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Sunday, May 20, 2001

'Star Trek' ends series run with 2-hour special

This episode will allow every character to evolve

There's no place like home, unless you're one of the characters on the Starship U.S.S. Voyager. The crew has been lost for the past seven years and has come to see their starship as the place where they hang their hats.

   That will most likely change Wednesday as "Star Trek: Voyager" comes upon its obligatory ending point (7 p.m. on UPN). Every "Star Trek" series ends after seven years, and that expected bookend will feature Captain Kathryn Janeway bringing the journey to a close in a special two-hour episode.
   Do they find their way home, or do they get lost in yet another wormhole? The cast isn't divulging any secrets, but what they will admit indicates that the fans will be happy.
   "The last episode deals with themes and guest characters that the audience loves," said Robert Picardo, who plays the holographic Doctor. "From the perspective of my character, it really managed to deal with all of the doctor's running themes that have been very well brought to a climax. I was very satisfied."
   Added Robert Duncan McNeill, who portrays Lieutenant Tom Paris: "They put a very memorable conclusion on this journey that we've been on for seven years, trying to find our way home and getting to know and care for each other. The last episode allowed every character to have their resolve, and up to the very last minute of the show, it's dramatic and uncertain on how it's all going to wind up."
   This final season has seen Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) fall in love with a convicted murderer and the return of Q (John DeLancie), but actors and producers promise that tonight will no doubt be the pinnacle moment in the series' history.
   Epic in scope
   "It's a really exciting two-hour film that is epic in scope," said executive producer Ken Biller. "It's filled with big action sequences and intimate personal emotional moments, and it has big moments for every one of the characters.
   "As storytellers, the most important thing you can do is try to surprise the audience."
   When the cast for "Voyager" was first announced, the creators succeeded in surprising their audience by casting Kate Mulgrew as Janway, the first woman to command a Federation Starship in the 30-year history of "Star Trek."
   "It's really Janeway's story more than anybody else," said Picardo of Mulgrew's character in the series finale. "She's been our courageous and great leader, and it's the first time a women was in control. It was a great acting challenge for Kate and a great story of sacrifice on her part, and it makes it a perfect conclusion to what we set out to do."
   It may be Janeway's story, but Seven is the scene-stealer. Jeri Ryan, the actress who plays the shapely, striking young borg Seven of Nine, joined the cast at the launch of the '97-'98 season and became an instant hit. Her sleek looks and rebellious character made her a favorite among the fans and the writers.
   Artificial intelligence
   Other popular characters are First Officer Chakotay (Robert Beltran), the fearless former Maquis captain, B'Elanna Torres (Roxann Dawson), the half-Klingon half-human chief engineer, and Picardo's doctor. But although the fans loved his logic, Picardo is ready to move on.
   "Now that I'm no longer a holographic medical doctor in the 24th century, I'm now putting away the dishes," said Picardo, who is taking a break and remodeling his house with his wife. "There are certain aspects of acting in a Star Trek franchise that I will enjoy having a break from. My character had a very kind of stiff and proud and full-of-himself air, and I'll look forward to slouching and mumbling rather than having to stand up right and pontificate endlessly."
   In addition to filming a pilot for a science and technology show, Picardo is also writing a book called "The Hologram Handbook" expected in early 2002.
   "This is the year of the artificial intelligence because of the Spielberg movie ("A.I.")," he said, "and I thought that I'd write about how, as an artificial intelligence, we manage to lower our expectations and interfacing and communications with regular old organic numskulls. It's a how-to book for other holograms to learn how to deal with all these irritating humans."
   Whereas Picardo feels nostalgic for the series that consumed seven years of his life, McNeill pinpoints it as "bittersweet," while producer Biller calls it "relieving."
   "It's one of the biggest and most profound experiences in my whole career in terms of the length and the way it effects me," said McNeill, an experienced theater actor who already has Broadway offers to consider. "I've had a family, and 'Star Trek' allowed me to have a nice, comfortable, relatively normal life with my family."
   What about next 7 years?
   Looking back on his experience, Biller feels like a new man.
   "Had you talked to me three or four weeks ago, I would have been a nutcase," said Biller. "But now I'm very relaxed. We finished a few weeks ago, and there was a bit of post-production work, and then I took a break and went to Hawaii. Now I'm in a good mood."
   During its run, McNeill directed four of the shows. He took that knowledge and made a few short films, including "9mm of Love," an action comedy that features cupid as a hit man. Recently he learned that it might be time to expand upon that knowledge even further.
   "Fox Searchlight has invited me to join their program for young directors," said McNeill. "I'm excited about the future. It's exciting to move on - but also sad to lose all the things that were good about the last seven years."
   What about the next seven years? What, you didn't think that was the last of the Star Trek species, did you? Spock's well-known tagline about living long and prosper also applies to the multi-million dollar business that Star Trek encompasses.
   The franchise was created in 1966 by Gene Roddenberry and includes multiple series (one of which was animated), more than 150 novels, 10 motion pictures, theme park attractions and notorious fan publications and conventions.
   The new show, expectedly called "Star Trek: Enterprise," is just now getting underway in pre-production. Recently Paramount announced that Scott Bakula ("Quantum Leap") will star as Captain Jonathan Archer, a "physical and intensely curious captain with a bold personality."
   "Obviously I love the genre and am a long-time fan of 'Star Trek,' " Bakula said in a release.
   Regarding Bakula, Biller said: "He's a terrific actor and a really likable personality. Having read the script and knowing who the captain's character is, he'd be a very good pick."
   The show is expected to be on UPN's fall schedule.
  
  
  


Pop culture and media critic Ricardo Baca can be reached at 886-3688 or by e-mail at bacar@caller.com


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