Tonight William Shatner’s The Captains premieres on the Epix channel and EpixHD.com. Shatner has described the new documentary about the captains of Star Trek as a journey of discovery for himself. Discover how I think it turned out below, plus watch a particularly interesting new clip.
Review: William Shatner’s "The Captains"
The documentary The Captains has a premise which promises to be catnip to Star Trek fans: have William Shatner sit down with the actors who played captains in the Star Trek series which followed his original Star Trek (Next Generation’s Patrick Stewart, Deep Space Nine’s Avery Brooks, Voyager’s Kate Mulgrew, Enterprise’s Scott Bakula and Chris Pine from the 2009 Star Trek movie). William Shatner, who produced and directed the documentary, has called it a journey of discovery, and it is. Of course being a William Shatner production, we discover more about Shatner than his subjects. And it doesn’t take long for this to be clear as before he meets his first captain we are shown a segment (with blatant product placement) where Bill is informed that he (as Captain Kirk) was the inspiration for the successful career of the CEO of Bombardier Jets.
Clocking in at a feature-length of around 1 hour and 40 minutes, The Captains covers a lot of ground, hopping from conversations with the various Star Trek captains to clips from Star Trek TV and films, along with chats with other Star Trek luminaries. Like the jazz score supplied by Avery Brooks, The Captains has a somewhat disjointed and almost random feel to it. If there is a structure it roughly correlates to firstly going into discussions of the early careers of the various actors, then moving into how they got started with Star Trek, and then how Star Trek impacted their lives. The final portion of The Captains gets somewhat philosophical (and even morbid) with thoughts and reflections on life and death — which clearly is something on William Shatner’s mind as he enters the ninth decade of his life.
Like the actors themselves, the chat segments are very different. Sir Patrick Stewart is very thoughtful and reflective, Kate Mulgrew speaks more emotionally and (with humor) spars with Shatner, Scott Bakula provides a mix of being analytical with joviality (and singing), Chris Pine is very respectful and reverential, and Avery Brooks is just kind of out there. And all the while this varied group talks about their lives, Shatner always finds a way to bring it back to himself. In the end you will probably ending wishing their were more time spent with Chris Pine. You have to wonder why Shatner spent time talking to Pine’s about stunts on Unstoppable and not about their respective Star Trek work. Hearing the two actors compare the logistics of Kirk-fu or dealing with green-painted actresses would have been priceless, but alas that is not what you get in The Captains. You will also likely grow frustrated with following along with Brooks’ jazz-like stream of thought, but it is all entertaining. One highlight of the documentary is all the great rare photos and film of the early careers of the different actors, again with the best stuff being from Shatner’s own past.
Avery Brooks’ jazz-style discussions with Shatner are one of the more interesting aspects of "The Captains" (Photo: EPIX)
While watching The Captains even the most devoted Trekkies are certain to learn many new things about their on-screen heroes, with each captain opening up to some extent with Shatner. The best interaction in The Captains are between Shatner and Stewart. The two (who worked together on Star Trek: Generations) had the most relaxed chemistry which provided for some of the more insightful and emotional segments. Stewart really opened up when talking about how his career, including how the grueling TNG schedule had a big negative impact on his family life and a failed marriage (something shared by other Trek captains).
And The Captains isn’t just about captains. Interspersed are comments and Shatner interview clips with Star Trek luminaries such as Jonathan Frakes, Richard Arnold, Bob Picardo, Nana Visitor, Rene Auberjonois, Connor Trinneer, and Chris Plummer. Some of these segments actually provide the best analysis and insights into the various Captains, especially with Frakes.
There are also a number of clips from last year’s Las Vegas convention, with quite a lot of fan adoration aimed at Shatner as he walks the halls of the Las Vegas Hilton. Although fun, mostly the convention footage bloats the documentary which feels longer than it needs to be. And with each of the captains there are little bits of scripted first encounters with Shatner which don’t always work. A picture of the arm wrestling challenge between Chris Pine and Shatner went viral in a big way a few weeks ago, but when you see it in the actual documentary it drags and in the end feels overly awkward.
This is a funny moment in "The Captains" – but a little goes a long way (Photo: EPIX)
What is certainly going to be the most talked about element of The Captains is how Shatner approaches his various subjects and Trek franchise. He seems to know very little about the actors who sat in the captain’s chair after him, and even less about their work in Star Trek. This culminates late in the documentary in a chat between Stewart and Shatner where Bill talks about how he has in the past had a negative view of many interactions with people who he felt used a "derisive tone" when talking Star Trek and yelling "beam me up Scotty" to him. Bill then calls back to his earlier interaction with the head of Bombardier to come to the epiphany that he is no longer embarrassed to be associated with Star Trek. Of course astute Shatner-philes will note that he has somewhat of a pattern of going on a journeys of discovery (with associated epiphany), as he has expressed similar things in at least two of his memoirs.
Here is a clip where Sir Patrick Stewart talks about how he is "absolutely fine" with being largely known for Star Trek, and then Bill offers his "gift" of his "realization" that he is happy with Star Trek in his life:
In the end The Captains is overly-long, a bit self-indulgent, and possibly overly-ambitious. The direction and editing are trying a bit too hard with Shatner not really letting the core content of his interviews stand out. So the final product ends up not being as satisfying as simple one-on-one conversation style of the William Shatner/Leonard Nimoy Mind Meld: Secrets Behind The Voyage of a Lifetime DVD released in 2004.
That being said, The Captains is still a must-watch for any Trekkie. You will learn, you will laugh, and you may even cry watching The Captains. Sure there is an element of being an ego-trip for the director, but what else would you expect from The Shatner. It is still a delight to spend almost two hours with these six outstanding actors who have entertained us for decades.
Captains Premieres Tonight + Coming To Canada & DVD later this year
The Captains premieres On Epix at 8PM. Also remember you can watch The Captains for free online by signing up for a 2-week trial at www.epixhd.com/freetrial-shatnerpalooza.
The Canadian premiere will be in the fall on Movie Central Channel. The producers are also working on a DVD release for the USA this year, with international DVD releases to follow. TrekMovie will provide more updates when details become available.
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