Trekkies & Trekkies 2

In today’s roundup:

  • Trekkies (1997)
  • Trekkies 2 (2004)


    2018 #97
    Roger Nygard | 83 mins | streaming | 4:3 | USA / English & Klingon | PG / PG


    There are quite a few fan documentaries out there nowadays (a few years ago… wait, ten years ago? Bloody hell. Anyway, back then I reviewed the likes of Starwoids, Ringers: Lord of the Fans, and Done the Impossible: The Fans’ Tale of Firefly and Serenity). But before all of those, and I think the first of its subgenre, was Trekkies, which examined the phenomenon of Star Trek fandom — or, rather, the wild, weird extremities of it.

    Trekkies begins with the proclamation that “Trekkies are the only fans listed by name in the Oxford English Dictionary.” That’s not true anymore (“Whovian”, at least, is in there), and that speaks to an interesting truth about this entire documentary. When it was released 21 years ago, Trekkies was exposing a niche thing to wider awareness, and these fans were seen as weirdos, fundamentally. Watching it today, though, you see that it’s mostly just cons and cosplay — stuff that’s been virtually mainstream for a few years at this point. It may’ve once seemed odd for these people to define their lives as “Star Trek fan”, but now, for many people (especially younger people), it’s perfectly routine to be defined by which fandom you’re in.

    Gabriel Koerner in 1997

    That said, Trekkies still managed to find some people who are pretty weird by any standard. At the time the filmmakers received some criticism for this — for creating a film that got laughs out of “look at the weirdos!” while ignoring the more normal side of fandom. That’s not a wholly baseless critique, but I didn’t think the film was cruel. As well as going “aren’t these people nuts!”, I think it does try to dig into why they do it, what they get out of it. I’m not sure how well it reveals the former (I mean, how did any of them go from liking a TV show to… this? It must be some personality thing), but it does a decent job of showing what benefits it brings them. And there are some incredible stories (mainly from interviewed cast members) about how Trek has changed, or even saved, people’s lives.

    Trekkies may’ve lost the uniqueness it once had, with elements of the lifestyle it depicts coming to increasing prominence, but it still remains an interesting look at that kind of world, with some very memorable characters. And if you think it might’ve aged into irrelevance after all this time, there’s a bit about the importance of Captain Janeway as a role model for female leadership and what women can do — we’re still having debates and arguments about that sort of thing over twenty years later, which is, frankly, depressing.

    4 out of 5

    Trekkies 2

    2018 #98
    Roger Nygard | 93 mins | download | 4:3 | USA / English, German, Italian, Portuguese, French & Serbian | PG / PG

    Trekkies 2

    Such is the strangeness of Time that, just 24 hours after I watched Trekkies, I jumped forward seven years to catch up with some of that film’s featured fans in this lesser-seen follow-up. It’s not just repeat visits to old friends, though — if you thought America had a monopoly on crazies, well, Trekkies 2’s got news for you!

    This time out director Roger Nygard and host Denise Crosby take us to Germany (visiting the set of a fan film); the UK (with a guy who turned his flat into a starship, which he’s listed on eBay for $2 million (a couple of years later it sold for c.$840,000, which was still 16 times what he paid for it)); Italy (where fandom is apparently centred around food); Brazil (where a collector has a rare playset from the ’60s… which Crosby accidentally knocks over); Australia (where the fans mainly seem to be female and obsessed with the sexy male cast members); France (which is really just “more international fans”, to be honest); and Serbia (where the series and its values has brought a lot of hope to people in a tumultuous region).

    We also meet more US fans, as the sequel tries to rectify some of the first film’s shortcomings. For example, there’s a much greater section on filk music (which is, basically, music tied to sci-fi/fantasy fandom), as well as some crazy-funny Star Trek punk tribute bands — there’s a whole scene of that kind of thing in Sacramento, randomly. Plus we’re shown the lighter side of fandom, like the theatre company staging a satirical Trek-ified version of Romeo & Juliet.

