Free Enterprise would be one of the first films that I’d put on a “10 Films: Desert Island List” However, I never get to talk about it with anyone anymore. I used to be able to but as I’ve grown older many of the people who would know the references stopped going to conventions as often. To many people younger than me it can feel like they’re missing the joke or the movie is just another romantic comedy that happens to have Shatner like Miss Congeniality. So it became my personal mission to show it to everyone I can, introduce people to this older media referenced through this film, and now I’m gonna be bringing you a series of articles celebrating this film for its 20th Anniversary.
To prepare myself, I am watching The Wrath of Khan for the millionth time and getting myself in the right mindset for a deep dive into Free Enterprise. (I got a little Space 1999 and Logan’s Run in too for good measure.) I’m mainly a horror writer, but my first love was Science Fiction. I saw Star Trek years before I saw Beetlejuice or Ghostbusters. Star Trek: The Next Generation is the first TV show that I remember seeing, the second one is TOS. TNG premiered when I was one year old, my parents were already Star Trek fans, the kind that went to conventions. They’re your run of the mill geeks. So when TNG premiered you better believe they put me in front of that TV from Day One because that’s where they were and there was no way they were gonna miss NEW Star Trek. Our local station made it even better by showing TOS right after so I got a concurrent education from both Captains as I grew.
By the time I was three years old, if I didn’t hear the theme song before bed, I couldn’t sleep. So my parents had to get a tape recorder and record it so I could sleep on the nights it didn’t air. Before anyone asks, I won’t tell you who my favorite Captain is, but when I see William Shatner, my first thought is, “It’s The Captain,” so take that as you will. I still watch Trek weekly, a different series or movie depending on my mood. I don’t have too many hang-ups about era as long as it’s Trek.
I was and am still a bit obsessed with this movie. I first saw it late at night. It’s the usual story of me watching stuff on HBO when I was supposed to be sleeping because of school the next day. After a few minutes I was really liking it and the movie was about a quarter of the way through so I threw a tape in and recorded the rest of it, I knew what I was seeing was special. I’d heard about it from people at Star Trek cons I’d been going to at the time so of course I had to check it out. I found myself falling in love with it a lot harder than I expected. You know how there’s some movies that you will always go back to and will never get old? This is one of those for me. It reminds me of my brother and the time we had together, we rewatched this a lot. It was in our rotation constantly for many years. We both went out and bought the DVD the day it was released so we could see the newly restored scenes. It was the first time we’d felt represented as a geek in film. There’s not a geek that is othered, just two people with issues who happen to be geeks. You gotta understand, this was before it was completely socially acceptable to be outwardly geeky without worrying about ridicule. I got made fun of in school for loving Star Trek, among other things. Technology and sci-fi weren’t cool, comics weren’t cool. Comic book movies?! Terrible except Batman and Superman.
Some years passed and I would go to this convention in MN called CONvergence. It’s a big all encompassing geek con with a focus towards Sci-Fi but has a little bit of everything. In 2008 they invited Robert Meyer Burnett, the director and co-writer along with Darren Dochtorman who is in the movie doing the best over the top Shatner impression I’ve heard, and yeah, it’s better than Kevin Pollack! He’s an amazing artist himself, check out his IMDB. As I was telling Robert about my love of the movie, he was flabbergasted, “You got all the references?!” You’re young,” my reply was, “My Dad prided himself on raising me right, with the right sci-fi which happened to match up with the references in the movie.” They both signed the DVD I had brought with me, quoting Spock from “Amok Time”. As he was taking the disc out of the sleeve he looked at the back and noticed that some of the stuff on the DVD was not stuff that he had decided to put on there, some extra stuff that stuff which was apparently done without his input by Best Buy. I wish I could remember which parts.
Fast forward a little over a decade and I’m now 33, having a lot of changes in my life. When big changes happen in my life I go back to my comfort movies. So I watched Free Enterprise for the first time in a few years. I’d been homeless and it was sitting in a box, waiting to be unearthed again. I finally found a home, and was able to unpack it. I began to notice so many similarities to my life currently that it was downright eerie. My life has been slowly resembling the movie; working as a writer for a variety of publications, dreaming to make a film, still collecting toys and media. It’s like my subconscious took in the film and began to manifest bits and pieces of it over the years.
The strangest thing was growing into The Logan’s Run references to turning 30. I watched this film for the first time at the age of 13. These two flicks have been some of my favorite and most frequent rewatches over the past 20 years. I watched them both again before writing, neither I’d seen since going past 30. My first thought is that it’s amazing I’m still here. I didn’t have the same reaction to turning 30 as Mark did because I was so glad for my 20s to be over, they were rough. I’m glad to be out of that stage of my life. I can honestly say that being out of my 20s has been the best thing to happen to me, I needed to do a lot of growing and maturing. My second thought is, what are they so scared of? The movie addresses this, but they act so much like life is over after 30. For me, it’s been leagues better. I feel less untethered, and more able to make plans for a future that I can realistically see.
Another sthing is after having been through some horrendous breakups, the Robert and Claire storyline is something I’ve lived through now. It’s such a strange thing, how the emotional beats ring true for a few relationships I’ve had. This movie’s strong point isn’t just Shatner, like Star Trek, it’s about the human condition that makes it so this film endures even if you do miss some of the references.
Here’s a fun little side story that happened during a panel: At that same con I talked about earlier was Andrew Probert who has designed various Enterprises, and the DeLorean from Back to the Future, as well as many other things. The panel had Robert, Darren, Andrew and a couple others talking about I think it was TOS vs TNG and there was some discussion about the recently announced Kelvin timeline “reboot”. While everyone was speculating, I wanted to catch Mr. Probert before the panel was over, so I went out to the car and got this Limited Edition Gold Enterprise D. I wanted to surprise my Dad with an autograph by the man who designed her, earlier in the day I snuck into the closet and snatched it so he wouldn’t know. The panel was set up with two groupings of chairs on either side of the room and a walkway down the middle. My friends were all at front, so as I’m walking down the aisle with this Gold Enterprise, the entire panel stops to stare at it. True to his character from Free Enterprise he gets all wide eyed and is like, “Is that what I think it is,” I’m pretty sure I made a smart ass remark like, “I thought you liked TOS better” He was just enamored with it no matter the era of Trek. The panel continued after my accidental interruption and at the end, I was lucky enough I was able to get Mr. Probert to sign the Gold Enterprise in gold sharpie! He complimented me on my shirt and I was so struck by him being very generous with his time that I didn’t realize I was wearing my Back to the Future shirt, so I came up with the first thing I could think of and said, “Love the design!”