Thursday, 27 June 2019

Respect Deserved: What We Left Behind


Absolute tosh, waste of time and don't bother.

Three statements that you are guaranteed NEVER to hear in relation to the recently released What We Left Behind documentary looking back at the jewel in the Star Trek crown, Deep Space Nine.

Assisted with funding through IndieGoGo, this two hour spectacle is, frankly, too damned short but what it does with those 120 minutes is worth every second.

Tracing the show's origins back to the early 1990's, What We Left Behind sees series producer Ira Steven Behr chatting to cast and crew involved with the seven year arc but not just in a talking head style which is actually referred to during the Q&A session following the main feature.

There's a huge sense of the family of the show from the off with everyone involved clearly passionate about the work that they did and the risks the show took once it stepped past its first couple of unsteady seasons. In regard to the family, the doc also passes its respects on for those members of that family who sadly could not be part of the reunion.

Behr leads the viewer through the whole story of Deep Space Nine with a few quirky, asides here and there mixed with the reminiscences of those involved. There's definitely a lot of facets to the story not just in how the cast feel that they were treated onscreen or off but also how the show was viewed by Paramount and, in some hilarious respects, by the audience on the other side of the TV screen. At times though it does swing the other way; there are anger and tears and this only goes further to show how impactful Deep Space Nine was then and still is right now to those involved.

What We Left Behind does have its fair share of anecdotes and light-hearted angles but Behr always brings it back to how unique the show was (and still is) as part of the ongoing Star Trek franchise and how it sat within the TV landscape in the mid to late 1990's. Certainly you will come away with a different perspective on the show given how the world and opinions have changed 26 years after it premiered because it might not be "right" for the current climate. Note on this point how this discussion focuses particularly around Kira.

Aside from the round tables and one to ones with Behr, there are another two significant elements to the documentary. The first of these is the writers room one day session to map out a theoretical opening episode for season eight set 20 years on from the series finale. Seeing Rene Echevarria, Ron D Moore, Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Hans Beimler reunited with Behr for this one off event and the result is fascinating to say the least.

Utilising animation we get to see the five acts of the show come together on the screen reuniting classic Deep Space Nine characters in a clever and unpredictable way that would have audiences flocking back to the series. The five writers create an engrossing story that most, if not all, series fans would beg to see one more time. What this does manage to cover are some of the unanswered questions from 1999's final episode plus how important Bajor and their religion was to the show.

The third piece to this puzzle comes in the shape of the HD footage meticulously constructed. Originally planned to be just five minutes, it eventually ran to a total of 20 minutes including a glorious battle sequence from Sacrifice of Angels as Defiant  punches through the Dominion lines and many other shots from the length of the series. The comparison to the original televised version is jaw-dropping. The detail, fluidity and spectacle on the big screen does it more than justice and 100% justifies the time taken to build this element into the final film. The Q&A session tagged on to the end of the docu-movie revealing a lot more of how and why this footage came to be as well as insight into the concept and evolution of the What We Left Behind story.

Where this succeeds for me is that it feels fresh, new and full of life even 20 years after the show ended. The cast and crew realise what they owe to the show and what the show owes to popular culture. It's amazing to see the positivity that flows through each frame and the evident joy that talking about Deep Space Nine brings to every single one of the people interviewed as well as the fan comments that are sprinkled in.

The only downside is the run time - there's not enough of it although the hints within the documentary are that the DVD/Blu-Ray releases will receive a ton of additional special features that will flesh out the story even further. It's incredible to think about the documentary afterwards and realise that a lot of the run time - and I emphasise the - a lot - spotlights the characters rather than the plot meaning that there is a lot left out including any mention of Lwaxana Troi, The Next Generation or Voyager crossovers outside of the pilot, the older Klingons, the Maquis, the Mirror Universe and a whole ton more. 

In retrospect, only a few episodes are given even the slightest of nods - Emissary, Far Beyond the Stars and Past Tense being the most prominent with the whole story generally having to limit itself to the major events of Deep Space Nine and the things it was influenced by and influenced itself. Honestly, the two hours run time does not do the subject justice but yet on the flip side this is likely to be the only one of its kind that will ever discuss the show in this manner.

Think about it for a second, The Original Series received a special when it hit 25 years, The Next Generation had a behind the scenes show tacked on the end when it finished in 1994 but here we have a true gem, a one off documentary that explores the journey (or actually the lack of mobility) which made this such a unique show - the arcs, the characters, the recurring roles, the Defiant, an anti-Federation, the hits, the misses and the almost weres; this has as much as possible packed in with something for new fans discovering it through Netflix and weekend binge-watches to established fans who have been with The Sisko and the crew since the beginning.

Deep Space Nine was the first Star Trek series I truly followed step by step from its conception to pilot and right the way through to the final episode. I stuck with it through the Move Along Homes and the If Wishes Were Horses first season stories, I pricked my ears up when the mentions of the Dominion started to appear in season two and by the time it began to fully serialise in seasons three through seven I was hooked more than ever before.

This documentary is for me, the fans of Deep Space Nine and those of us who hold it dear. A true work of love dedicated to a loyal fanbase within a fanbase and even apologetic at times for not quite getting to everything however I suspect that might be rectified with bonus material on other formats coming soon.

For the "bastard child" of the Star Trek universe to receive this treatment is incredible and almost beyond words and you will be glued from the first bars of the intro through to the last fade out of the Q&A roundtable. To have been able to experience it on the big screen was an epic moment and to see polished sequences like never before was a rare chance. If this ever gets a second screening in the UK I urge you to fill the petrol tank, buy a train ticket or book a taxi to see it and if you don't Garak will find you....

What were your thoughts on What We Left Behind? Where did you see it? What key things are you looking to see in the special features if/when the DVD is released?

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