Journey to the Beginning of Time (aka Cesta do pravěku, CZ, 1955)

Although this may sound like your typical Doug McClure type romp, is it in fact something a little more original. Directed by the famous Czech animator Karel Zeman, the film is actually more of a documentary first and an adventure second. The plot surrounds a group of four young boys in a boat who journey down a river and into a mysterious cave. When they emerge from within the cave they find themselves back in time in a primeval landscape. As they slowly travel down the river they soon realise they are in fact travelling back through the Earth’s various time periods, back through time, to the beginning of time itself.

Interestingly, the movie I am reviewing here is in fact the American version from 1966. This US version has a different title, has obviously been dubbed and has new footage added. The footage was shot in 66, New York, and gives a different opening (and ending) for the four boys (obviously a different cast of boys). Here they go to the American Natural History Museum and, apparently, all fall asleep together (or imagine together?) and have the same dream, the dream being their boat trip through time. That being said, the film also seems to hint at the possibility of a Native American statue possibly hypnotising or casting a spell on them, it isn’t too clear.

Anyway the Czech film was originally called ‘Cesta do Pravêku’ and you do see the majority of that film with the US version, its just the beginning and end that are cut. I have titled my review with the US version/part English translation simply because that is probably how its best remembered. The 1966 US footage of the boys for the beginning and end of the film is generally fine. The two sequences blend in relatively well, although I’d like to see the original film footage too.

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This film was quite unusual for the time due to its documentary angle. Aimed squarely at children the film is more of an educational feature rather than an all out adventure. Yes there are sequences of exploration and danger for the four boys, but essentially each time period, with its own unique inhabitants, is discussed or narrated by the boys to relay information to you, the viewer. Most of the time the boys are drifting along in their longboat, a safe distance from the various mammals and dinosaurs they witness. At times they do get into minor trouble, they do come ashore and they do explore further interacting with some creatures and plant life. There are no dinosaur battles, guns, human fatalities, blonde dames or atomic bombs in this feature.

Apart from the unique educational aspect of the film, it was Zeman’s fantastic stop-motion animation that was the real crowd-pleaser. Turns out that Zeman was a master of stop-motion, the European equivalent of Ray Harryhausen. His combination of stop-motion clay models and 2D hand drawn profile images was pretty ingenious and new at the time, I think. Where many Hollywood movies would use stop-motion models for their monsters or beasties, usually against other models or a matte painting, Zeman actually combined the two. So what you would see is a static hand drawn profile image of a dinosaur, but with a stop-motion head and neck (all against a small model set and rear projection live action shot of the actors). It sounds very basic and cheap but believe me it looks great and you’d never notice it, you’d swear you were looking at a full model. Zeman would also combine static paintings of creatures and their landscapes with just one lone fully animated model.

Not just content with that, Zeman and his crew also created numerous full sized puppets for some dinosaur sequences. Generally this would simply be a full sized head or body for some close up shots. There are two sequences of a dinosaur head and mammoth body breaking the water which are basic puppets. Zeman and co also created full sized prehistoric plant life, one prehistoric lizard thing that looked like a Muppet, and one full sized dead stegosaurus which looked really fantastic. The four boys inspect this dead dinosaur, the scale of the body along with the paint detail is really impressive. Not only that but it did get me thinking, did a certain Steven Spielberg see this film and copy this scene?

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So it turns out that Zeman was a master of animation and visual trickery, but he also drew inspiration from others. For the most part Zeman got his visual inspiration from famous Czech paleoartist Zdenêk Burian. Burian was/is well known for his incredible artwork surrounding all manner of prehistoric life and ecosystems. Pretty much all of the 2D matte painting and dinosaur profile work was based off Burian’s imagery. Its clear to see if you compare Burian’s artwork with the films prehistoric landscapes, much of the films imagery looks like animated artwork.

Concerning the plot, well naturally I did find myself asking why on earth these boys didn’t ever turn back, I mean surely you’d maybe have a look around and then go back through the cave right, for safety reasons. But no, off they go, cruising down the river into the unknown and eventually camping out! Not too sure where they got the wood from for that campfire either, seeing as they were in an ice age. Now I think of it, how did they not freeze to death?? (they’re wearing shorts). OK, so its all completely ridiculous how these boys don’t actually end up getting eaten, bitten, stung or mauled to death by some prehistoric monster, poisonous insect or early plant life. I guess we should look past that, but hey after all, these are 50’s kids, a lot tougher than kids today, more world savvy too, probably.

