Friday, August 5, 2016

#2,164. Trekkies (1997)

Directed By: Roger Nygard

Starring: Denise Crosby, Frank D'Amico, Barbara Adams

Tag line: "There's one born every day"

Trivia: It was Denise Crosby who suggested this project to director Roger Nygard

I am a Star Trek fan, and have been since an early age (my father would watch reruns of the Original Series). My fandom eventually became an addiction with the arrival of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Over the years, I even had some memorabilia; in the early ‘70s, I got a playset of the Star Trek bridge for Christmas, complete with all the figures (man, I wish I still had that thing), and today, I own practically every Star Trek episode ever made on DVD (including the animated series from the ‘70s). Though I’ve never dressed in uniform or attended a single convention, Star Trek has been a big part of my life, and will be for some time to come.

Trekkies, a 1997 documentary hosted by Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar in the 1st season of The Next Generation), is a glowing tribute to the fans of Star Trek, most of whom see the show as more than a TV series.

Featuring everything from interviews with cast members to footage shot at various sci-fi conventions, Trekkies delves deeply into a fandom so widespread and intense that it’s moniker (“Trekkie”) has earned a place in the Oxford Dictionary (which defines a “Trekkie” as, quite simply, “A fan of the US science fiction television program Star Trek”). Over the course of this 1997 documentary, we’re shown how something that started as a TV show went on to become a cultural phenomenon.

One of my favorite sequences in Trekkies comes early on, when the original cast is talking about the first convention ever held. In short, a group of die-hard fans decided to test the waters by renting a venue and flying in the cast of the Original Series, all in the hopes there were people out there as fanatical about Star Trek as they were. Their goal was to attract about 300, which would at least help them cover their costs. Many (including George Takei and Nichelle Nichols) thought the whole idea was foolish (Star Trek, after all, had been off the air for years), but to their surprise, over 4,000 Trekkies turned up. When the actors walked on-stage, they couldn’t believe their eyes, and were touched by the outpouring of love. Since then, the fandom has grown leaps and bounds, and as Nichelle Nichols points out, there’s now a convention every weekend somewhere in the world, where fans can meet their heroes, buy merchandise, and even participate in auctions for memorabilia (we sit in on one such auction, in which a Klingon headplate, worn in only a single episode, fetches $1,400. Ironically, the winning bid came from a guy dressed as a Klingon).

But the Trekkie phenomenon isn’t only a convention thing; it’s spilled over into everyday life. Barbara Adams, a woman known as the Commander to her co-workers because of her rank (She’s the head honcho of her city’s Starfleet organization), gained notoriety in the ‘90s when she served as a juror on the Clinton Whitewater trial and wore her Starfleet uniform into the courtroom each and every day. Then there’s 14-year-old Gabriel Koerner, who, aside from being an avid toy collector, is putting together his own Star Trek film, complete with computer graphics. Many fans have taken their passion for the show to the extreme, like Dennis Bourguignon, a dentist whose entire office is Star-Trek themed (complete with its own teleportation pad).

These few, and others like them, are completely enamored with Star Trek, and many of the show’s stars have had their run-ins with these obsessed fans. Some encounters were a bit bizarre (Michael Dorn, aka Worf from The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, remembers someone asking him what it felt like to be beamed), others are damn funny (DeForest Kelley received a marijuana cigarette in the mail from a younger female fan, with a note saying she wanted to pay him back for “turning her on”), and one or two are sure to reduce you to tears (James Doohan grew misty-eyed when talking about the suicidal fan whose life he saved). Sure, a handful take their love of Star Trek a bit too far (one guy built a motorized copy of the full-body life support system that kept Capt. Christopher Pike alive in the 1966 episode The Menagerie, and occasionally drives this contraption down the side of the road), but thanks to Trekkies, we learn that even these fans are kind of endearing in their own way.

So, what is it about Star Trek that attracts so many people, from all walks of life? Well, there’s the science fiction aspect, of course, and the fact that some of the show’s “futuristic” technology isn’t nearly as far-fetched as it seemed in the 1960’s (hand-held computers and universal translators already exist). More than this, though, I think Trek’s staying power has to do with the way Gene Roddenberry and the rest portrayed the future, a time and place with no color barriers, no gender barriers, and no bigotry of any kind. The world of the future, as created by Star Trek, was indeed a good place to be, and the so called “Trekkies” we meet in this film are keeping this philosophy alive.

And if you ask me, that’s pretty darn cool.

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