The first thing I have to say about Star Trek Horizon is… Bryan Fuller, give Tommy Kraft a job. Now.
Big thanks to Paul for suggesting I review this film, because Star Trek Horizon is really good! In many many ways, it’s outstanding.
I’d started to watch it a few days ago, and would have probably put off viewing the last hour until the upcoming Easter long weekend, but Paul’s message made me think I should do it a bit earlier – and I’m very glad I did. What I had seen in the first 30 or so minutes had blown me away, but I had decided it could wait. Silly decision. This passion project deserves as much buzz as we can all give it and it deserves to have the fan community drown it in a lot of love.
Horizon is a beautiful, impressive production, and that’s before you take into account the fact it was done on a shoe-string budget with a tiny crew led by one dynamic man: Tommy Kraft.
Star Trek Horizon raised $22,600 to produce the 1 hour 40 minute feature. I’m sure Tommy probably put some of his own money into it too, but the fact is this amazing film was done at a bare fraction of the cost of most other high quality fan productions!
Star Trek Horizon is set in the 22nd Century during the same time period as Captain Archer’s USS Enterprise NX-01, but is set after the conclusion of that shows fourth season.
The film takes place during the Romulan War, as a fledgling Coalition of Planets tries to bring multiple disparate races together in an attempt to push back the expansion plans of the mysterious Romulan Star Empire.
Starfleet receives intelligence from a Romulan defector about a weapon of mass destruction that’s about to come on line and sends the USS Discovery NX-04, the Enterprise, and two Vulcan ships to stop it.
In the middle of all of that, the Discovery is sucked through time and onto the doorstep of one of the major players in the Temporal Cold War.
Visually, this film is superb. It’s professional, stylish and bold.
The story is strong, the special effects are feature quality, the pacing is good (at times brilliant), and the direction is beautiful. Tommy Kraft has a great eye for visual story-telling.
When I applied a critical eye to the film, I counted only three scenes where I questioned what Tommy was up to – but instead of thinking them poor choices, wondered instead if those choices were made out of necessity because of green screen constraints.
Most of the live action is shot against green screen, and as an actor who has done green screen work on a science fiction television series, I can say it’s a pain in the ass. As an actor your imagination is already a finely tuned machine, so green screen isn’t horrible because it forces you to imagine an entire 3D environment, it’s horrible because it’s disorienting. At least, I’ve found it that way.
When the camera isn’t running or a rehearsal isn’t happening, you are totally snapped out of the moment by studio walls or whatever is around you. When you’re on a physical set or are shooting scenes on location, it’s easier to reorient yourself emotionally (as well as physically), so you can pull all of the pieces of your performance back together after a break. So, to say I’m impressed with the acting in Horizon is an understatement. Some of the performances waver at times and are a little flat, but overall they’re strong – and I hate to harp on about green screen, but the fact these actors were all performing in an environment that was nothing like what we see on the screen, is a testament to them.
Of the actors, there were three stand out performances: Paul Lang as Harrison Hawke – the main character in the film, Jeannine Thompson as Amelia Yarris (Harrison’s love interest), and Marc Bowers as First Officer Jackson Gates.
As I said, all of the actors were very good, at times bordering on excellent, but Paul, Jeannine and Marc mesmerized me every time they came on screen.
There is so much that is good about Star Trek Horizon I actually don’t know where to begin. The film isn’t perfect, but it’s better than quite a few of the episodes from the various professional Star Trek series’, and it’s actually better than a couple of the feature films.
One of the things I loved most about the film were the casting choices.
Tommy Kraft is a young man, and it would have been easy to get a bunch of young friends together to make up the crew of the USS Discovery NX-04 or to choose only young professional actors. Instead, there are a number of ages represented, which adds massive layers of realism to the show. I believed these characters. I believed they were the best of the best and had fought their way up through multiple missions to be the command crew of a starship.
In a fanfilm set in a universe as well known and as loved as Star Trek‘s, if you don’t have familiar characters or actors to ground your production, it can be harder for an audience to invest in what’s happening on the screen. Tommy brought together a group of actors who have enough chemistry together that it made me want to watch them and want to accept them into my favourite universe. There was no gimmick casting, and no recasting of familiar roles. The whole film is a bold step in a brand new direction and I loved that.
Another thing I loved was the fact Tommy is also an incredibly self-aware director. He knew he was making a film that would rely heavily on green screen, and he made brilliant choices as a result. The film is seamless, and that takes a lot of talent.
To mask the superimposition, Tommy chose to apply what looks like a slight gauze effect or filter to the principal photography. It’s a smart choice, because it softens everything and tricks the eye without being overly distracting. I genuinely had a difficult time picking the green screen shots – even though I knew most of them were done in his parents’ basement and not on a built set.
Some people might find the slight blur the filter creates annoying, but it adds a particular ‘gloss’ to the production that you do see in some American series. At times I did find myself craving sharper images, but thankfully we do get them with all of the space battles and star ship shots and during some scenes filmed on actual location.
Despite the praise I’m throwing all over this fanfilm, and the simple fact I really enjoyed it, Horizon has a handful of minor issues.
If I want to get specific about things that didn’t quite work for me, I need to go into spoiler territory.
