Star Trek has never been a popular show in France, only gaining some popularity there after the recent JJ Abrams reboot films. Teleportation 2161 is a new French 10-part documentary series just translated into English, Spanish, and German that takes a look back at the 50-year-old franchise and what it means to the French in a time when it’s still uncool to be a Trekkie.
Part 8 of 10 of Teleportation 2161
“Teleportation 2161 deals with all new insights about the Star Trek legacy,” series creator Paul-Hervé Berrebi tells TrekMovie.
“We have for example a PhD in Law from the prestigious Sorbonne University in Paris speaking about rules of justice in the Federation (Fabrice Defferrard, author of the book The Law According to Star Trek), an economic journalist Emmanuel Saadia (author of the book Trekonomics exploring Economy in Star Trek), a french Astronaut and veteran of several NASA and ESA missions Jean-François Clervoy. We also met the American expert Larry Nemecek for this shoot, and we met with a company in Los Angeles developing a real mini-holodeck.”
Like many documentaries before it, Teleportation 2161 looks at many aspects of Star Trek, including technology, finance, and justice. But it also sheds some light on how Star Trek is perceived in cultures around Europe.
“I learned a lot from [Paul-Hervé Berrebi] about the Star Trek universe and its importance,” says Teleportation 2161 director Laureline Amanieux. Like many French people, Laureline never considered herself a fan of Star Trek.
“Even if my parents where fans of Star Trek and science-fiction, I am the perfect example of the French one who didn’t give so much importance to the [franchise].”
But meeting with treksperts, watching the films and series, and learning about the Star Trek universe for this documentary, Laureline says she is now “amazed” by the show.
“When the french astronaut Jean-François Clervoy told about his experience in space and how it is related to [Star Trek], or when we filmed in the Survios company in Los Angeles that is creating interactive games in virtual reality that were first named “Project Holodeck”, we can see how the franchise influences our imagination and makes researchers want to take the things they liked so much in the show and turn them into into real inventions. We hope our short documentaries will also give new insights for American fans, with our french jurist Fabrice Defferrard or the author of Trekonomics, a book published in America by the french Manu Saadia.”
With so many Star Trek fans clustered in North America, it’s great to see a European perspective on Star Trek, particularly in places like France, Italy, and Spain where Trek is at its least popular (the show does extremely well in the UK and Germany). What does Star Trek mean to the French and other Europeans? What lessons particularly resonate with the French?
“As far as I know, Europe or at least western Europe can be divided into three major parts regarding the Star Trek phenomenon: UK and Germany; the other non-French speaking countries; and the French speaking countries.” explains Paul-Hervé.
“In Germany and the UK, Star Trek is deeply ingrained in the popular culture, almost in the same respect as in the United States. [The franchise] has legions of fans of all ages, there are regular and successful Star Trek conventions there, books magazines and so on. Moreover all series are regularly broadcast on major [television] channels.
In the other non-French speaking countries, for example Italy and to a lesser extent Spain, Star Trek is known and acknowledged as a pop culture icon. There are active fan clubs, sometimes conventions, but it is not as successful as in the UK or Germany, I think.
Finally there are French speaking countries, and the most symptomatic case is France. To my great despair, my country has always been reluctant to [like] Star Trek. the series was partially broadcasted for the first time in 1982! And we had to wait until 1986 for a massive broadcasting of the entire series (3 times a day!) on the new major channel of the era “La cinq”. At a time when Star Trek TNG was being made in the USA, France only got to know the old series with a 20 year gap [after its original air in the US].”
The success of Star Wars may have been partly responsible for the reawakening of Star Trek so many years after the cancellation of The Original Series. But, in France, where the only Star Trek around in the 1980s was the then outdated TOS reruns from the 1960s, the special effects and sets of Star Wars only served as proof that Star Trek was totally uncool.
“In a post-Star Wars era, the only thing the French audience retained from the original series was nothing but the kitsch of the sets and costumes and the old special effects. In 1988, TF1 (the first french channel) invited Patrick Stewart to presumably launch TNG in France; the channel bought the rights but never showed the series! Since this missed opportunity of a real time broadcasting of TNG in France, Star Trek has been doomed: ridiculously low box office figures for Star Trek movies, and Star Trek V did not even go out! The rare times Star Trek was talked about in newspapers or TV was only to be mocked and so on.
It might seem as though Trek and France were a natural fit. A facet of Trek that Teleportation 2161 explores is its love for the French nation.
“Back in the nineties, where I was just a teenager, confessing that I was a fan was almost like confessing a mental illness. It is really amazing because Star Trek loves France and not only with Captain Jean Luc Picard, there are references to French cities: Paris is the head office of the Federation Presidency, Marseille, which is the town where I live, has a Starfleet training base, French literature and language are often cited (Eddington referring to Sisko as Javert from Les Miserables for example) and finally the core values of the Federation and the ones of France are very close.”
But, there is still hope for a new generation of French trekkies, says Paul-Hervé.
“Fortunately things have improved in France these past few years, at last! The JJ Abrams reboot offered a new face to Star Trek for audiences who did not catch up with TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise, which had found a discreet home on the small French cable channel “Jimmy” between 1996 and 2005. This change of image allowed Star Trek to come out of hiding. Journalists began to realize that Star Trek was not only an old series of the sixties but an entire universe with a wealth of topics rarely seen on television. Today, if the French box office figures of the reboot movies are intermediate at best, they are way way better that the old ones. Star Trek is now regarded as a respected franchise with a growing interest in the French society, a phenomenon that will intensify with the availability of all Star Trek series and Discovery broadcast in real time on French Netflix. Therefore even if it will be difficult, we have every reason to be hopeful for the future of the franchise in France.”
You can watch the English subtitled version of Teleportation 2161 for free on ARTE Creative.