I was genuinely taken aback by this film and its visuals. Granted the film quality wasn’t too good and if you saw this on bluray I would imagine all the tricks and faults would be easily exposed. But the sheer scope along with obvious care and attention to detail is astonishing. The four boys do a sterling job with their acting considering they are mostly acting against nothing and this is a 1955 film (acting not always too good). The story is as basic as it gets but again it doesn’t matter because firstly, its supposed to be educational, and secondly, its all so wonderfully charming and gorgeous to look at. Any stop-motion fan needs to see this its as simple as that. Some of the animals and creatures we see are admittedly a bit jerky, a bit rough around the edges (on close up), but most are superbly created and animated (a galloping herd of giraffes for one).

This film is unique in many ways, its an eye-opener and a very pleasant surprise. If you’re expecting rampaging dinosaurs fighting other giant insectoid-like monsters with screaming damsels, I hear you and I understand your cravings. But no, this is not the film you’re looking for. This is virtually like one of those films you would watch inside a museum or theme park. You are presented with mammals and dinosaurs actually normally in their proper environments, as observed by the four boys. It offers some simple thrills but its mainly for teaching or introducing the young to the fascinating world of palaeontology (with the information known in the mid 50’s).

9/10

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Plastic Galaxy: The Story of Star Wars Toys (2014)

I came across this documentary purely out of the blue whilst minding my own business online one merry day. I saw an image, I clicked the link, it took me to some site which then informed me all about said doc. I instantly knew I had to see this, mainly out of pure morbid curiosity if anything. I mean really, how interesting could a documentary about action figures really be?? (even though those figures are Star Wars figures).

So at the time I write this review I am currently 38 years of age, pushing 39. So basically I’m a middle aged man to all the young hipsters and hepcats out there with their newfangled technology and whatnot (the fuck is all this iCloud business?? whatever). Anyway, I am of the generation that lived through the original releases of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ and ‘Return of the Jedi’ (although I only recall RotJ), and consequently I grew up during the main period of the original Kenner Star Wars toy line. So to someone of my age who is or was a fanboy (or girl) of George Lucas’ space opera, this documentary will probably be a glorious trip down memory lane, or not, kinda depends dunnit.

So what does this doc do other than show you nice shots of loads of vintage Star Wars toys and their packaging. Well firstly and most obviously we meet a group of people, mainly blokes, who are in their mid 30’s and have impressive collections of the now vintage toy line. Each person describes how they got into the franchise, how it changed their life forever and of course how the toys were the centre of their lives throughout their childhoods. Each person generally sits behind a glorious glass cabinet display of figures, ships, action sets, original complete packaging, posters, trinkets, tat etc…the full monty so to speak. These guys know their shit, they know all about the toys and they treat them like chunks of rock from Mars, probably even better than that.

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From there we move into the real gritty stuff, the Kenner company and how they came to be the centre of the toy world. Basically before Star Wars there was no real licensing for merchandise based off movies, no one had ever really tapped into that cash cow because no one ever really thought it would/could do anything. Kenner (based on Kenner Street in Cincinnati, Ohio) was originally part of a soap company in 1947 and came up with a toy gun that fired bubbles. This simple idea sold over a million units and got Kenner on the right track for children’s toys. Fast forward a bit to 1975 and Kenner starts to have success with toys based off TV shows like ‘The Six Million Dollar Man’. Then in 1979 along came ‘Star Wars’ and everything changed. Gone was the nice clean polished look and feel of science fiction, sci-fi was now dirty, grimy, damaged, worn in, weathered etc…The doc introduces us to various people who worked for Kenner at the time and they explain how the Star Wars movie presented a whole new world to them, a new challenge, basically entering new territory both for their work and film in general.

