Thursday, December 1, 2011

TREK NATION: First Thoughts

Wow. Didn't see that comin'.

I mean, I had not asked for a press screener for Rod Roddenberry's TrekNation, premiering Wednesday night on SCIENCE Channel. I wanted to wait and see it "live." I'd read critical positive acclaim by mainstream reviewers, though, and knew it would be pretty good.

That I knew.

I'd also known how Rod has struggled to get this project just done... to find the right voice, even as director Scott Colthrop and crew went through many iterations—originally with an eye to being a theatrical documentary. They kicked off filming back in 2002, and as the Aughts unfolded I'd hear once a year or so from Rod about the new angle or tone, until he just wanted to stop talking about it with the time lag.... which was all about finding what he wanted. Of course, in hindsight we can see how that delay allowed the doc the scope to take in the post-2005 earthquake in Trekland—from the downer of cancellation, to the vaccum of the Trek future's void, to the questions and then triumph of "JJ Trek" in 2009.

(Spoilers below. Really.)

So making the deal with Science Channel and getting a deadline and a format, albeit for TV with commercial breaks, at last provided some structure and a solid floor to get TrekNation over the finish line. As you could see in any of his recent comments, including our chat for TREKLAND, Rod was visibly relieved to be able to give birth to this baby at last.

What I didn't know ... was that a couple thoughts of my own 2002 interview, done in the first wave of filming at Creation's first Vegas convention, was actually in this. No one tipped me off... so I had an all-too-rare attack of jaw drop, right there Wednesday night on the couch: Gobsmacked, as Marina would say. I just know that I was not only in good company, but—thinking of where I thought I was—I was happy being in equally good company with all those you didn't see, in that great unused pile of footage. I know for a fact that widely different versions, and lists of speakers, have been in play over the years. I can see the time compromises made, too—including the "seated Rod" narration

But, even apart from those 45 mighty seconds, it was a grabber work. In fact, I felt TrekNation actually grew deeper as it went along. In this format there was a lot of TV exposition to get through, a lot of it handled by the "seated Rod" direct-to-camera bits which thankfully subside as it progresses. There's so much of past Trekland tales that fans know—the common history of the show, the fandom and of Gene—but this was on a mainstream channel, even among science geeksters, so a rehash with attitude is a needed, okay thing. The doc got a lot of mainstream media play as well, and I know gave a lot of varied context to the newer JJ-era fans, as well as lay viewers.

Reflecting on it now, I also think that the years-long "delay" even helped the focus—perhaps contrasted best in the highlight "icon" chats—first with George Lucas and then JJ Abrams more recently. From George to JJ you can literally see Rod grow as an interviewer, as a seeker ... especially in the comfort zone of talking about his own father/son dynamic and vibe—one which JJ picks up on, as the camera catches Rod's reaction. That fits a pattern of TrekNation's coverage of the more recent Trek years--by definition, not yet as "examined" as the older golden times past—being some of the most interesting here. Quite unintentionally, the film's personality grows even as the years go by.

Of course, there's double poignancy here for a lot of us: Too bad the mainstream TV audience isn't really informed, I believe, how many of those faces besides Gene are also gone. I wish even a tad more context could have somehow mentioned that those like Bob Justman, Michael Piller and even his own mom Majel were no longer with us—which makes their moments all the more special. Adult Rod's onscreen chat with his mom also hits home with anyone who's tried to talk to a parent as a third party about family mega-history, but can't quite get out of the "just us" family vibe. It was also an odd bird that Michael's beloved University of North Carolina "UNC" logo was CG'd off his ever-present baseball cap. (Did you notice that slightly grayer area over the bill? Legal—go figure.) Another quirk, purely in transmission: our onscreen cable TV guide had TrekNation logged as only an hour long. Don't know how widespread that was, but I hope a zillion fans didn't DVR the show and only come away with the first half!

Even with the evolving twists and turns, everyone involved with this long trek has done themselves proud, and the franchise to boot. I know there will be lots of unused bonus footage coming in the already-promised DVD, and a lot of it is already online at Colthrop's online sites. The many reels of Roddenberry home movies with young parents and little Rod was amazing, too. In fact, snapshot of the night: The original Enterprise two-footer model (now lost), snugly embracing the swaddled newborn Rod right between the nacelles like big protective arms.

I know, too, that tonight's viewing been another inspiration for my own documentary in process, The Con of Wrath, to bring along a solid layer of humanity as well as the narrative story at hand—even in a documentary. Thanks to director Scott and all of the crew for that.

Most of all, I know Rod is proud and relieved to have it out there—and I salute him for even taking on his dad's infidelities and other "warts." As long as it's taken to get here, Rod, TrekNation has been a journey of discovery worth taking. And how much more Star Trek can you get?

Thanks for sharing.

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tips said...
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