Earthlings: Ugly Bags Of Mostly Water Review
Linguists add a point to the score for this film; Trekkies, add another. This is not a documentary designed for the uninitiated, and certainly not for a horror audience, making it an odd choice for FrightFest 2006 – it would have been appreciated far more if screened at SciFi London instead, as here it was judged by those who did attend to be the worst film of the festival. As you can tell from the scores I’ve given it, I don’t believe that to be the case – but I do believe that you will get more out of it if you have an interest in either linguistics, Star Trek, or, like myself, both.
A series of interviews intercut with each other as well as live performances of Klingon anthems and cabaret, and some arty abstractions which left many viewers puzzled, the documentary appears to have been shot in a series of hotel rooms at the 2003 Qep’a. This event is described as a conference, but is really no more than a fan convention, and from the running time it seems entirely probable that much more was shot there but not used – one wonders how much veto power the Qep’a organisers exercised over the footage, since people who never go to cons will ask (and did) if a cabaret consists of no more than a few performers doing Earth songs in Klingon, while those who have attended cons will ask where are the vox pops, the bar talk, the social moments that make up such an event, all of which will say more about those who choose to adopt whole-heartedly such a lifestyle than the few select individuals here.
In the end, however, the focus is ostensibly the language, not the people, even though the documentary makes clear that they are the ones evolving the language beyond the confines of Paramount’s venerable franchise. As such, the interviews that are the most interesting are with Marc Okrand, the linguist who worked for the late Harve Bennett at Paramount when he produced Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, and now treated as the founding father of the language by those who like to do more than just cos-play Klingons; with Dr. Lawrence M. Schoen, an academic linguist who is the director of the Klingon Language Institute, who explains very reasonably why any linguist would take a professional interest in an artificial language evolving out of pop culture; and with Dr. d’Armond Speers, who spoke to his son Alec from the time he was born only in Klingon, to see how he would react and grow.
Of the “Klingons” interviewed, one is a paintball enthusiast and member of the U.S. military, a non-trekkie who finds in Klingons an honour-based warrior culture that represents his own beliefs; another is a musician who has composed the standout hit in the Terran-based Klingon world, the “Klingon Anthem”. This is Captain Krankor, aka Rich Yampell, who produces one of the film’s biggest laughs when he explains how he is originally Jewish! Also interviewed is Trek’s Michael Dorn, aka Lieutenant Commander Worf, who has much sensible stuff to say, including how and why he turned down an invite to a Klingon summer camp – another big laugh.
A decent enough companion piece to the Trekkies films, this lacks sufficient context to do much more for the casual viewer than describe a phenomenon without real explanation or insight. More from the linguists would have helped, but also some comment from those who investigate the psychology of fans and fandom; Dr. Matthew Hills over at Cardiff University has moved that particular field of study along considerably, and would have been a useful addition to the interviewee list, or his closest American equivalent. Without this, too many of the individuals interviewed appear to be presented for ridicule (by, amongst other things, the soundtrack and editing choices made with their interviews), rather than utilised as examples of why this phenomenon has spread as far as it has currently. The interview with Alec Speers suggests, however, that it won’t last much beyond the current generations of Trek fans – his big interest is in Pokemon!
Earthlings: Ugly Bags Of Mostly Water is currently only screening at festivals.