Review: William Shatner’s “The Captains”

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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POLL: Did you like The Captains?

Give it a grade with 10 being best, and sound off below.

 

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I would really like to see this on a DVD so I can keep it in the collection. Nice poster though, would not mind having ones of those on my wall.

Bah! DirectTV does not carry Epix and I can’t get good internet at the house! I’m with Lt. Bailey: GET US DVDs!!!!

God bless Bill.

William Shatner is an egomaniac person.
Avery Brooks and Patrick Stewart…those are my Star Trek Heros, those are the ones who made showstopping performances in their uniforms.
While i respect Shatner historic significance in the Trek universe he certainly has become too self-obsessed and ignorant imo
The whole Star Trek 09 discussion show it

Still ooking forward to this documentary hope it will be available in Germany

“Like the jazz score supplied by Avery Brooks, The Captains has a somewhat disjointed and almost random feel to it”

I’ve found that random quality is usually indicative of brilliance if not just plain unigue creativity.

I look forward to seeing this. A good birthday present- – two days before my birthday. Me and Lynda Carter.

I’m a Shatner fan

I’d like a blu-ray. This seems like it might be kind of inaccessible to me for some reason. Hope it’s everywhere!

Good to read it will reach DVDs (or maybe Blu ray?). Even if it doesn’t get an international release, a few of us probably have ways of importing Region 1(A).

To be honest, Anthony, your review has put me off watching it!
.

#8

Howdy, Buzz. How are things in merry old England?

Chris Plummer? That’s Christopher Plummer to the rest of the world! :p

Hi Vults! All’s ok here my friend. I’ve been a bit sidetracked of late. Was made redundant from the job i started at 16 years old (31 years ago!) as the company went belly up. A long story but basically pure bad management.
I was pretty relaxed about things as I knew i was going to be getting Redundancy Pay equal to about 8 months wages (do you get redundancy pay in the States?) and pretty much thought i’d take a couple of months off to enjoy the summer.
A nice idea.
I landed a job in the Motor Trade (a bit of a dream of mine and a big departure from Printing!) within 3 days of finishing my last job!
Its in Customer Services and involves quite a bit of driving! yeah!
That being said just one week in i’m a bit tired of driving! lol
No, all joking aside, I consider myself very lucky. Got a new job and £12 grand in the bank. :-D
Some days life just gives you a good bounce!

Are you ok?

#11

I’m doing fine, Buzz. Trying to work my way into the animation world. Pixar or bust, I suppose. ;)

Congrats on the new job! Sounds great. Now you just need to get Top Gear to lend you a Bugatti Veyron for the driving and you’ll be all set—work at warp drive! Vrrrooommm!!! Land’s End to John o’ Groats in twelve seconds! :D

I believe what you call “redundancy” is called “layoff” over here (and a thousand other euphanisms used to soften the blow of unemployment). Anyway, yes, we do have it.

Cheers.

#11

By the way, “redundancy” in America is the creative philosophy of Hollywood. It’s really caught on there in recent years! ;)

Can’t wait!

POWERRRR! LOL
Sadly, rather than Veyrons, its been strictly the tree huggers favourite Prius and iQ’s this week. Never mind!

I wish you every good luck on getting into animation. Though you are a terrific artist are those skills needed these days? How much is done by the programmer now? Clearly its nothing like in Walt’s day.
That being said they must have had amazing patience back then. 8-]

btw Vults, the latest series of TG has been pretty good. Look out for the Car Train episode. Genuinely amusing.

The Captains has a disjointed and somewhat random feel to it”

With Shatner directing it, you expected something else?

Dish Network is having a Free Preview this weekend for Epix. So if you have Dish, you can watch ‘The Captains.’ Miss it tonight and it is airing several more times over the weekend.

#16

The new season of TG starts Aug. 22 over here, Buzz. Looking forward to it!

4 – I have to agree. I respect and even enjoy some of Shatner’s Kirk performance…particularly in the movies…but his ego has made it difficult for me to care about any of his current work. I did not tune in to “S#!t My Dad Says” for that reason.

Still…I’d probably watch this at least once. When will it be on Netflix?

Patrick Stewart is the man. A class act along with the others in the TNG cast. The original cast can learn a thing or two from those guys on how to treat each other, the fans and the roles that have immortalized them.

Funny thing, I prefer TOS over TNG..ha! Still, love Sir Patrick. Class act!

Just a quick note of thanks for the live stream of Scott Bakula at SDCC. The thread itself about that, Quinto and Shatner’s Q&A seems to have disappeared – so I’ll mention here.

