Ugly Bags of Mostly Water

Starring: Michael Dorn, Marc Okrand, Dr Lawrence Schoen and Rich Yampell
Swipe Films
RRP: 12.99
Certificate: Not certified
Available 23 October 2006

In 1979, the linguist, Marc Okrand, began to develop the Vulcan language for the feature-length film
Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn. And so, the first language ever to emerge from outer space was born. For the next Trek movie, The Search for Spock, Okrand was brought on board to develop the Klingon language. Since then the Klingon language has become an obsession for...

I can't think of a more kiss of death concept than letting Star Trek fans loose with a camera to detail the depths of their devotion to this show, personally speaking; I thought that the Trekkies (1994) documentary did little service to fandom, portraying them as a bunch of overly obsessive people, with poor social skills who were unlikely to have a girlfriend. So, it was with some trepidation that I approached Earthlings: Ugly Bags of Mostly Water. I'll cut straight to the chase and recommend this documentary as an interesting and insightful example of what can be done within the confines of the genre and subject matter. The title is a bit misleading as the documentary examines a group's fascination with the Klingon language and their desire to see it as dynamic and evolving, the title itself, refers to the way that in the fictional world of Star Trek Terrans are referred to by the Klingons. Now, I agree that as a premise this sounds terrible and in the wrong hands I'm sure it would have been, however what you have here is a collection of intelligent and erudite people who just happen to have a rather odd hobby.

The film, runs at a little over seventy minutes, is shot mostly on a digital camera in black and white adding a level of gravitas to the proceedings and more than ably directed by Alexandre O. Philippe. There are interviews and snippets woven into an overall tapestry of fun and joy which reflect these people's fascination and enduring interest in the Klingon language. Contributions come from a number of sources, including Marc Okrand, who worked on the second and third Star Trek films as a linguist, and can rightly claim to be the father of the language.

Dr Lawrence Schoen - another real linguist - appears, as well he may, as he is the founder of The Klingon Language Institute, which runs language courses and set exams. If you think that that's odd, I remember a few years back reading a story of a student at either Southampton or Portsmouth University who was able to complete their language course using Klingon as it was accepted as complex enough to be considered a real language.

There is a good set of special features on the disc. As well as the theatrical trailer, you get full length directors commentary which gives some good insights into both the characters and the abstract style of the film. There is an interview with the director, which runs at a little over twelve minutes, and the full extended interview with Michael Dorn, which runs at a little over forty-one minutes. For an interview with an actor this is a very generous slice of Dorn for your money. The only problem with the extras is that there is no return to main menu option, which is not the fault of the film makers but is extremely annoying as you have to turn the whole thing off or get involved in a lot of fiddling to get back to the main menu. On the main menu is an option to view the menu in Klingon, which turned out to be an oddity, initially I though that the whole thing would have Klingon subtitles but alas no, just the menu selection, shame really.

Given how the film was shot, the picture is very clear and benefits greatly from a great sense of style. Audio is stereo but as the film contains mostly talking heads, this is not really a problem.

From the opening shot of one of the characters transforming himself into a Klingon - believe me it's a lot more effective than my description of it - you know you're looking at a quality product. This sort of thing was unlikely to find a potentially harsher critic as generally fans who are so obsessive tend to give science fiction, in general, a bad name and I always get the desire to smack them with a baseball bat. But if I ever have to prove that real people like science fiction I'm going to stick this on.

So relax and spend a little time enjoying their obsession as much as they obviously do.

Charles Packer

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