Starship Exeter: The Savage Empire (2002)

Hi all, Nate here again. So my basement-dwelling buddy Josh is a hardcore Vulcan ear-wearing Trekkie, but I forgive him for it and accept him for what he could be and not for what he is (ie: a dirty, unwashed Trekkie). Josh hooked me up with a couple links to some Star Trek fanfilms online and I thought I'd give one a review, because why not. And so I watched Starship Exeter: The Savage Empire, an independently produced half-hour film made to look like a typical TOS-era episode, written/directed/acted in by a couple dudebros in Texas with time on their hands and high interest rate payday loans in their pockets. Instead of the legendary USS Enterprise, it's set on the USS Exeter, a sistership to the Enterprise, which allows them to copy sets and props from the all readily-available media online about TOS fashions and interior designs.

Well, hopefully they won‘t reuse all the TOS props...

And these sets and props are fantastic. Seriously, the attention to detail is amazing, everything from the walls to the doorways to the phasers and pants looks period TOS, albeit on a budget. You really get the feeling you're on the bridge of a Constitution-class starship or roaming the hallways of an alien world, stunning what you can create with a tablesaw you rented from Lowe's and a couple gallons of white paint if you take the time to do it right. The costumes are also pretty good, though clearly made from cheap fabrics and the hems and rank badges look rushed, but they are better than most Halloween costumes. The physical phaser, communicator, and tricorder props are the best plastic knock-offs that eBay can provide, but they look suitably good for the few times you see them onscreen. All in all not too shabby.

Even the pink filers are TOS-correct.

The main problem is that when it came time to hire professional actors, the money was all gone and to fill out their cast they had to lean on their friends, roommates, coworkers, and that dude with the chopped Integra who delivered their Korean take-out last Tuesday. The written script is bad enough, filled with hokey and confusing dialogue, but the line-reads on camera are some of the worst I've ever seen outside of porn. Actually, they should have hired porn actors because at least they know how to act out emotions and feelings. It's hard to tell if anyone in the cast was really trying, perhaps they all figured no one would ever see it (made pre-internet/youtube) so they didn't put much effort into their performances, or maybe they were working for free just to help out their friends behind the camera and it was more about the beers and pizza after the takes than the finished product. Whatever the problems were, if you don't want to smash your computer monitor in a fit of rage ten minutes in, then I strongly suggest you watch it first with the sound muted. That way you can enjoy the props and sets and not be distracted by the stomach-churning dialogue. You can always watch it a second time with the sound on if you’re into self-inflicted pain (yes, Josh, I know you are...).

Meh, I’ll just sit here.

Anyway, that's enough of an intro, let's get to the story. First off, the Exeter is a ship known to Trekkies because it was involved in an oft-cited incident with the Enterprise. The crew of the Exeter was killed off by a disease while investigating a primitive planet and Captain Kirk and the Enterprise were called upon to find out what happened (second season episode The Omega Glory). While not stated in the canon, it's assumed that the intact Exeter was recovered, refurbished, recrewed, and recommissioned. It's at this point, just a few weeks after she was returned to service, that we join the Exeter's shakedown cruise. And yes, the Exeter looks just exactly like the Enterprise, making digital models cheap and easy to find and use.

Just change the NCC number in MS Paint…

The Exeter's new commander is Captain Garrovick, a pudgy, no chin thirtysomething guy who looks like he's hungover or just really sleepy most of the time. I'm not just going to dog him for his terrible “acting” skills, just his general look and the lazy way he carries himself, not exactly “Captain material” if you ask me. If you’re going to hire just one professional actor to be in your fan film, you better make it the Captain character because his actions and decisions are what's going to drive your movie's narrative and plot more than anyone else. He’s also kinda short for a Stormtrooper, if you know what I mean.

I think I fired this guy at work last week.

Garrovick is alerted by Starfleet Command that the Exeter is the closest ship to a disaster and he alone can save the day (yes, just like in every single episode of canon Trek...). The USS Lexington's crew has come down with the Canopus Plague and they’re heading for the planet Andora to get the cure. The Lexington, however, can't get anyone on the planet to answer their calls and everyone on board is half-dead. So the Exeter is tasked with going to Andora and finding out what's the deal. Fairly typical Star Trek mission.

Nice matte, no, really.

