Trekkies (1997)

As i sat down to write this, I was reminded once again of just how big the Star Trek Fandom has become:  besides a 2004 sequel to this film (Trekkies 2), IMDB also lists these documentaries about the Trek phenomenon:   Trek Nation (2011); The Captains (2011); Chaos on the Bridge (2014); and For the Love of Spock (2016).  That’s an impressive collection and I’m sure if one were to look around there probably are others out there

Now I’ll admit my attitude towards the whole Trek business is shaped by the misadventures of one of my friends who wholeheartedly believed in Gene Roddenberry’s brave new future:  he organized an official ship in our area (and was even asked to speak to young Captains on how to set up their ships!).  Unfortunately, he was beset by internal dissension and theft; an officious superior temporarily stripped him of his command; and his loyal second-in-command ended up seizing control.

And remember that these were all true believers, in a philosophy which they thought would create a better world.

That isn’t the way it worked on the TV show…

Now, the fans will be excited by the appearances of some of the old Trek faithful, including DeForest Kelley and James Doohan.  But for the rest of us, the excitement is the strange and bizarre behavior of the fans themselves whose obsessions are wickedly entertaining.  This makes up the bulk of the film and is so extreme — and heartfelt — that it remains constantly amusing.  We’re talking about a fun film — not to mention a very funny one! — and most of the stories it tells are goofy and charming at the same time.

…And yet I find myself seriously disappointed with the film.

It suffers from a flaw I’ve found in too many documentaries:  at about the three-quarter mark, I started wondering when it was going to end.  And, far worse, there was no sign that it ever was going to end.  Despite its modest running time it starts feeling very, very long.

I don’t think this has much to do with the material here, it has a lot to do with one of the fundamental problems with the documentary as a film genre:  unless your documentary has a strong, underlying story complete with a beginning, middle and end (see for example, The Visit with its running account of an alien encounter, or Werner Herzog’s curious hybrid, The Wild Blue Yonder)  it is hard to maintain the audience’s interest.  Note that I said hard, not impossible:  in a less story driven documentary, the burden falls on the film’s internal structure and editing  rhythms.

For an idea of what I’m talking about, it might help to look at Richard Linklater’s Slackers, where the characters play their minor parts, then run into someone else and we follow the new character for a while, and then the next character, and then the next…

It might look like a completely formless film, but after the intro, with someone arriving in the city in the morning, the initial series of exchanges takes place fairly quickly, until we get used to  the idea.  Towards the later part of the film, he places the longest, most complex and most engrossing sequence, involving a thief and a Spanish Civil War veteran, before picking up the pace again as dusk falls and the last set of characters leaves the city.  One can tell the film is ending long before it reaches that sequence.

Or you might look at the strange Japanese cult film, Burst City, which seems like a nearly random punk rock concert film before suddenly developing a strong plot at the end.

While it is true that these are works of fiction, it is exactly  this sort of structure that Trekkies lacks:  one notes several larger stories that get revisited throughout the film, like the Star Trek themed dentist’s office, or the young Captain who is trying to make a Trek movie with the members of his ship, but neither one has much narrative drive. It might have helped if the sequence with the young Captain had ended with the completion and debut of their film.  However, they are still working on it at the end and we are left without the closure the sequence needed .  Towards the end of Trekkies, there are a few heartwarming stories but it doesn’t really end on that note or develop it much.

Certainly not enough to give it any structure.

So perhaps you can file this one under “too much of a good thing,” or take it as a stern warning for documentary filmmakers about the need to see their projects as a complete work and not merely an aggregation of interesting bits of film.  

Either way, it just misses being something better.

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