Since first soaring onto television screens in the 1960s, Star Trek has becomes one of the most beloved franchises of all time. Now, the original Captain Kirk, William Shatner, travels around the globe to interview the elite group of actors (Chris Pine, Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew and Scott Bakula) who have portrayed the role of Starship Captain, giving fans an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the pop culture phenomenon as well as the men and women who made it so.
The Captains 6.5
eyelights: Patrick Stewart. Kate Mulgrew.
eyesores: its lack of focus. William Shatner’s ego. William Shatner’s insincerity.
“It’s a journey of discovery for you, me, them.”
I’m a ‘Star Trek’ fan. I would even dare call myself a Trekkie of sorts – not even a Trekker, a Trekkie! But I haven’t been able to bear William Shatner for years. While he has created an iconic character that I (mostly) love watching on the screen, the man behind the image is insufferable to me: Shatner comes off as pompous, pretentious and incredibly insincere.
I don’t know when this growing dislike of The Shat started: Was it when he callously made fun of Trek fans during his appearance on Saturday Night Live on December 20, 1986? It’s true that his lack of respect for the people who have tirelessly supported his show, giving it and his career a second life is distasteful. But I think it’s just an accumulation of things.
‘The Captains’ isn’t helping.
Marketed as an exploration of the careers and lives of the six men and woman who have taken charge of their own ‘Star Trek’ series, it is in actuality a poorly-concealed vanity project by an aging actor who is riding the backs of ‘Star Trek’ fans’ unfettered enthusiasm to put himself in the spotlight and, in the process, milk them of any remaining penny that they have.
Because, although ‘The Captains’ does in fact feature interviews with Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula and Chris Pine, there is soon no doubt that it is The William Shatner Show – written, directed and starring William Shatner, about William Shatner. Not only does Shatner get more screen time, he also hijacks interviews to talk about himself.
Over the course of 95 minutes, The Shat flies to the United Kingdom and around the United States to have one-on-one dialogues with each of his interview subjects, asking them about what lead them to acting, how they got the part of Captain, the grueling schedules they endured, the impact it had on their relationships, fandom, their lives post-Trek, and death.
It starts on a wrong note, with Shatner flying to get his crew in Toronto and coincidentally being met by one of the heads of Bombardier only to be told that the guy is in the business because of Trek – which Shatner translated as being “because of me”. F-ing egotist. He even brought it up later with Patrick Stewart, telling him it was an epiphany after all these years.
Being told the same thing he’s probably heard a gazillion times (by countless other fans!) by the Bombardier guy made a world of difference to him now? Is it because it took 45 years for the message to sink in? Or is he just that impressed with Bombardier? Or is it just fan service, a self-penned rewriting of his much-maligned history in his twilight years?
To gauge how sincere Shatner is, one just has to look at the fact that, in his visits to various Star Trek conventions, he literally told every former female cast member that she was the most beautiful woman in ‘Star Trek’. And when he met fans backstage after a convention appearance, he tells a girl that he remembers her from before, even though it’s clear he didn’t.
Every single time he complimented the other actors, it felt fake. It felt like he was just improvising, trying to say what was expected in the moment instead of saying what he felt. $#!t, maybe no one wants to hear his true opinion – it might be foul. But this fakery stinks up the air nearly as much; it’s an endless stream of posturing with nary a glimpse of truth.
Case-in-point, when Shatner meets Scott Bakula, Shat tells Bakula that he’s admired him for so long and that he’s his hero. Not one of his heroes. His hero. Shatner has one hero and it’s Scott Bakula! It’s already astonishing that Bakula has supposedly made such an indelible impression on him, but it’s even more remarkable that Shatner isn’t his own favourite hero.
Even the staging of the interviews were eye-rollers: At one point, Shatner is walking down a long, straight dirt road and suddenly he “notices” Patrick Stewart sitting on a fence – as though he didn’t see him 200 metres away! “What are you doing here?”, he asks. Ugh. And when he meets up with Kate Mulgrew, he’s waiting for her in a cardboard box on a New York street.
Naturally, she feigns surprise.
Poorly (How could you even try to fake this?).
At least the participants did their best to indulge Shatner, in turn: Stewart was his engaging, sober self, Avery was obviously having a good time (Maybe too much! is he always this loopy?), Mulgrew was quite articulate and genuine, Bakula was particularly congenial and down-to-earth, and Pine came prepared for the itsy-bitsy little bit of screentime he was afforded.
Two of the most honest conversations were with Stewart, as he discussed openly how he was far too serious about his work in the early days of Trek, berating his cast members and damaging his personal relationships, and with Mulgrew, who was interrogated by Shatner about a woman’s place in the Captain’s chair – with surprisingly conservative views extolled by both.
At least she interrupted and corrected him when he would put words in her mouth.
But, beyond those dialogues, the rest was mostly standard fare, information that can probably be culled on Wikipedia. To bolster his screentime, Shatner also included longtime peer Christopher Plummer, who was never a ‘Star Trek’ Captain, and shot tons of footage of him going to conventions, basking in the limelight as he stunned fans by walking the floor with them.
The ego has landed!
Frankly, I couldn’t help but wonder how embarrassed the other actors were to see the finished product, realizing that they were mostly on the cutting room floor – that it was all about William Shatner. Or, worse, to see him make fun of them behind their backs, like when Shatner makes a mockery of Brooks’ spacey demeanour during an opening convention monologue.
Wow. Just… wow.
At many points, Shatner makes ‘The Captains’ sound like it’s a journey of deep self-reflection for him. But, wasn’t it supposed to be about all five of them, not just him? What made ‘Star Trek’ superb is that it was about beings, as a collective, even though they were all interesting individually. It was about what they could do together, with their forces joined.
Shatner must have missed the memo.
Date of viewing: July 25, 2016