By Karl Bowman and Jonathan Walker
Why would you rush to a video store to rent a documentary?
If we were to play a word association game and someone started with the word “documentary” many of us would immediately say “boring.” Most of what comes to mind are those dry films we saw in high school about the fall of the Roman Empire or the reproductive process of a sunflower. Why would we rush out to the video store to rent something like that?
Gladly, there is a wide range of documentary films which can be so much more than just informational. These non-fiction films, like fiction films, often feature compelling stories, ideas, and characters and command our interest through drama and humor. The best documentaries also possess depth-layers of meaning that seep out from the material and provide significant food for thought. Documentaries are also valuable in helping us experience an event, meet people, or see things that we would never otherwise see. This is a particularly intriguing idea with respect to learning about people we would rarely have the chance to meet.
Trekkies takes us on a journey through the world of Star Trek fanatics, a group of people generally shunned for their outlandish behavior. We experience their conventions, see the memorabilia, and learn something of their deep personal identification with the sci-fi series and its philosophy. Many of us have a comical reaction or may even feel disturbed that Trekkies take something trivial far more seriously than we could ever imagine. But if the film were simply about the quirks of this group of people, a half hour would be sufficient to do so. Trekkies is an hour and a half in length. Is this for Trekkies to revel in each other’s idiosyncracies?
On the contrary, this documentary is designed for those of us to whom Star Trek is still a TV show or movie. It gives us the opportunity to sit down with those who make it a way of life and try to understand them. Interestingly, by getting to know these people, we find something we never expected to find: humanity.
We are accompanied on this journey by Denise Crosby, the actress who portrays Lt. Yar on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” She takes us to the conventions, narrates parts of the movie and conducts the interviews. Those interviewed include stars from the original motion pictures and TV series like Leonard Nimoy (“Spock”), DeForest Kelley (“Bones”) and Walter Koenig (“Sulu”). Given equal attention are members of the “Next Generation” TV series like Jonathan Frakes (“Riker”), Michael Dorn (“Worf”) and Brent Spiner (“Data”) and stars from the other spin-off series. Also interviewed are Hollywood producers, convention attendees and some die-hard fans including Barbara Adams, the Whitewater juror who wore her Starfleet uniform to the trial, a dentist who has designed his office in everything Star Trek, and a man who would love to surgically alter his ears to be pointed like a Vulcan’s.
The tone of the movie is very objective and sincerely tries to get to the bottom of this fanaticism. Denise is a likable and friendly interviewer with honest intentions. Roger Nygard, the director puts the various interviews, production clips, and other footage together in a very interesting way, juxtaposing comments and images for maximum entertainment. The movie clips along at a good pace and does a great job of alternating between humorous, light moments and serious, emotional moments. Thus, the film is never boring.
Trekkies is significant because it forces us to look beyond what we, on the outside, can only see as frivolous and even ridiculous. Several things happen to us as we watch. When we see how silly the fans can be and to what extremes they take it, we are amused and at times disturbed. When we see Gabriel, a teenaged fan design a whole special effects movie, we begin to see some of the educational benefits of Star Trek. When we hear how the show helped another man deal with his father’s death we are intrigued. When James Doohan (“Scotty” in the original show) tells his experience of helping a young lady with suicidal tendencies, it is difficult to disregard the personal value of her attending the conventions. Ultimately, when we see the sense of community that has been forged and the moral behavior the fandom has inspired, we begin to change our attitude. While it remains foreign, we begin to see the human goodness in it. These “weirdos” have chosen the best role models they could find.
The moral of Trekkies is that deep down inside the world and hearts of almost any group of people we can find goodness. But that goodness can only be found if we will listen to them long enough to see past their idiosyncracies and discover their heart.
We, as Latter-day Saints, should be able to appreciate this message. Throughout the history of this people we have suffered under the rash judgments of people who think that our differences somehow make us less than human. Those people who have taken the time to look past our peculiarities often come to appreciate our goodness. But isn’t religious orthodoxy surely different than fanaticism over a trivial television show?
The answer is, not as much as you’d think. The issue is not the value of one’s belief. That immediate judgement is the foundation of the problem. What is at issue is the nature of a person’s humanity and those things that prevent us from understanding it.
[Caution: This documentary has a very short segment about some fans’ sensual artwork of the Star Trek characters, the movement to create romance novels, and analysis of alien reproduction. The film is legitimately rated PG and Nygard only mentions these movements and does not dwell on them or make them prominent.]
2001 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.