast given that years of buildup would have settled on the topside of the ship while it was grounded is a sensible move. There is some weathering evident but the bottom of the Franklin is a much more basic affair with clean lines and only a portion of the panelling that we see on the undulating upper saucer surface. That weathering is actually much more blotchy and grey than the topside and I really love that differentiation of how the ship would have been affected by its position over the years. 

Tracking back and sweeping away from the lines arching out from the sides of the bridge section are two of the sturdiest nacelle pylons on just about any Starfleet vessel since the dawn of time. Thick and angular these are a far cry from the spindly arms on the USS Enterprise or a Nova Class (keeping it relevant to May 2017 there) this chunky pair strike out from the rear not in a dissimilar way to the Delta of the Enterprise era. Plastic in contrast to the metal brilliance of the upper saucer, the pylons continue the weathered nature of the Franklin adding in further panel detail and radiator grilles which blend the detail across the multiple surfaces so seamlessly. 

It becomes more evident the longer you drool over the Franklin how much effort has gone into the production of this special. I mean it has the benefit of being the most current ship seen in Star Trek at just under a year since it's big screen debut and I don't think that opportunity has been lost. Maybe the fantastic result in the Franklin is again a chance to compare how CG technology has stepped forward since the days of the NX-01 and the later The Next Generation movies because it does seem that the finished product here has a certain crisper edge to it.

Finally we come to the warp nacelles. Tapered front to back they carry the distinctive half-globe bussard collectors in a translucent orange which immediately reminds you of the engines on the original USS Enterprise. For the movie they even had the "spinner" effect but here you just have to imagine that additional touch. It detracts in no way mind since the finish, the paint job and the detailing on both engines is just magnificent. There is a distinctive surface shaping to them and they end in just as equally familiar a structure as they began with an exhaust tip that's again reminiscent of the NCC-1701 from The Original Series. These grey tips are a little longer and have translucent orange globes inserted however the design flow between the Franklin and the later Constitution Class cannot be ignored. The design echoes are very clear if not obviously in your face.

Construction-wise this is flawless (at least mine was) with all the join lines flush and nothing bending or straining to meet anywhere around the structure. For display purposes the stand fits smoothly into the rear elliptical gap and clasps around the rear of the saucer. It doesn't rub but the fit means there's no chance of Warbird Syndrome.

So what are my gripes here? Well, the damn windows on the vertical edge of the saucer are misaligned. Again. Horribly. The little white blob of a viewscreen is a bit meh and they do distract to a minor degree from the overall spectacle of Sean Hargreaves monumental design. Move over QMX, move over cinema drink toppers (!) this is THE definitive USS Franklin model that all others will aspire too and at the price you just can't argue with it.

The magazine is, as with the other specials, just that few pages longer with most of the time spent discussing the development of the ship from a small scout to a tough little explorer. Given the rather turbulent process that Beyond went through it's very similar to the changing conditions that the Franklin was asked to deal with on the screen. I did find it interesting that this is almost a reverse Reliant situation as the nacelles were eventually flipped from being under-slung to their final position perched above the hull. Again some quality information in this edition which will fill in gaps for fans of all ages and knowledge range. Add in a ton of development pictures and concepts plus that now legendary poster image that revealed the Franklin for the first time and you have a superb companion piece to the NX-326.

Easily one of the top three specials and a ship I would slip into any collection top ten in a heartbeat. From opening the box it's been one to treasure and I suspect it will be a solid fan favourite for a long, long time.

One of the best? What's your take on the USS Franklin?

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