Scott spoke at length about the nature of the business, the cancellation of Men of a Certain Age after 22 episodes, as well as constantly being surprised at new fans who come up to him at events having discovered Quantum Leap and Enterprise years later. He raised the possibilitity of a Chuck return, saying his character did die but that we never saw the body. Regret that he’d never met William Shatner until recently and that they are buddies. Likened their meeting at his ranch as a wild west showdown. He arrived from pathway and he another. Disbelief (at first) over hearing his character named checked along with his dog in the last film.

He joked about trying to raise $70 million for an Enterprise movie… LOL. I would if I had that kind of money. :)

It;s certainly a change from the SNL “GET A LIFE” joke.

I saw it on epix today, I thought it was well done. With so many people to talk to, it was tough I think to center on any one person. I found the anecdotes very heartwarming, particularly for everyone but Shatner, because I’ve heard his so many times. You just don’t get to see the actors from the recent shows reflect like that. I found Avery Brooks to be just bizarre. I did find it so odd that Shatner still can’t seem to accept praise for his work on Star Trek, he just seems so torn by it. Unlike Shatner hater uno Harry B, I didn’t find it disjointed. In fact, it followed almost every interview format that Shatner has done (Mind Meld, Raw Nerve, etc.). It’s how he relates to the actors, thoughts of dealing with the fame, affect on family, thoughts on death.

Ah, Shatner. He may have an ego that couldn’t fit TWO Enterprises, and he may overact and underact at times, but in the end, no one else is better suited for the captain’s chair.

Keachick (rose pinenut)

I am a bit disappointed that there appears not to be more time spent with Chris Pine. I know it is about all the captains, but Chris Pine is the actor who plays the most current and relevant of captains. However, Chris also plays Captain Kirk, the character that William Shatner as an actor is most associated with. To some extent, it is to be a bit hard emotionally for Shatner. I am glad, though, that Chris and Bill were fine and gracious with each other. That is what counts.

I am also pleased that there will be a DVD coming out. So there is more waiting for me to do, but it is said that “patience is a virtue”.

“In the end The Captains is overly-long, a bit self-indulgent, and possibly overly-ambitious. ”

Shatner? A bit self-indulgent? *NEVER!* ;)

Although I agree with most of Anthony’s points (particularly about the atonal Vegas convention clips bloating the running time), Shatner’s film impressed me on most levels. Technically, I thought it was a wonderfully shot production, with some of the Stratford sunset sequences and shots of a reflective and pensive Shatner quite memorable indeed. I could have lived without the set pieces (Shatner in a box, arm-wrestling in front of Paramount, etc.) and the piano-heavy musical score was less than inspired (even the Avery Brooks portions), but Shatner and his crew managed to capture enough moving and revelatory footage to make up for these minor deficits.
A nit-picky observation:
Shatner recalls acting in a play about the Holocaust when he was around six years old, which seems odd since he was born in 1931.
All in all a worthy companion to the Shatner/Nimoy Mind Meld DVD and (hopefully) the eventual release of the Nimoy and Koenig episodes of Shatner’s Raw Nerve on home video. Recommended!

I was lukewarm on it… I thought the scenes with Patrick Stewart were excellent, and Shatner could have just framed the entire hour and a half around his time with him…

The stuff with Avery Brooks was very “out there” and he just didn’t seem like he fit the kind of question/answer methods that Shatner was trying to hit with him….

I thought the stuff with Shatner talking about his own career was very self-serving and didn’t really matter… I thought more time could have been spent with the other “Captains”….

I’ve always gotten the impression that Shatner is actually terrified of social settings and interacting with regular people, but when he gets on stage he’s able to loosen up quite a bit…I saw much of the same here…

The gentlemen who had rode in a car 12 hours each way to go to the Vegas convention, and be around Trek was one of the most touching things I’ve seen in a long time… Got me thinking about what’s really important for those of us who do have full physical capabilities to walk, talk, breath, etc..

Overall, it was so-so, I’d rather throw “Trekkies” in again if I’m looking to be entertained..

It was better than I thought it would be.

By the way, Avery Brooks is nuts.

Keachick (rose pinenut)

#28 – “Shatner recalls acting in a play about the Holocaust when he was around six years old, which seems odd since he was born in 1931.”

Perhaps he meant to say sixteen (16) making the year 1947. That would make sense. The war had been over for about two years and no doubt the horrific stories and pictures from the Holocaust were being made public.

There’s one point in this documentary where Avery Brooks basically tells Shatner that you shouldn’t always need a “return” on something you send out… it was quite subtle, but I swear it was Brooks letting Mr. Ego know that you shouldn’t expect attention for everything you do in life…

So as much as it’s easy to label Brooks as nuts, he’s actually quite the opposite but comes off as “out there” to most people….

I wonder if anyone else caught that moment?

I thought it was great. It gave a look into the real lives of the actors that are the Captains of Star Trek.
I thought there would be just ling interviews with different actors. But they were interlaced with other opservations. That made it a good insite into their lives before and after Trek.

After watching, all i could say is Wow!!

