In the early 2010s, William Shatner produced and directed a series of four Star Trek documentaries, looking at the franchise from a number of different angles. Shatner’s Trek docs don’t take the obvious routes you’d expect them to, making for a very entertaining, revealing, and sometimes surprising journey.
These docs were mostly broadcast on the Epix cable channel and are now available for the first time collected in a single Blu-ray set. Shout Factory has packaged four Shatner Star Trek documentaries in one 4-disc Blu-ray collection, with additional special features. There is also a Shout Factory exclusive special edition collection with a fifth disc that includes even more bonus features.
Disc one starts things off with Shatner’s first Star Trek documentary, which initially aired on Epix in 2011. As the title indicates, this 96-minute doc sees Shatner interview his fellow Star Trek captains—Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine—to get their recollections about their Trek experience.
The interviews are in a very relaxed, conversational style, and often set in places the subject feels comfortable in (Stewart at his home in the English countryside, Mulgrew at a Broadway theater, etc.). The easygoing atmosphere allows Shatner to ask thoughtful but probing questions that are less about the nuts and bolts of the franchise and more about their emotional journey with Trek, the influence Star Trek has had, and the heavy toll it sometimes took on their personal lives.
Each of the interviews has a distinct feel, which keeps it from becoming rote and predictable, as many Trek interviews can be. Shatner’s freeform, jazz-infused interview with Avery Brooks is a particularly good example of this. Together, The Captains is a very revealing, unique, and worthwhile look at a group of people in a very exclusive club.
Also included on disc one is a short but interesting behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of The Captains.
The Captains Close-Up
In 2013, Epix followed up The Captains with the documentary mini-series The Captains Close-Up, which is included on disc two. These are 30 minutes profiles of each actor, expanding upon the interviews seen in the original Captains documentary. Shatner’s personal rapport with Stewart and Mulgrew really shines through here, as they both open up about their personal lives and what their work means to them. Your mileage will vary with these depending upon your interest in the person, but they’re all well done.
Chaos on the Bridge
Originally released for video-on-demand in 2015, Chaos on the Bridge is an unvarnished look at the turbulent early years of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In this hourlong documentary on disc three, Shatner interviews many key players from the era, including Rick Berman and Patrick Stewart, and explores the many challenges the show faced in front of and behind the camera.
Moving at a breakneck pace, the documentary covers a lot of ground and makes effective use of animation in order to recreate events. Gene Roddenberry’s deteriorating health, the political intrigue and destructive influence of his lawyer Leonard Maizlish, Maurice Hurley’s time as showrunner, and much more is discussed. Chaos on the Bridge depicts an honest history of the show that rarely gets mentioned in official accounts. This is a very polished and entertaining production, and well worth watching.
Get A Life!
Disc four features Get a Life!, which premiered on Epix in 2012. The title, infamous from Shatner’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, is a love letter to Star Trek fans and fandom in general. Shatner explores his own feelings about fandom and learns more about the sociological underpinnings of it. By turns intellectual and heartwarming, it gives an intimate look at the passion that fans bring to Trek while also looking at the underlying reasons that drive that passion. As a lifelong fan, I can tell you you’re bound to see some aspect of yourself in this very entertaining, informative, and somewhat personal documentary.
Disc four also includes a Get a Life! featurette titled “Shatner & The Fans” and a sizzle reel for “Fan Addicts,” the pilot for a fan reality show that eventually became Get a Life! There is also a number of extended interviews with people that were featured in the documentary:
- “The Jue Family”
- “Conversation With Robert Walter”
- “Peter And Charlotte”
- “Dr. Scott Richards”
Bonus documentary: Still Kicking
Disc two includes Still Kicking, a documentary that follows Shatner’s return to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario, where he recollects about his time there as a young actor and does an extensive interview with one of his fellow actors and Trek castmate, Christopher Plummer. The two reminisce about their time together at the Festival, Plummer’s Trek experience, and much more.
The most remarkable part of the documentary is Shatner himself. Not feeling the need to host and narrate extensively, he is very loose, relaxed, and thoughtful throughout. Watching him walk through a very meaningful part of his life and career and the pleasure it clearly gave him was very enjoyable. The whole thing is a gem and I hope he does more things like this in the future.
Bonus Shatner features
Disc two also includes the following bonus features which aren’t all about Star Trek but are very Shatner…
“Shatner The Firefighter” features Shatner driving around the Paramount lot telling the oft-told tale of how he helped fight off a stage fire that threatened the production of Star Trek III: The Search For Spock.
“When The Wall Came Down” is a brief chat between Shatner and a longtime Paramount employee as they reminisce about the old days before Gulf & Western (which owned Paramount) bought Desilu, and the wall that separated it from neighboring Paramount came down.
“Ponder The Mystery” is a music video from Shatner’s prog-rock album of the same name.
Special edition 5th disc exclusives
Bonus documentary: William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet
The Shout Factory exclusive Special Edition includes a fifth disc. Included is the feature-length documentary William Shatner’s Gonzo Ballet, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at Shatner’s involvement in the Milwaukee Ballet production of dances interpreting music from his album, “Has Been.” It’s a unique portrait of him in an environment we don’t often see him in.
Disc five also includes a series of extended interviews from The Captains and Chaos on the Bridge. These include the following…
- Walter Koenig
- Grace Lee Whitney
- Gary Lockwood
- Sally Kellerman
- Patrick Stewart
- Maurice Hurley
- Ira Steven Behr
- Melinda Snodgrass
- Jeffrey Katzenberg
- Les Moonves
Most of these extended chats are interesting (I could listen to Gary Lockwood talk about the old days for hours), but the real treasure here is the interview with Maurice Hurley. Clocking in at 34 minutes, he talks about Gene Roddenberry, the challenge of working within the “Roddenberry Box,” his own working methods, and lots more. Trek historians in particular will want to give this a listen.
Is it worth your quatloos?
For those interested in the people behind the characters, the answer is a resounding yes. The documentaries themselves are solid, with enough added value from the special features to make the 4 disc set a solid recommendation. You can pick it up from Amazon for $42.51.
The 5-disc special edition is available exclusively at Shout Factory for $74.98, which is a big premium to pay for that extra disc, but possibly worth it for the Shatner super fans out there.
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