This article is the second in a series about 70s and 80s Turkish mockbusters, which were essentially cheap Turkish rip-offs of Hollywood classics, brought to you from the point-of-view of a Turkish-American film critic.
I wouldn’t be surprised if my post about Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam a.k.a. Turkish Star Wars turned sci-fi Turkish mockbuster fans’ brains into Sutlac, a delicious Turkish pudding made up of rice, milk, cinnamon, and sugar. At the bottom of my article, I posted the film in its entirety, so you could experience its batshit crazy melding of an incoherent plot, liberal use of Star Wars footage and The Raiders score, mummies with toilet paper fingers, a disco KKK version of Darth Vader, and a golden rubber glove that has the power to split people in half, among many other bits of delicious ridiculousness.
Those who tortured themselves through Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam might be expecting the same kind of insanity when left face to face with Turist Omer Uzay Yolunda (Tourist Omer in Star Trek) a.k.a. Turkish Star Trek. However, 1973’s Turist Omer Uzay Yolunda is an entirely different beast. First of all, it doesn’t try to create its own insanely convoluted sci-fi mythology. In fact, it doesn’t even have much of an original screenplay to begin with. It’s actually a semi-spoof comedy that inserts a beloved comedic character of the period into a TV show that was extremely popular at the time, akin to one of those Abbott and Costello meets (Universal monster) movies. In order to have non-Turkish audiences truly understand Turist Omer Uzay Yolunda, we have to split Turist Omer and Star Trek and delve into them separately within the context of 1970s Turkish pop culture.
Turist Omer, or Tourist Omer, was a lovable goofball character who led a series of comedies between 1964 and 1973 (Yes, Turist Omer Uzay Yolunda was the last in the 7-movie “franchise”). Always portrayed with a lot of heart and boundless energy by legendary drama and comedy actor Sadri Alisik, Omer was a poor Turkish hobo who was clumsy, aloof, but also friendly and warm-hearted, kind of a mix between Ernest P. Worrell and The Tramp.
His “tourist” moniker came from the fact that each film would find a clever way to take him to foreign lands and stick him in dangerous situations. It’s the time-honored comedy formula of sticking a loveable goofball into an action, spy, or horror movie, and let the jokes write themselves simply through the tonal contradiction inherent in the premise. For the first six films, Tourist Omer found himself in foreign countries like Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Spain. There’s also a film where he goes to Africa titled Tourist Omer Amongst Cannibals, which is as racist as it sounds. Hulki Saner, an extremely prolific writer/producer/director with over a hundred films to his name, directed all of the entries in the series, and wrote most of them.
Star Trek, well, we all know what that is, but let’s look at it within the context of early 70s Turkey. The first TV broadcasts began in Turkey in 1968, via a single government-controlled channel called TRT (Sorry, I don’t have time to go into how pathetic you think that is). Star Trek was one of the handful of shows that TRT broadcast regularly, perhaps because it was a cheap show to buy, thanks to NBC’s lack of faith in the original series at the time. The show instantly became a huge hit in Turkey, and not only because the audience didn’t have any other channels to choose from. It seemed as if Gene Roddenberry’s idealist vision of a future where mankind strived together for peace resonated with Turkish audiences, whose country was in some depressing political turmoil at the time. So when it came time to come up with a new far away land for Tourist Omer to travel, sticking him in the middle of the most popular TV show in the country was a no brainer.
Turist Omer Uzay Yolunda is basically a remake of the original series’ broadcast pilot, The Man Trap (If you wanna piss off Trekkies, call it “the one and only pilot”, and while you’re at it, might as well call Captain Pike a dildo). Until Tourist Omer enters the picture, we get almost a shot-by-shot no-budget remake of the episode: Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to Planet M-113, where they meet McCoy’s old flame Nancy and her husband Professor Crater, all three main characters see Nancy as a different person they each have affection for, a non-red-shirt-wearing-red-shirt dies due to lack of sodium in his body, yadda, yadda, yadda, you know how this goes.
The story diverts from the original when Crater uses a time travel device to bring someone from the past so they can pin the crewman’s murder on that person. This leads to an abrupt cut to contemporary Turkey, where Omer is being forced into a shotgun wedding with a woman he despises, whose only sin appears to be that she’s slightly unattractive. The misogyny inherent in these films, and in Turkish cinema of the period in general, is an unfortunate element that one must face while watching them with a modern western perspective. Apart from the juvenile humor directed at the bride, Turist Omer Uzay Yolunda also makes sure that female crewmembers’ skirts are short enough for the audience to see their panties at all times.
Omer’s beamed into M-113, which suspiciously looks like the ruins of Ephesus, and is captured by the Enterprise crew as a possible murderer. Helped by his inherent charm, Omer manages to prove his innocence and befriends Kirk and Spock. He makes fun of Spock’s ears by calling him “mumps”, while Spock predictably thinks pretty much everything Omer does is illogical. Even though it seems like the initial idea was to have Omer change the trajectory of the original episode’s story, the film still sticks pretty close to The Man Trap’s narrative, ending with McCoy having to kill the creature disguised as Nancy in order to save Kirk. The addition of Omer into Star Trek merely plays out as a way for Turkish audiences to laugh at his many shenanigans, most of which have nothing to do with the film’s plot.
One of the reasons why Turist Omer Uzay Yolunda is not as famous as Dunyayi Kurtaran Adam amongst non-Turkish sci-fi B-movie fans, I think, stems from the fact that the film’s humor relies heavily on understanding the Tourist Omer character, whose language and mannerisms are heavily rooted in Turkish culture. The particular expressions, idioms, and even the significance of his working class accent don’t translate well to those who don’t speak the language. So, what non-Turkish Star Trek fans are left with is to have fun enjoying the creative ways the Turkish film crew recreated the show’s iconic special effects.
Of course the first challenge was to show The Enterprise in space. At a time when Turkish filmmakers could easily wipe their collective asses with copyright laws, that wasn’t much of a problem: They just needed to reuse footage from the original series. Since DVD releases of the show was still a couple of decades away, the crew decided to film the show directly through their TV screens. Unfortunately, the broadcast at the time was in black & white, so they had to color the shots in post, which made The Enterprise look like an unholy orange popsicle swimming through hot tar. The beaming effects were done by pulling the image out of focus and scratching maggot-looking white puffs on the work print. They used the same procedure on the phaser effects, where the laser comes out of the phaser so slowly, that it looks like, well, there’s no nicer way to say this, it ejaculates. Perhaps the funniest of these choices is that whenever a door slides open and closes, someone in the sound booth literally whispers “swoosh” into the microphone.
Even with all of the elements lost in translation, Turist Omer Uzay Yolunda is a must-see for Star Trek fans, if only because of the fact that it’s the first feature film ever to be based on Star Trek, beating The Motion Picture by six years. You can watch the film in its entirety below, with English subtitles to boot.