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Monday, January 16, 2006

Finger Puppet Star Trek: The Motion Picture

One evening in mid 1992, members of the University of Alberta Star Trek Club, riding high on the success of their 1991 film, Finger Puppet Casablanca, decided to create their magnum opus: Finger Puppet Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Submitted for your approval: actual video captures of scenes from the original Paramount film, and their Paranoid Productions counterparts.

First, the players:

Ron Briscoe as Mr. Spock

Jeff Shyluk as Dr. McCoy, Mr. Sulu, Mr. Chekov, and Scotty

Susan Neumann as Lt. Uhura

Carrie Humphrey as Admiral James T. Kirk

Earl J. Woods as the voice of Admiral James T. Kirk

As the film opens, Klingon citizens respond to a threat on their frontier: a gigantic space cloud of immense energy. Here's the scene as realized by legendary director Robert Wise:

Mark Lenard as the Klingon captain

And here's the scene as realized by "nearly famous" director Earl J. Woods:

The finger of Jeff Shyluk as the Klingon captain.

Incoming energy bolt!
The Klingons are destroyed by the cloud. Meanwhile, on planet Vulcan, Spock, retired from Starfleet, feels the cloud's presence, even from light years away. He feels the touch of raw, vast emotion, and realizes that he can never reach the final level of the Vulcan ritual of Kohlinahr: the ultimate purging of all emotion, and the attainment of perfect logic.

Spock feels the touch of...V'ger.

Ron Briscoe as Mr. Spock, pondering his failure to achieve Kohlinahr.

On Earth, the Federation becomes aware that the space cloud is heading for Earth. Robert Wise treats us to a spectacular vision of the San Fransisco of the future:

Starfleet Command
Not having Robert Wise's budget, we had to settle for a static shot of a calendar page that happened to sport a photo of the Golden Gate bridge.

Eat Your Heart Out, Douglas Trumbull

Admiral Kirk learns about the threat, and he is determined to take the Enterprise out to meet the cloud. He informs Commander Sonak, his Vulcan science officer, of his intentions.

Sonak and Kirk

Finger Puppet Sonak and Kirk
Sonak dies in a transporter accident, a scene we neglected to film (we also forgot to mention - or film - two very important characters, Commander Will Decker and Lieutenant Ilia).

Undeterred by tragedy - and the lack of a science officer - Captain Kirk pushes his crew and his ship hard, triggering an imbalance in the matter-antimatter flow of the engines and sending the ship into a wormhole!


Finger Puppet Wormhole!

Scotty frets over his wee poor bairns.

They canna take much more 'o this!
Lucky for Kirk (and his crew, and planet Earth, and all that is wholesome and good in the universe), Mister Spock turns up to help out. He'll fix those engines!

Spock returns!

Finger Puppet Spock Returns!

The crew reacts!

Finger Puppet Crew Reacts!

Spock fixes the engines, and the Enterprise cautiously intercepts the cloud. Kirk and McCoy see that Spock has changed, both by his experiences on Vulcan and his communication with the cloud. They wonder if Spock can be trusted...

Kirk and McCoy wonder if Spock is off his rocker.

Kirk and McCoy hope Spock hasn't gone off the deep end.

Attempts at communication yield mixed results; they learn that the cloud is a living entity called V'ger. Mister Spock, eager to know more, enters V'ger's inner chambers in a spacesuit.

Deeper into V'ger

Finger Puppet Spock Walk.
Spock returns from his walk, and informs Admiral Kirk that V'ger is an awesome intelligence...but one whose soul is somehow hollow. V'ger informs Kirk that he will destroy Earth, unless "the creator" answers his calls for communication. Kirk figures out that as a representative of humanity, he might be able to respond. V'ger extends a "space drawbridge" and an oxygen-gravity envelope, so that Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Decker and the "Ilia probe" (an android replacement of an Enterprise crewmember created by V'ger) may commune directly with the space cloud.

Understanding V'ger.

Low-budget climax.
Kirk discovers that V'ger is, in fact, the evolutionary product of an old Earth space probe: Voyager 6. V'ger, in a desperate quest for its creator, demands communion with humanity, and Commander Decker agrees to merge with V'ger, in the person of the Ilia probe.

Decker and Ilia/V'ger merge

Kirk, McCoy, and Spock watch as Decker makes the ultimate sacrifice.
After Decker and V'ger merge, the Enterprise soars free of the cloud, which vanishes in a spectacular shower of light, moving to a higher plane of existence - beyond logic, beyond emotion, beyond humanity. The crew ponders what they have just witnessed...

After the delivery.

Birth of a new life form.

Unique production still of Ron Briscoe and Carrie Humphrey getting into character.

Our finger puppet epic was created with a few important resources: the voice talents of the cast, the dexterity of their fingers, Jeff Shyluk's peerless drawing ability, and Jeff and Susan's ability to create all the sets out of construction paper, Saran wrap, a box of tissue paper, and various household odds and ends. Video effects were created by pointing the video camera at its monitor, which caused visual feedback that simulated Douglas Trumbull's groundbreaking vistas of V'ger.

As usual, my cast (often rounded up against their better judgement) had to put up with physical and emotional discomfort. In order to cram all the characters into a very tiny set, the actors had to crowd together on the floor and thrust their fingers through the set bottoms. This led to some pretty excruciating gymnastics, and the source video is punctuated with cries of "MY LEG!" "I CAN'T BREATHE!" "WHAT'S MY LINE?" "WAIT, THAT'S CHEKOV, NOT SULU!"

Nine more Star Trek movies to finger puppetize...who's in?


Anonymous said...

This was fantastic. Love your work. Maybe we can do "The Search for Spock" in June when we visit

Sean Woods said...

You know, your special effects work actually turned out quite well!


You still need to find a webhost for the video, however.

susan_rn92 said...

Wow, OMG! We had forgotten all about that. We laughed all the way through that post. I am not sure if I should say, "what were we thinking?" or "that's brilliant, why haven't you made a DVD of puppet theatre?"

Anonymous said...

Ah, memories .....Once upon a time when women wore big glasses and the men still had full heads of hair.

Anonymous said...

Ah, memories .....Once upon a time when women wore big glasses and the men still had full heads of hair.

Sean Woods said...

Hair is for jive suckers.