Hanging out with "the boy" is a
dubious honor at best.
We are no strangers to the concept of a Trekkie, nor to Star Trek conventions. We will probably go to one next week, as a matter of fact. But we have never dressed up in a Starfleet uniform, nor assigned ourselves a rank in Starfleet. Our credentials thus established, let us discuss the film Trekkies.
Trekkies is a documentary about Star Trek fans, who have, for better or worse, been dubbed "Trekkies." The later generation of fans have eschewed this name, preferring the ostensibly less frivolous moniker of "Trekkers." To the majority of the populace, and for all practical purposes, however, they are indistinguishable. Denise Crosby (Tasha Yar from The Next Generation series) acts as a casual guide to the Trekkie phenomenon, though mostly the movie lets the Trekkies (and Trekkers) talk for themselves.
One of the most prominent subjects of the film is Gabriel Koerner, a fourteen year-old Star Trek fan. Gabriel's achievements belie his young age. He is quite a mover and shaker in his local Star Trek fan club, which has set out to film a Trek movie set on a Romulan space station. They might lack the sets and actors, but Gabriel has rendered some impressive space ship graphics. Koerner spends his time on screen picking at the details in his latest Trek uniform and acting like the geek that he is. It is both endearing and embarrassing to watch him display his Trek figure collection with pride, knowing that even after he begins dating actual girls, there will always be a place for his Beverly Crusher dolls.
"There's Kenneth Starr!
Set phasers on kill!"
Barbara Adams is the one Trekkie in this film who has actually gained some national recognition. No, she wasn't on the series. She was the juror who showed up at the Whitewater trial in Little Rock, Arkansas, dressed in full Starfleet uniform. Although she was eventually dismissed, Adams never backed down on the fact that she had every right to wear the uniform to court.
Barbara is an interesting case study. Every day, she goes to her job at a printing company wearing rank insignia, a phaser, and a communicator badge. Barbara does this because she believes that the values of the Federation are important, and she believes that she is setting an example. After watching and listening to her for a while we began to realize that Barbara is a harmless eccentric. Some eccentrics collect newspapers or cats, some wash their cars 4 times a day, and some create websites about cult movies. It's obvious that Barbara would be obsessive about something, and it's probably for the best that it is something positive.
Trekkies has a good helping of Star Trek actors talking about Star Trek fans. Old hands like James Doohan and George Takei have interesting anecdotes to tell. Is it just us, or is Kate Mulgrew's segment kind of, well, dumb? Her explanation of the difference between a Trekkie and a Trekker, besides being backwards on the accepted definition of the two terms, is so incoherent and bizarre that we have to wonder what the studio put in her drinking water that day.
One of our favorite sequences involved the Klingon phenomenon. Klingons are the agressive, warrior race in the Star Trek universe, and so of course there are fans who have devoted time to immersing themselves in this oh-so-cathartic fantasy. Klingon even has a full-vocabulary language, and more than a few fans have learned its intricacies. The best Klingon moment came when a full posse of the turtle-headed, armor-plated aliens walked into a fast food joint and began ordering burgers, followed by the most graphic savagery ever committed on value meals.
"Take us to your leader. We're here
for the NHL draft!"
The kicker comes when Crosby asks the counter clerk if he's ever served Klingons before. "Oh yes," he replies.
Although the Trekkies in the audience will be pleased by scenes like these, they will be less enthusiastic about the brief focus on some of the more pathetic examples of their species. One particularly sad moment comes during an interview with one fan who has not only dressed as a character, but cross-dresses as someone he made up: the wife of a character who appeared briefly in a single episode. Asked if he has any other hobbies, this poor soul treats us to an invented Trek-universe folk song and promptly forgets the words. It is a pitiful and embarrassing moment, and one that is left free of comment from the documentarians.
Soon Trekkies is back on its (mostly) positive track, whimsically tracking the antics of Trek fans, from the dentist in Orlando who has converted his office (and his hygenists) to the Trek theme, to the leader of Spiner-Femmes, a woman obsessed with the actor who plays the android Data.
Because this movie has no plot, there really can't be a big finish, the same way some documentaries end with the killer being caught, or somebody being sentenced. Trekkies manages to end on a high note, though, by running some amazingly funny Star Trek comedians under the end credits. Most of the comedians take the same tack: they ridicule themselves for their own geekiness, castigate society for branding them as losers, or make constant in-jokes about the series. Fortunately, the documentary itself does few of these things, making it accessible to the uninitiated while remaining interesting to those who could qualify to be featured in the sequel.
Special Update 12/31/00
Back in October, we got th efollowing letter from Gabriel Koerner. We print it here (with some extraneous material edited out, along with a picture he sent us:
I found and was amused by the reference to myself. Its a reminder that with years comes growth, and when the mundanities of real life begin to set in (I am now 18 years old, I have since left home, work a corporate job at the Los Angeles division of 3do, inc., have my own place, and can fully appreciate the stress of life) it makes you grow past being a child fan caught up in whimsical fantasy. Not to say I don't miss those years.
Thinking back, I think even back then in my more extreme years, the laugh was mine because in my heart of hearts, I always KNEW I was a geek, terminally and completely, with no hope for recovery. I did not WANT to find my way into mainstream cliques, never did, and I think I succeeded greatly in that regard. :) I never cared about the world's scathing view of my love for Star Trek because to me, I knew it was something better than say, a life of drugs and violence and unless it interfered with issues of *real life* to a degree where I couldn't clearly see the dividing lines between fantasy and reality, it was a constructive thing unworthy of criticism.
Anyways, I'm rambling, and I wish to say that I thought your review of "Trekkies" was a good one. The film's focus was naturally going to be on the greater extremeties of fandom, because the analogy I always give is a hypothetical documentary about football fans. For it to be commercially viable and entertaining, you're not going to make it about the guy who devotedly watches the game every Monday night but has no other distinguishing characteristics beyond that. No, you're gonna make it about the guy who is at the games hooting and hollering, half naked in twenty degree weather with his body painted up in his team colors. And the audience is smart enough to know they're seeing the minority fringe, the exception, not the rule.
As to your reference of me "finally starting to date girls"? :) I have a girlfriend of three and a half years, the inimitable Allison Colleen Embry, who incidentally is NOT a Star Trek fan. She'll share my interests and once in a while tags along to an SF themed convention with me (I still enjoy Trek conventions, because unlike, say, certain whitewater jurors who wear their outfits in public, SF conventions are an appropriate forum for expression of
your interest in Star Trek). Just for the heck of it, I'll attach a picture of what I look like these days (there's a pic of me, I believe, on your review page) and of my lovely Allison. :)
Yeah, we know that's more or less the same line everybody else has been using. We were thinking about using, "Dammit Jim, I'm a corpse, not a doctor!", but we figured that would be in poor taste. Go back!
And some dress up like marmosets. Yessir, it takes all kinds of weirdos to make a world. Go back!