To boldly document what no man has documented before…well that sounds crap doesn’t it, sorry. But in a sense its right because here we have a slightly different in depth look into Star Trek. This documentary takes a look at the positive impact that Star Trek and its creator, Gene Roddenberry, has had on people’s lives (mainly in America though). The slight difference is the entire feature is presented and hosted by Gene’s son, Eugene ‘Rod’ Roddenberry Jr. Not only does Rod show us around sets backstage, interviews with famous Trek cast members and other famous Hollywood type folk, conventions etc…Rod also takes us on an emotional journey where he discovers his father, the relationship he had and missed with Gene, and how other colleagues and close friends saw Gene.
For all intense and purposes Star Trek actually takes a back seat for most of the time here, that’s clear to see. We start by learning about Gene and his life prior to creating Star Trek through his son Rod. Roddenberry flew combat missions during WWII, following that he became a commercial airline pilot for Pan Am where he also experienced a nasty crash in 1947 in the Syrian desert. Roddenberry was one of only three crew members that survived while fifteen people lost their lives. After leaving Pan Am 1948 he joined the LAPD, eventually getting into the newspaper unit and writing speeches for the chief of police. Then errr…some other stuff happened and he eventually got into writing scripts for various television shows. After numerous ideas for TV series got turned down or simply not picked up by studios, Roddenberry eventually came up with a science fiction idea which was essentially a mixture of his previous ideas from his TV show pilot pitches.
In all honesty its actually surprising that the entire venture got off the ground. If you take into account the era, the political climate of said era and the fact that Gene insisted on having a diverse crew in his show, its not surprising he had a hard time. Its no secret either that Gene and co pushed out (for the time) contemporary political plots for many episodes that will have been seen as close to the bone or controversial even. Then if you take into account the fact that the show had low ratings and was generally considered a flop by all the suits, again its no surprise that by the end of season 2 the show was set to be cancelled. It was only after a large protest from fans that the show managed to hang in there for a third series. But even then the show carried on having set backs being put into a time slot of 22.00 on Friday nights. The stress of all this caused Roddenberry to withdraw from close production duties on the show, instead leaving Fred Freiberger in charge. In turn this caused a decidedly obvious decline in the quality of the series, something I never really picked up on too much myself but true fans I’m sure see it. Personally I quite liked the ‘monster of the week’ angle of it.
All of the information you get (as mentioned above), you through the eyes of Rod. We find out that, according to Rod, Gene wasn’t the best father because he was never around through work. The emotion comes from seeing Rod discover how much of a good man his father actually was when he obviously (possibly) had a touch of disrespect for him growing up. Its clear to see that Rod was never happy about Gene not being there when he was growing up, although how much of this is on Rod’s back I don’t know. We also see that when Gene was going through important times with Star Trek as a whole, Rod was off doing his own thing, being a typical teen who didn’t really care about his fathers work and was more interested in…teen-esque things. Now I’m not saying this as fact, this is just the impression I got whilst watching this doc.
It was emotional because at times you could see Rod was close to tears, that he clearly regretted not being around with his father more, for the important times. You could see he regretted missing out on things, from the genuine stories various colleagues tell him, it was clear across his face. This whole aspect of the doc was annoying because bottom line, at times I was thinking, you’re a fool Rod. At other times I felt for him because he was clearly hurting, and at other times it was frustrating because it just seemed like this young guy had the world at his fingertips and he didn’t take advantage of it. Like I’ve already said, much of this documentary is actually following Rod as he uncovers these stories of his father and the creation of Star Trek, some of which I’m sure he already knew, some he clearly didn’t know and you can see the shock on his face.
I think the hardest moment was Rod talking with Gene’s old executive assistant Ernie Over at the Roddenberry home. In one room there was a plague on the wall from NASA with ‘To boldly go where no man has gone before’ emblazoned in gold. This was a gift to Gene for his positive contribution to the space program (through Star Trek) and apparently various US astronauts would visit Gene at his home. It was in this sequence when Rod admits he missed out on these moments because he probably wasn’t interested at the time, being in college. It was clear to see he was genuinely upset by this.
Aside from the family angst of Rod there is course all the obligatory stuff you’d expect to see in any documentary about a huge franchise. You want convention footage with heaps of fan input and cosplay? Well step right up folks, its all here for your geeky pleasure. It was also amusing to watch Rod walk around these conventions with no one knowing who he was or how important he was, the son of Gene Roddenberry! On the flip side there was also footage of him addressing the convention and fans, signing stuff etc…usual spiel. The most interesting footage was of the older conventions from the 70’s and 80’s, mainly the 70’s. Its so cute to see how amateurish these events were back then, how crude the cosplay was, lots of sparkles, flares , big hair and lame makeup. These days the events are so slick, and in terms of cosplay, really impressive.
Believe it or not there was also an interview with the father of the opposing huge space based franchise, George Lucas. Kinda eye rolling I know because really, why do we need an interview with Lucas? Alas my fears were realised with the interview turning out to be a complete waste of time for both Rod and us the viewers. Rod went to Skywalker Ranch to ask Lucas about his thoughts on Trek and if it influenced him in the creation of Star Wars. Naturally Lucas didn’t really address this issue much and just went on about Star Wars as if it was an extra for one of his DVD releases. We don’t really get any useful bits of information out of Lucas on any Trek based influence, no real insight into anything, just that Star Wars is a space opera and Star Trek isn’t. Hell they even showed quite a bit of Star Wars effects footage for flips sake! I wonder if Lucas pushed for that? Rod even gave Lucas a gift at the end of it which seemed a bit much if you ask me, Lucas didn’t even seem that bothered, and talk about security and assistants geez!
The doc gradually moves from the earlier series into the more modern Trek series with the new crews and the pressures of recreating Star Trek from afresh. This is an area of Star Trek I’ve never been interested in really as I’ve always preferred the original crew, but it was interesting to see how the passing of Gene affected the series. There was the heavy heavy burden of carrying on with Star Trek after the passing of Gene and how it should go forward. Apparently some writers wanted to change the game a bit but executive producer of The Next Generation, Rick Berman, was determined to carry on with Gene’s distinctive vision. The basic problem being, how could they continue with Gene’s vision but also appeal to a younger audience in order to keep the show alive. From there the doc slowly moves into the final territory of the new Abrams reboot movies and where to be frank, I lost all interest because they’re very hit and miss affairs in my opinion.
Overall is this the definitive Star Trek, behind the scenes, documentary? No its not, as part of a collection of Trek insights it contributes a lot that overall would equal more alongside other features. Is it the definitive Roddenberry documentary or insight? Well I can’t really answer that one as I haven’t seen or read much on the subject. But as a casual Star Trek fan who prefers the original crew and series, I can say this was probably one of the best insights into the world of Roddenberry, including his son who I knew little of before hand. Seeing all this information from Rod’s perspective did help and give the project more emphasis and weight that’s for sure. It made everything more relatable basically because here was a guy, the son of a great science fiction writer/creator, who (has) had simple everyday issues with him as a father. Seeing Rod react when being told that certain characters in the newer series (Wesley Crusher) Gene had created to be a younger version of himself and treated almost like another son. These are things many people will relate to which makes the feature more down to earth and interesting. I guess I will admit that the title did mislead me as I thought this was primarily an in depth look at the series and movies, I had no idea it was more focused on Roddenberry and his son, but that’s just me.