I had no idea the sacrifice these actors went through In order to bring to life these great characters we hold so dear. Many families and relationships were strained and broken due to the pressure of Trek. No wonder some of the actors have bittersweet emotions toward Trek including Shatner. I understand now.

Trek is inspirational but it also is a heavy burden to those actors who are called to portray these soon to be cultural icons.

Thank you Mr. Shatner for the insight into these actors’ lives. I am also pleased to see that you have accepted Cpt. Kirk for the motivational being that he has truly become. “Beam me up”‘

31: It was pretty clear he was describing a stage performance as a small child that decided his life’s path. He then acted throughout his childhood.

Keachick (rose pinenut)

Avery Brooks being a bit “out there”. Funny, because that is how Bruce Greenwood described Chris Pine as being sometimes, “out there”.

#33 – “…just ling interviews…” What does ling mean?

There wasn’t enough Chris Pine in it, and no Zachary Quinto’s input on Pine… Otherwise, it was a good show…

#36.

Well, there is the tv personality Lisa Ling…..maybe #33 thought that she’d be interviewing the captains. ;-)

2 out of 5. The editing was lousy and indeed gave a very disjointed feel to the show. The background piano music during some parts of the interviews was annoying and mixed in way too loud and ruined many moments of the interviews. Did not like hearing the actors whine about their work, especially when they claim to have worked on over 40 episodes a year or didn’t get a day off for 5 years, which is an insult to our intelligence. Not enough Chris, way too much Avery and Kate. One day in the future somebody may well take all the video collected for this project and present it much better. Oh yeah, one more Bombardier for the road. Shat def knows how to fly.

Yes #39, the piano music was on overkill mode. Having it play constantly over Patrick and Bill just felt so wrong…

@32 “There’s one point in this documentary where Avery Brooks basically tells Shatner that you shouldn’t always need a “return” on something you send out… it was quite subtle, but I swear it was Brooks letting Mr. Ego know that you shouldn’t expect attention for everything you do in life…”

Agreed — I picked up on that do. While it had a few gold nuggets, the documentary was worn down by the Shat-centric approach. Well, what else should we have expected from Shatabullshitpooza week on a TV channel that nobody has ever heard of.

I’m not sure if we watched the same film, but I don’t recall any clips of Connor Trinner in the version I watched streaming online.

@34. “Trek is inspirational but it also is a heavy burden to those actors who are called to portray these soon to be cultural icons.”

Wow, you fell for that whining and self-centered pop psychology nonsense? Excuse me why I play my violin for this group.

@30 “By the way, Avery Brooks is nuts.”

Actually, Avery Brooks and Chris Pine are the only “real” ones in the bunch.

I don’t get all the negative vibes around here.

I watched The Captains tonight and the documentary was outstanding. Thought-provoking, detailed, and entertaining. The different Captain’s were as unique as the shows they were on. Yet all had a passion for the work. What more can we as fans ask for?

Thank you to Mr. Shatner, and all the actors for taking part.

Put me down for wanting this film on DVD. And I’d buy the jazz score too.

Shatner is a total ham. It’s part of his appeal. I don’t think he’s particularly self-aware or self-reflective even – a view I’m not dissuaded from holding having watched various excerpts of this show.

Yet, I kinda still like the guy. He’s interesting for all his schtick.

Just saw it. I liked it very much. It was very insightful. I wonder if all the actors realize just how beloved they are.

Glad I had a chance to see it.

MJ as you seem so full of hate, why do you bother tormenting yourself coming here?

Let go of the hate.

In his review, Anthony wrote: “It is still a delight to spend almost two hours with these six outstanding actors who have entertained us for decades.”

And this was pretty much how I came away from the show. I didn’t think it was spectacular, nor did I think it was disappointing. It was what I expected from William Shatner. For those who think there was too much Shatner, well, he was also a Captain, after all. I don’t think the show was meant to be only about the other Captains.
I wouldn’t expect this show to have been some deep, psychological session, but I thought they all participated in revealing some things about themselves and didn’t just chit-chat, or toss off a lot of un-funny one-liners. I thought they all seemed pretty open in talking about their failed relationships as they devoted most of their time to their job. Talking about death was the kind of thing I’ve come to expect from Shatner, the kind of interview he likes to do, the kind of subject matter he likes to get into.
Overall, the show could have been a lot more superficial, slick and polished, just putting a bunch of posers in front of a camera — which is the kind of thing we usually get. Instead, I thought we got a warm, thoughtful, sometimes humorous look at some serious actors who just happened to become a part of the Trek universe.

I’m sure it always comes back to Bill, but I kind of think thats ok. Its his project and I get a sense he’s always sruggled a bit with Trek being such a huge part of his life. The guy is in his 80s and deserves a bit of self indulgence! Besides, he’s Captain Kirk….

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