    German fan film

    And, as I mentioned, we catch up with some old friends, including Barbara Adams, the lady who wore her Trek uniform while on jury duty (and who has a hilarious Trek vs Wars debate with a coworker that’s like something out of The Office), and the film’s break-out star, Gabriel Koerner. A super-geeky teen in the first movie, seven years later he has a wife and has turned his hobby into a career in visual effects. It just goes to show, there’s someone and something for everyone.

    Indeed, overall it’s not quite as “look at the freaks!” as the first film. It takes time to explicitly discuss what’s going too far and what’s normal, and it also highlights how Trek fandom has been a force for good, like raising money for charity, or giving hope in war-torn regions. Consequently it’s not as funny as last time, but probably in a good way — this one’s a bit more thoughtful, a bit fairer to its subjects as people. Ultimately, I think the two films work quite well as a pair. There’s also been talk of a Trekkies 3, which I hope happens — as I mentioned about the first film, attitudes to this kind of fandom have changed massively in the past decade or so (for example, the rise of Comic-Con and its influence), so it would be very interesting to explore that.

    For my money, the most insightful moment in either film comes from Pierluigi Piazzi, a Brazilian publisher of Star Trek books, when he says that “this is a wonderful way to be crazy. Everybody’s crazy, but it’s wonderful this way.”

    4 out of 5

  • Browncoats: Redemption (2010)

    2011 #77
    Michael C. Dougherty | 84 mins | Blu-ray | 16:9 | USA / English

    Browncoats RedemptionIt’s quite understandable if you haven’t heard of Browncoats: Redemption (well, other than for me mentioning it a month ago — pay attention!). In short, it’s an officially-okayed Firefly/Serenity fan film for the benefit of charity. There’s no doubting the enthusiasm and heart of the cast & crew of Redemption — on those factors they score a perfect 5 — but as a film in its own right… well…

    It feels wrong to criticise a fan production for charity — it’s like berating a small child who on December 1st excitedly tells mummy what Christmas present she’s getting — but this is a film review blog, and so review it as a film I must.

    Set a few months after the end of Serenity, Browncoats deals slightly with the fall out from that film’s revelation of the planet Miranda. Wisely we’re not following re-cast versions of Serenity (the ship)’s crew here, but the all-new crew of the ship Redemption, who get caught up in the Alliance’s desire to make a show of smuggler types in the wake of Mal & co’s actions. There’s also the issue of the murky past of Redemption’s captain…

    The story idea is a solid one. It’s nicely spun out of Serenity without forcing an impossible re-cast of that film’s players. It requires knowledge of the film, and to a lesser extent the TV series, but as this is a fan film and therefore made with a fan-only audience in mind, that’s no problem. The main plot is little underdeveloped perhaps, coming across a bit flat in the telling, and it could do with better subplots for the extensive cast. This is a problem that easily blights a film where you have to feature the whole cast of a ship, and in a TV series you can get away with it — if someone’s not in an episode much, their own one is coming soon — but less so in a film. Serenity managed it with aplomb, but then that was created by an experienced TV & film professional rather than a group of fans.

    ChessThe characters are, thankfully, not carbon copies of Firefly’s cast — some effort has clearly been made to differentiate the line-up, and that goes beyond inverting most of the genders. They’re surely cut from the same cloth though, but that’s understandable: this isn’t trying to be radical with Whedon’s ‘verse, it’s trying to emulate it for the fans, and the fans like what they’ve already seen. Ironically, despite being the most obviously gender-swapped, it’s Redemption’s female captain who’s most like her Serenity counterpart: Laura is, to be blunt, Mal with breasts. Her backstory is at least completely different, but the end result — the character we meet in the film — is more or less the same. When your leads are too similar it can override how different the rest of the cast may be.

    Sadly, the acting is uniformly weak. Occasionally a decent line delivery will emerge, but only now and then. The cast aren’t helped by a script too keen to emulate the highly mannered style of Whedon’s original. The way these actors struggle to wrap themselves around the dialogue just shows how talented the original cast were to make it sound so natural. Even the extras are under-directed — obviously background artists (or whatever they’re officially called these days) shouldn’t be noticeable, but here they sometimes are because of what they’re doing or, more often, not doing.

