Synopsis: William Shatner — aka Capt. James T. Kirk from TV’s “Star Trek” — has never been shy about tooting his own horn, so it comes as no surprise that he claims his show gave rise to everything from the Internet to cell phones in this lighthearted Emmy-nominated presentation produced for The History Channel. Based on Shatner’s book I’m Working on That, the program features interviews with inventors inspired by the show’s futuristic vision.
eyelights: its look at Star Trek’s influence. its tongue-in-cheek approach.
eyesores: its slight superficiality.
“Is it just me, or has everything gotten futuristic?”
It’s a wonder I ever watched 2005’s ‘How William Shatner Changed the World’, the William Shatner-hosted documentary that explains the many ways that ‘Star Trek’ influenced modern society: The ‘Star Trek’ legend has irked me for years with his ego, self-centeredness, insincerity, lack of seriousness and poor sense of humour.
I mean, it’s bad enough that it’s called ‘How William Shatner Changed the World’! Seriously? Not ‘How James T. Kirk Changed the World’, let alone ‘How Star Trek Changed the World’? It actually had to be focused on the big buffoon himself, even though all he did was star on a TV series that he himself never truly respected?
But, in a way, it actually makes sense: The show is very tongue-in-cheek in its delivery – though the science is real and it’s no laughing matter, Shatner and the producers use his goofy uncle quality to make the material accessible, watchable. After all, hearing about the development of modern technology could be unwieldy.
And so they chose to have Shatner pretend to wing it, from the moment that he receives a worn script “he hasn’t yet read”, not knowing what the documentary’s about, to bits where he’s asked on camera to speak up because he can’t be heard clearly, or shots of him “improvising” some inserts. It’s all fabricated to make it down-to-earth.
Surprisingly, it actually works.
In fact, the show was nominated for two Emmy Award in 2006 for Outstanding Nonfiction Special and Outstanding Writing For Nonfiction Programming. It’s so good that for a rare occasion, I actually enjoyed watching Shatner be a nimrod. Whereas he usually irritates me to no end, it felt like he was poking fun at himself, not the subject.
The 85-minute special is super well-conceived: The first half provides a brief history of the original ‘Star Trek’ show, all the while exploring its long-lasting impact, whereas the second half explains the impact of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ and then delves into the changing vision of the franchise in future series.
There’s a very good balance of Shatner, ‘Star Trek’ history, interviews with scientists and techies who were inspired by the show to create some of the world’s greatest advances (such as the search for alien lifeforms, rocket engineering, home computer technology, mobile phone technology, medical imaging, and much more).
The list of influencial interviewees is quite impressive: Martin Cooper of Motorola, Dr. Marc D. Rayman of NASA, Dr. Seth Shostak of SETI, Steve Perlman of MOVA, Dr. Miguel Alcubierre of the National University of Mexico, amongst others. And for the fans, there’s a few cast members, such as Jonathan Frakes and Walter Koenig.
The documentary’s not just about technology: It also talks about the cultural impact of ‘Star Trek’, with George Takei discussing the impact of playing an Asian who isn’t a caricature, who is actually a well-respected part of the crew. Significantly, Nichelle Nichols was also one of the first black African-American women on TV.
This had tremendous impact, so much so that it influenced Dr. Mae C. Jemison, who became the first African-American woman in space. She and Takei discussed Gene Roddenberry’s vision, how the U.S.S. Enterprise was supposed to be analogous to Earth, diverse, with all aboard unified, working in tandem towards a common goal.
Ultimately, Roddenberry’s vision was an optimistic one, with technology facilitating things for humanity, helping us get to the next level. But this all changed with ‘Deep Space Nine’, which showed a greater distrust of technology. This spread to ‘Voyager’ and ‘Enterprise’, which Shatner claims is the reason they weren’t as popular.
Maybe. Maybe not.
Either way, ‘How William Shatner Changed the World’ provides great examples of how the imaginative technology on ‘Star Trek’ has revolutionized our culture. Had it not inspired some of the world’s leading thinkers, it’s quite possible that we wouldn’t have advanced as far as we have. Whether that’s a good thing or not is another matter.
I say if it’s a good thing, give credit to ‘Star Trek’.
If it’s a bad thing, blame William Shatner.
Date of viewing: September 5, 2016