TL;DR – A documentary about one of my favourite shows of all time, please and thank-you
Score – 4.5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid and end-credit scene that you need to stay for
I have made many allusions in the past to just how much I love Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and to this day it is still my favourite installation in the Star Trek franchise. So when I heard that there was going to be a documentary made about it, I was excited, when it was coming out in Australian cinemas I was going to be there, and then that one weekend my life fell apart. Well, things are mostly better now, as long as I don’t read the news and stay home, which was the perfect time to catch up with something I missed and always wanted to watch.
So to set the scene, back in the 1990s the producers behind the very popular Star Trek series decided to do something a little different, instead of being in a ship that warps away at the end of each episode, the set the show on a space station. A station that is permanently positioned in the newly independent Bajor system, abandoned by the Cardassians after decades of ruin. It was an ambitious show, it was a controversial show, and it was and is still my favourite.
Right from the start, this is an interesting documentary because it is doing many different things throughout the run time. It is a look back at the show, it is a way for the cast and crew to let their voices be heard, and also a look at what it could be. The host for the documentary as well as the director and one of the main forces behind its creation is Ira Steven Behr. He was a writer and producer and then what we would call a showrunner in modern parlance. Because of his close involvement with the show, he can talk to and explore the show with the cast and crew on a more intimate level. However, when you get this scenario it can turn into a vanity piece where you only focus on the successes. I was glad to see the film tackle their mistakes including a point where I was going “you can’t really get a tick for that” and then they stopped and acknowledged that very point.
The narrative framing of the documentary and the bookend is both a wonderful performance from Max Grodénchik (Rom) and also a little word of wisdom from Andrew Robinson (Garek). This means that right from the start you are brought back in time to what might have been a simpler time in some respects. But it also starts on a little bit of anger to frame everything, comments from back in the day about how it couldn’t be Star Trek because it was stuck in one place, that it was too politically correct, it is just a soap opera, and that it was an affront to fans. These are all fairly common retorts these days and get trotted out with each new series with almost clockwork precision. However, when I was a kid watching it, I had no idea that this was going on, or what it was doing to the cast.
I was also completely unaware of just how important the show was in the landscape of Science Fiction and narrative in general. Along with Babylon 5 that was out at the same time (and before you ask, this is the one thing they don’t talk about), Deep Space was a forerunner in the prestige serialised TV that we all enjoy today. It also upped the representation on so many fronts, the women on screen (with an appropriate Meredith Brooks montage) and also for African Americans. When I was a kid, I had no idea of the significance behind Far Beyond the Stars beyond this weird meta episode where everyone was played by the cast out of their alien makeup.
However, there were a lot of struggles for the show, it took three years for Avery Brooks (Sisko) and the producers to get Sisko to where he needed to be, first a captain, and second as someone comfortable with his appearance on the show. There were the constant pressures of “don’t serialise” but that was where the show was at its best, and then there were these moments like when Michael Dorn (Worf) got added to the cast that smashed everything down and they had to rebuild it all again. One really strong point of this is why Terry Farrell (Dax) didn’t sign up for the Seventh season, something that has been talked about in the last few years. It was good that the show acknowledged this, but also it did try to hedge its bets and this was the one area where it did fall down a bit.
One area where they shifted this away from the normal documentary is when they got some of the key writers in a room (Ira Steven Behr, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Hans Beimler, René Echevarria & Ronald D. Moore) and looked at what they would do if they were asked to put together the first episode of a mythical Season Eight. For me, this might have been the most interesting part of it because I didn’t like the story, but I was also instantly compelled by it and felt more than a little sad when it got to the end and I realised it would never get made.
One of the key strengths of the documentary was just how many of the cast they got to be a part of it. It shows just what an amazing show that you could have what could have been throwaway characters become so memorable. However, it has also been a hard year for the show and since it aired we have lost Aron Eisenberg (Nog) and Rene Auberjonois (Odo) which made those moments hurt so much more. This gave the film moments of real joy, and then also moments of great sadness. But I am glad we got a chance to talk about The Siege of AR-558 and It’s Only a Paper Moon and hear Rene talk about his legacy even if it hurt.
In the end, do we recommend What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine? Yes, of course, we do. If you are a fan of the show, or Star Trek, or Science Fiction, or hey just art of film and television in general, you’ll get a real kick out of this. If nothing else, it has reminded me that I own all of DS9, and you know what, now is a perfect time to revisit it all.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Directed by – Ira Steven Behr & David Zappone
Music by – Dennis McCarthy, Kevin Kiner & Max Grodénchik
Cinematography by – Boa Simon & Kevin Layne
Edited by – Luke Snailham & Joseph Kornbrodt
Production/Distribution Companies – Shout Studios, Tuxedo Productions, 455 Films
Featuring – Max Grodénchik, Andrew Robinson, Armin Shimerman, Nana Visitor, Colm Meaney, Jeffrey Combs, Aron Eisenberg, Rene Auberjonois, Ira Steven Behr, Alexander Siddig, Casey Biggs, Rick Berman, Kerry McCluggage, Terry Farrell, Junie Lowry-Johnson, Ron Surma, Ian Spelling, Terry J. Erdmann, Jonathan West, David Carson, Marc Bernardin, Penny Johnson Jerald, Avery Brooks, BC Cameron, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Hans Beimler, René Echevarria, Ronald D. Moore, Herman Zimmerman, Denise Okuda, Doug Drexler, Michael Okuda, Dan Curry, David Livingston, Chase Masterson, Lou Race, Michael Dorn, Wallace Shawn, Marc Alaimo, René Auberjonois, Ben Robinson, Michael Piller, John Putman, James Darren, Bill Mumy, Dennis Madalone, Bob O’Reilly, J.G. Hertzler, Cirroc Lofton, Felecia Bell Rutkowski, Steve Oster, Nicole de Boer, Hana Hatae, Larry Nemecek,
Rating – Australia: PG; Canada: PG; Germany: 6; New Zealand: PG; United Kingdom: U; United States: PG