    Chatting in the cargo bayThe rest of Browncoats’s direction is a typical fan film minefield. Dougherty’s work is awkwardly flat: it’s all master shots and few close-ups; some sets are shot from the same two angles (and no more) in every scene; it ignores basic rules, like the 180 degree line; the camera is handheld or mounted indiscriminately; it’s loosely framed and poorly lit. And it’s loosely edited too, with some bits allowed to run indulgently long. There may be some places where it’s not so bad, but generally this is the work of someone who knows how to point a camera and press record, rather than direct.

    Worse is the audio quality, which is simply appalling. Dialogue clarity and volume varies across a single line, never mind scene — there are several instances where you can hear the actor turn away from the microphone. There’s no sound effects work to speak of — we’re talking basic stuff like punches in a fight or papers dropping on a table (the lack of sound in space, on the other hand, is a Firefly-derived artistic choice). Music is indiscriminately applied and often drowns dialogue out. The wholly-original score is very professional and appropriately emulates the music of the series and movie, but it feels slapped on just so there’s some sound and doesn’t always fit the scene.

    The supporting technical elements are all very good, however. As well as the solid score there’s an array of appropriate costumes, a surprisingly proficient spaceship set (considering the production’s scale & budget — it’s not going to rival professional work), good location work, and the handful of CG shots are above regular direct-to-DVD standards. Indeed, while much of Browncoats is below the level of even The Asylum’s work, its CGI puts theirs to shame.

    Speechy villainI’ve seen many people online flat-out slag Browncoats off, which is patently unfair. Maybe it’s a generational thing: having been a Doctor Who fan during The Wilderness Years, I was aware of fan films long before anyone could realistically edit video on their computer, never mind use them to add CGI effects or upload it to the internet or film it in HD or master a Blu-ray release. Those who look at the trailer expecting something that looks like a bang-on continuation of Firefly and Serenity are plain foolish. In fan film terms, there are better and more professional examples than Browncoats, but the vast majority are a lot worse. As a super low budget independent film (another label the makers (less often) attach to it), it’s hard to deny that it looks amateurish. Comparisons to super-cheap productions like El Mariachi or Primer do have it coming up short. But then, we don’t see the surely hundreds (if not more) of similarly-budgeted independent features that are so poorly made — and lacking an in-built fanbase — to receive wider distribution than local friends-and-family screenings. It’s the exceptional ones that break through; and while it does mean that, yes, you can make a “proper film” for that kind of money, and so Browncoats’ makers could have done better, this is still (as a fan film) a respectable effort.

    Undoubtedly the greatest thing about this project — fans coming together to celebrate and recreate something they love in aid of charity — is down to producer Dougherty’s thought and organisation. Sadly, the worst things about it — the writing and direction — are also his responsibility. We must be forgiving — it is made by amateurs, and for charity — but it’s a shame someone(s) more proficient weren’t found for the important creative roles.

    Redemption flies onIf I scored films for effort, or for heart-in-the-right-place-ness, then this would be an easy 5/5. I just hope no one involved is hoping they can launch a career in ‘real’ film or TV off the back of it, because it doesn’t make that grade. (They’re trying the same thing again, at least, this time with an original zombie movie (because there aren’t enough of those) called Z*Con.) But as a for-the-fans nostalgia-driven charity project… well, it’s raised over $113,000. Shiny.

    2 out of 5

    This was originally posted on the sixth anniversary of Serenity being released in the UK (crikey, time flies).

    Starwoids (2001)

    2008 #17
    Dennis Przywara | 79 mins | DVD | PG

    StarwoidsAnother fan documentary (following yesterday’s review of Done the Impossible), Starwoids tells the tale of two groups of Star Wars fans who queued for six weeks to be the first to see The Phantom Menace. Alongside this, the film takes a couple of diversions into general Star Wars fandom.

    The main story here is the more interesting element. You might think an hour of people standing in line is pretty dull, but, surprisingly, enough happens to hold the attention. The two groups make a structurally pleasing contrast: one is just a group of fans, who have a great time playing games and hanging out in line. Their biggest worries are the police moving them off the pavement, and where to go to the toilet. The other group was organised by fansite, and turns from a bunch of people having fun into a 24-hour television studio and media event on a sidewalk, provoking arguments, governments and revolutions. Przywara uses no narration for the majority of the film, so these contrasts are left for the viewer and participants to draw out on their own. Generally it works, though leaps in time and the skipping of certain events occasionally make it hard to follow what’s going on, especially at the more argumentative camp.

