Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning -- a review
The October 2005-released "Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning" marks a fascinating development in the world of cinema. It is billed (and sort-of is) a Star Trek parody, but definitely is not of the "non-fans need not apply" type of movie. For a comedy, especially a spoof or parody, it's not really hysterically funny, although some understated backround touches had me smiling. The movie is an eminently watchable Sci Fi flick, though, and on a technical special effectsy level is actually quite good.
The amazing thing is that the whole film was produced for fun (read: not for money) by a highly talented group of Finns, and the professional-looking hundred-minute-long fruit of their labours is distributed for free over the internet. The effort was led, apparently, by producer Samuli Torssonen and director Timo Vuorensola. Let's hope it is an omen of things to come. You should watch it.
Point your browsers at http://www.starwreck.com/
OK, I won't spoil the film for you, if you haven't watched. Just the outline, then. Captain James B. Pirk of the starship Kickstart, a rather unsavoury character, and a coward to boot, gets stranded with some of his crew on Earth, in the distant past (well, their past, our present, of course). For reasons both personal and (apparently) altruistic, Pirk styles himself a World Emperor and embarks on a bold and dangerous plan to save the future of Humanity. An adventure ensues, replete with ship-to-ship and man-to-man combat. Pirk's best laid plans do not, of course, work out quite as he intended.
Events are dominated by a prolonged battle in space (about one hour of the movie's one hundred minute playing time). In true Star Trek fashion, though, the battle consists of considerably more than ships flying past each other and firing off heavy ordnance: there are face-to-face encounters, complex schemes based around Trek-like technobabble, and (comic) side plots. The plot could hardly be called complex, and some of the "twists" appear either contrived or too heavily hinted-at. It is interesting to follow, but falls short of "gripping". Individuals are well-characterised; I'd point out that they don't really develop through the plot, but then maybe you wouldn't really expect that in a Star Trek spoof.
The Star Trek angle:
Overtly, the movie is made to resemble a Star Trek movie or episode. The starships, the uniforms, the weapons, individual characters... Everything resembles the cult original(s), and most everything is named in thinly veiled reference (e.g. the android Data gets called Info). Except for the (faithfully reproduced) characteristic makeup and a few mannerisms, though, the characters are not so much caricatures or parodies, as they are new (but not independent) creations. For good measure, the moviemakers also took a swing at Babylon 5 and some other SF staples.
To follow the plot or jokes it is not really necessary to be familiar with the various movies and TV series of the Star Trek world. Fans will appreciate the accurate reproductions of many items and the sarcastic reinterpretation of some "stock" situations: the Plingon Cmdr. Dwarf complains that the newly-built starship is still missing a chair for the Tactical post, forcing him to stand; the lights go out on an enemy starship when they use their high-energy weapon, and they complain about the poor design. Or those fans might chuckle once or twice at the irreverent renaming and trashing of standard equipment, weapons, etc.
On the whole, the movie does not depend at all on the well-known template it strives to emulate. In fact, while many of the copied details are astoundingly well-executed, the plot is at times crippled by the rather forced effort to ridicule the original. A "serious" Trek-lookalike or a wholly original non-Trek film (with mch the same storyline) might have been a better vehicle for these Finns' great talent.
The effects are good. This does not mean they are good "for a living-room studio" (the movie's site's FAQ has some photos of this meagre-looking facility). They are commerical-SF-movie-good. Magnificently detailed ships fire various kinds of appropriately shimmering weapons at each other, explode dramatically, and hurtle through peculiar interstellar phenomena. Starship interiors are so Trekky it hurts.
The original music sweeps you along with events, but politely takes second place when whizzing shots and cracking impacts need to occur.
On a technical level (image quality, sound, editing), both run-of-the-mill scenes and special-effects-laden bits are brilliantly and smoothly executed. The result is slick and professional.
Frankly, this is not Star Wreck's strong point. The acting is very good for an amateur production, but falls short of what you'd expect in a serious indie film. There are a few better-executed moments, but at other times the feeling that actors are overacting -- "laying it on a bit thick" -- is unavoidable. To be fair, the movie site states they were aiming for professional quality standards in all aspects except acting, as professional actors are hard to come by on a non-budget.
Still, the characters have character, dialogue flows, and scenes "work". And aftr all, it's not as if the parodied originals have RSC-acting written all over them, exactly...
"Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning" is supposedly a parody of Star Trek; it is a comedy. The thing is, it did not have me in fits of laughter. The main plot, with minor tweaking, would make a pretty standard Star Trek movie: there is no caricaturistic exaggeration or fun-poking to it (except for Pirk's megalomaniac Empire-building, which serves mostly as an extended prologue to the interstellar battle).
There is considerable effort at character-level humour, but frankly, much of it is slapstick or over-characterisation. The funniest bits are probably in the understated background details like the onboard Coffee-O-Matic briefly visible in the deck background, which later is a casualty of war; the Babel-13 spacestation landing area, with recognisable logos for BOKIA (well, they are Finnish) and McBaabel's burgers; and an alien who is very clearly a heavily-costumed actor, who removes the costume head and picks his nose while the attention of the human characters present is elsewhere.
As a comedy, this isn't a great success. But the occasional smile helps along an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Yup. The film was made by Finns, and consequently is in Finnish. There are good English subtitles (and subtitles in several other languages). I can't vouch for the precision of the translation, but the resulting subtitles are well written, and following the movie is no trouble at all.
The internet/movie/technology phenomenon:
If for no other reason, you should watch the movie because of how it came about. Hundreds of people worked to make the film over a period of seven years. They worked for free, because they wanted to make a good movie, and now they are distributing it for free (under a Creative Commons license, of course). You can buy a DVD, and it's being screened in several places, and apparently there is some other merchandising going on, but basically they're not in it for the money.
Remind you of anything? Well, it should. More than being called a parody, Star Wreck should have been described as Open Trek, the movie-industry equivalent of an Open Source alternative to Star Trek. These people have (to stretch a point) "reverse engineered" the magic of Star Trek, to recreate a similar product. But this product is copylefted, and all the important parts have been subtly altered, renamed, etc., to make this a truly independent creation. If they weren't aiming for a parody, Star Wreck could have been a good beta version for a free Star Trek alternative.
In true Open Source fashion, Star Wreck is carried forward by fan-power and volunteer enthusiasts, and is of course distributed by the magic of BitTorrent. A fair bit of its publicity is by internet-word-of-mouth. There is a good FAQ on the site, complete with photos of the almost pitiful-seeming studio and computing equipment. It is strangely comforting to discover that even this traditionally dollar-intensive field of art (well, or at least entertainment) can be created for fun and distributed for free (with all the potential ramifications of truly independent productions, too!).
As one Finn did to Microsoft, will these Finns do to Hollywood? Will the movie industry eventually feel the heat (such as it is) that MS and their likes feel today? Perhaps. I'm guessing not any time soon. Time (and movie watchers) will tell.
In the mean time, here is a reasonably good movie, freely downloadable, with an intriguing story behind its creation.
"Star Wreck: In The Pirkinning" is a fun way to spend an hour and a half, though neither a thrilling action flick, nor a side-splitting laugh-a-minute comedy. The group who made this movie (following several more embryonic offerings) are definitely people to watch: their next creation might well be spectacular. More abstractly, perhaps this will eventually herald in free high-quality movie entertainment.