Several years ago, I was one of the few honored with the chance to see a rough cut of a documentary Eugene W. Roddenberry Jr. and director Scott Colthorp was making called "Trek Nation."
Even then, the project had been in development for a few years, and I was now excited to finally see what Rod and Scott had pulled off with the help of New Animal Productions.
What I saw could be best described as a good start. There was Rod, exploring not only the philosophy of his famous father, Gene Roddenberry, but the life of the man himself. It was a personal journal, that sometimes got a little too personal. It was the cross between a documentary and a reality show, some of it featuring eye-opening interactions between Rod and his mother, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, and Rod being thrown off the Paramount lot after he snuck a camera onto the set of "Star Trek: Enterprise," where they were filming the series finale.
If you were a diehard Star Trek fan, who was deeply interested in the Roddenberry mythos, this would've been the documentary for you. But I realized -- and so did Rod and Scott -- that a lot more work had to be done. And unfortunately, they would need years, not months, to do it.
But that has paid off. Big time. "Trek Nation" premieres Nov. 30 at 8 p.m. ET on the Science cable channel, and the finished work is exactly what "Trek Nation" should be. Rod originally set out to create a positive answer to the 1997 documentary "Trekkies," which made Star Trek fans look like buffoons. And the final product achieves that positive answer. It celebrates the life of Gene Roddenberry, his creation and the fans that continue to fuel it 45 years later -- all through the eyes of a son who started on the wrong path.
The Roddenberry magic is captured in the opening minutes of "Trek Nation," taking us almost immediately to the death of the Great Bird of the Galaxy, and keeps its hold right through the ending credits. The history is unashamedly honest, showing a Gene who was not only a visionary and a genius writer, but also a human being complete with the flaws that make him a human being.
Gene is seen through the eyes of those who were closest to him, both personally and professionally. His best friends. Those who worked with him, like Rick Berman. Those that worked for him, like modern "Battlestar Galactica" creator Ronald D. Moore and late "Star Trek: The Next Generation" producer Michael Piller, as well as D.C. Fontana, who had a bad break with Roddenberry in the late 1980s. And those who were influenced by him over the years.
People like Star Wars creator George Lucas, the father of the modern space opera who took his cues and inspiration to head to space thanks to Star Trek.
People like comic book genius Stan Lee who recognized early on that "Star Trek" knew how to tell stories, because it knew how to create great characters to tell those stories.
People like musician Rob Zombie who saw "Star Trek" as a reflection of its time while presenting a view of the future.
And people like "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane who noticed even the smallest details in Star Trek that would influence so many -- like the interior design of TNG's Enterprise-D that had, among other things, wall-to-wall carpeting throughout the ship.
Lucas even shares an answer to the age-old question: Who would win, the USS Enterprise or the Millennium Falcon?
Then there are the fans that have been influenced by Star Trek. The doctors, the engineers, the astrophysicists, the astronauts. There's even Bjo Trimble, the mother of television fan campaigns, who worked to save "Star Trek" long before personal computers, the Internet and communication that had barely evolved from smoke signals.
"Trek Nation" is a documentary where fans can celebrate what Star Trek is, and the life of Gene's philosophy, while at the same time introducing those not so familiar with Star Trek to why the franchise has so much appeal almost a half-century after it was first introduced. Everyone gets rare glimpses into the life of Gene Roddenberry at home, at work, his office, even the first Star Trek convention in 1972 through home movies and behind-the-scenes footage.
"Trek Nation" even uncovers endorsements from Gene himself not only of Star Wars (pretty timely considering the friendly feud between William Shatner and Carrie Fisher going on right now), but also J.J. Abrams' version of Star Trek, bringing in a new cast to depict a younger version of Kirk and Spock, introducing the concept to new audiences.
Despite so much information available about the history of Star Trek, there are still new things to learn. Like the fact Gene Roddenberry didn't see a penny from the original "Star Trek" series between 1969 and 1983, and was made worse from the fact that he had a hard time getting new jobs in Hollywood because of his "Wagon Train to the Stars." You get to see outtakes from his famous interview that was shown ahead of the second season premiere of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" in 1988 that showed Gene already struggling with his health in trying to answer questions.
You even get a rare look at Gene's final public appearance, celebrating the 25th anniversary of Star Trek at the Shrine Auditorium where Gene was rolled in on a wheelchair, needed help to stand, and could barely share his remarks with the thousands of people who showed up to honor him.
"Trek Nation" is a classic from beginning to end, and proves that such projects with so much at stake can age with time.
Airlock Alpha has had a very long relationship with the Roddenberry family, and it's hard sometimes to take an objective approach to a Roddenberry project because of that friendship. Hell, even my mark can be found in "Trek Nation" -- when you see Rod watching a shuttle launch in Florida in 2005, it's yours truly behind the camera capturing the moment for him just outside the shuttle assembly building.
Yet, if the "Trek Nation" I watched a few years back had been the final product, I likely would've ripped it apart.
But this isn't that "Trek Nation." This is the one that Rod, Scott, Trevor Roth, New Animal and others spent years perfecting. And it's by far the best Star Trek documentary ever created -- not that there has been a lot. But it will be hard for any future project to top this.
"Trek Nation" is just the latest project produced by Roddenberry Entertainment, a company Rod put together to further bring his father's vision, philosophy and innovation to the masses. If "Trek Nation" is just the beginning for Roddenberry Entertainment, then I can't wait to see what's next.
It's said that Star Trek is art creating life. "Trek Nation" captures both the art and the life, and unveils how this secret recipe created something loved and cherished by generations of Star Trek fans.
"Trek Nation" is narrated by Eugene W. Roddenberry and is directed by Scott Colthorp, with additional production and editing work led by New Animal Productions. It premieres Nov. 30 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Science.
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