    The asides into broader fandom work fairly well. They break up the occasional monotony of people queuing, but are neither entirely related to the release of Episode I nor delve far into painting a picture of Star Wars fandom as whole. This dilutes the focus of the film a little: it’s neither a comprehensive overview of fans nor entirely centred on the anticipation of one film. It would be a lesser film if they were missing, however, as Star Wars: The Musical, the life of a toy collector, and the woman whose car is painted like an X-Wing are among the highlights. A trip to find filming locations in Death Valley is a misguided inclusion though, as the lack of comparative clips or stills from the film itself renders it fairly pointless.

    Eventually the hundreds of queuing fans get to see Episode I. First reaction: they love it. Przywara returns four days later, and then a year later — amusingly, no one is asked for a retrospective opinion on the (generally reviled) film. Personally, I’d much rather watch Starwoids again: while the fans’ aggressive nature makes it a somewhat more depressing experience than Done the Impossible, the insight into what it’s like to be completely obsessed (and to queue for a month and a half) are both interesting and entertaining.

    4 out of 5

    Done the Impossible: The Fans’ Tale of Firefly and Serenity (2006)

    2008 #16
    Jeremy Neish, Brian Wiser, Jared Nelson, Tony Hadlock and Jason Heppler | 79 mins | DVD

    Done the ImpossibleOne of the more recent entries in the “fan documentary” sub-genre (which also includes the likes of Starwoids and Ringers: Lord of the Fans), Done the Impossible investigates the cult sparked by the prematurely-cancelled TV series Firefly and its continuation movie, Serenity — a movie that only exists thanks to the fans’ dedication.

    The activism, and success, of Firefly’s fans (known as Browncoats) makes for a key difference from other fan docs: these aren’t just people who queue for obscene amounts of time to see something they like; these are people who helped turn a cancelled TV show into a DVD hit, and then a successful movie too. As such, as well as touching on the basics of fandom (forums, conventions, fanfic, and so on), this documentary is the tale of the rise and fall of the TV show and the making of the movie, but from the perspective of the fans rather than the filmmakers. That said, a noteworthy number of those involved in the film are interviewed, discussing their love for both the show and its fans, and often confessing to be fans themselves. These include six of the lead cast (one of whom hosts the documentary, and another narrates the DVD’s extras), writers and directors, and creator/writer/director (and God to fans) Joss Whedon.

    As a film, Done the Impossible has a nicely loose structure, on the whole following the thread of the production story through to around the time of Serenity’s premiere, but taking time for diversions into personal recollections and general areas of Browncoatism. Actually having a story to tell gives the film an advantage over other fan docs (Ringers rather lacked one, for example) — even though there are diversions, there’s always a narrative to keep things moving forward. It certainly stops things from seeming too slow or repetitive.

    Whatever you may think of them, Firefly and Serenity broke the rules, and in the process helped pave the way for other cancelled properties being revived by fan support. With its emphasis on personal recollections alongside the minutiae of fandom, Done the Impossible is undoubtedly of primary interest to fellow Browncoats, and perhaps anthropologists. But there should be broader interest in the story of a dedicated and unfailingly hopeful mass of people who came together, refused to give up, and, against all the odds, actually won.

    4 out of 5

    Ringers: Lord of the Fans (2005)

    2007 #64
    Carlene Cordova | 98 mins | DVD | 12 / PG-13

    Ringers: Lord of the FansMade by the people behind the large Lord of the Rings fansite, you’d expect this documentary to focus itself on Lord of the Rings fandom. To a degree it does, but it also encompasses a history of the books and their popularity, as well as various thematic issues contained within them, and also takes in the various adaptations (though, criminally, doesn’t even mention the BBC radio version).

    It’s a bit unfocussed, sometimes coming across as a selection of featurettes strung together with occasionally random linking interviews. There’s stuff of interest in here, but certainly not to everyone — only fans need apply.

    3 out of 5