Saturday, Nov 1, 2014
It is common knowledge amongst Star Trek fans (and most everyone else who has heard of him) that William Shatner has an ego the size of a Galaxy-class starship. From insulting trekkers and trekkies alike (“Get a life!”) to famously arguing with co-star Leonard Nimoy and the show’s creator Gene Roddenberry, Shatner’s legacy is one of both passionate intensity and an inflated sense of self. Perhaps it is appropriate that a film dedicated to uncovering the underlying motives (neuroses?) of those other actors chosen to sit in the captain’s chair of the various Star Trek iterations should be written, directed, produced, and starred in (no doubt!) by the progenitor himself. While Shatner could (and most likely would) make an attempt at being the only person filmed, he does manage to generously share some screen time with his fellow comrades.
While not a particularly cohesive or inventive film, The Captains possesses several fascinating and moving moments. Shatner somehow manages to get/con/cajole Christopher Plummer (who played the villainous General Chang in the sixth and final film featuring the original cast) to sit down and discuss the finer points of acting in Canada plus Klingon culture and language! Also, hearing each actor discuss their opinion of Star Trek and its influence proves more interesting than one would originally think. These perspectives are especially insightful considering that for the first quarter century of its existence, Star Trek's fan base was of a (famously and oft-ridiculed) narrow and specific demographic.
Another highly entertaining (if not truly other-worldly) interview Shatner conducts features Deep Space Nine’s Avery Brooks, currently working as a teacher and a jazz musician. While they hardly discuss Star Trek, the role of a captain, or science fiction in general, it is definitely out of this world. Brooks is content answering Shatner’s initial, fluffy questions with scat singing and piano riffing. Shatner (who is obviously not one to be outdone or made a fool of) tries to join in and the resultant awkwardness and hilarity is amusing for anyone, Trekker or no, Shatner also gets Scott Bakula to sing. And while it isn't as uncomfortable or bizarre to watch, it is still as awkward as a Betazed wedding.
In a more serious light, speaking as a person who enjoys hearing people discuss the behind-the-scenes aspects of their jobs (whatever job it might be), I personally enjoyed watching and listening to Patrick Stewart's and Kate Mulgrew’s contributions the most. Both seem to be reasonably grounded and have healthy perspectives, not just concerning their roles in the Star Trek universe but also concerning the effect that their involvement in Star Trek had on their family lives and personal relationships as well. Stewart and Mulgrew both speak with an honesty, clarity, and touch of weariness that is endearing and refreshing. They are levelheaded and prove that playing make-believe is still a job and not an easy one at that. Indeed, it is only during his interview with Stewart that Shatner’s façade drops and the real person emerges.
Inversely, Shatner's interview with his "younger self" in the person of Chris Pine (the actor tapped to play Captain Kirk in the 2009 reboot of the Star Trek film franchise) is summarily light and devoid of much substance. This is no fault of Pine's, as his major roles before playing Jim Kirk were as Anne Hathaway and Lindsay Lohan arm candy. Other than admitting his desire to be a fighter pilot as a child and sheepishly agreeing to awkward arm-wrestling challenges with Shatner, Pine's portion of the film is a curiosity at best. And perhaps that best sums up the film: Sometimes the "original" James T. Kirk needlessly demands more attention than what he's already wrangled for himself. Yet as a fan of Star Trek and its influence on science, culture, and technology, it's impossible to not watch this film with a wry half-grin and the concession that maybe...just maybe...William Shatner deserves a Tribble's worth of the credit and attention he so desperately and boldly seems to seek out.