1. We get too much Harrison. Tommy and his team assembled a strong cast of actors to play well realised characters, but it felt like we didn’t get to spend enough time with any of them. I wanted to know more about Jackson, Francis, Tom, Marie, Amelia and T’Mar. We learn a little bit about T’Mar and Amelia, and both those women’s stories drive Horizon forward, but we don’t spend any where near enough time with them. Unfortunately, character development was one of the very few weaknesses in the film. Considering the story, there probably wasn’t any other choice. This was a film, not a two-hour pilot, though I so deeply wish it was a two-hour pilot. I’d watch that series.
Another quibble about Harrison is he talked a lot. I mean A LOT. Some of his dialogue, like how tired he and everyone else was, was unnecessary. There’s a cardinal rule in writing: Show, don’t tell. The actor showed his characters weariness effectively. He didn’t need to mention how fed up and exhausted he and everyone else was as often as he did. We saw it in him and all of the others, and the story effectively alluded to that fact at multiple points.
2. T’Mar. I loved the character, and Callie Bussell is great as the Romulan defector… but she’s a Romulan defector. Though she comes to the Coalition of Planets (precursor to the United Federation of Planets) having already been altered by surgery, and there is no reference to the joint heritage of Vulcans and Romulans that is made on screen, I find it really hard to believe the Chief Medical Officer of the Discovery wouldn’t have examined T’Mar after they liberated her (the first time we see Discovery they’re returning from the mission to get T’Mar), or that Starfleet wouldn’t have grilled the beJesus out of her to learn as much as they could about their implacable foe, before letting a Romulan become a part of the crew of Discovery.
That bugged me.
We’re not meant to learn what Romulans look like until the original series episode “Balance of Terror”, and though Horizon doesn’t directly break that continuity rule, logic (no pun intended) suggests it’s happened.
There’s no indication the Coalition and Starfleet know Vulcans and Romulans are essentially the space species after meeting T’Mar, but it stretches belief just a little if we just assume the crew of the Discovery or Starfleet didn’t find anything suspicious when examining her. And she would have been examined. At this point in Trek history the Romulans were the greatest threat to peace in the known galaxy.
3. The ending. Hawke confronts the big bad guy behind the plot to destroy Earth, and then just shoots him. Which is funny, and reminded me of that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Indy does something similar, but I don’t think the scene in Horizon was meant to be humorous. The movie doesn’t end there, so it’s not the ultimate climax… but it felt like it should have been more of one. The bad dude just went down way too easily and it kind of lessened the impact of some of what he’d been up to and the role he played in the Temporal Cold War.
The film does ends satisfactorily, and more importantly it ends leaving me wanting more, so I can forgive that.
So three not so great things vs way too many amazing things to mention. That’s not bad.
Now, I’m going to geek out a bit!
I might be one of the very few Trek fans who loved the Temporal Cold War story line in Star Trek: Enterprise. I was really disappointed when it kind of just died out. I’m also aware I’m in the minority when it comes to fans who love Enterprise more than most of the other Trek shows.
To see the Temporal Cold War story line taken up again – and to have it conclude in a way that made sense to me, because I always thought future Romulans were behind it all, was thrilling and satisfying.
I loved that Tommy dovetailed the destruction of Romulus in 2009s Star Trek into this film, and made it fit with the arc of the Temporal Cold War. That is excellent story telling.
Also, seeing the Enterprise and Discovery in battle with two Vulcan cruisers against a bunch of Romulans was way too sweet a thing!
I was also very happy to see the Iconians make an appearance – and in a way that made sense. I have to give Tommy additional credit for writing an excellent script and crafting a sensible story that was very Star Trek.
There’s so much to like about Horizon… the music, the editing, the characters, the costumes… I could go on.
This movie is an amazing achievement and Tommy, as the director and writer and executive producer, has proven without question how incredibly talented he is.
If I could get a hold of the guys behind Star Trek: Renegades, I’d beg them to take Tommy on board – along with his team of special effects and editing wizards. Horizon’s seamless superimposition work shames similar work done by Renegades – and they had more money, and his eye for action is so amazing. I’d love to see Tommy direct an episode of Renegades.
In fact, many of the special effect visuals and the angles and camera pacing that Tommy chooses shames most of the actual Trek films. There are some shots – like the Discovery spinning out of warp near Saturn at the beginning of the film – that are mind blowing.
If you’re a Star Trek fan, you have to watch this movie. It really is something special.
Star Trek Horizon stars Paul Lang as Harrison Hawke, Marc Bowers as Jackson Gates, Jeannine Thompson as Amelia Yarris, Tom McClure as Tom Samuels, Ryan Webber as Francis Brookes, Callie Bussell as T’Mar, and Ashley Croft as Marie Sutherland.
To watch Star Trek Horizon and visit their official website, click here.
To learn the names of all the amazing people behind this film and its production, click here.
To learn more about Tommy Kraft and the work he does as a professional storyteller, visit his website here.
Star Trek Horizon gets four and a half Starfleet Delta’s out of five!
I’m serious, if Bryan Fuller doesn’t give this guy a job, he’s nuts.
Tommy, you’ll probably never read this, but if you do – please make more Star Trek.