|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 09 November 1999|
Trekkies are, of course, not merely fans of "Star Trek," but those who are devoted enough to attend conventions, often in costume and makeup, who write fanzines, create websites, and seem to subsume their entire lives in the universe created by Gene Roddenberry.
William Shatner -- who was not interviewed by director/editor Roger Nygard -- infamously told a bunch of actors playing Trekkies on an episode of Saturday Night Live to "Get a life!" Those outside the phenomenon applauded this, assuming that Shatner was right on the mark: these people are wasting their lives in their devotion to a mere TV and movie series.
But as this surprisingly touching documentary shows clearly, these people do have lives, thank you very much, and "Star Trek" is only a part of their lives, even if a very important part. Almost all the many Trekkies/Trekkers interviewed here have a healthy, realistic attitude about their beloved series. Some have actually turned their interest to good works, raising money for charities and the like. Only a small handful of the Trekkies Denise Crosby -- herself a star of Star Trek: The Next Generation -- interviews seem to have crossed the line from interest to fanaticism. (The word "fan," incidentally, does not derive from "fanatic," even though a Trekkie/psychologist interviewed here claims it does. It comes from the British racing track term "fancier.")
The film does focus pretty closely on one of these who may have gone a bit far. Barbara Adams of Little Rock, Arkansas, made national news by insisting on wearing her Starfleet uniform while serving as a juror in one of the Watergate trials. (She was eventually dismissed.) She does have a life, working in a copy shop, but she seems to be living more in the imaginary Star Trek future.
But most of the Trekkies aren't like her. One of the ways that Nygard, who's a hell of an editor, demonstrates this is through interviews with many of the actors connected with the four Trek TV series. Each of them has clearly gone through a period of assuming that the fans of the show were one step above idiots, and come out realizing that Trekkies are not just pretty much like everyone else, but in some ways, better. It's hard to argue against the ideals the show embodies -- honesty, equality, courage and imagination. Many of the Trek fans clearly have adopted these ideals into their everyday lives.
Many of the stars of the show relate touching stories about their encounters with fans. John DeLancie, "Q," tells of a woman he met who was so crippled she could barely even speak, but managed to tell him that for the hour she watched the show, she could forget the body in which she was imprisoned. Geordi La Forge, played by LeVar Burton, took his name from a dying young man who was a devoted fan of the original series. But no one tops James Doohan's astonishing tale; you should see the film just to see him tell it.
Of course, the film also deals with the wackier elements of Trekdom; it's a bit startling to see a woman costumed as a Klingon, with a magnificent cleavage, mentioning that she's a kindergarten teacher. Dr. Dennis Bourguignon, a dentist of Orlando, Florida, has outfitted his entire office in Trek style (but isn't that R2D2 from "Star Wars" in a corner), which is both a bit alarming and oddly attractive. Bourguignon himself has a cheerful, funny attitude toward the whole thing; if I lived in Orlando, he'd be MY dentist.
The documentary is well-edited but not very well structured; it jumps around a lot, trying to cover a very rich, well-developed phenomenon with dozens of aspects in less than 90 minutes. It touches on the interest some fans have in the Klingon language, on the amazing pornographic "K/S" (also called "Slash") fan fiction, the gifts fans send the stars, the town in Iowa that's declared itself the future birthplace of James T. Kirk (as well as Vulcan, Alberta). There's a lot of footage -- really too much -- shot at conventions, which tend to look alike.
The heart of the film is really the interviews. Among those who have a chance to speak are Majel Barrett Roddenberry, widow of Gene and a Trek star herself, Buzz Aldrin, Grace Lee Whitney, Trek expert Richard Arnold, producer Brannon Braga, LeVar Burton, Jonathan Frakes, Michael Dorn, makeup artist Michael Westmore, Kate Mulgrew and others. At one point, several people -- fans and professionals alike -- struggle with the distinction between "Trekkie" and "Trekker," without any of them getting it right.
Finally, it is a fan who gets in the most descriptive line. The movie interviews young Gabriel Koerner, 14 when the movie was made, as a kind of representative of all the fans who are otherwise only briefly interviewed. He visits a convention with his father (also a Trek fan), shows off his collection, and finally talks about his life in Trekdom. He was happy to visit the convention, he says, because he met "gorgeous people who really know how to place 'Star Trek' in the proper context with the rest of their lives."
Despite a few freakshow-like glances -- the transvestite Trekkie, the guy who bought the Q virus, etc. -- this too is the focus of "Trekkies." It's a touching, funny and very thorough look at people who love "Star Trek," but who clearly know how to make it work in their lives.