Fan films are nothing new, particularly in the wide universe of Star Trek, where multiple productions have been crafted down the years featuring the continuing adventures of the crew of the USS Enterprise and her many sister ships, yet the concept of Prelude to Axanar, the first in a proposed series of films crowdfunded through the Kickstarter website, is something unique and special.
Presented as a short documentary produced by the United Federation of Planet’s Historical Society of the type which would run in a museum exhibition, it is set in the years after the Romulan War when the United Federation of Planets is expanding into new territories. As told with hindsight by the key witnesses on each side, it is Stardate 2241.03, the year 2245, the peace negotiations brokered by the Vulcans having failed, the short film charts the escalation to the four bloody years of the Federation-Klingon war.
First to fall is the planet Arcanis IV, a research outpost which has flourished to become “a shining example of Federation progress,” next are the dilithium rich planets of Inverness, a Federation settlement within a system that the Klingons, the advances across space clearly depicted in tactical displays as the officers involved recall their days on the front lines, the changing attitudes and the developing strategies of the conflict.
Representing the Federation and Starfleet are Admiral Marcus Ramirez (Tony Todd, no stranger to science fiction or even Star Trek, having played Worf’s brother Kurn on numerous episodes of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine among other roles), his softly spoken words belying the steel beneath, Captain Kelvar Garth of the USS Ares (Alec Peters, creator, executive producer and co-writer of the project), while the Klingon Empire’s more forceful spokesman is the revered warlord Kharn (Richard Hatch, Viper pilot Apollo on the original Battlestar Galactica and the ambitious politician Tom Zarek in the remake).
Other faces (or voices) familiar include J G Hertzler (Deep Space Nine‘s General Martok among other roles) as Admiral Samuel Travis of the USS Hercules, Captain Sonya Alexander of the USS Ajax (Kate Vernon, having once masqueraded as a Starfleet captain in the Voyager episode In the Flesh, now fully qualified but still best known as Ellen Tigh on Battlestar Galactica) and Gary Graham as the reserved Vulcan Ambassador Soval.
Predominantly a “talking heads” documentary enhanced by footage of the various events under discussion, Prelude to Axanar is a “proof of concept” of the main feature the team hope to fund and produce which will depict the events of the famed Battle of Axanar in a more dramatic style, and on the basis of this there is little doubt that they are capable and deserve the support of what is undeniably one of the largest fanbases on the planet.
Bridging the gap between the “classic” style of the many television series and the alternative timeline of J J Abrams’ recent films in their design, detailing and their weaponry, the ships may move more slowly than modern audiences are accustomed to and there is an absence of lens flare, but the digitally rendered vessels capture the feel which audiences associate with Star Trek, majestic, powerful and graceful.
Charting the development of the Ares class of vessel, Starfleet’s first warship, designed specifically to match the Klingon D6 battlecruisers, for the most part the featured ships are the immediate predecessors of those known from the five year mission of the USS Enterprise under Captain James T Kirk, but it is indicated that both the more familiar and more powerful Klingon D7s and the beloved Constitution class vessels will become important before long.
Small details such as having the narration ostensibly provided by John Gill (an instructor at Starfleet Academy who later taught James T Kirk history before his fall from grace on the planet Ekos as recorded in Patterns of Force) establish it as fan-pleasing both in the depth of knowledge of its subject and, crucially, the understanding of it the producers demonstrate without ever slipping into painfully shoehorned references for the sake of it.
Directed and co-written by Christian Gossett and running for just over twenty minutes including credits, the film is not without flaws; explosions and backgrounds sometimes appear more videogame than feature film, particularly the many nebulas.
The only “established” character of the Starfleet leads, Captain Garth, later to be known as Garth of Izar, is not the most compelling, his appearance in Whom Gods Destroy being regarded as one of the weakest episodes of Star Trek‘s third season. Despite the dialogue given to the more experienced actors to sell him as the major player whose tactical insight will turn the tide of the war, so far Peters has given no indication he can redeem the character.
The production values are unquestionable, the makeup, the costumes, the lighting, Vernon’s faux-sixties hairdo amplifying her classic beauty, but in science fiction, specifically space opera, it is the special effects which make or break the endeavour, and here they are, for what is a well-funded fan production, they are astonishing.
Most particularly, the scope of what is laid out is more ambitious than any of the official television productions, even the Dominion War of Deep Space Nine which was played out over an extended period with very few starship battles depicted onscreen, though undeniably spectacular when they arrived.
Prelude to Axanar is not an attempt to reinvent the wheel; rather it is a valiant endeavour to honour an existing design while manufacturing it in a new way. So far, the success of their first release paves the way for further adventures in the final frontier.
For updates on further projects and fundraising campaigns, visit the Axanar homepage