by ANDY IHNATKO
This film opens with the following text:
"TREKKIES" are the only fans listed by name in the Oxford English Dictionary.
The subject of "Star Trek" fans popularly conjures up other dictionary words, too, like "Dork," "Loser," "Geek," "Creep-O," and, of course, "Virgin." I don't know about all that. But on a personal (and admittedly bitchy) note, I'll add "Now that four 'Star Wars' films and the entire five-season story arc of 'Babylon 5' are in the can, shouldn't we as a nation get straight to work ensuring that future generations never learn of 'Trek''s existance in any of its interminable and hoary forms?" History will judge us by our contributions to culture, after all, and..."
OK, ok. I'm not a fan of "Star Trek." Sturgeon's Law says that "90% of everything is crud" and for me, Star Trek is a case in point. "Amok Time" (original series; Spock has to be returned to Vulcan because he's "in heat" and is acting increasingly more bizarre with every day) is one of my favorite hours of television. But then there are all the episodes of "Next Generation" in which the Holodeck was the cause of the ship's problems and all of the episodes in which the Holodeck was the solution; all of the episodes of "Deep Space Nine" where all of the fine-tuning went into the religious and political techno-babble instead of the characters and plot; and all of the episodes of "Voyager," period. Whereas there are few episodes of "Babylon 5" that I don't consider worth saving.
Still, if I don't have an overwhelming respect for the Trek franchise, I would -- with a few understandable exceptions -- allow one to marry my daughter. I mean, Trekkies have gotten an unfair rap over the years...so much so that most of the ones I know have distanced themselves from that term and are calling themselves "Trekkers" instead.
But to this documentary's credit, "Trekkies" doesn't present Trek fandom as a freak show to be gawked and giggled at. Well, not just, anyway. And neither does it insist that it's us who are the freaks for even thinking that there's anything odd about paying thousands of dollars to have your ears permanently disfigured into Vulcan points.
The documentary simply wants to give us the broadest possible tour of Trek fandom and then leave us to draw our own conclusions. It's hosted by Denise "Star Trek: The Next Generation" Crosby and features interviews with original castmembers, but the real stars are the series of Trekkies who show us around their homes, their workplaces, and the conventions where they gather. They're all well-chosen by the producers. Each is an ambassador to a distinct segment of fandom and level of fanaticism, the sum product of their own unique experiences and perspectives.
I'd describe some of these people to you, but that'd probably spoil most of the fun of "Trekkies." Suffice to say that you'll have a lot to talk about at the office the next day. You'll see a lot of people wearing variously-successful rubber appliances. You will see people who clearly would benefit greatly if their loved ones chloroformed them from behind, stuffed them into a big sack and hauled them off to some sort of intervention.
But you'll also see more than a few who despite their outward appearances (and your initial prejudices) come across as the most normal people you've ever met. The man's wearing a lavishly complete Starfleet uniform and he happily confirms that he travels to several conventions a year...yet you know something? I'd have no problem buying life insurance from the guy, or supporting his bid to chair my town's School Committee.
14-year-old Trekker Gabriel Koerner gets the most screen time and probably deserves the most mention. Am I revealing any sort of explosive secrets by revealing that I was a total geek when I was his age? That's probably why I enjoyed his contributions to this film so much. Some people might look at Gabe and think, geez, he has a whole wardrobe of Star Trek uniforms, he goes to lots of conventions, his room is plastered with Trek toys and collectibles and his head is filled with trivia...and then they'd pigeonhole him as the sort of kid who'll grow up to either design revolutionary new missile guidance systems for the military or live in his parent's garage and write 40-page letters to TV executives every time one of his favorite shows is cancelled.
But through his words and his presence Gabe makes it clear that Trek is something that enhances his life...not something that helps him to escape from it. I mean, there are millions of people whose sole hobby consists of planting their butts on the sofa and watching football from Friday to Monday night. Gabe's a hardcore Trek fan, yes. But how many of the people smirking during a "Trekkies" screening have written an original screenplay? How many have designed and built props and costumes? How many have mastered both computer-graphics software and the nuances of visual storytelling to create and choreograph effects sequences that frankly wouldn't look out of place anywhere on the Sci-Fi Channel?
Gabe's done all that stuff. While he's only one of the many fans who appear in "Trekkies," he's highly admirable; he's a creative spirit, not a simple consumer of product and media.
Near the end, "Trekkies"' attention shifts toward the theme of Star Trek And The Larger Picture, which I personally had a tough time swallowing. Majel Barrett -- who had a minor role in the original series but is better-known as the widow of Trek creator Gene Roddenberry -- cites the classic episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" as an example of Trek's vast social relevance. That's the one where Frank Gorshin is a representative of an alien race featuring faces that are half clown-white and half coal-black, and they all have a bitter hatred of people whose faces are half-black and half-white.
Keeping a straight face, Barrett explains that when the episode aired back in the Sixties it made everyone sit back and realize just how nutty all of that racial bigotry actually was. Heh. Funny, even as a kid seeing it for the first time, it only made me realize how unintentionally hilarious a ham-fisted and vastly pretentious allegory could be.
But that's all just at the very end. For the most part, the movie meets a goal that's fine for any documentary. It takes an established culture that most people (and most of the media) are content to reduce to one or two oversimplified notions and reveals its depth and texture.
The theme of "Trekkies" is best crystallized by "Next Generation"'s Brent Spiner. "There's this pre-conceived notion that [Trekkies] are a peculiar bunch of people, you know. But I don't think I've met anyone -- Star Trek fan or no -- who wasn't peculiar. We're all peculiar, aren't we?"
Features scene selection; original trailer; English subtitles, which are particularly handy as you'll find that even the Klingon-speakers are accurately transcripted; English, French and Spanish audio tracks; Dolby 2.0 and 5.1 surround.
Picture at times shows the limits of shooting via a documentary camera, but is clean and clear overall.
Sound is particularly well-miked and can be distinctly heard even when you're watching DVD on a plane.
Paramount DVD Cat. # 33677.
Copyright ©2001 Andy Ihnatko. May not be redistributed without permission. Studio PR types wishing to send Andy tapes, promotional clothing, or high-end video gear in hopes of securing a positive review are advised that such efforts are futile, but they're free to try to determine how high Andy's price actually is. Mail any and all pelft to Box 279, Norwood, MA 02062. He already has a subwoofer for his home-theater but could probably use a good pair of casual slacks.