TEENSY-WEENSY SPOILERS (hardly noticeable)
“A warm blanket of love”??? Who writes this crap? Well, I do…and frankly, that’s what it felt like to me Monday night as I sat in a Los Angeles movie theater watching a special screening of WHAT WE LEFT BEHIND with 200 other Trekkers. It was love, pure and simple…from IRA BEHR and the cast and crew of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to their fans and also to each other.
Most of you know the story of how an Indiegogo campaign in early 2017 with what seemed like an ambitious budget of $150K exploded into $650K in donations from fans of DS9. This would fund the documentary that Paramount and (now) CBS never made and were never going to make. All their effort went into remastering TOS and TNG. But DS9 was never seen by the studios as reaching the level of significance and commercial viability as the former two Trek series.
So if you want something done right…
I have to admit it: Deep Space Nine is my favorite of all the Star Trek TV series. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy the others. I could watch “The Doomsday Machine” and “The Inner Light” over and over again. (“Spock’s Brain” and “A Fistful of Datas”…not so much.) And even DS9 had its share of clunker episodes. But overall, for me, the series that I feel captures Star Trek the most of all of them, the series that I’d take with me if I were ever stranded on a deserted island…that would be DS9.
This documentary was for ME. And if you’re like me, then it was made for YOU, too. If you never “got” Deep Space Nine or preferred all or most of the other series more, then this documentary is probably not for you…and that’s fine. The beauty of Star Trek is IDIC, and we’re all entitled to an opinion.
But if you are a “Niner” like me, here’s why I enjoyed this documentary so much…
BUILT ON A FOUNDATION OF LOVE
I already talked about the love. It’s there in almost every interview from everyone who worked on the show. These people obviously loved each other deeply. Both in group and individual interviews, they were real people sharing their closeness and appreciation for each other and for this amazing and unforgettable experience they all shared together.
Granted, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Many cast members read aloud “hate mail” that Ira Behr had kept over the years saying stuff about DS9 that was so nasty that it made many of the social media criticisms of Star Trek: Discovery sound like gushing fan mail!
And to their credit, the documentary covered some of the tough subjects along the way: always being seen as Star Trek‘s “middle child” and not measuring up, being strong-armed by the studio executives to bring on a “popular” TNG character in season four to help ratings, and Terry Farrell’s controversial departure at the end of the sixth season. And of these ugly points weren’t glossed over, but neither were they dwelled upon. They were just part of the cornucopia of memories all of these people were sharing with us and each other.
CEMENTED TOGETHER BY LAUGHTER
Ira Behr is a funny guy, but then again, so are they all (well, most of the them!). From the opening song “I Left My Quark and Captain Sisko” performed by Rat Packers Armin Shimerman, Casey Biggs, Jeffrey Combs, and Max Grodenchik, to the closing credits where Nana Visitor is bitching at Ira about everything he left out of the documentary, this is two hours of good-natured humor. It’s not a guffaw-a-second comedy looking for a laugh track, but man, it is hilarious in places…and often purposefully so.
One of the ongoing gags is a little breaking of the “fourth wall.” Now, that might sound odd, as breaking the fourth wall usually means going out of character to address the audience directly, and this is a documentary where everybody is out of character and addressing the audience directly! But in a series of “interruptions,” the documentary stops in places for phone calls, cut-a-ways to the editing bay, and a host of other moments where the documentary acknowledges that it is indeed a documentary and makes the most of the format.
In many ways, it’s a lot like DS9 itself. That show broke all of the “rules” of Star Trek (at the time): must have a starship, no ongoing serialized storylines, no three-part episodes, no dark characters in the main cast, no character conflicts, minimal recurring guest stars, no wars(!!!!), only one main bad guy at a time (not three: Founders/Vorta/Jem’Hadar), the list goes on. This documentary breaks the rules, too…and I love them for it!
It took nearly a whole extra year and many tens of thousands of additional crowd-funded dollars to get all 20 minutes of the DS9 footage remastered into high definition. But it was worth every second of waiting and every penny they spent. The clips looked gorgeous, and since this is likely the closest DS9 will ever come to getting remastered like TOS and TNG were, I’m glad they decided to do the whole 20 minutes and not just 5 minutes, leaving the other 15 minutes in standard definition.