So they get to Andora, make contact with the near-derelict Lexington, and beam an away team down to the surface of the planet, which looks suspiciously like a vacant lot in an Austin, Texas suburb. The five guys in the away team are just about the only Exeter crewmen that we have anything more than passing contact with, but only a couple of them get anything meaningful to do. The most important, of course, is Captain Garrovick in his command puke yellow jersey.

Should have filmed this on a cloudy day.

The second is the ship's communication's officer, an Andorian named B'fuselek. It's commendable that they tried to show how multi-racial the Federation is, but the decision to make the Spock-stand-in B'fuselek an Andorian means they had to give him blue skin and antennae because Trekkies know that's what they look like because they've been around in every show and season since 1967. If you have the budget of Paramount Pictures then that's no problem, but if you have the budget of “whatever the pawn shop gave me for my ex-girlfriend's iPad” then your Andorian's facepaint is going to look terrible and his antennae are going to be made of drinking straws and superglue. Also, he's wearing Security Red instead of Comms Blue, but that might just be an issue with how the blue facepaint blends with a blue uniform on the film.

Wow, that’s just wow.

The third and fourth guys are Cutty, who is out of shape and a bit unsure what his lines are most scenes, and DeAgosta, who exists solely to have someone for Garrovick to talk to and feed plot-relevant exposition to. The fifth dude is, predictably, a Red Shirt Ensign who is not long for this world. After wandering around a bit, waving their tricorders ineffectually at the clouds, the team is chased into a small underground Andorian complex by a dinosaurthingie made out of play-do, golf balls, and pipe cleaners.

Oh my god…

There they're captured by a renegade band of Andorian separatists, an offshoot of the ruling party that wants Andora to break ties with the Federation and join forces with the evil Klingons. There’s much banter and overacting, but you won't remember any of it because you’re too busy laughing at the horrible wigs and the sequin jumpsuits the Andorians wearing. They look like glamrock drag queens who got lost on the way back from Hot Topic in the mall.

You guys like the New York Dolls?

And then the Klingons show up. These are “old Klingons”, with TOS-style bushy eyebrows and waxed mustaches, not the “new Klingons” with the expensive forehead prosthetics and pointy CGI teeth. The actor playing the head Klingon has to be the worst actor in the history of cinema, this movie is worth watching just for his five minutes on screen. I, for one, am tired of Klingons. I know they were originally stand-ins for Communist Russia, but years and years of Worf and his insipid growling have soured the entire race for me. The Trek Universe is chock full of other, more interesting, races that need some fleshing out, try one of them out. You went to all the effort with the relatively rare Andorian race, after all, why not do it again with the Lyrans or the Kzintis?

Lots of gold silk.

So Garrovick and Co. are captured, some intrigue happens, some people talk, the RSE, shall we say, steps off into a clearing at the edge of the path, a Klingon gets into a fistfight with the Captain, phasers are fired, spaceships are photoshopped into starscapes, and the Andorian B'fuselek ends up saving the day. The action winds up back on the planet's surface where there's entirely too much running around amongst the turned-leaf oak trees of central Texas in early Autumn. Could they not find a rock quarry nearby that would let them film down in the pit? The Andorian separatists and their Klingon comrades are defeated, the legitimate Andorian government gives them the medicine to save the Lexington's crew and all is well.

Dude gets “disintegrated”!

And yes, we end with everyone laughing when B'feselek/Spock says something stupid because he's a foreigner and doesn't understand how humans operate. This entire film is filled with sledgehammer-subtle references and homages to TOS episodes, not only in pacing and plot, but in little quirks like the music cues and the expendable RSE, not to mention the Klingons with stuffy English accents and Garrovick Shatnering his lines with great gusto. It's not a bad thing, but they tried about 15% too hard to tie in with establish Trek canon and it shows. It is possible to do something unique, do something similar in theme but with characters so completely different from Kirk and his bridge crew that you can take the storyline in a new direction without losing what makes Star Trek so Star Trek-y. But still, a thumbs-up for effort on a limited budget and a few weekends of vacation leave.

Garrovick even rips his shirt, how Kirk.

Worst part of entire show: When the Klingon boss challenges Garrovick to a one-on-one knife duel to settle matters, Garrovick actually says “Come get some!” before jumping into the fray. Yes, just like Duke Nukem. I laughed.

He better be calling his agent.

The End.

Written in October 2014 by Nathan Decker.

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