Growing beyond tragedy with the Timewarp Quadrilogy — Fandom Underground

Fandom Underground has given me the greatest insight I could ask for into the dichotomy between art as personal expression and art as commercial product. Both come with limitations and downsides. A film made as a personal statement has fewer resources and production values, while one meant to be sold has to compromise and answer to its financiers. I will always prefer the former, rough edges and all, because those weaknesses translate to a work of genuine personal exploration, answerable only to the passion and heart of their creators. Brandon Bridges is one such creator, whose sole efforts over the past fifteen years have led to three, soon to be four, films investigating loss, maturity, and the weight of moving forward after tragedy.

Star Trek I: Specter

Star Treks Specter of the Past, Retribution, and Redemption portray several generations of the crew of the F. Scott Fitzgerald, a Galaxy Class Mk. II starship that gets embroiled in galactic catastrophe sparked by one man’s impossible quest to undo a past mistake. There is no mistaking that the film comes from a personal place for Brandon, who spends the three films exploring all the guilt, grieving, and acceptance that we must undergo to get through lives, fraught with misfortune as they are. The villain’s mad, hopeless quest for his own redemption mirrors Brandon’s own efforts to exorcise these feelings over the course of four films, delving deeply into the right and wrong way to move past the unthinkable. Usually I despise nothing more than a time travel story, but these films mark a rare exception because of their thoughtful interrogation of the emotional drives behind wanting to return to the past: the urge to undo a mistake, to sacrifice anyone or anything to go back to a time before all this, as hopeless and misguided as that urge may be. Over the course of these films you slowly fall in love with the Fitzgerald’s crew; this group of adult professionals working together towards solutions embodies the spirit of what Star Trek is supposed to stand for. Their disagreements are mature, reasonable, and connected to the catastrophe they are trying to avert.

As with many of the fan films I have covered, the Time Warp series has flaws. Far from strict weaknesses, these issues highlight for me how much effort the series takes to create, limited by budget but not by imagination. The films are written, animated, edited, and voice acted by a single person, the shortest of which is over three hours in length. The character animation is done in Poser, a program that was never intended for long-form action, and the singular voice for all characters is noticeable. Well, to a degree. Each character is written with such a distinct personality that the similar voice doesn’t hurt their distinctiveness, and it bears saying that the writing is the best part of this series. Not written in typical script format, the films were penned as novels. In fact, Brandon asks the audience to consider them as animated audiobooks first and motion pictures second. The writing easily outclasses anything that commercial Star Trek has managed to release in the last few decades.

Star Trek II: Retribution

While a casual onlooker might dismiss the animation itself, watching the films quickly impresses you with the artistry on display. First of all, Brandon had to create entire ship sets from scratch, often referring to the original blueprints from The Next Generation and grappling with complex, realistic lighting designs. All of that is before you get to the issue of animating over ten hours of footage on his own. The films do have action sequences that impress, especially when the climaxes feature ship battles, but I can’t overstate the entertainment value that comes from appreciating how much it takes for one man to make all of this. As with Hidden Frontier, the retrospective that inspired this article series, there are two stories at play here: the main story of the fiction, which I remind you is good, and the story beneath of a talented artist working incalculable hours to bring a story to life.

That “incalculable” comment isn’t an exaggeration, either. When asked, Brandon couldn’t guess at the number of hours that went into these films over the years. He always knew that he wanted to tell a story in Star Trek, the franchise that (at one time) made its name with maturity and optimism during dark days. In 2001, he got a 3d model of a section of the Voyager corridor and started experimenting with it for no real purpose other than expanding his skillset. Then, in 2006 something irrevocable happened that inspired this story of grief and responsibility. The technology on hand was primitive, and for the next five to six years he spent every free hour working tirelessly to bring Specter of the Past to life until its release in 2011. Much in the tradition of serial fiction, Specter and all following films were produced and released scene by scene, until they were edited into a complete film at the end. In fact, scenes from Resurrection are being released that way now on the Youtube channel and the full script is available on the associated Discord channel.

Learning much from his experience, and with a vast array of sets and other assets to re-use, Brandon was able to release Retribution in two years, the film he has the most personal issues with. Attempting to craft a perfect time travel story with no plot holes while also listening to a vocal audience did not treat Retribution well. The film is darker, more convoluted, and due to the author’s eventual weariness with production has less of the passion that made Specter the standout it was. It’s still good, from my perspective, and worth watching, but is easily the story that its creator looks back on with the most trepidation. Where Specter was about regret, Retribution was about trusting your loved ones while mired in tragedy. Redemption, once envisioned as the end of the series, was about finally atoning for past mistakes and learning to create a better future.

Star Trek III: Redemption [Remastered]

In the years following, Redemption received a remaster, improving its resolution and adding scenes that were originally deleted. What was once a trilogy is soon to be a quadrilogy. Resurrection is a synthesis of the original films’ ideas, encouraging its characters and audience to grow, change, and accept the uncertainty of life. Watching the Fitzgerald’s crew teach one another lessons that they learn from, only to mature and teach a younger crew is the kind of inspiration that doesn’t just make for a good story; it has the power to change people for the better, and teach us how to be a better influence on one another and ourselves.

To casual onlookers it might seem silly how much I’m talking up four films that at first blush look and sound low quality. But once you give these films a chance and really engage with what they are offering, you’ll understand that their flaws are less important and more interesting than those of multi-million dollar productions. This series’ weaknesses are those engineered by a single person working to realize creative vision. The weaknesses of modern Star Trek are those that come from being forced to produce something, anything, on a timeline and with stipulations set by executives with no appreciation or understanding of their material. Brandon gets offers from voice actors to record parts for the films, but he hasn’t accepted those offers. Doing so, and having to reedit the movies while wrangling dozens of actors would shift the process from hobby-as expression to work for him, and diminish the story he is trying to tell.

Star Trek IV Resurrection - Scene 08: "A Matter of Personnel"

Available for free, along with their commentary tracks, the Time Warp series is well worth the investment. It’s a singular work of genuine humanity, struggling with all the most insoluble challenges of the human experience. Whether it’s the crew’s discussion of literature, their dedication to their duty and each other, or the nods of wry notes of humor (the King of the Hill theme song is referred to as “classical music” by the ship’s captain), the series continues to offer a thoughtful, memorable experience. I am excited to see where the future takes this series, and hopeful that some of you will join me on that mission.

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John Farrell is an attorney working to create affordable housing, living in West Chester Pennsylvania. You can listen to him travel the weird west as Carrie A. Nation in the Joker's Wild podcast at: https://jokerswildpodcast.weebly.com/ or follow him on Bluesky @johnofhearts

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