The guys (who range from the designers to managers) talk about how they all saw the movie to see what they were up against. They discuss how the movie blew them away, whilst at the same time how it got them excited due to the sheer wealth of imagination on display. They then had to go away and translate this explosive new movie into a new toy range with little time and not enough resources. This leads into talks about the surprisingly successful ‘Early Bird’ set of figures which was basically an empty cardboard box with a gift certificate for the actual figures when they were released. They discuss which characters were originally used and why, they show early figure concepts, early designs for spacecraft and vehicles, ideas for retractable weapon sections on some figures etc…In other words a whole lot of chat about toy prototypes with the final results.

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There is generally a lot of talk with old Kenner designers and how they turned the movies now legendary spacecraft into highly popular toys. The ships were pretty straight forward obviously but seeing original models and designs for the Ewok village playset was neat. We also see various sketches of unused designs, most of which were for vehicles that weren’t actually in the film. Some of these actually got made which I’m sure people will recall (they looked crap and were so obviously not from the real Star Wars universe), but we do see lots of designs for land vehicles, droids and whatnot that didn’t get the green light. Ironically many of them do actually look pretty good…as sketches anyway. One toy that got the green light that wasn’t in the movies was the troop transport, a shitty excuse for a toy which looked way better in the design stage. Oddly it was Joe Johnston and Lucasfilm that didn’t like the original design, they revised it and, in my opinion, made it look crap. One of the biggest unused designs was for a large toy of the now famous Rebel blockade runner, the Tantive IV. This was really disappointing to discover as the Tantive IV is such a badass ship, fantastic design and it probably would of been a sweet toy. Hard to judge of course but the early design sketches looked great. The figures were cool but the original Kenner Star Wars spacecraft were always a big deal, easily some of the best toys ever created (check the Imperial Shuttle toy, best and biggest toy ever!).

One segment featured a chat with the original photographer of the toys for the original packaging. Now I know this might sound completely naff but it was actually really cool. The original Kenner packaging is just as famous and collectable as the toys they contained. Why you ask? well because they were so bright and colourful, they had that classic 70’s/80’s vibe (naturally), and the images used were simple but highly effective in capturing your imagination (at the time). Obviously there is a large prescription of rose tinted specs going on here but believe it or not, those images on the packaging are virtually seen as collectable art now. Hell even to this day that Kenner packaging design still evokes strong emotions and memories for me. The design truly was that powerful and influential, both now and back in the day. The packaging and some of the toys even had a certain smell about them. Whether or not smelling those toys was a good idea health wise I dunno, but the aroma was strong with some of those toys (especially the black TIE fighter pilot figure for some reason).

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Towards the end the doc looks into various Star Wars toys from other countries. Most of these being genuine items that just had different packaging and languages obviously, such as the European figure packaging with French, English and Spanish on them (always hated how that looked). Twas interesting to see various changes and alterations to some toys in different countries such as Mexico for example. But then there was also the unlicensed stuff that either went under the radar or got shut down. Its incredible to see just how much garbage has been flogged with the Star Wars brand on it. From there the doc starts to explore the newer range of Star Wars merchandise, mainly figures and spacecraft. This is where it becomes uninteresting as the newer toys look shit compared to the classic stuff, so tacky and overblown, just makes you feel sorry for kids these days really.

Overall it was a shame that they didn’t delve deeper into specific character figures (for the classic range). I was kinda hoping there might be some cool insights into some of the alien characters and why they didn’t make figures for many background characters. Probably because they were background characters I guess but I always thought some of the choices for figures were odd. Like how some background characters were used and other more prominent background characters weren’t. For example, why did they make a figures for Yak-Face, Amanaman, Prune Face and Snaggletooth when these guys are hardly seen in the movies. Why were there no figures for the Devaronian, Biggs, Wedge, the Bith cantina band, Mon Mothma and various others from Jabba’s palace?

As I said originally, this is essentially for people of a certain age who remember this stuff, who actually grew up playing with it. I certainly recommend it to any Star Wars fan of course as it is an interesting little documentary. But lets not beat around the bush here, this is simply toy porn, in your face toy porn for guys who never really grew up. That’s not a bad thing! I myself still have various Kenner Star War toys from back in the day, including a couple ships, I include myself in this. But I still can’t lie, just seeing all those shots of rows upon rows of classic Kenner Star Wars figures, rows of all the ships and vehicles, every single piece. All the ones you wanted back in the day but never got, just sitting there in massive wall to wall displays. Yeah…total toy porn, but oh so good.

