The universe of Polaris

  • The Transhuman Authority a warring empire spawned in the pitiless wastes of interstellar space, determined to rule the human race - or destroy it.
  • Polaris a starship of the United Worlds Navy, pursued by the Authority and lost in the uncharted reaches beyond the Milky Way.
  • Phaidros a planet that cannot exist…yet does. To find their way home again, Captain Sam Fredericks, scientist Valerie Young and the crew of Polaris must decipher its mysteries.
  • Their discovery will forever change humanity - if they live to tell about it!

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Several of us at United Worlds attended the annual Farpoint SF/Media convention this last weekend in Timonium, Maryland. Friday evening I had the opportunity to see the premiere of a remarkable film created for distribution on the Internet.

“Trenches” was directed by Shane Felux and produced by X-Ile Pictures for Stage 9 Digital. I’d recommend bookmarking those sites. The movie will probably be available online sometime in March of 2009.

Felux is the fellow who directed “Star Wars: Revelations,” the fan film “Star Wars” prequel that beat “Revenge Of the Sith” to release in 2005. Fan reaction to “Revelations” was decidedly less mixed than to ROTS, and the film garnered attention from mainstream media outlets like MSNBC and USA Today. Felux went on to win the “George Lucas Selects” and “Audience Choice” awards for Star Wars fan films in 2006 for his follow-up comedy short “Pitching Lucas.”

“Trenches” is not a fan film, but a wholly professional movie underwritten and distributed by ABC-Disney’s Stage 9 web studio. A little over an hour long and designed to be viewed in roughly ten-minute segments, “Trenches” shows what happens to a small group of soldiers, enemies in an interstellar war, who are abandoned on a desolate world and must quickly learn to cooperate to survive against…something else.

Surprisingly and gratifyingly, “Trenches” isn’t in any way derivative of “Star Wars.” If one is looking for comparisons, try this: the Colonial Marines from “Aliens” plunked down on Spielberg’s Omaha Beach in the opening scenes of “Saving Private Ryan.” With scary monsters.

The “Trenches” producers aren’t being specific right now about the film’s budget but allow that it was under half a million dollars (i.e., “a lot under”). This is probably less than a Michael Bay production spends on earplugs and TYLENOL on any given afternoon. That is one part of why the movie is an astonishment and - well, okay, a revelation. Because it’s impossible to make this movie, with a professional crew and professional actors and all of the associated expenses, for that amount of money. Felux and his team did it anyway.

It’s axiomatic now that the technology available to the independent filmmaker is evolving extraordinarily quickly and is certainly liberating as much from a budgetary point of view as from any other. I can remember, not more than fifteen years ago, that when friends made a movie for about four hundred thousand dollars they spent the largest single percentage of that on film stock and developing costs. Yesterday a filmmaker friend pointed me at - if tech geekery was booze I’d be too hung-over to post today.

So, there’s that. The ever-extending reach of that technology would be meaningless, though, if not for the skills and vision and understanding of the filmmakers. That is the other, more important reason that “Trenches” achieves so much within such tight constraints.

Narratively, “Trenches” throws the viewer right into the middle of an aerial battlefield evacuation which immediately goes all to chaos and hell. There’s no wasted motion setting up backstory (we are always fighting; we are always fighting For Reasons. Move on). Economical and focused production design is used to create, successfully for the most part, the illusion not only of a high-tech battlefield on a desolate and nasty planet but of considerably greater resources than X-Ile actually had available.

The tight, close-in camera work concentrates the viewer’s attention on performance and character (the cast of little-known-for-now actors is good across the board and some are great. Not to slight anyone else, but my favorite was Lev Gorn as an insubordinate non-com who veers close enough to cliché - on paper - that the character can only go one of two ways…but the fun is that you never quite guess which way it’ll be).

Felux’s confident direction and kinetic editing combine here with a range of clever post-production techniques (including, apparently, extensive and stylized image processing by LaserPacific) to deliver a much more visually sophisticated and intriguing movie than I would have imagined possible given the film’s (”a lot under…”) budget.

IMAO, as far as the future of narrative entertainment produced for the web is concerned “Trenches” is both a landmark accomplishment and a precursor. Anything is possible now.

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  1. Comment by J.J — 16 February 2010 @ 5:58 pm

    Great review… watched it today at its new home at

  2. Comment by Andrew Probert — 25 August 2010 @ 10:27 am

    I just stumbled onto a bookmarked link to this blog and am curious why five months have gone by without any updates. Is your show on hold?

    Reply via email, please.

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