Review: Star Wreck: In the Pirkinning (2005 movie)

A Finnish amateur filmmaker named Samuli Torsonnen along with a handful of his friends in Tampere (which is by weird coincidence the only Finnish city I’ve spent more than a day in) started making a series of no-budget short Star Trek parodies back in the 1990s, developing a fan following on line. Finally they decided to try doing a full-length comedy feature, and this is the result.

At the end of their previous episode, the arrogant and incompetent Captain Pirk (played by Torsonnen himself) was stranded on present-day Earth, where he’s been passing the time gobbling hamburgers and striking out with women. When he learns that an alien twist drive has been acquired by a Russian nuclear facility, he rounds up his two remaining crew members, a Plingon named Dwarf and an android named Info, and the three of them, armed only with hand twinklers, go to attack the facility and steal the twist drive.

To their surprise, the Russians mistake their attack for the start of a new revolution and volunteer to join. Even Pirk is smart enough to take advantage of the situation, and before long he’s worked out a technology-for-resources deal with the Russian president that leads to Pirk’s conquest of the Earth. The war is summarized in an entertaining parody of an old black-and-white Soviet propaganda film that may be the single best bit in the whole movie. It mixes real historical footage with new material shot to match it, so we see conventional troops doing battle with Pirk’s forces, who are dressed in the style of Star Trek: The Next Generation. One memorable shot shows tanks advancing toward the camera in what you might take for a real bit of archival war footage until you notice the giant starship looming overhead.

With Earth subdued, Pirk wants to expand his empire into the stars, but the limitations of his star fleet frustrate his ambitions, since its maximum range won’t reach anywhere habitable. But then Captain Sergei Fukov (whose resumé includes Chernobyl and who does pretty much everything by accident), accidentally discovers a maggot hole into a parallel universe. Delighted, Pirk assembles his invasion fleet and off they go.

This parallel universe proves to be that of Babylon 5, or something rather like it. The five-mile-long Babel 13 space station is commanded by Captain Sherrypie (Sheridan in B5) whose chief military tactic is making interminable speeches. Among the aliens in residence is the mysterious Ambassador Flush, who talks like a garbled fortune cookie and stays hidden inside an encounter suit except, we discover, when nobody’s looking and he needs to scratch his nose. There’s also a Psy Corps officer named Festerbester, who’s played by the same actor who portrays the Russian idiot Fukov. That’s an in-joke reference the fact that Babylon 5’s Bester was played by Walter Koenig, best known for playing the Russian Ensign Chekov on classic Star Trek.

As the names Pirk, Info, Dwarf, Fukov and so on might suggest, along with terms like “twinkler” for phaser and “twist drive” for warp drive, the comedy is not on a high level. (Did I mention that photon torpedoes are “light balls” and that the Babylon 5 aliens called the Minbari are here referred to as the “Minibar”?)

Likewise some of the acting is predictably amateurish, and in a few shots (but surprisingly few) the special effects fall short. And some might be annoyed that it’s in Finnish with English subtitles.

But on the other hand, a lot of it is oodles better than you might expect for something made with next to no money by amateurs learning as they go just for the sheer fun of it.

The spectacular space battles are full of impressive computer graphics that are every bit as good as you’d see in a high-budget studio release. And while the script leaves much to be desired, it has more laughs than an Adam Sandler movie.

Also, Lieutenant Swagger (Tiina Routamaa) is so gorgeous I’d be tempted to recommend the movie just because she’s in it, as Roger Ebert once did for a film he thought was terrible but starred Nastassja Kinski.

Star Wreck proved so popular on line (tens of thousands of downloads) that it was broadcast on television in several countries, including Finland, Italy, and Japan. It was picked up by Universal for sale and rental on DVD in much of Europe, and it’s recently become available in the U.S. and can be rented from Netflix. It’s quite probably the most widely seen film ever made in Finnish.

The website is Starwreck.com, where you can read about the production, download their earlier shorts, and order DVDs. The feature itself, licensed under Creative Commons, can be legally downloaded for free from the website Archive.org.

The DVD I bought from them (PAL format but not region restricted, so it’s playable on some North American DVD players and on pretty much any computer able to play DVDs) includes some interesting extras, including a making-of featurette that at one point explains how they found actresses to portray miniskirted crew members: They just drove around and asked attractive women they saw if they’d like to be in a Star Trek movie. (I’ll have to try that.)

They also reveal how the spectacular starship bridge set was created. It’s all computer generated, with actors shot individually on a blue-screen set in a corner of Torsonnen’s living room and then digitally composited in.

The production took a total of seven years (!), and that’s not counting work they did after the original 2005 version to prepare for commercial release. They learned so much as they went along that they kept going back and re-shooting, and I seem to recall reading that nothing from the first year or two of production actually made it into the final film.

The same folks are now finishing up their latest project, Iron Sky, described as a dark sf comedy. The premise: A secret Third Reich colony, established on the far side of the Moon in 1945, has spent the last 70 years preparing to invade the Earth. The film, in English this time, opens this year in the U.S. and elsewhere. See the website IronSky.net for a trailer and more information.

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