8.5/10

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David Brent: Life on the Road (UK, 2016)

The man, the legend, is back! Yes for all ‘The Office’ fans (possibly both from the US as well as the UK) this could be the greatest news ever, maybe the greatest film ev…no no going too far. Good old controversial Ricky Gervais is back doing what he does best in his monumental creation…being controversial. For those in the know (should be everyone) that will be music to your ears, for those not in the know or simply not a fan, you probably should just pass this by, unless intrigued.

So as I’m sure most will know (ahem! see what I said above), this movie is based on the smash hit satirical UK comedy series ‘The Office’. The show is a mockumentary that focuses on the employees of a small fictitious paper company based in Slough, UK. The idea is quite simply, a TV camera crew is making a documentary about this small firm, filming the day to day goings on and how the company operates. What is captured is actually the cringeworthy, embarrassing, facepalming shenanigans of the companies general manager of this particular branch, Mr David Brent. While most of the companies employees try to do their work, Brent mugs, shows-off and generally attempts to make himself look good or cool for the cameras. What we see is a hideous display of generally offensive behaviour that Brent regularly doles out to all, but for the most part, blissfully unaware of what he’s actually doing (and the damage).

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This fantastic TV show was short lived with two series (go out on a high, take note America) and an hour long Christmas special. The show was also taken on and remade in the US (no shit). After a rocky start the US equivalent finally got going and ended up being pretty good too, if completely milked dry of laughs and ideas by the end. This movie follows on from where the UK series and Xmas special left off. Following Brent after he was sacked from Wernham Hogg, his short lived career as a travelling sales rep, and his even shorter lived career attempt at fame and fortune.

Brent is now a sales rep for a bathroom company called Lavichem. He is desperate to try his hand at a music career again so he decides to take a month unpaid leave to follow his dream. The movie kicks off on familiar ground with a similar set up that we saw from the original series. Brent is back in an office and acting the tit, generally unawares. Most of his fellow work colleges find him obnoxious, one or two seem to like him but keep it to themselves, and Brent has yet another sidekick to play off. So essentially its back to what you know, basically recreating it, a remake of sorts. Does it work? hmmm no not really. When the film starts and you see these familiar sights it does excite you no doubt (if you’r a fan). But as quick as it excites you, it disappoints you with flat unfunny dialog. Most of the office characters are pretty much the same types we got in the original show and Brent’s sidekick is really quite annoying, but for real this time.

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So the film doesn’t really start off well if you ask me, but luckily we’re not spending too much time in this office as Brent is off rampaging with his quest. We meet his so called rapper friend, a mixed race man…who raps, and watch as he hires a crew of musicians and tech guys. Basically none of them are really interested but Brent foolishly offers them good money thinking his success is a foregone conclusion, ironically the name of new band. And thus the tour begins! A tour of venues across Berkshire.

For the most part we follow the band as they travel from gig to gig, obviously. We see them at their hotels, practising, setting up for gigs, after gigs, talkin’ bout money deals, having drinks in the hotel bars, jammin’ and generally having a bit of a laugh. Then we see Brent tagging along behind (see what I did there? huh? huh??), trying to get in with the guys, trying to be liked, trying to be accepted, trying to be the cool lead singer of a band and generally playing up and showing off to the camera. So nothing to new then to be honest. The amusing part of all this, is the fact that Brent’s the person who set up this whole series of events, he created the band, he’s paying the wages, its his baby. But he’s treated like a fifth wheel, as if he’s part of the clean up crew or something. The other band members are only there for the money and to bum around while Brent sees this as a genuine push for glory. Heck Brent even ends up paying them to sit and have a drink with him after gigs!

To make matters even worse for Brent is the fact that his ‘best friend’ the rapper is actually a very gifted rapper. The guy has skills and could go places, maybe Brent could manage his career? Maybe they could work on a double act? But naturally when Brent discovers this his jealousy gets the better of him. Cue an obvious scene where Brent is looking pissed into the camera as he finds out his best mate is really good, better than him, and is going down a storm at a gig just after he’s performed.