But by far, the visual highlight of the entire documentary—a sequence I will like watch over and over again once I get my hands on the DVD—is the climactic 3-minute battle from “Sacrifice of Angels” where the Defiant leads the Federation and Klingon fleets through a blockade of Cardassians and Jem’Hadar defending the occupied Terok Nor space station.
The new CGI sequence was supervised by one of my oldest friends (going on nearly 40 years!), Adam Mojo Lebowitz, who worked on the original CGI sequences back in the 1990s when he was part of Foundation Imaging in Valencia, CA. I asked Mojo what went into redoing all of these visual effects shots…
I restored the original 1995 assets, recomposed them for widescreen, used new models for almost everything, re-lit the shots from the ground up, re-rendered everything in HD, and supervised the final compositing. It was fun work! And it looked amazing on the big screen…far better than I expected.
BRILLIANTLY ORGANIZED AND EDITED
The biggest challenge in creating a massive 2-hour documentary like this is that it’s only a tiny little 2-hour documentary! In other words, while two hours might seem like a lot of time, DS9 ran for seven seasons and 176 episodes. How do you possibly cover everything and everyone? Think about it.
Do you have one segment about Sisko, one about Kira, one about Odo, etc.? That’s a lot of segments right there because DS9 featured so many recurring characters. Or do you talk about what made the series unique? Do you discuss the challenges, the triumphs, the controversies? What about the alien races like the Ferengi and Bajorans and Cardassians and Founders and Vorta and Jem’Hadar? Do you discuss the best, most cutting edge episodes and topics? What about the behind-the-scenes crew who designed and built the sets and wrote the episodes?
Well, obviously you have to talk about ALL of that! But it’s the “how” that truly impressed me. The editing and organizing of all of this footage, all of these spotlights, making sure everyone got some time in front of the camera without slowing the pacing or letting things get monotonous or boring…well, my hat is off to this documentary team on fantastic editing!
And finally, there’s the pièce de résistance: the DS9 writers get back together to brainstorm a season eight! More specifically, they break down what would be the first episode of an eighth season of DS9 if done today…20 years later with the actors all having aged. Is Sisko back? Is Nog still in Starfleet? Is Kira still running the space station? Are Bashir and Ezri still a couple? What is Jake doing? What is Quark doing? Is Molly O’Brien all grown up? And what needs to happen in this episode to get us interested all over again?
Let me tell you, people, what these guys managed to do in just a few hours (condensed for the documentary) BLEW ME AWAY!!! And that was even allowing for the fact that the ideas were only barely fleshed out and not yet refined. But suddenly, I wanted to win the lottery and sink every penny into making this episode as a fan film with all of the actors, paying CBS a $50 million legal judgement, and just posting the finished product to the Internet for fans to enjoy and CBS to learn from. THIS was 100% Star Trek—game, set, match.
DEEP SPACE NINE WAS A GIFT TO ALL OF US
Whether you liked the show or not, DS9 was a gift to Star Trek fans everywhere. While TOS and TNG and Voyager and Enterprise were all letting fans look outward into the final frontier, Deep Space Nine gave us a chance to look inward. We got to examine how cultures both inside and outside the Federation come together and learn to coexist despite the challenge of their differences. Or maybe they don’t learn.
We got to examine how Starfleet works close-up, and also how the Klingons, Ferengi, Cardassians, Bajorians, Trill, and numerous other races govern themselves. We got to see a black man in command and being a single father. We got to see other families like the O’Briens and Quark/Rom/Nog/Moogie/Leeta and their dynamics. We got to see Federation terrorists (the Maquis) as the heroes sometimes turned into villains. But then we saw worse villains like the Obsidian Order and Section 31 and asked ourselves: when do the ends no longer justify the means? And Sisko kinda answered us. And heck, we all got to fall in love with a crooning hologram, for goodness sake!
I could go on and on, but it’s getting late (I’m writing this after midnight), and I think you get the point. I’ll end by repeating something I overheard while leaving the theater…
“Well, now I have to clear my next few weekends to binge-watch this show all over again!”
I’ll be doing that, too, with my son…soon enough. Right now, we’re midway through season three of TNG. But I can’t wait until we reach DS9. Of all of the various Star Trek series, that is the one (telling the story of, among other characters, a man and his son) that I am most looking forward to sharing with MY son.
And when we’re finally done with DS9, Jayden and I will watch this documentary together.