Review: William Shatner’s ‘Get A Life!’ Documentary July 28, 2012by Anthony Pascale , Filed under: Conventions/Events/Attractions,Fandom,History,Shatner,Trek Franchise , trackback
William Shatner’s new documentary "Get A Life!" premiers tonight on the Epix channel. For the second year in a row Bill explores Star Trek, but this time he turns his focus to the fans. Find out how it all turns out in the TrekMovie review below.
REVIEW: William Shatner’s Get A Life!
William Shatner’s Get A Life! follows his other Star Trek doc "The Captains" from last year. While that doc focused on the Bill’s fellow actors who have sat Star Trek’s captain’s chair, this time he turns his focus to the fans. While the title and the focus on the fans is the same as Bill’s 1999 memoir "Get A Life!", this hour-long documentary premiering Saturday night on Epix goes in a new direction. Of course the actual origin of the title comes from the famous 1986 Saturday Night Live skit where Shatner, speaking at a Star Trek con, told his adoring fans they needed to "get a life." And this doc actually opens with footage from that famous sketch. It then moves to the crux of the doc, and Bill asking the question "who are all these people and why do they come to these conventions?"
Famous SNL sketch kicks off "Get A Life!" doc
The documentary then moves to the 2011 Star Trek convention in Las Vegas and uses that event as a jumping off point to explore Bill’s question about what makes fans tick. There are some interesting glimpses of the work that goes on to create the conventions, with the behind the scenes footage from the Las Vegas con as well as at Creation’s offices in Los Angeles. There is also a bit of insight into the perspective of the celebrities and how they perceive the fans. The doc takes some time with Creation’s team, including the co-founders Gary Berman and Adam Malin. However with the focus on exploring fans, these inside looks at cons are brief. I feel that there is a glimpse of what could make a different doc or series on conventions, including going back into the history of cons, but that isn’t this doc.
"Get A Life!" gives some brief glimpses at how big cons are put together
Most of the doc mixes scenes of the convention with talking to specific fans who have interesting stories about why they love Star Trek and come to cons. Unlike with The Captains, this time Shatner is mostly in the background, with the focus being on the fans themselves. Bill appears on camera bookending the doc and in a couple of the segments, but for the rest he is mostly off camera (but you can hear him asking the fans questions).
For about half a dozen of these fans, the doc actually visits them in their homes and does a good job of understand their Trek fandom and how it has impacted their lives. These fans include just regular folk as well as, a NASA scientist, military officers and even a fire battalion captain who makes her own costumes, and also says that she has learned lessons about loss and leadership through watching Star Trek.
Fire captain Katherine Ridenhour shows off her costumes for the 2011 con
These insights into the fans are where some of the best content from the doc emerge. Fans will be able to relate to some or all of those featured in the doc, and non-fans will get insight into Star Trek fandom in a way that is not exploitative and is more sympathetic that some past documentaries, such as Trekkies. William Shatner’s Get A Life did not go out of their way to find the extremes of fandom, but instead tries to show how Star Trek has been a benefit to many people’s lives.
One example will be Eric Allen Hall from Utah, who really likes to dress up as Star Trek: TNG’s Mr. Data. He even has a "MR DATA" license plate. He met his wife through Star Trek, and the pair started a family but in the doc he admits that he had always been shy and actually never even went to his prom. However, dressing as Data at conventions allows him to come out of his shell.
Eric Allen Hall gets loose as "Mr. Data"
The doc also gets emotional with segments on fans who have looked to Star Trek and conventions as a way to deal with serious struggles. A lot of time in the doc is devoted to the young David "Capt. Dave" Sparks, Jr. who was also featured in Shatner’s The Captains. Sparks has suffered from serious illness that requires major amounts of medical equipment just to get him and his wheelchair out of the house, and yet he ventures to many cons. His mother talks about how Star Trek had helped keep him alive. And then there is the story of the head of the Terry Farrell fan club who has been dealing with the loss of her fiancé in an auto accident. In this case the doc producers actually orchestrated a meeting between her and her hero, where (of course) there was a lot of tears and hugging. While the filmmakers use these segments to be somewhat manipulative in tugging on our heartstrings, these fans also give an insight into how Star Trek can be a big benefit to some people.
Farrell comforts her biggest fan
But being that this is from William Shatner, he is not satisfied with just visiting with various fans and hearing their stories. Bill is on a mission to understand these fans and to that end the doc also intercuts with discussions with some experts including a fan and college professor who teaches about the philosophy of Star Trek, Star Trek: DS9 showrunner Ira Steven Behr and most notably Robert Walter, President of Joseph Campbell Foundation. With Walter, Shatner dives deep into how Star Trek is just one of many mythologies, and how conventions are more than just social settings for like-minded fans, but also rituals.
Shatner and Campbell Foundation president Robert Walter delve into fandom
Get A Life! is a well made exploration of fandom, and specifically Star Trek fans, albeit with a bit too much emphasis on cosplaying fans. Even for those who are not Trekkies or Trekkers, the doc will give you a good understanding of the social phenomenon behind fandom, and possibly even break some of the stereotypes about fans. While there are a few lags, the doc actually moves along at a very nice clip and in fact feels a bit short. This is by design to fit it into the hour long programming slot, and apparently there is going to be an extended version called "Fan Addicts" airing at a later (not yet specified) date in Canada. Shatner’s directing and writing also seem to have improved since the Captains, which was still a very interesting doc in its own right.
In the end Shatner, like with The Captains, has his epiphany and answers his own question about why the fans do what they do, and the answer and his journey to get there are worth seeing.
Fans setting a new record for costumes at last year’s con
"William Shatner’s Get a Life!" premieres on the EPIX channel on July 28 at 8pm EST. It will repeat over the next few weeks and also be available online. More info at epixhd.com/william-shatners-get-a-life/
If you don’t have Epix on your cable or satellite system you will be able to watch the documentary (and all Epix programming) for free online by signing up for a free 2 week trial at epixhd.com/freetrial.