Riff Treks

10-Feb-08 10:02 PM by
Filed under Films, Star Trek; 4 comments.

I admit it: I'm a Star Trek fanboy. Almost anything bearing the Star Trek name is instantly fantastic — it's just a matter of degree. Within that realm is a wide variety, from the awesomely fantastic (Deep Space Nine, First Contact) to the pathetically fantastic (Nemesis), but I'll still be first in line for all of them. Such zeal may make me a laughing stock… but I've found the most valuable trait of any hardcore geek is a healthy sense of humor.

Over the years, there have been multiple instances when the combination of geekdom and comedy intersected with brilliant results. The most mainstream occurrence was in 1999, when an all-star cast including Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, and Tony Shalhoub appeared in the feature film Galaxy Quest. The trailers of the time made the movie look like weak sci-fi fare intended for the unsophisticated masses, so I didn't see it until 2002 — at which time I wished I hadn't waited so long. I rewatched it this weekend and was again impressed with how much fun it was.

Galaxy QuestGalaxy Quest doubles as the name of a fictional cancelled television series, its cast of washed-up has-beens since having taken to the tour circuit, making their living signing autographs and reciting famous lines. But their reruns have been misinterpreted as historical documents by an alien civilization that has made into reality all elements of the show (think "A Piece of the Action"). These xenoforms abduct the thespian crew of the NSEA Protector to help their new ship and stave off extinction at the hands of a tyrannical despot (whose vehicle my 80-year-old movie buddy immediately identified as reminiscent of the Doomsday machine — a fitting homage!).

As an amalgam of fantasy and reality, Galaxy Quest succeeds in mocking the synonymous Star Trek as well as its actors and fans. Via the show-within-a-show device, everyone gets their turn: from the pomposity of William Shatner to the inevitable expendability of the red shirts to the obsessive fanboys. Even Star Trek alumni had the sense to appreciate the film.

It's likely many fans of Home Improvement saw Galaxy Quest as a Tim Allen vehicle, but I can't imagine the film being nearly as entertaining for those who have not seen Star Trek themselves. And if you're lucky enough to be one of those veterans of the original material, there are more hands-on opportunities to lampoon the franchise. RiffTrax, the downloadable audio commentaries from the talent that brought you Mystery Science Theater 3000, has thus far parodied 49 movies, and Star Trek has the dubious honor of being three of them. For a limited time, you can buy all three Star Trek RiffTrax for $8.99. Though admittedly that's a savings of only one dollar, it's still a great excuse to grab the MP3s to play alongside The Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country, and Generations — the latter of which is sampled here:

Don't ever laugh at a Trekkie — but by all means, please do laugh at yourself. As Data would say, "It's a wonderful feeling!"

TNG at 20: The Voyage Continues

26-Sep-07 6:00 PM by
Filed under Star Trek; 1 comment.

Twenty years ago this autumn, I was a sophomore in college. I remember watching the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation (or TNG) with friends. While most of us were fans of speculative fiction, we had little idea of how entertaining and influential TNG would become.

I had grown up on the writings of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke, but I had watched the original 1960s Star Trek only in reruns. During freshman year, I had fought for the dorm lounge television with people who preferred The Late Show With David Letterman over some old show with people wearing colorful pajamas, odd makeup, or both. But we were a small but dedicated band, and we made it to the stars. Among the friends I met then was my future wife.

Over the course of many late nights and foosball games, I learned about the United Federation of Planets, its Starfleet, and the Prime Directive that forbade its explorers from interfering in the internal affairs or development of alien worlds. The so-called "Wagon Train to the stars" combined Westerns with ray guns, and mythology with scientific speculation.

By the time TNG began, I was indeed a Trekkie — or "Trekker," as some prefer — having learned the cant among the franchise's fans: phasers, warp speed, and the Vulcan nerve pinch and salute. Of the eventual six movies with the space opera's original cast, the best two — Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and IV: The Voyage Home — had already been released. Thanks to magazines such as Starlog and various "technical manuals," I learned about transporters and Jeffries tubes (the access tunnels throughout starships, named after an original series art director). Around Thanksgiving of 1987, I would attend my first science fiction convention, one run by Creation Entertainment in New York.

It's also worth remembering the context into which this Enterprise was launched — that, despite the success of multimedia franchises such as Planet of the Apes and Star Wars, there was little genre entertainment on television at that time. As we look forward to 2007's premieres of Heroes, Lost, or Battlestar Galactica: Razor, among others, note that 20 years ago, there was only Stephen Spielberg's anthology Amazing Stories, horror drama Friday the 13th: the Series, and another Earth-based movie spin-off, Starman. Weak visual effects, even weaker writing, and a lack of interest among mainstream viewers and networks had doomed all but the U.K.'s Doctor Who to short lifespans or syndication.