Earthlings: Ugly Bags Of Mostly Water Review
If you take anything anyway from the writings of Richard Dawkins - other than that he's often as much of a fundamentalist loon as the religious types he despises - or Bill Bryson's A Short History Of Nearly Everything, it's that life wants to be. Regardless of where it is, when it was or how it could be, life will exist. We could almost say the same of language, or of communication in general. Somehow, regardless of how difficult it may be to find a common tongue, life, be it human or otherwise, will find a means to make its thoughts known. Be that Latin, Manx, Llanito or the whistling language of Silbo Gomero in La Gomera, language finds reason to be.
And yet, whilst a language that evolved to serve a practical purpose is welcomed into the school of human thought, Klingon is viewed with suspicion. One could say that much of this has to do with a language that has been constructed, not out of any sense of communal advancement such as making a language easier to learn, but of an apparent demand by Star Trek fans to speak something of the languages therein. Yet one doesn't come away from a viewing of Earthlings with anything like that feeling, rather that Klingon is a refuge for those who are somewhat disconnected from society. Actually, that's simply a polite way of saying nerd or geek but where a slight interest in Dungeons & Dragons, the music of Yes or Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels might be a little bit charming, there's never a moment that passes in Earthlings in which one doesn't wish to be able to reach in through the television and give these fools a good old shake. The speaking of Klingon isn't so much an intellectual working out but something to hide their dysfunction behind, rather like how the patrons of Games Workshop employ greasy hair, mumbling and body odour.
The one moment of intended comedy in Earthlings is in the filmmaker's interviewing of Michael Dorn, who, as the only one who's portrayed a Klingon onscreen, speaks much sense in his decision to turn down an invitation to a qep'a', or Klingon conference. One can imagine there would be many who'd have wanted to rub his ridges that day but, wisely, he stayed away, showing up here fumbling for a diplomatic reason but, by the terror in his eyes, revealing that he considered the experience to be on a par with being guest of honour at a summer barbecue amongst a tribe of cannibals.
People like Rich Yampell, who opens this documentary in his Klingon outfit - or battledress as he'd doubtless prefer to describe it - saying that there are days on which he takes an oath to speak only Klingon. His first words in the film describe his attitude to dining out when away from the Klingon qep'a'. "When we get the group together, we go out to a restaurant and we wanna speak Klingon. And when the waitress comes over and wants to take an order, we don't want to stop speaking Klingon and talk in English. So we'll talk in Klingon to the waitress! Or someone else at the table will condescend to translate back into English for the waitress!"
Conde-fucking-scend? How about talking to the waitress in the language that you share with her and not having her standing there on minimum-wage time whilst you and your friends giggle like schoolgirls whilst talking in a made-up language? How about some simple human decency not to arse about in front of someone who's just doing a job, probably to hold onto a home, to get her kids through school and trying to bring them up not to sit in a restaurant talking Klingon to someone they think is beneath them. Condescend? Fuck off...
Another interviewee - by this stage, I'd largely given up on trying to remember names but he gives it much Zen whilst talking paint ball - describes being criticised by his co-workers for not saying, "Good morning!" to them. Klingon, apparently, not being much of a race as regards social niceties, at least, as is explained here, not according to the cassette tape Power Klingon, "A Klingon doesn't waste his time on small talk!" Nor does an arsehole and I'm struggling at this moment to discern any difference between the two. One talks shit and the other...but there is one more, whose personality appears so limp as to require crutches, who describes being let down by an ex-girlfriend. In spite of being brought to a great many Klingon conference - lucky her! - she eventually broke up with him. "I was expecting honesty. I was giving all these Klingon ideals of honour and family...I was being the best Klingon I could! And, well, she turned out to be a bloody Romulan!" He actually describes her as a Romulan. Good lord above...I almost wept at that point, not for joy but for how pitiful things are. Life may, above all else, want to be but if millions of years of evolution has come to this, has it all been worth it?
Some years ago, Louis Theroux made a documentary feature about the swinging scene in North America, which saw him interview a woman who, it was first suggested, was experienced therein. By the end of the film, she had completely rejected swinging, implying that what she had been looking for was happiness and that in spite of thinking that she would find it by fucking multiple partners in a darkened room, she concluded that she was mistaken. I suspect many of the people in this documentary will come to the same conclusion one day, that this need to express themselves in Klingon isn't much more than a need to be different, to exclude themselves somewhat. Like Rich Yampell talking in Klingon to waitresses, to the female interviewee who refuses to speak in anything but Klingon or the man who raised his son to speak Klingon, there's less the intellectual challenge of learning a language than the need to join a somewhat exclusive club. One's conclusion is that they don't like people very much, which is fair given that none of them appear to be very likeable.
I grant you that this may well have come from a batch of review discs but the omens were not good when it came with a sleeve that looked to have been prepared on an inkjet printer. Playing the DVD, it is not, as has been described on various online stores, in an aspect ratio of 4:3 but is non-anamorphic 2.35:1 and looks dreadful. Appearing to have been filmed through gauze and then processed to make it look slightly solarised, the effect is closer to rotoscoping than clear, sharp filmmaking. The director, Alexandre Philippe, describes it as abstract but it looks dreadful, with his style of interviewing - his subjects filmed whilst reflected in a television screen - and his framing of the cast looking like the efforts of an A-Level Media Studies student.
The DVD itself isn't much better, limping along between 2-4Mbit/s and, other than the non-anamorphic presentation, comes with a shocking amount of fuzz and noise in the picture. The soundtrack is only a little better but is clear where the picture is not and with some obvious stereo separation where the film tends towards a blurry whole. As a final note, there are no subtitles on this release.
Commentary: Much, much more watchable when viewed with this commentary track switched on, this features director Alexandre Philippe talking about the background to the film, from the moment he picked up Hamlet as translated into Klingon - a Star Trek in-joke - to the filming of the various interviews conducted in hotels during the qep'a'. Philippe, for all the problems with his picture, is fairly engaging and in removing all of the dysfunctional chatter of his cast, does a much better job in convincing an audience about the merits of Klingon.
Director Interview (12m47s): Answering such questions as What Was Your Favourite Interview? and Was There An Interview That You Wish You Could Have Included But Had To Cut?, this feature sees director Alexandre Philippe talking about the cast of his film, the making of it and how well it went. There is a good deal of repetition with the commentary but given how brief this interview is, that's only to be expected.
Extended Michael Dorn Interview (41m33s): With none of the effects of the main feature, this simply presents the Star Trek actor to camera and lets him get on with talking about his life, his time in Star Trek and the fans of the show. Unfortunately for anyone coming to this with an interest in Klingon, Dorn has no interest in the language - he looks uncomfortable at the thought of someone devoting their entire life to it - but is happy to talk Star Trek, albeit with the sense of being keen to move on.
You can also switch the menus to Klingon if you so require. Finally, there is also a Trailer (2m10s).
To be fair, Earthlings does try to find a science to all of this, interviewing the creator of the language, Marc Okrand, and Dr. d'Armond Speers, who raised his son, from the moment he was born, to speak Klingon. However, much as Alexandre Philippe gives over much time to them, the impression that one leaves Earthlings with is of a people who, were there actually Klingons and were they to land here, are so freaky and sickly-looking as to be amongst the first to feel the effect of Klingon phaser fire. Like those first casualties in Independence Day, who hold up signs welcoming ET without realising that these aliens are not the friendly kind, they'd provide a moment to marvel at but wouldn't, in the evolutionary progress of this race, be missed.