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As the disastrous tour continues Brent ends up shelling out more and more to promote his band. It all comes to a point where even his crew see his floundering into ruination and tell him to stop. Spoiler alert but everything doesn’t really work out for poor old David and he ends up going back to his sales rep job without a record deal. But luckily one of the staff members that kinda secretly liked him comes out and shows it (a lady). So once again David manages to end up with a shoulder to cry on and possibly (this time?) a long term partner.

So in the end is this any good or as good as the classic original series? Its a firm no from me I’m afraid, not even close. The main brutally obvious, slapping you in the face problem here is the simple fact that this movie just isn’t very funny. Sure there are tonnes of gags, visual gags, the usual crushing satire, innuendos etc…but most of it falls flat every time. Obviously there are some good chuckles in there, Brent trying to get a tattoo is good (probably the best), seeing him hook up with some middle aged ladies out on the razz is another…I’m straining here. You can see what they’re going for but its just not very funny, extremely basic humour at best. What’s worse is you can see it all coming a mile off, there are no real belly laughs, no surprises, no cringeworthy shocks, or any shocks, and no real emotions to get you going. Sure you feel sorry for Brent towards the end, I really felt myself wanting this guy to win for once, but its all so tame and predictable. The ending is so painfully soft and forgettable.

I guess in the end I have to ask, why exactly would a film crew still be following David Brent around? In what world would any production company think that it would bring in good viewing figures to show this universally unlikable guy doing more of what everyone seems to hate him for. I guess you could say morbid curiosity, but at this point in this fictitious world Brent is literally someone who had fifteen minutes of fame, over fifteen years ago on a documentary, and now he’s a complete nobody. The original production was a moment in time that worked, but now the whole idea would seem an odd decision. A bit out of time or too late in the day. A bit like this movie really.

5.5/10

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Back In Time (2015)

In case any newbies out there haven’t worked it out, the title of this documentary refers to the hit song by Huey Lewis and the News which plays at some point (can’t recall) during the smash hit movie ‘Back to the Future’. I realise that might be really really obvious to many people out there but hey, believe it or not there are youngsters out there that didn’t grow up with these classics (the poor sods) and genuinely don’t know. This doc generally covers the entire BttF franchise from production to interviews to the fanbase, all the usual stuff you’d expect to see.

So naturally this story begins with how the project came to be, who was involved and the struggles that always seem to accompany these movies. A small vision originally entitled ‘Professor Brown Visits the Future’ by partners Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis was the only thing that existed from the 70’s. It wasn’t until Bob Gale came up with the notion of, if you went back in time to when your parents were in their teens, would you be friends with them? Would you like your father or would he turn out to be the kind of jerk (or jock) you’ve always despised from your own high school years. Would your mother be the dedicated student she may have claimed to be? What if your mother turned out to be the school slut?? What if both turned out to be complete dorks? With Zemeckis and Gale both being with Columbia at the time due to their previous movie ‘Used Cars’, which was popular with the studio head Frank Price, their next script was a shoo-in.

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Its interesting to note (again) how this movie actually became so successful considering certain things. For a start its pointed out that the movie is indeed jammed packed full of exposition from the get-go, basically a rule breaker for any movie. Drowning an audience in a shit load of quickfire scientific jargon that essentially you have to take in otherwise you might miss the plot later on, is a big cardinal sin really. Then you have the fact that Marty McFly is a poor protagonist truth be told. He doesn’t really have any goal or wish other than trying to make his folks less nerdy and slutty. He tends to just blunder into things without really pausing and ends up messing with his own timeline and in the end not really learning anything. Admittedly I never really saw it that way before but when you think about it, its true! Then you can look at how this movie might be looked upon in our present PC era. What exactly is Emmett Brown’s deal? Why does he hang around with a young boy all the time? Is there anything suspicious going on there? Not to mention the blatant issue of a mother trying to sleep with her own son, or at least give him head in the car park. Again its something that as a kid growing up in the 80’s (and clearly the same with the crews and studios) you just didn’t see it like that, times were much more easy going and relaxed, not so uptight.

It was interesting to discover that after going around every studio in town and being turned down (as what usually happens in these scenarios), Gale and Zemeckis tried their hand with Disney. Basically every studio said time travel flicks don’t work, they don’t make money, why not try Disney because that’s more their kinda thing. Amusingly Disney was the only studio to notice the incest subplot part straight away and couldn’t believe the duo were pitching the idea. In short there was no way in hell Disney would make a movie with something like that going on, yet no other studio picked up on it.

