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Sunday, 27 January 2013

Star Quest: The Odyssey (2009)

Director: Jon Bonnell
Stars: Adam Rini, Shane Stevens, Katherine Stewart, Aaron Ginn-Forsberg, Davina Joy, Niko and Kevin Tye

For a local feature released as recently as 2009, it surely says something that I hadn't heard of it before. I recognise almost everyone in the admittedly small cast and I know a few personally. I'm less up to speed with the crew but some of them are still on my friends list. I've reviewed many of them in other movies and this would seem to be a starting point for one project I enjoyed enough over the last couple of years to contribute to. Yet somehow I didn't know it was out there. Could it be that they're keeping schtum because the reviews are correct and this is one of the worst films ever made? There are precisely 3 positive IMDb reviews out of 45, the earliest ones, one of which is from one of the actors. I enjoyed the imagination of the detractors though: 'Like a porno, minus the porn', 'Should be erased from human consciousness forever', 'This movie could be a new form of punishment', 'I nearly wet my pants at the end'. My favourite is, 'MST 3000 where are you?'

What I found was that it really isn't that awful, but it seems to have found a wider audience than might have been expected through easy rental availability. 'I want my $1.07 back from Redbox' isn't an uncommon theme in those reviews, but clearly these folk haven't seen the crud that I've seen. I don't mean to pull rank, but when the previous worst movie you've ever seen is Rocky V with its $42m budget, or The Butterfly Effect, which made do with a mere $13m, you really don't have much of a clue. I've sought out the worst movies of all time and I screen films submitted to festivals, where there are technical gradings as to how easily we can see or hear what's going on. In microbudget cinema, at least around the time this film was made, it wasn't uncommon to rate some of those at the lowest level because the sound guy apparently didn't show up and nobody had a clue what lighting was. As for equipment, I was even in a movie shot on a phone.

That rant out of the way, I really can't say that this was a good film though, even though I could see and hear everything well enough. Never mind the budget, which clearly wasn't much higher than whatever's in my wallet right now, it's the script that's the biggest problem. Carlos Perez is the name on the screenplay and if this is anything to go by, I don't want to see any of the other six films that he's written, especially with obvious cash in titles like The Black Knight - Returns or Vamps in the City. While the whole concept is obviously a low budget take on Star Trek, it would have made more sense to have shot it in the same format rather than patch a couple of stories together to feature length, especially with the cliffhanger ending that has precisely no meaning without another episode to lead into. This would have worked much better as a web series, as a couple of those involved apparently realised, going on to the far superior Voyage Trekkers.

The plot is utterly generic and highly derivative, with an overlong historical introduction. Simply put, the invention of a cheap and reliable faster than light drive in the late 21st century allowed humankind to spread throughout the galaxy. After a couple of hundred years of expansion, the colonies formed the Galactic Alliance, based on Earth, to handle governance. The few who chose to keep their independence formed the Krone Axis instead, enhancing their race with cybernetics and bioengineering. Inevitably this led to war, though the introduction ends with peace declared and the film proper begins on the planet Scyth, where the war is replayed in miniature in a good old fashioned fistfight between an Alliance commander and a Krone warrior. Six months later, it's no surprise to find that these two are forced to work together on a mission to transport members of the Earth Council to finalise the terms of the peace agreement or some such.
This concept isn't bad in itself, but it had been done to death long before 2009 and the writing is so ADD that it forgets about the mission almost immediately, instead becoming an episodic yarn shifting from one distraction to another. It doesn't help that neither party can live up to the hype. The poster is gloriously dynamic and action packed, while the introduction does a reasonable job building up the story. It's when we arrive on Scyth to watch Jim Carrey fight Forrest Whitaker from Battlefield Earth that it all falls apart. Adam Rini shines in roles that need him to be full of himself, such as Capt Sunstrike in Voyage Trekkers, making it all the more surprising to find him so pissy and annoying in effectively the same role here, as Capt Jack Tanner, commander of the Starship Odyssey. Shane Stevens does better as Hargoth, Minister of Defence for the Krone Axis, but the Klingon/Borg mashup he's stuck playing isn't inspiring and the costume hinders him throughout.

