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Director: Roger Nygard
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan, DeForest Kelley, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, George Takei, Michael Dorn, Brent Spiner, Denise Crosby, Majel Barrett Roddenberry
(Paramount Pictures) Rated: PG
by Sabadino Parker
PopMatters Film Critic

Fascinating, Captain

Spock was right: humans certainly are illogical. What other race of organisms in this universe would include a population so enraptured by a thirty-year-old, three-season-long television series, that they devote their lives to imitating character behaviors and accumulating trivial knowledge about the show's fictional science? Such illogical devotees are the subject of Roger Nygard's documentary Trekkies, an interesting foray into the world of avid and eccentric Star Trek fans that is sometimes derisive, often funny, and occasionally scary in its portrayal of the most advanced stages of Star Trek fandom.

Trekkies's analysis of this odd cultural phenomenon isn't especially deep. If you are familiar with the original Star Trek series, not much in the film will surprise you, and if you've never watched Kirk smooth his way into yet another interspecies sexual encounter, then you probably won't care. There's no introduction to the series or its dynamics, so a viewer unversed in the Prime Directive will most likely get lost in all the talk about Klingon culture, futuristic gadgetry, and interplanetary politics; but there are some tear-jerking tales of real people that'll move the hearts of even the most pragmatic individuals.

Nygard filmed and edited Trekkies over a 12-month period in 1996-97. The film focuses on a Los Angeles Star Trek convention and includes interviews by Denise Crosby (Lt. Tasha Yar to those trapped in an alternate reality) with former and current cast members, production staff, and, of course, fans of all shapes and sizes. Crosby seems particularly ill-at-ease in her encounters with some of the more obsessive fans (such as the woman with bulging photo albums of nearly identical shots of Brent Spiner on stage at various conventions), perhaps hoping none of them will ask her for a sample of blood (which has been known to occur). She interviews a selection of Trekkies, but it appears that Nygard has chosen only the most stereotypical and eccentric fanatics -- so stereotypical that you wonder if some of these aren't staged (unfortunately, they're not). Trekkies depicts the oddest balls of the bunch, and there's no lack of material, from the fans who merely go shopping wearing very specifically made uniforms to those who opt to alter their facial features surgically so they may resemble various alien life-forms. Some treat it as a fun way to play dress-up and let loose, while others envelope themselves in a stringent system of rules and behaviors so that there will be no mistake in determining who is a "real" Trekkie. But variance is the sign of a complex and developed social system, and that is the real point Trekkies makes clear about this civilization. By showing such a colorful and vast array of obsessiveness, Nygard and crew reveal just how mainstream and diverse this cult phenomenon has become.

This isn't to say Trekkies is a scathing ethnography of Star Trek fanatics, for it does feature some of the more positive aspects of inclusion in this subculture. Most members of the Federation Alliance are required to participate in community service, and the film portrays the fans' own sense of community, which allows them to express themselves using terminology and mannerisms otherwise unaccepted in typical American society. Barbara Adams, one of the most famous Trekkies featured, achieved national notoriety for her insistence that she be allowed to wear her Star Fleet uniform during jury selection for the Whitewater hearings. She was eventually dismissed as a candidate for the jury, but her refusal to alter her everyday appearance has become a source of pride for other Trekkies who see her decision as a positive affirmation of individuality and, almost paradoxically, as a serious statement that being a Trekkie (or sometimes, Trekker) connotes participation in a very real and expanding subculture. The film conveys their feeling of subversion, which is almost inspirational in its rebellious attitude toward social norms.

Interviews with former cast members also reveal heartening stories about people who use the show as a beacon of hope for the future. James Doohan tells of a fan who once wrote him saying she planned to commit suicide. He subsequently made her promise to come to the next Trek convention he was attending, which she did, and to be present at a number of following ones, thus giving her something to look forward to every few weeks. As an indirect result of Star Trek's influence, the woman is still alive and thankful for Doohan's kindness and compassion. Or, in a different vein, Nichelle Nichols describes a young girl who was so inspired watching Lt. Uhura on screen that she decided to become an astronaut as an adult. She was Mae Jemison, the first black woman in space. There are many similar situations and stories, all of which make it clear exactly how much this television series and its spin-offs have affected people's lives and international popular culture.

I suppose everyone is a little enamored of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry's optimistic vision of humanity's future. For Pike's sake, even my credit card sports a shot of the original Enterprise in orbit. Now, if only a group of Trekkies can figure out how to break the warp barrier, then we'd really be in business.



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