Star Trek: The Menagerie

Tonight was a night not just for classic Star Trek, but for classic fans. We bought our tickets and we piled into 300 theaters around the country this Tuesday and Thursday for special, sold-out presentations of a classic, original series Star Trek episode. Star Trek: The Menagerie beamed directly into movie theaters, and Trekkies showed up in force.

As I slid into my seat juggling a box of candy and a coke icey, it was hard not to notice that most of my fellow Trekkies were of the grey-haired variety. This was an event for those who were there in the beginning. A long forgotten, slumbering giant faction of fandom. The original fandom that took a little TV show and kept it alive with a letter writing campaign, launched it into movies by sheer force of fan will, and turned it into an international icon. They were there tonight, most of them over 50, many of them there with their kids, and all of them wishing for a better time when Star Trek was still Star Trek.

The evening opened with an on screen introduction by Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry’s son, and we were treated to a brief look at a few behind the scenes features, all of which will be on the upcoming HD-DVD release of Trek. Ok, it was basically a commercial, but a good commercial, especially when giving us the chance to see vintage Trek scenes remastered and thrown up there on a big screen. For once, these were commercials an audience could love and they served as the perfect setup for the warp-speed Trek double dose to follow.

The only two part episode in the history of the original Star Trek series, The Menagerie combines elements of the show’s unaired pilot “The Cage” with footage involving a mutiny by Spock designed to save his pre-Captain Kirk commander from a life spent in the future equivalent of an iron lung. It’s a solid Trek episode, but it was obviously chosen for theatrical re-release more because of its length than because of any special quality contained in this particular episode.

Not that it mattered. Newly remastered with fresh effects and redone to be re-released in HD DVD this month, classic Trek has never looked better. I’ve been watching the remastered episodes as they’ve aired on television, and loved every minute of them. What was surprising is that this 1966 vintage show looked even more brilliant up on screen. The colors were vibrant, the presentation was spot on. Earlier this week I watched Battlestar Galactica’s Razor projected in a movie theater, and though it’s a modern show, it looked drab when projected on a format larger than the one for which it was intended. Not so with Star Trek. If only there were more two-hour episodes to repeat this with, it’s as if the bright look of classic Trek were born for the cinema.

But I’m not here to review a decades old television show, instead I want to talk about an event of the type I think audiences would love to see more often. If you missed Menagerie, you missed out on a great theater night packed with old school fans smiling and laughing the way they haven’t in decades. Seeing so many silver-haired Trek fans gathered together like this, it’s hard not to think of the vast army of aged fandom that Hollywood seems to be overlooking. A few weeks ago I wrote an appeal to JJ Abrams, director of the new, upcoming Trek film, asking for him to take these fans into consideration. To date, we don’t know if he’s listening, but if he’d been there with us tonight… then perhaps he’d see why maybe marketing to the cool kids just doesn’t matter.

My only real complaint here is that there’s more potential in these specialty screenings than is being mined by distributors like FathomEvents. Sure, they managed to pack a single theater screen in the middle of the week, a time when it probably would have otherwise been nearly empty. And they did it with almost no advertising. But why not make more out of it? We had a theater loaded with fans ready to have fun, and all they gave us were a few sneak peeks at upcoming Star Trek DVDs, and then straight into the episode. I’m not complaining, that alone was great, but why not make more out of it? Why not make this a real event? Theater owners talk a lot about the trouble they’re having getting audiences, well why not put forward some effort? What about a giveaway? Commemorative prizes? Klingons in costume? Why not make this seem like it’s really something? We’re paying more for the tickets ($12.50 for Menagerie), why not give us more with them?

Whether or not they gave us complimentary Spock ears or commemorative Star Trek communicator badges, Menagerie was fun beyond all expectations. It was a chance to remember back to a simpler time, when Sci Fi had something to say and it did it with more than just whiz bang effects. Classic film and television can work on modern theater screens and classic fans are out there, ready and waiting to show up for it. If they’re smart, theater owners will find ways to do more and make more out of events like this in the future.