By Mike Medeiros
Welcome back to the Spirit of Trek, a column where I will identify and celebrate Gene Roddenberry’s vision for humanity by discovering how the spirit of Star Trek has started spreading throughout humanity’s collective consciousness by looking for it on the Internet and within popular culture.
While I was at Creation Entertainment’s Star Trek Las Vegas Convention, I sat next to Rod Roddenberry during his interview on Trek Radio, where he spoke about his father, Gene Roddenberry; the Roddenberry vision for humanity’s future; the Mission Log Podcast; and Trek Nation. After hearing him speak, I immediately went over to his booth and picked up a copy of Trek Nation on DVD. Later, when I was asked to write this column, I knew that I had to write about it as well.
I had heard about Trek Nation last year from my cohosts at the G & T Show who had watched it, when it was broadcast on Discovery’s Science Channel on November 30th 2011. They had talked about it on the show and had highly recommended it to our listeners to check out during one of its encore presentations in early September. I couldn’t watch it at the time since my cable provider didn’t carry the Science channel. However, you couldn’t imagine my excitement, when I had learned that not only could I watch it with hundreds, if not thousands, of other Star Trek fans, but could also pick it up on DVD in the vendor’s room.
Once I got home and was able to set aside some time to watch the documentary, I didn’t simply load it into my DVD player and start watching it. Instead, I began by going to Trek Nation’s website, where I discovered that it was available for download on iTunes, Xbox Live, Playstation Network, YouTube, Amazon, and Vudu. In addition to this bit of good news, the site offered the film’s trailer, a short description of the film, and a clip from the documentary that featured JJ Abrams. Abrams was being given a video of Gene Roddenberry describing his hope that one day Star Trek would be remade and the characters of Kirk, McCoy, and Spock would be introduced to a whole new generation of fans. It was touching, and I’m sure Gene would have been proud of the fact that his wish had been fulfilled with Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek film.
From the earlier discussion on the G & T Show, I knew that Trek Nation’s YouTube Channel was going to include some Director’s Log videos that featured deleted scenes, as well as clips from the movie. At the time, the only videos that were available were: the trailer; an exclusive excerpt from the movie that featured three Star Trek fans discussing the women of Star Trek; Scott Colthorp’s introduction to the Director’s Log; and the first vignette with Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) talking about the place that Star Trek holds in her heart.
When I decided to revisit the channel in preparation for this article, I was pleasantly surprised to discover many more entries of the Director’s Log had been added. One by one, I watched the videos (fourteen in all), starting with the Trek Nation Trailer and proceeding through to the final installment: Director’s Log 11 – the exclusive trailer for Scott Colthorp’s next documentary: “Blackout”. In this week’s article, I’m going to talk about these videos and how they helped me identify the spirit of trek in preparation to view the actual documentary.
In the first couple of vignettes in the series, they featured two Star Trek stars from The Original Series and The Next Generation. In Nichelle Nichols’ interview, I was touched when she quoted the Vulcan Idic, infinite diversity in infinite combinations, as the thing that she will always carry with her about Star Trek. It was a truly moving sentiment, because it’s one of the ideals at the core of Roddenberry’s vision. Meanwhile, in Sir Patrick Stewart’s video, he was asked about stepping into William Shatner’s shoes. However, what I found to be the most remarkable about his video was how he and the other people that were working on The Next Generation underestimated the impact the show had. Apparently, he had never been to a convention before, which he confirmed later in the segment, when he recounted his first convention experience.
A couple of the Director’s Logs featured Star Trek fans. The first of these, and the third video in the series, introduced Lydia Chilton, who discovered her passion for Star Trek through JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek film. After watching the film with more than a dozen classmates, she went back and watched all of the episodes. During my convention experience, I had seen many people in costumes from the film, which goes to show that it was extremely successful in bringing Star Trek to a whole new generation of fans, and ensuring that the spirit of trek will live on for many more years to come.
