I'm due for another dental appointment next week. I hate going to them, but if I lived in Orlando I know exactly where I'd go--setting up a time with Dennis Bourguignon's receptionist, who will be dressed in Star Trek attire. And I'd actually look forward to the visit—to see the office that has now made famous for its Star Trek design motif in Roger Nygard's 86-minute Trekkies documentary.
I knew something was afoot when I walked into Borders recently and saw Hamlet in Klingon. I thought then that somebody out there has way too much time on their hands. After all, who would even want to read such a translation? But Trekkies shows a summer camp where they actually conduct Klingon language classes and practice getting those deep guttural sounds. You never know when a Star Trek convention will take a break and release a troop of San Diego Klingons to take over a McDonalds to wolf down quarter pounders.
Nygard's documentary remains standard film fare for the genre. You won't find the creative cinematography of an Errol Morris documentary—just straight editing cuts with occasional “space” music in the soundtrack. The film focuses on an eclectic mix of weird, obsessed fans, interviews with some of the series' stars, scenes from Star Trek conventions, and a few poignant moments. One that really stands out is James Doonan's (Scotty) touching story about the suicidal woman who continued to come to conventions to hear him say a few positive things to her; and find out 8 years later that she had earned her Masters degree in Engineering.
Additionally a heartfelt segment concerning a Talk Trek radio show in which a caller explains how a Denise Crosby episode helped him through a life crisis is very well placed. I also was intrigued with how Whoopi Goldberg had been inspired as a child when she saw Nichelle Nichols on the bridge of the Enterprise, instead of cleaning up the quarters as a maid. I would have liked to have seen more moments like this as well as some segments that showed “normal” Trek fans who have been influenced by the series. I know there's a lot of people like that. I'm one of them.
But it would take a great deal of work to make an entertaining documentary that shows more of the positive side of Trekkies. It is much easier for Nygard to hold Trekkies up for ridicule by including the more offbeat and over the top Star Trek fans in his collage. Headlining the eccentrics is Lieutenant Barbara Adams of the U.S.S. Artemis in the Federation Alliance, who gained national prominence in the Arkansas Whitewater trial. She is the juror who dressed up daily in her Star Trek uniform complete with communicator and tri-corder. When you hear her on the film, she sounds convincing; she actually believes that the Federation will call her into duty.
No Star Trek documentary could be complete without the obligatory geek, so serving that purpose here is 14 year old Gabriel Koerner, who has already been to 28 Star Trek conventions. He is obsessed with the details of the uniforms and is decked out in his new First Contact style uniform as he guides us into the Star Trek convention. Here we see some of the series' stars on stage, and then are shown an auction in which Worf's Klingon forehead sells for $1400. Never try to outbid a determined Klingon—he wasn't leaving the convention without it.
While watching some of these Trekkies or Trekkers (if you want to be snooty about it), I flashed back to William Shatner's memorable skit on Saturday Night Live when he exclaims to an obsessed fan, “Get a Life!” Yet I know there is more to the story. I'm a fan myself. I teared up when Spock died in Star Trek II and felt tremendously relieved when I learned that he would be reborn.
Through all the bizarre fans in Trekkies you can still discern a basic goodness in the people. Many hold on to the Star Trek ideals as they perform community service and strive to make this strange world a little better. While I was watching the documentary, at first I thought that I'd like to take my digital camera the next time a Star Trek convention comes to town and get a lot of pictures of the fans. I've been to a couple of conventions and Nygard's documentary may inspire others to check one out. They are fun and are populated with a number of interesting personalities. Like the four ladies celebrating their 13th reunion said—you may not know anybody when you first come, but you will meet some friends there.
Non Star Trek fans will likely watch this documentary for the humor and caricatures only. On the other hand, the true fans will be able to sift through the various scenes and gain a little greater appreciation for the genius of Roddenberry's phenomenon. * One quibble with the documentary--it needs more Shatner content!