Directed by Kenneth Smith
September 8, 2020
An unknown threat sets its sights on the Federation and the newly commissioned Enterprise helmed by Captain Robert April (Robert Pralgo) must stop it.
You should keep in mind that this is a Star Trek fan film. You must understand that before going in. What it means visually is it is not going to look as sharp as a studio Star Trek film or even an episode of a Star Trek series.
And this film does have problems. The most egregious one is sound. It is not terrible but it can be uneven. Bad maybe? Sometimes the music and sound effects threaten to drown out dialogue and at other points dialogue is muffled and difficult to follow even though there is no action occurring, background music, or added ambient sound.
The effects are definitely done on the cheap. The Enterprise can be seen moving across the screen like a mid-90s computer trying to load the cutscene of a game. And the space shots lack texturing. The ships look a bit flat and the asteroids look very smooth. For some reason they added the eyes to the aliens as an effects shot rather than have them as part of the costume. It causes the eyes placement to shift slightly as the creatures move. Did they use a Snapchat filter there?
The focus is not on the alien threat which I admit is a little generic in concept but rather on the character of Robert April, which I like, and the trauma which he suffered prior to the beginning of the movie though that trauma is vague. I got the feeling they assumed they could do more films but because Paramount is run by jerks another film most likely will never happen. Because of an assortment of legal issues because of a lawsuit fan films of any length and therefore quality will probably not be seen again. This one apparently got grandfathered in.
Robert April and his wife Sarah (here played by Tara Ochs), the ship’s first Chief Medical Officer, were originally mentioned in Star Trek: The Animated Series in an episode that turned out to be that series’ finale titled “The Counter Clock” incident where the Enterprise gets pulled into a universe where time runs backwards. Beyond that until Season One of Star Trek: Discovery the character was never really mentioned again in anything canonical. The character is a virtual anomaly in the world of Star Trek with only the scantest bits of information being available. This gave the creators of this fan film a broad canvas to work with. It felt like they were going for a Christopher Pike vibe in “The Cage/The Menagerie” in their portrayal of April.
The props and the costumes and even the sets look very much like they are TOS inspired. The costumes are pretty good and approximate what was done in “The Cage/The Menagerie” without directly copying it. You could take them as the design that preceded those designs. They do not overproduce here instead aiming for an aesthetic that mimics the previously mentioned episodes as well as the second pilot for TOS “Where No Man Has Gone Before.”
They use the designs (or approximate designs) of the phasers from those episodes. Those props in TOS (and showing up as antiques in later shows) went on to be used as disruptors but that has nothing to do with the movie here. It is just a fun fact.
Through greenscreen and some attention to detail they recreate the look of the sets of the time. The attempts are not perfect, but they are passable. This was definitely done by serious fans.
They use what sounds to my ear like the James Horner score for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock as their soundtrack. Horner was the best Trek composer ever in my opinion. He could convey action or adventure or whatever was needed in a very Star Trek way with his music. I am not sure if he was a fan but he knew how to make it feel like the final frontier. Here they use it to effectively convey wonder and excitement as well as danger.
We get a direct link to TOS with an opening and closing narration by the legendary Nichelle Nichols (Uhura to all you rubes). It gives the film a little weight and is some nice service to fans.
In this bit of fanfiction, we have an Andorian character in Lt. Lyra (Brianna Ferris) who is apparently Andorian royalty and wants to be in Starfleet against her mother’s wishes. She has some conflicting feelings on being in Starfleet and her regal status is only really made clear at the very end of the film which is unfortunate because what she wanted to do paralleled what Robert April was doubting he wanted to do. She was young and full of wonder and he had been jaded by life. I think it would have been good to have her story fleshed out more and the two to more clearly parallel each other. Perhaps even her and April interact more and grow while learning something from one another. Instead they barely noted each other’s presence. It felt like a missed narrative opportunity or one that was let go under the assumption that more films could be made.
The acting is better than expected. I would put it up there with TV quality. I do not mean that as an insult, but I go into fan films expecting very little. I have seen more that suck than I have that I would watch again.
Inexperience and a low budget hamper this telling of a story that very much keeps with the tone of TOS. They tried to reach a little too far here. Having said that, the story is not bad. It must have been at least okay because I watched beginning to end and even rewound a part that I missed because of my cat. I felt good at the end. I felt satisfied like I had watched a lost bit of the original Trek. It definitely felt connected.
Star Trek First Frontier is a solid effort. It is not a highly polished production, but it is not something that will disappoint either. It is more for hard-core Star Trek fans than the newer or more casual variety. It is free on YouTube. Enjoy.