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  • TBC
  • 2005
  • 75 mins

Earthlings: Ugly Bags Of Mostly Water

Earthlings: Ugly Bags Of Mostly Water


Comic documentary about the constructed language of Klingon and its zealous human speakers


"Language is what makes us human." How ironic, then, that Mark Shoulson should voice this opinion while attending the 2003 conference (or "Qep'a'") of the Klingon Language Institute, a group devoted to the promotion, practice and preservation of a language otherwise spoken only by fictive non-humans. It is an irony, however, that is unlikely to have escaped Shoulson himself, an academic linguist.

This is the beauty of Alexandre O. Philippe's documentary feature Earthlings: Ugly Bags of Mostly Water. It may examine the human speakers (not to mention singers) of Klingon in an entertaining, comic light, but unlike Roger Nygard's Trekkies pictures, Philippe's film also challenges our easy prejudices against 'Star Trek' fanatics, treading a fine line between ridicule and respect for its obsessive subjects.

Subjects like linguist Dr D'Armond Speers, who for over a year spoke exclusively in Klingon to his toddler son. Or Roger Cheesbro, who first picked up some Klingon commands from a Trekkie friend while paintballing, who identifies strongly with the Klingons' dislike of small-talk, and who reckons he has the power of invisibility. Or Rich 'Captain Krankor' Yampell, proud that his song 'taHaj wo' (or 'Long Live The Empire'), as well as his improvised Klingon word for 'sandwich', have gained currency in the Klingon-speaking community. Or Michael Oetting, a Pennsylvanian postal worker who believes that achieving a level of proficiency in the language will finally grant him social acceptance. ("At least when I'm with Klingons, I know that I belong").

These folk may at first all seem completely alien, but Earthlings reveals that in their hopes, fears and delusions, they are not really so very different from the rest of us. We are only laughing at ourselves.

Earthlings takes the language itself rather seriously. Linguist Marc Okrand, who first developed Klingon for Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), and has since expanded it for further 'Star Trek' features and television series (as well as publishing 'The Klingon Dictionary'), comments wryly on his god-like status as the creator of a language. Lawrence M Schoen, qualified psycholinguist and director of the Klingon Language Institute, discusses his fascination for the first ever constructed language to have emerged entirely from popular culture, while pointing out that the study of any foreign language (earthbound or otherwise) is a worthwhile intellectual endeavour.

Even Michael Dorn, who plays Lieutenant Commander Worf in television's 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' and 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine', is on hand to assert that, "When I die, that's when the Klingon culture dies." It is the kind of megalomania that could only come from a Klingon - or at least from a minor TV celebrity. Meanwhile Yampell and Speers deconstruct some of the elaborate English-language puns that underlie Klingon vocabulary. "It's all a big joke", observes Speers; and he is right on so many levels.

In a move that is either ingenious or annoying, Philippe uses the conference hotel's lamps and some camera trickery to make his interviewees look as otherworldly as possible, all awash in strange blue light. Yampell's Klingon is dubbed into English, while the amazing Robyn 'Quor' Stewart speaks through a translator, allowing viewers to hear the full guttural harshness of her adopted tongue. It is unfortunate, however, that the documentary ends on a bum note, with Schoen delivering a platitudinous statement on personal transformation that has little real connection to what has preceded.

Why speak Klingon? You might as well ask, "why watch this film?" In either case, the answer is much the same: because it is fun, and because you might just learn something about yourself and the other aliens on Planet Earth.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Marc Okrand, D'Armond Speers, Robyn Stewart, Louise Whitty, Mark Shoulson, Rich Yampell, Lawrence M Schoen, Michael Oetting, Roger Cheesbro, Michael Dorn
  • Director: Alexandre O Philippe
  • Screen Writer: Alexandre O Philippe, Clay Fong
  • Producer: Steve Williams
  • Photographer: Jeff Pointer
  • Composer: Rich Yampell, Mitch Pond, Alpha Wave, Hypnogaja, Lise Settimo, Didier Hagger

In a nutshell

In Philippe's entertaining, not entirely mocking documentary, a Trekkie sub-culture holds a mirror to human society at large.

by Anton Bitel

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