17 October 2010

From Star Trek to Jurassic Park - The Making of a Geek

In 1991, Paramount Pictures went all-out to promote not only the December release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, but the 25th anniversary of the franchise in general.  During this year long celebration was when I became a Trekkie.  (Or do we prefer Trekker?  I lose track.)  I had paid no attention whatsoever to Star Trek before that year.  It didn't take me long to begin exploring not just the reruns and previous five feature films, but the comic books and novels, as well.  Those lured me into Waldenbooks and B. Dalton Booksellers stores on a biweekly basis, and I was fascinated by how many non-fiction works there were dedicated to the history of the series.  Actor memoirs, sure, but books dedicated to the behind-the-scenes aspects of producing the show; even technical manuals about the fictitious science upon which the U.S.S. Enterprise functions all offered eye-opening glimpses into this world.

Then in late November, a two hour TV special called Star Trek: 25th Anniversary Special aired and it changed my life.  Hosted by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, it traced the genesis of the series from Gene Roddenberry's "wagon train to the stars" sales all the way to an extended trailer for The Undiscovered Country, which opened 6 December.  Interviews with principle cast and crew were cut with clips from assorted episodes and the previous five feature films and while there was nothing controversial or mind-blowing to be found, I'd never seen anything quite like it.

On a certain level, it was almost like an infomercial for Star Trek, but without anyone ever saying, "Call now!" every ten minutes.  I was surprised to learn that individual episodes of Star Trek were sold on VHS (stocked and sold at Suncoast Motion Picture Company, located in most of the malls around here), but I never expected 25th Anniversary Special to be given a home video release.  In 1992, though, it happened and I had to own it.  It was the perfect companion piece to my nascent Star Trek VHS library, and from that moment forward I have never felt complete if such a release existed and was absent from my library.

For Christmas that year, I received the Star Wars Trilogy VHS box set.  I had to own From Star Wars to Jedi: The Making of a Saga.  Had to.  I couldn't very well have all six Star Trek movies accompanied by 25th Anniversary Special, and have my Star Wars box set missing its counterpart.  I found I loved From Star Wars to Jedi even more.  Everything from models being filmed to George Lucas sharing insights into how various story elements evolved was right there.  There was even a segment featuring John Williams discussing his iconic scores.  (In fairness, though, it only had three films to cover whereas the Trek special had five films and a cumulative 200 episodes to explore.)

I grew up with people who stopped watching movies the moment the end credits began to roll; I even knew some who would fast forward through the opening credits if something wasn't happening on the screen to interest them.  I was comforted by the existence of the Star Trek and Star Wars specials.  They meant that other people were interested in knowing about what went into actually making a movie, from the creative side of storytelling to the nuts and bolts of set design and costuming.  There's a segment where Mark Hamill is being fitted with his black Jedi outfit and he observes that it's a dark version of his white costume from Star Wars; it's a symbolic thing that might be obvious but at that point in my life there was something profound about realizing that such a level of thought went into the clothes people wore in movies.  I'd never paid any attention to such things; and, anyway, who was there in my world to discuss such things with, if I had paid attention?

The third in this triumvirate of behind-the-scenes specials was released in 1995: The Making of Jurassic Park, which explored everything about that film from Michael Crichton's original novel to the most recent theories in paleontology that guided the film's production design.  What I loved most about this one is that it focused even less on the actors than the other two specials I've mentioned.  No offense to actors, but by 1995 my eyes were wide open to the fact that the stars were just one component of film and I longed for a glimpse into the other, overlooked, departments responsible for creating a movie.  I was pleased to learn that Universal included this special as a bonus feature on their Jurassic Park DVD release.

Which brings us to the modern era of DVD and Blu-ray.  The last decade has seen a home video market dominated by "Two Disc Special Editions" chock full of behind-the-scenes featurettes, commentary tracks and the like.  For the adolescent I was, this is a dream come true.  I know the majority of fans rarely, if ever, watch any of this stuff (except for the occasional blooper reel or alternate ending) but for someone like me it's a godsend.  I'll never be part of the movie industry; I've always had a fantasy that I could probably knock out a screenplay worth filming but I don't really believe it'll ever happen.  These behind-the-scenes specials offer an access to the medium otherwise entirely unavailable to people like me, and while many of them are fairly generic, every now and again one comes along and is genuinely fascinating.

You may also be interested in "VHS Rental Memories."  I would certainly be interested in any thoughts or experiences you might wish to share!