Star Trek doc is a family enterprise

EntertainmentMoviesDocumentary (genre)George LucasWil WheatonRachel TrueWorld War II (1939-1945)

Burbank-based Trekkers mostly missed out on a great afternoon event this past Sunday, as Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry, son of “Star Trek” creator Gene, screened his documentary “Trek Nation” at the Burbank Film Festival to a sparsely populated Fletcher Auditorium in Woodbury University's Business School.

Still, the crowd of approximately 20 clapped loudly enough to make Roddenberry — along his with special-guests, “Star Trek: Voyager” costars Tim Russ and Robert Picardo — feel welcome.

Also in attendance: Tory Ireland Mell, writer-producer of the innovative, Roddenberry-produced short “White Room: 02B3,” which screened prior to “Trek Nation.” In it, six strangers (most recognizably Breckin Meyer and Rachel True) awaken in the eponymous location, with no memories and a loaded gun ready for use. It's the format that has people talking, though: shot with a 360-degree camera in the center of the room, it will be made available online in a format that gives the viewer the option of moving the viewer's POV anywhere in the room, effectively making you the film's real-time editor.

As for “Trek Nation” (directed by Scott Colthorp; executive-produced by and starring Roddenberry), it began production over a decade ago and spans many years. Perhaps fans didn't turn out because there are already so many “Star Trek” docs out there, from both “Trekkies” movies — which Roddenberry characterizes as “Look at all these nut jobs” — to the somewhat self-indulgent convention travelogues William Shatner constantly cranks out.

Indeed, some of what's here is stuff that fans have heard before, like Nichelle Nichols' oft-retold account of how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. told her why she couldn't quit the show. Yet there were also things never shown publicly until now, among them home movies of young Rod from innocent infancy to rebellious teenhood, and an exclusive interview with George Lucas on the similarities and differences with that other space franchise, and particularly its father-son issues.

Gene died when Rod was 17 and hadn't yet learned to appreciate dad's work; the documentary is his public attempt to gain that knowledge through interacting with the fans.

Roddenberry says he wasn't disappointed with the low turnout, telling us, “Documentaries are hard films to watch. I would’ve loved more people there, but I can find many reasons why they weren’t.”

But he does sound frustrated that the movie's initial release was barely seen, on Science Channel last November. As such, he's hosting showings at “every convention that will accept a screening of it,” and sells a bare-bones DVD version on Roddenberry.com, though he hopes to have a deluxe edition available in the future, with the full George Lucas interview and other deleted scenes.

He's not sure, however, whether or not to include some of the most personal stuff, from an early cut he jokingly calls “I Think My Daddy Loved Me.” In particular, there was a moment in which Wil Wheaton reveals that, during the filming of the Next Generation episode where Wesley Crusher gets promoted, Gene “stopped production, which cost a fortune to do, and came on-set and gave his ensign bars from World War II to Wil Wheaton ... I thought the relationship was just friends, but this really took it to a whole new level. There was a tremendous amount of jealousy. Years later, at my father’s induction into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Wil presented me with those bars.”

But as the movie documents, Rod Roddenberry, like Chris Pine's Kirk at the end of the last movie, is at peace with his father's legacy today. Regarding the fans versus the immediate family, he's philosophical.

“Yes, my father did have these two families,” he says, “but I’ve got 10 million brothers and sisters out there.”

Rod's latest project is a podcast called “The Mission Log,” in which hosts John Champion and Ken Ray will analyze every Star Trek episode from every show, one by one. “Some people may turn their nose up at and scoff at [that], but it is something I’ve wanted to do forever.”

Judging by last week's event, they should get Picardo as a guest — his quips, from referring to different alien races as “the forehead of the week” and saying of John de Lancie (who played Q), “No other actor has taken 12 guest appearances and turned it into a cottage industry” — had the small but devoted audience in Burbank in stitches. Especially when he brought up the one week in which the alien race appeared to all the cast to have genitalia on their heads.

Unfortunately for “Voyager” fans, there was no news about a future for those characters. Picardo suggested the fans should produce a “Voyager” movie themselves, while Russ noted that if anything were to happen, “the fans would know before we would, honestly.”

L.THOMPSON is a local writer on movies.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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