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Star Trek: Phase II vs. Star Trek Continues
Star Trek: Phase II Promo Poster
Brief Update, 2014/10/30
Quick update: I have continued to watch episodes of both productions as they've been released. Each series gets better with every new episode. I have yet to see Brian Gross as Captain Kirk, as the release of the most recent episode of Star Trek: Phase II has been delayed. To date, my favorite episode (from either series) is the latest from Star Trek Continues - "The Fairest Of Them All." It takes up the storyline started with "Mirror Mirror" from the original series.
Childhood Memories of Star Trek
I feel like I'm visiting heaven. Or at least, I'm reliving some of the greatest joys of my childhood. One night a week, my Mom would let me stay up past my normal 8:00 PM "school night" bedtime to watch Star Trek. As I grew up, I enjoyed the spin-off series and movies, but none of them quite had the charm and excitement that the original show held for my six year old self. Now I find that there is not one, but two completely independent fan-produced productions resurrecting the original series, both with the stated goal of continuing the story from the point where Star Trek ended after it's third season. I'm having a blast.
Star Trek: Phase II (ST:PII)
Originally called 'Star Trek: New Voyages,' Star Trek: Phase II was the first serious undertaking, beginning production in 2003. It is Produced by James Cawley, who also plays Captain Kirk in the currently-released episodes. Some of the episodes were new screenplays written by original Star Trek screenwriters like David Gerrold ("The Trouble With Tribbles"). Others were adapted from scripts that had been written for an un-produced series, also called "Star Trek: Phase II" which was planned to air in 1978 but was abandoned when Paramount's television unit folded. To date, Phase II has released 7 full-length episodes, with a few others in various stages of post-production.
Support from Star Trek Stars
Numerous Star Trek alums have lent support to ST:PII, including Walter Koenig and George Takei (Chekov and Sulu in the original series and the first several Star Trek movies), Denise Crosby (Lt. Tasha Yar, The Next Generation), and several actors who had guest-starring roles in the various Star Trek series.
Star Trek Continues (STC)
Another fan-produced web series, STC stars Vic Mignogna as Captain Kirk. This show doesn't (yet) boast as much Star Trek alumni credibility as Phase II, but it does have Chris Doohan taking on the role of the iconic Montgomery Scott, originally played by Chris's father James Doohan. Chris has also appeared in Star Trek: The Motion Picture as well as the new (2009) Star Trek movie.
As the relative new kid on the block, STC has only one full-length episode available, plus a few short vignettes. In the pilot episode, Michael Forest reprises his role as Apollo from the episode "Who Mourns for Adonais?" (TOS). Although in the Star Trek setting, only 2 years have passed since the crew's first contact with Apollo, the would-be deity has aged 40 years. In classic Star Trek style, the writers create a plausible story to account for his advanced age.
Star Trek TOS
Star Trek:Phase II Episode 3
Both companies have meticulously recreated the sets in strict adherence to the original blueprints. Every display, control, and blinking light exists in exacting detail in the episodes from both STC and ST:PII. That makes it impossible to pick a winner on set authenticity alone. That said, the lighting on the sets does factor in. In some of the secondary sets in ST:PII (like aboard shuttle crafts), the actors cast distinct shadows from off-screen light sources that shouldn't really be there. No such fantom light sources exist in the STC scenes.
Most of the actors in ST:PII are relatively unknown, volunteering their time for little more than the recognition and their love of Star Trek. STC actors may also be doing it for love, but most of the regular cast seems to have more professional acting experience, even if much of it is in anime series. It showed, especially in the early episodes of ST:PII. Remember, there's only been one episode of STC with which to compare, but it definitely out-shines the early episodes of ST:PII in terms of acting skills. The folks at ST:PII obviously love their Star Trek roles - which may be why they over-emoted, with most of the scenes seeming forced and un-natural. However, these same actors really seemed to grow into their roles. By the third and fourth episodes, they were much more relaxed in their positions. The fact that Walter Koenig and George Takei were lending their support by that time probably infused the entire crew with a sense of professionalism and competence that transcended their lack of experience. That said, I still have to hand STC a slight edge with respect to the acting.
Star Trek Continues, Episode 1
With only one episode for STC, comparing their writing to ST:PII is more challenging. ST:PII seems to be using story ideas that were originally intended for an ill-fated series that was intended to air in the late 70's, while STC's first episode feels more like something that would have been released in the 60's for the original series. Does that make it "better?" Not in terms of it being a good, compelling story. The ST:PII story lines are also compelling, and perhaps a shade more "modern" in themes and atmosphere. This is a tough call, and one I'm not willing to make until I've seen more episodes of STC. Suffice it to say that both continuing storylines are doing a great job keeping my interest.
Star Trek Continues vs. Star Trek: Phase II - Authenticity
There were several other factors I wanted to consider, including directing, production quality, and special effects. These considerations are either hard to measure in any tangible way or information is scarce, so I decided to lump them under 'Authenticity.' This goes hands-down to STC. From the aforementioned lighting to the camera work, from the music to the dramatic pauses, the one episode of STC seemed like it was lifted right out of 1967 completely intact, albeit with different faces and voices. The crew at STC has done an amazing job recreating the look, mood, and atmosphere of the original series. The irony is that it probably costs them more to deliver a faithful reproduction of the original special effects than ST:PII pays to deliver more modern effects.
To be fair to ST:PII, they appear to be striving for more balance between recreating the original series and utilizing modern effects and story themes. .Whereas STC shoots their show using the same 4:3 aspect ratio as the original series, ST:PII is shot in high definition. Regarding the characters, ST:PII says "We are not casting people who look or act like the original actors.... We want actors who will be able to remind us of our old friends, but bring to the characters a new life, a fresh interpretation, not a stale imitation."
Star Trek: Continues or Phase II?
If you've watched at least one episode of each, which do you prefer? Use the comments section to support your vote.
And The Winner Is?
The real winners here are the die-hard fans of the original Star Trek series around the world (like me). Both productions have their strengths. The differences in production quality and acting ability have diminished with every new episode of ST:PII, and are pretty negligible at this point. For those looking for the purest authentic recreation of the original series, then Star Trek Continues is the better series for them, but sadly there is only one episode available. Viewers who want to see their favorite characters in high def, with modern special effects and with re-interpreted personalities, check out Star Trek: Phase II. My advice is to watch every episode of both series. If you're as much of a fan as I am, I guarantee you will enjoy them.
Star Trek Continues has just announced that episode 2 is "in the can." Also, through a successful kickstarter program, they've secured funding for at least 3 more episodes.
When I set out to write this Hub, I sent emails to both production companies asking them to comment, or possibly for an interview. I also asked for permission to include any of their images in the article. At this time, Star Trek: Phase II has not responded. After article publication, I received a message from Vic Mignogna, executive producer and director of Star Trek Continues (Captain Kirk himself!). He stated that they wish nothing but the best for Star Trek: Phase II, but had no interest in discussing an article comparing Star Trek Continues to any other production. He mentioned the fact that viewers can watch episodes from both productions and make their own comparisons. I most certainly appreciate his response. I will update this Hub if anything else changes.