The Savage Empire

Starship Exeter

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

Stardate 4943.5: When the starship Lexington’s crew is infected with the Canopus Plague, Starfleet dispatches the U.S.S. Exeter, under the command of Captain John Quincy Garrovick, to join the Lexington in orbit of Andoria and find out why the Andorian government hasn’t allowed her crew to acquire the Andorian-formulated antidote. Garrovick, communications officer B’Fuselek (who is himself an Andorian), and several other crew members beam down, finding that control of the Andorian government has been seized by a renegade faction backed by the Klingons. With the Klingons jamming communications between the surface and the Federation ships, it’s up to Garrovick and his handful of crewmates to restore the rightful government of Andoria – or watch it split from the Federation completely.

Watch Itwritten by Jimm & Josh Johnson
directed by Jimm & Josh Johnson

Cast: James Culhane (Captain Garrovick), Joshua Caleb (Lt. B’Fuselek), Michael Buford (Cutty), Holly Guess (Jo Harris), Patrick Scullin (D’Agosta), Keith St. Louis (Gov. Kinthmus), Nathan Wolf (Chang), Brian Peter (Andorian Spy), Ben Hazen (Ensign Halley), Mark Svara (Junior Communications Officer), Ian McLean (Andorian Senator Therin), Mr. Lamanchikafka (Commodore Jennings), Kegan Bader (Klingon Lieutenant), Jeff Lynk (Klingon Spy), Jesse Johnson (Klingon Guard), Clark Jones (Junior Science Officer), Rolf Anderson (Engineer), Charles Hackett (Crewman), Chris Cahoon (Crewman), Andy Heimstead (Crewman)

Review: This is the first full-length Trek fan film from Austin-based Exeter Studios, and while not without its flaws, it shows a great deal of enthusiasm and inventiveness. Particularly interesting is the producers’ decision to at least attempt to produce the entire show with strictly old-school effects – models instead of CGI being the most striking and visible example. Whether or not this concept works on screen may wind up being the determining factor in the viewer’s ability to really get into the story, especially viewers whose first Trek fan film exposure comes from the relatively luxurious New Voyages.

Starship Exter - The Savage EmpireIt’s important to note here, however, that much of Savage Empire was produced in 2002 and 2003, at a time when there was still fresh, Paramount-produced Star Trek airing once a week on national TV and no immediate indication that this status quo would be changing anytime soon. Shot in Austin with some location work in Minneapolis/St. Paul (there’s gotta be a story there, those places aren’t exactly next door to each other), Savage Empire introduces us to an appealing cast on what may be a more workaday mission than that of the Exeter’s sister ship, the Kirk-era Enterprise. I like that the main title voiceover breaks completely with the wording of the Star Trek intro after the word “space” is uttered – it’s nicely worded and quite distinct.

With a running time of a little over half an hour, character development is pretty much on the back burner; the emphasis is on the plot setup and the action, and for an amateur production with limited resources, what action there is turns out to be pretty impressive. There’s one stunt in particular, staged near a waterfall, that gave me goosebumps because I was thinking “These guys are probably working without a stunt coordinator, and without the safety gear a stunt coordinator would insist on having for this sort of thing.” A for effort, but let’s be careful, guys!

An interesting choice is made by having a much younger Chang (the same Klingon who spars with, and spews Shakespeare at, Kirk in Star Trek VI) be this series’ enemy of choice. The danger in using any character in a fan production who’s been established elsewhere, and played by an actor of Christopher Plummer’s caliber no less, is that one might just fall short. This version of Chang just about gets it right – he has a teriffic intensity and screen presence, and he looks about as much like a no-forehead-ridges, TV-era Chang as one could imagine anyone pulling off. Vocally, though, he might’ve done a little more homework – he doesn’t sound like someone who’s going to wind up sounding like Plummer in 10 or 20 years. Still, he does a good job as a credible baddie, and as for how he came by the eyepatch…yowch! As likeable as the rest of the cast is, the Starfleet characters almost come across as non-descript when pitted against a scenery-chewing adversary. There’s a reason Shatner used to push the envelope as much as he did back in the day.

The model work/practical effects vs. CGI debate could go on for days if I got into it, especially where the issue of trying to do things cost-effectively for a fan film is concerned, but the ship scenes are effective enough, if just a little bit dark. (The stills shown in our standard-issue montage above had to be brightened considerably.) The practical effects let the side down a bit with the appearance of the Andorian lizard, though…

There are some odd artistic choices (odd close-ups on B’Fuselek, though at least the production’s Andorian makeup stands up to scrutiny) and technical oddities (sound levels that go from normal to deafening in the blink of an eye), but like the first episode of any fan production, so much of what’s being done is experimental, both to the viewer and to the people who are making the thing. It’s impressive when something like this gets made at all, to say nothing of the promise of more installments (a second episode, The Tressaurian Empire, is being released act-by-act as post production work is finished, and it seems as though the Exeter crew already knew what areas needed improvement). For that, at least, one has to admire the cast and crew of the Starship Exeter.