Released in 1999, if there was ever a documentary that demanded a “where are they now?” follow-up, it’s Trekkies. As if the title itself didn’t give it away, this is a documentary about Star Trek fans and the sometimes obsessive lengths they go to in order to satisfy their fandom. We meet some fun people and some strange people, all united in their love of Star Trek in one of its various forms.
Full disclosure from me: I’m not a particularly engaged Star Trek fan. My interest in the franchise peaked around the time of Star Trek II and has been waning ever since. Yes, I managed to make it to the theater to see the reboot and I liked it well enough to even buy a copy on DVD, but I never connected with the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation or with any of the three series that followed. Consequently I may not be the best judge of what’s acceptable in terms of being a Trek fan. Anything beyond, “Yeah, it’s pretty cool,” seems extreme to me, especially when people start running around in real life wearing their uniforms and calling themselves by their Starfleet rank.
Weirdness aside, Trekkies is a very respectful examination of its subject matter. It would be far, far too easy to make a film that lampooned these Trekkies, especially when they make it so tempting to do so, but the filmmakers have opted to take the role of movie anthropologists, dissecting the various layers of Trek fandom and giving us examples along the way of each subset of Trekkie.
During the course of Trekkies we meet: a young man with a surprising talent for homemade CGI whose dad has a camper-van decorated like a Star Trek shuttlecraft, and whose local Trekkie club is dead set on making their own fan-film; a woman who has decided her identity is inextricable from her Trek-inspired “Starfleet” organization, and even wore her uniform to jury duty; a dentist who has his office absolutely jam-packed with Trek memorabilia; and a fellow who identifies with a Vulcan to the point where he says he would pay to have his ears surgically pointed if he could afford it, much to the horror of his otherwise understanding wife.
There’s plenty more where that came from, too. Subsections of the film deal with people who love Klingons, the deadly serious memorabilia collector’s market and, finally, the perspectives of the various cast-members who have found themselves caught up in the never-ending flood of fan love (and obsession) that comprises Trek fandom. Not bad for a movie that comes in at under 90 minutes.
Next Generation cast-member Denise Crosby is our guide through this thicket of people and places and preoccupations. You can occasionally tell that she’s weirded out by some of her interview subjects, but for the most part she nods in silent understanding and generally stays out of the way as the various Trekkies unburden themselves before the camera. It’s actually pretty interesting to me how forthcoming these people are about their fandom, even when their particular strain goes above and beyond. Those Trekkies who take it to an extreme know they’re being extreme and they just don’t care what anyone thinks about that. You have to respect that kind of dedication. I have t-shirts that I sometimes worry about wearing in public and here are people who are decked out in full Star Trek regalia going about their work and private lives as if everything were perfectly normal.
If there’s one thing I would have liked to have had more of in the film is talk from those cast-members who allowed themselves to be shown on-camera. We don’t get some of the biggest names — no William Shatner, for example — but we get some nice pieces from people like Leonard Nimoy, arguably the Trekkie of all Trekkies, and some Trek cast-members who have since died, like James Doohan and DeForest Kelley. I especially liked the small part of the documentary where the original cast-members talk about the very beginnings of what would become a flood of Trek fandom. The first Trek convention, for example, must have been quite a sight to see and the small glimpses we get of it through the eyes of those who were there are tantalizing. Of course, celebrity reminiscing is all well and good, but the movie is called Trekkies, so the spotlight has to remain on the subject matter.
Some of Trekkies is engrossing because of its time-capsule properties. In 1999 we had not undergone the trauma of the 2000 presidential election, the conflagration of 9/11, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the financial meltdown… all of that stuff. The world of Trekkies seems almost unreal in a certain way because I simply can’t imagine some aspects of it have remained the same. There’s a bit in the movie where a memorabilia auction is underway and one of the items is a Klingon makeup headpiece used on one of the shows. A guy dressed up as a Klingon goes on to bid an obscene amount of money for what amounts to a bumpy piece of latex. In the booming ’90s this might not have been such a big deal, but after the recession of the 2000s and the explosion of the unemployment rate circa 2008, I don’t think something like that would go for very much at all. Even Trekkies are affected by economic trends.
I wonder, too, if Trek still has the same grip on its fans as it did then. There hasn’t been a new Trek show in years and it’s been three years since the reboot film rekindled some interest in the property. The tie-in novels have all but vanished from bookshelves. Even the local Trek convention we have up here where I live doesn’t really have that late-’90s feeling. The guests still show up and people still go, I’m sure, but I get the feeling that we’re on the tail end of a phenomenon that had its heyday long ago.