Cloak & Dagger

Star Trek: Phoenix

This is an episode of a fan-made series whose storyline may be invalidated by later official studio productions.

Stardate 99336.20: In the early 25th century, after the destruction of Romulus destabilizes the political landscape of the Alpha Quadrant, Starfleet steps up to the plate by beefing up its technology and weaponry, and by sending the U.S.S. Phoenix on its maiden voyage as a “state ship” sporting a full diplomatic corps on board. But a recent surprise attack has left the Phoenix the worse for wear: the bridge has sustained so much damage that it won’t be functional again for a month. Stuck running the ship from engineering, Captain Avari is not a happy man. Having to endure the frequently short-sighted complaints of his ship’s diplomatic – or, in Avari’s estimation, bureaucratic – corps has only worsened his mood. A rescue team is dispatched to find the missing crew of a diplomatic shuttle on Ketrassii Prime, only to become trapped themselves by an enemy of unknown intent and stength (and the ability to sap power from their weapons and equipment). Captain Avari relishes the chance to get in on the action, leading the away team to recover the rescue team, but he soon discovers that the enemy they’re facing is only too familiar.

Watch Itwritten by Ben Andrews, Ben Johnson, Jon Johnson, James Lyle, Lorraine Montez, Leo Roberts, Brian Sipe and Roy Stanton
directed by Sam Akina, Gale Benning and Leo Roberts
music by Brad Anthony Laina / end credit music by Steve Brush

Cast: Ben Andrews (Captain Bryce Avari), Ben Johnson (Commander Talis Jaryn), James Lyle (Dr. Thomas Alden), Roy Stanton (Ambassador T’Von), Elle Viane Sonnet (Lt. Commander Akelyn Solara), Nicole Santora (Lt. Commander Yamora Vu’Shan), S. Joe Downing (Lt. Arca Niran), Vanessa Cobbs (Lt. Pelomar Laenah), Jesse James Pattison (Lt. Joben Karkko), Lorraine Montez (Lt./Major Ulti Natyra), J.P. Giuliotti (Admiral Theodore Grayson), Wes Hurley (Commander Telek), John Lynch (Major Noah Croft), Rodrigo Demedeiros (Minister/Councilor Tol Hadik), Mark Rahner (Lt. Guy Shaw), Leo Roberts (S.A.B.R.E. General Krik), Loren Walton (Lt. Baron), Eve Powell (Ensign Riley), Alexis Eggertsen (Lt. Ayiln), Jessica Hendrickson (Dr. DeSoto), Ben James (Lt. B.J. Nelson), Tellier Killaby (Lt. Commander Russoe Preval), Michelle McNamer (Lt. Commander Jennifer Elarah), Nathan Moore (Lt. Commander K’Var), Dennis Paillex (Lt. Casey Mendham), Fred Varnal (Lt. Natarion), Marlene Wong (Yavae Vadwel), Dylan Blackhorse-Von Jess (Katrassii Prime Romulan Agent), Jared Hemmelgarn (Katrassii Prime Romulan Agent), Ben James (Katrassii Prime Romulan Agent), Aaron Key (Katrassii Prime Romulan Agent), Spenser O’Neill (Katrassii Prime Romulan Agent), Adam Sonnet (Katrassii Prime Romulan Agent), Stephanie Hilbert (voice of Lusian), Brad Anthony Laina (voice of Praetor Sirol), William Michael Paul (voice of Praetor Bevoral), Adam Sonnet (voice of Lt. Molnar), Jason Wright (Computer voice)

Notes: Star Trek: Phoenix takes place in 2422, 35 years after the destruction of Romulus, an event which set in motion the events of the 2009 Star Trek movie; this also places it at least 40-50 years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. Phoenix takes place in the “prime” timeline, while Nero’s pursuit of Spock sent much of Star Trek into an alternate timeline. Phoenix’s hull registry number is NCC-101138.

Review: A fresh step forward in the Star Trek saga, Phoenix is long overdue. While I’m a fan of the various “Kirk-era” productions, Phoenix has taken the direction that fan films have really needed to take for quite some time: forward – almost as far forward from TNG as TNG was from the original show. To be fair, Star Trek: Intrepid and the long-running fan series Star Trek: Hidden Frontier moved forward from Voyager and Nemesis as well, but by starting Star Trek: Phoenix - Cloak & Daggerimmediately after those two final entities in 24th-century Trek, they were beholden to some of their storytelling conventions as well. Phoenix makes a clean, decisive break from all of that, and aside from a bit of somewhat stilted introductory voice-over exposition giving some background to the Romulus situation, it doesn’t get bogged down in the ongoing minutiae of the Star Trek universe. Like TNG’s premiere, it assumes you’ve got the broad-stroke basics of Star Trek down – i.e. transporters, phasers, etc. – and begins doing its own thing.

This includes a whole new look. Phoenix shows off a new evolution of the Starfleet uniform aesthetic, with a leather-armored look indicating that the 25th century is a bit more dangerous than the 24th. Some of the color-coded conventions of previous Starfleet “looks” are still adhered to, with some intersting new variations, including purple for command personnel. The uniforms are very detailed, and stand up well to the scrutiny of the HD shooting and production used here. Interstingly, the Phoenix bridge is not seen at all, with the storyline offering an escape hatch for that omission by announcing that the bridge has suffered critical damage. The parts of the Phoenix that we do see are represented by both practical and virtual sets, but this time the compositing on the virtual sets is some of the cleanest I’ve ever seen in a fan production. Even the transporter effect has been reinvented, and it all works – nothing here breaks the Star Trek universe.

The Romulan renegades get a combination of looks that link more directly to the two most recent films in the franchise, with the same facial tattoo work worn by Nero in Star Trek, and high-collared garb which calls back to the outfit worn by Shinzon in Nemesis – someone’s really done their homework here. Considerable thought has been put into the evolution of the look, right down to the odd yin-yang-style revision of the LCARS Okudagrams, which now float in the air. Also cool is the 3-D topographic display desk which lets the transporter operator point at where the away team will land.

The cast is mostly excellent, with only the faux-Brit ship’s doctor and the main Romulan baddie even approaching being over-the-top; the doctor character isn’t so much OTT, he just comes across as an old-school “average American’s impression from PBS of how Britons sound and act” stereotype. That character will probably be fleshed out better in future installments, and as for the Romulan, it’s not like Nero didn’t chew any scenery in the 2009 movie. In any case, that’s not a bad batting average for an amateur-produced pilot episode. The uneasy marriage of military, diplomatic and traditional Starfleet characters reminds me – in a good way – of Babylon 5 (with a nod toward Star Blazers as well), while the occasional detour into non-linear storytelling via flashbacks is a nice post-Lost update of the usual style of Trek storytelling. The script was, surprisingly, written by a committee if the credits are anything to go by – and it turned out pretty well, showing that some lessons have been learned from the TV programming that’s taken over the airwaves since Enterprise sailed off into deep space for the last time. (I could spend all day debating whether or not the actual Trek writing staff in Paramount’s Hart building ever would’ve learned to adapt like this.)

My biggest gripe with Phoenix turns out to be this: the video formats for their downloads are all Apple-centric – iPod and Quicktime. Don’t get me wrong, they look great, but I’m not a huge fan of either format. The show’s site, by the way, is incredibly slick, with great visuals and cast/crew interviews, as if it were the PR site for an actual broadcast series… further blurring the line between user-generated content on the ‘net and Hollywood fare, and further sounding the slow, drawn-out death knell of the latter. I can’t recommend Star Trek: Phoenix highly enough – here’s hoping they don’t keep me on the edge of my seat for months and months for the resolution to this cliffhanger.