Wednesday night the Bio Channel airs their new Star Trek documentary, The Captains of the Final Frontier. TrekMovie has got an early look, check out the review below. Bio is also planning a full night of Star Trek-related programming, details on that below too.
Review: The Captains of the Final Frontier
documentary airing on Bio Channel Wednesday November 3rd, 9 PM
During the past 44 years, especially after the proliferation of cable channels, there have been many television documentaries (and just as many texts) devoted to the subject of the making of Star Trek. And after seeing them all, after a while, the behind the scenes stories and trivia can often become repetitive. How many times are we going to be told the story of how fans saved Star Trek during its second and third seasons? You may be expecting more of the same with Bio’s new The Captains of the Final Frontier, but it turns out it to be a surprisingly refreshing take on the history of Star Trek, told through examinations of each of the captains, with many new nuggets of trivia and interesting stories.
The Captains of the Final Frontier is a well organized and imaginative look at Star Trek’s greatest characters. The two-hour documentary (including commercial breaks) has an interesting style and organizational structure. It begins with a quick history of the franchise for the uninitiated, but it doesn’t get bogged down and quickly moves on to its look at each of the Star Trek captains, starting with Kirk, then sequentially through Picard, Sisko, Janeway, Archer, and Kirk again (from the 2009 Star Trek movie). While a bit more time is devoted to Kirk and Picard, each captain is given a fair share of the time and discussion.
Bio cards intro each section covering a Star Trek captain
The entire show is narrated and includes clips and stills (including behind-the-scenes), but the bulk of the doc consists of commentary from a pantheon of Star Trek experts. The list is impressive, and includes actors like Kate Mulgrew, Bruce Greenwood, Tim Russ, Anthony Montgomery, Nana Visitor, Dominic Keating, Denise Crosby, and Vaughn Armstrong. Also included is a number or Star Trek writers and producers, including Rene Echevarria, Rick Berman, Nicholas Meyer, Ira Steven Behr, Manny Coto, Judith and Garfield Reeves Stevens along with Trek novelists, non-fiction writers and other experts such as Mike & Denise Okuda , David R. George III, Kirsten Beyer, Keith R.A. DeCandido, David Mack, Marco Palimieri, Geoffrey Thorne, Larry Nemecek and Rod Roddenberry.
While the presence of William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Scott Bakula, or Chris Pine would have been nice, the included commentary is interesting and occasionally funny enough that The Captains of the Final Frontier doesn’t suffer too much for their absence. In fact, it is fascinating to watch actors from one version of Star Trek comment on characters or storylines from other versions of Star Trek and seeing people like Rick Berman or Kate Mulgrew again was a bit like visiting with old friends that you haven’t seen in a while.
Rick Berman, part of the impressive array of commentators in "Captains of the Final Frontier"
Each of the captain sections is broken into similar chapters, such as “Taking the Helm” or "Command and Control" or “For Love or Duty” or “Endgame”. These are a great way to allow the viewer to make connections and comparisons between the various captains. For example, the “Captain 2.0” chapter looks at how different captains were reinterpreted during their tenure: such as Kirk in the movies, or Sisko shaving his head and getting a goatee (and the Defiant). Another fun feature of the documentary are "tote boards", tallying up various scores for each captain (such as how many romances they had, see example below), and also there are some pop-up boxes sprinkled throughout the doc which include good facts and information.
Tote board tallies up Kirk’s and Picard’s loves
What is especially great is that the documentary deals with the "real" and the "reel" of each of Star Trek captains. The real discussions feature how and why each of the actors were cast in their roles, including interesting insights into the creator’s inspirations, ideas for different names, and what other actors were originally considered. For example, Rick Berman talks about how he originally considered Alexander Siddig for the role of Sisko after seeing him appear older (and bearded) in another film – not realizing he was just 24 when he showed up for the audition. The Captains of the Final Frontier documentary discusses how real world events affected the storylines and characters. The reel side of the documentary comes in the form of a discussion of the captains’ biographies and adventures. This duality of The Captains of the Final Frontier as both a “behind the scenes” and “on the television screens” documentary is successfully engaged and is a welcomed change of pace from previous documentaries about Star Trek.
All that being said, the documentary is not perfect. There are a few trivia errors, like listing Anthony Montgomery’s character as "SGT. Travis Mayweather", or poor editing choices, like showing a picture of a fan dressed as Seven of Nine while discussing Trek’s popularity in the early 90’s (years before the character was introduced). In fact, the documentary really over-uses the tired notion of using pictures of costumed fans to represent Trekkies. More egregious is the rather frequent use of bad language. Because of Star Trek’s nature and its usually tame language, I would imagine a few parents would not be expecting some of the frank language in the documentary, including some bleeped words (especially from Ira Behr). This language doesn’t make The Captains of the Final Frontier any hipper and can become a distraction that can that takes the viewer out of the moment and the emotion of the documentary.
"SGT"? – maybe in the mirror universe
However, the few problems are minor and don’t dampen the overall quality and originality. It is no small feat for any documentary about Star Trek to be refreshing in style and substance, and to offer new information about the show, and The Captains of the Final Frontier offers all this. I think any fan will enjoy this show, especially considering how all the captains are given mostly equal time and constantly referred to throughout when comparisons are made (including Chris Pine’s new Kirk). In sum, The Captains of the Final Frontier is smart and fun, offering new facts and new ways of thinking about some of our favorite characters. My wife Mary Jo, also a fan, suggests and hopes that Bio Channel will continue to produce these style of documentaries based on more of the characters from Star Trek, with the next episode being The First Officers of the Final Frontier. How about it Bio?
Preview of "Captains of the Final Frontier"
Bio’s Night of Star Trek docs
The Bio Channel is dedicated it’s entire evening to Star Trek-themed programming, with past Star Trek documentaries airing before and after their new Captains of the Final Frontier special. Here is the full schedule (all times Eastern):
6 PM (2 hour): Star Trek: Beyond The Final Frontier – 2007 doc hosted by Leonard Nimoy, covering Trek franchise and set around Christies Star Trek Auction originally aired on History Channel
8 PM: Star Trek: Captain’s Log – 1994 TOS-focused doc hosted by William Shatner, originally aired on CBS shortly before release of Star Trek: Generations
9 PM (2 hour): The Captains of the Final Frontier – NEW doc (reviewed above)
11 PM: Biography "William Shatner" – 1998 episode of A&E series Biography focusing on William Shatner
More docs coming: Shatner’s “Captains” and Roddenberry’s “Trek Nation”
One Star Trek documentary we know we have in our future is William Shatner’s The Captains, which will take a look at each of the actors behind Star Trek’s captains. The doc is expected to air on TV in Canada in 2011 (and hopefully elsewhere). Shatner is still working on project, and TrekMovie will do an update when there is more news.
The other Star Trek related doc is Rod Roddenberry’s Trek Nation, which he has been at work on for years. In April Roddenberry Productions announced it was finished, and they are currently looking for film and/or DVD distribution.