It was followed up with an interview with Reverend Chris Buice of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church, who uses Star Trek in some of his sermons, including one called “Captain Kirk wrestling with God”. In it, he describes how Kirk and later Picard often encounter beings with god-like powers, and wonders if Gene Roddenberry, like Kirk, was a man that wrestled with God. It prompted him to ask, where is God in Star Trek? We are given the answer through the scene from Star Trek V – The Final Frontier, where Kirk tells us that perhaps, God lives within the human heart. At the end of the vignette, Colthorp describes the tragedy that occurred there a few years later in which a gunman killed two and wounded seven others. It was a stark reminder that we are still a child race with a long way to go before we can fulfill the promise of humanity’s future.
The late Michael Piller, who was lead writer for TNG from season three onward, shared a couple of different stories. The first was a lesson that Gene had taught him about the difference between a story’s theme and its plot, which changed the way he approached storytelling, by asking the question: what is it about? As a writer, I found his comparison of a writer’s work to that of the Enterprise crew, going where no one has gone before and their discovery of new characters and stories, to certainly be interesting. However, the most remarkable statement from Michael Piller’s vignette pertained to the fans’ desire to not only believe in the world that Roddenberry had created, but their willingness to work towards making it a reality. For me this was one of the most powerful statements in the entire video series on the Trek Nation channel.
The next vignette featured a trio of Star Trek fans. Grey Beyer was illiterate until the age of 9, when his mother introduced him to Star Trek and used it to help him learn to read. Bill Willis was born with cerebral palsy and found solace in Star Trek’s philosophical outlook because of its common theme demonstrating humanity’s ability to overcome adversity. Dr. Ernesto Cortez credits Star Trek’s Dr. Leonard McCoy’s compassion and humanity as his inspiration for going into medicine and becoming an ER doctor. It’s Star Trek’s ability to give people hope to overcome, achieve, and grow – not only as individuals but also as part of the family of mankind – that has made it so successful.
Another video in the Director’s Log series provided the backdrop in which Star Trek first appeared and what made it such a beacon of hope to so many people. Through Bjo Trimble’s words, we learned about the Sixties and the violate environment that preceded Star Trek’s introduction, which included the assassination of a president and a senator, the fear of nuclear armageddon, riots, and an unpopular war. With the space race underway, Gene Roddenberry showed a diverse group of people getting along and an honest hero that cherished every life, even those that belonged to alien lifeforms. His message of hope wrapped in Entertainment was the inspiration for many people to seek out careers that would allow them to work towards achieving the goals for humanity that Star Trek identified.
Futurama writer, David Goodman, was given the opportunity to write an episode of Futurama, Where No Fan Has Gone Before, that portrays Star Trek’s impact from the vantage point of the 31st century. In the episode, the show’s protagonist, Phillip J. Fry, a modern day man thrust into a future world that is both terrifying and amazing, states that Star Trek taught him to accept people, regardless of whether they were “black, white, Klingon, or female;” and that it made him feel like he had friends, even when he did not have any. Acceptance of differences and the sense of belonging to a much larger community are common threads throughout Star Trek, and I was pleased to see that other visions of the future see Star Trek as something important and worth holding on to.
The final vignette featured a trailer for Colthrop’s next documentary, Blackout, which deals with the energy crisis and the damage it is doing to our environment. In it, he states that Star Trek’s message of mutual cooperation could be the solution to not only this issue, but all of mankind’s problems. It echoed Michael Piller’s thoughts on Star Trek. Like him, I also believe that if humanity can learn to put their differences aside there isn’t anything that we can’t do.
After taking a look around Trek Nation’s website and watching all of the videos that they have available on their YouTube channel, I now have a better idea of what to expect when I finally hit play on my DVD player. I’m excited to get started, but it seems that I will have to wait until next week to share my thoughts and experiences. I hope that you will check out Trek Nation, and join me next week, when I jump in and watch Rod Roddenberry’s journey to discover a side to his father that he never knew through the lives that he had touched with Star Trek.
Well, that’s all for this week, my friends. If you’ve come across something that embodies the Spirit of Trek on the Internet or within popular culture, please share it with me so that I may talk about it in a future article. Thank you.
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