I asked Jon Harvey to write a review since I haven't seen this movie yet, and it's already come and gone from my area. Curse my creaky body. I wasn't fast enough...
The documentary "Trekkies" is an amusing and engaging slice-of-life for viewers already familiar with the "Star Trek" phenomenon, but a woefully inadequate introduction to Trek fandom for some one relatively new to "Star Trek". The film-maker seems to be primarily motivated by a desire to understand and empathize with the most blatantly eccentric Trekkies out there, focusing first on the woman who got national notoriety when she was refused from a jury because she would not remove the Star Trek uniform which she wore every day.
I would say that the film's main problem is that it is too narrow in its focus. There are two things missing. The first is compelling portraits of really interesting Trek fans. We get a few of these all too briefly and second-hand from interviews with actors in the series like James Doohan and Brent Spiner. From them, we learn that notables like astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, actor Robin Williams, and the first black female astronaut Mae Jemison are Trek fans, but we get no insight into why this is. Even this is not a thorough list. The film never mentions that the Dalai Llama enjoys Star Trek, for example.
The second omission is any real analysis of why the show is so popular other than some perfunctory discussion that the values in "Star Trek" are good ones. One interviewee contrasts the positive values of "Star Trek" with the negative ones of Nazi Germany, but we are told nothing of how these values are reflected or exposited on the show.
It is not an accident that the film which inspired the film-makers to make this documentary was the film "Crumb", a heart-rending portrait of the highly influential but thoroughly dysfunctional 60s underground cartoonist R. Crumb, most notorious for his creation of the X-Rated "Fritz the Cat". "Crumb" is a protrait of someone who is an important yet deeply troubled artist whose life is a poignant struggle agains the burden of his damaging background. One cannot come away from "Trekkies" without getting the impression that many of these fans have either uninteresting or troubled lives and that "Star Trek" acts as some kind of beacon of hope for a rational and better world for these people.
Having complained about the films omissions, I must now protest that even given what the film is doing, it only scratches the surface without achieving much depth. By contrast, certainly one of the most fascinating analyses of "Star Trek" devotion is in the book about autistics called "Thinking In Pictures and Other Reports from My Life With Autism" by Temple Grandin. The book's author is in the unique position of both having only a mild autism and having received a tremendous amount of therapy, so much so that she has become a functional human being with a doctorate who specializes in the study of humane treatments of animals, mainly cows. One chapter of this book is devoted to the high level of popularity of "Star Trek" amoungst autistics, in particular their high level of identification with the characters of Spock and Data. (The book was published before "Seven of Nine" was introduced.) What is notable is the high level of psychological insight with which she explains this identification, something never seen in the movie "Trekkies".
The "Star Trek" phenomenon is not as entirely unique as some think. Although smaller in numbers today, the character of Sherlock Holmes in his hey-day spawned a cult following that 50 years ago was surely as notable as the "Trek" phenomenon is today. And after all, there are certain similarities in their appeal. Both Sherlock Holmes' sitting room and the bridge of the Enterprise are portrayed as calm peaceful centers of scientific rationality and human insight which again and again resolve difficult human dilemnas. The extraordinary similarities between Holmes' personality and that of Spock have been noted time and time again.* A really interesting discussion of Trekkies I think should place it in a broader context of other fan phenomenon. However, that might be something best done in a book rather than a documentary.
The best source of insight into the Trek phenomenon probably is still the recent book "Future Perfect: How Star Trek Conquered Planet Earth" by Jeff Greenwald. Now if somebody did a documentary based on that book, that would be really worth seeing.
*In my own experience, Holmes fans and Trek fans are in some ways very similar, and in some ways quite different. During 6 of the 10 years I lived in the MidWest, I was a member of both a monthly Sherlock Holmes fan club, and a monthly Trek fan club. I found that in both groups there was a disproportionately high percentage of folk who played chess, programmed computers, or liked Shakespeare, Carroll's "Alice" books, and Charles Dickens. However, consistently the overwhelming majority of Trekkers were liberal Democrats, while Holmesians were predominantly Republicans. Holmesians were more far more likely to be fans of notable conservatives like T.S.Eliot and G.K.Chesterton, while Trekkers were more likely to be fans progressive writers like H.G.Wells or George Bernard Shaw. Trekkers were also consistently far more familiar with rock music than Holmesians. Draw your own conclusions.
Agree or disagree? Let me or Jon know.
It's too bad the film leaned more toward an attitude of "wow Trek fans are really wacked in the head" rather than "Trek fans are eccentric but they do contribute something to society." In support of the latter, I'm reminded of a story that David Gerrold tells in his book about the making of "The Trouble With Tribbles" Trek episode. He said that there was a kid dying in a hospital - his disease was curable, but his attitude was so hopeless that he wasn't taking his medicines and doing his exercises. A nurse saw this and gave him a little stuffed tribble. She said that the tribble was his friend, and if he died, then the tribble would die, too. After that, he started taking his medicines and doing his exercises and eventually fully recovered. When he left the hospital, he was asked if he wanted to take his tribble with him. He said, no, we should leave it there so it can help somebody else. THAT is the true power of "Star Trek".
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