So there are basically lots and lots of interviews throughout this doc from all manner of people from Steven Spielberg, Zemeckis, Gale and a few of the movies cast. There is also many interviews with old studio heads like Frank Price of Columbia, Rick & Morty creator Dan Harmon, Alan Silvestri etc…All of whom touch upon the franchise and their experiences or how it influenced them in some cases. From this we get lots of inside information about various things to do with pre-production, production, post-production etc…and the final product of course, some of it you’ve probably heard before, some maybe not. For example, it was interesting to find out that, apparently, the sequence in ‘Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull’ where Indy survives a nuclear blast inside a lead lined fridge, was actually gonna be the finale sequence for BttF. They do also touch on the infamous recasting of poor old Eric Stolz which is still to this day really intriguing. Alas we still don’t get any footage, only production shots we’ve seen before.

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Of course this doc encompassing and embracing everything BttF and how its impacted culturally, naturally leads us to the fanbase. Ah yes, the crazy, flamboyant and somewhat annoying fanboys and girls that, in some cases do bizarre things to show their love of the franchise. Firstly as you might expect this means lots of dressing up as Marty and Doc Brown…ugh! Then as the doc touches upon the music of the films and Huey Lewis we get to see a band called ‘The Flux Capacitors’ who, obviously, cover all of Huey’s songs…but badly, and in cosplay (double ugh!!). This part was pretty damn cringeworthy to say the least. Moving on and a large part of the fanbase section, the famous car, the DeLorean DMC-12. Naturally we get to see a bit about the making of the car, how it came about etc…but for the most part we see all the fans that own their own DeLorean and how they’ve all turned them into their own time machines, because of course they have. Again some of this is pretty cool with very accurate representations, some not so, then you have some who have literally wrecked their car. The main focus being on one collector who has all the cars from the original movie (the DeLorean, the big black 4×4 Toyota, and the terrorist VW wagon) and part III (the DeLorean all kitted out in wild west gear) which makes you wonder how much it all cost. There’s also talk about how Gale and others refurbished the original DeLorean from the original film after it was left languishing at Universal Studios.

There’s also a section on somewhere in the UK where they have recreated the town of Hill Valley and hold massive cosplay events complete with old cars, diners etc…Of course no BttF doc could ever be complete without discussing the hover board phenomenon. Yep you’ve guessed it, its all about some crackpots trying to build their own with varying degrees of success, but not much. It also touches on the effects used to create the hover board in the sequel, how much of a pain it was to actually achieve, and how thousands of kids wanted one back in the day because they all thought it was real (Zemeckis not helping at the time by hinting they were real). Probably the best parts of the fanbase section focused on a couple who bought a DeLorean and travelled around the world in it raising money for Parkinson’s research. Another about a young man with cerebral palsy who lives in Michael J. Foxes hometown, knows some of his family and looks up to Fox for inspiration. Admittedly uplifting but admittedly I’m not really sure what it had to do with the franchise as I’m sure there are many people in the same situation. I guess its because he lives in Fox’s hometown and knows some of the family?

So again I ask myself, is this the best in depth look at the Back to the Future franchise? Well seeing as I haven’t seen all that many in depth looks at this particular franchise, unlike say…Star Wars, I can’t really be sure. What I can say is…this was OK, reasonably engaging and reasonably interesting. Basically the whole thing starts off pretty sweet with many movie bigwigs being interviewed and lots of information about the actual movies being released. But in time the whole thing (I think) goes down in quality as they start to look into the fanbase and cultural impact. It no longer becomes engaging, interest goes out the window because to be honest, I don’t care about the fanbase and all the silly things that happen. I’m not really bothered about the history of the DeLorean and what people get up to with them now. I just wanna listen to cast and crew stories, see how they did things on set, maybe behind the scenes footage and bloopers etc…That is really what I’m after when it comes to documentaries about a movie, keep all the fanboy/fanbase/merchandise stuff for its own separate in depth doc. So yeah, this is fine, but nothing great if you ask me.

6/10

Trek Nation (2011)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

9/10

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