Perhaps their combined talent could have saved a less consistently bad film. Rini does get better, but it takes a long while to see even a hint at something worthwhile. Stevens never stops trying, but even at his best, his attempts are still buried by a production so schizophrenic that it's never possible to ignore the lack of budget. While the script is the movie's worst failure, the reluctance of director Jon Bonnell to even attempt to hide his lack of resources is its most frustrating aspect. For instance, the inside of the Odyssey is cramped, apparently built from supplies bought when a Dillard's closed down, and sparsely populated with a crew of four. Bonnell obviously didn't care to make it look bigger and busier, ignoring simple cinematic methods such as having extras walk in and out. He should have added sound effects and flashing lights to busy it up. Instead, he added numerous CGI external shots of a ship that's the size of a city.

The CGI itself is fair to middling in quality, but it's utterly wrong for the film. Simply making those external shots of a much smaller vessel would have improved everything. Instead it makes it all worse purely by the powers of contrast. Like the CGI, the costumes, sets and props aren't awful, but they're made to look awful by the unrealistic expectations that we're given. Here's a way to improve this film: remove most, if not all, of the CGI. That's it. Trim the introduction and create a new DVD cover that's a little less evocative of a Hollywood blockbuster while you're at it and the film would be worth four stars rather than one. And all that's without reshooting a single scene. Then again, that's me suggesting how to make the film better, as if quality means anything to a potential viewer. The quality of the DVD cover is surely why IMDb has reviews for this film. You can't ask for your $1.07 back from RedBox if you didn't spend it to begin with. The cover worked.
But I'm reviewing the film not the cover and it isn't remotely up to the same standard. I'm here to poke holes in the science in science fiction films, like how a faster than light ship takes three hours to travel 20 AUs when it only takes light an hour and a half. I'm here to highlight how ineptly the cameraman caught Katherine Stewart's patented hair flip and to rail at the waste of talent shown by casting this elegant Shakespearean stage actress in a role that requires her to pine for a pissy space captain who gave her a sparkly bracelet. I'm totally sold on the cavegirl outfit though. No complaints there. I'm here to wonder why the Odyssey shakes when one washer comes loose but it doesn't when fired upon by an enemy vessel. I'm here to giggle at the surface of an alien world that looks like Arizona, merely green. I'm here to wonder why the entire ship's arsenal is stored in a cubbyhole without a door. And I'm here to laugh at the tween level relationships on show.

I'm also here to embarrass the cast by reminding them of their work. Adam Rini is too young and dorky here, but he was note perfect in the same role in Voyage Trekkers about ten minutes later. Shane Stevens does better than anyone else, even with a Christmas tree stand stuck to his chest. Bones rarely got to do much medically in Star Trek except point a tricorder at people, but as Dr Jessica Vox, Katherine Stewart doesn't get that much. She actually has to say, 'I'm a doctor not a soldier, dammit,' but we don't see it; the most she's tasked with is to strap down Hargoth. Davina Joy and Niko were only cast to follow Star Trek's racial precedents, as was Kevin Tye as the very English Chief Engineer. Their talents are wasted too, as are James Ray's as Tanner's boss. At least Aaron Ginn-Forsberg hams it up royally as Dertax, Hargoth's lieutenant. He's like a berserker on acid played by John Pyper-Ferguson, over-emoting as much as is humanly possible. Grrr!

If everyone had chewed up the scenery like Ginn-Forsberg, it would have been a more 'so bad it's good' sort of ride. As it is, the actors try to do their parts justice, only to find that there's precious little in their parts to which justice can be done, leaving them all cast adrift by the script and the budget. While it's patently obvious that Carlos Perez is a screenwriter to avoid like the plague, I think I'll give director Jon Bonnell another shot before writing him off too, by watching Match.Dead aka The Abducted, with what appears to be a more original screenplay (albeit one partly credited to Alan Smithee), a lead role for James Ray and The Big Something's Michael Harrelson brought in for good measure. So this is a 'so bad it's bad' movie, though one not quite as thoroughly awful as has been made out. The overriding conclusion is clear though: if you want a modern take on Star Trek, don't watch this, watch Voyage Trekkers. It's more professionally done and it's funny too.

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