Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 27, 2012)
With 2011’s The Captains, we take an intriguing look at the Star Trek franchise. Directed by “Original Series” leader William Shatner, the documentary features interviews with all the other actors who played Trek captains – and a few additional participants as well.
Shatner leads the interviews as we hear from actors Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Chris Pine, Scott Bakula, Jonathan Frakes, Robert Picardo, Nana Visitor, Rene Auberjonois, Connor Trinneer, and Christopher Plummer plus former Gene Roddenberry assistant Richard Arnold. The documentary looks at the lives and pre-Trek careers of the six captains and then delves into their Trek experiences.
Perhaps the most obvious negative about the film: Shatner never can gather all the captains in one place. He jets around the world to visit them and chat, but we never see more than two captains – Shatner and Whoever - at one time. Perhaps it would’ve been tough – or impossible – to pull off given various schedules and locations, but a “captains roundtable” sure would’ve been appealing. Shatner loves to tell us about the loaned private jet he gets to use here – maybe he should have utilized it to pick up the various captains and bring them to LA.
But then The Captains couldn’t have devoted nearly as much time to Shatner’s favorite subject: Shatner. It will come as no surprise to Trek fans that Shatner boasts an enormous ego, but his near refusal to allow any conversation to become about anything other than The Greatness That Is Shatner becomes an issue here.
Perhaps I exaggerate, as Shatner does try to engage the participants in their life stories. However, somehow these usually end up being about him in various ways. It’s not enough for the actors to relate their experiences; Shatner needs to toss in his 2000 cents about what he went through as well. If this added up to a compelling dialogue, that’d be fine. Instead, it simply seems fatuous and egotistical, as though Shatner can’t stand to avoid yammering about himself for more than roughly 12 seconds.
If The Captains went with a straightforward approach, it’d work better. Instead, Shatner gets cute. He visits the other actors in their own habitats and forces us to watch them bond in odd ways. This leads to idiotic – and borderline tasteless - moments like his “Captain Inside” residence in a New York City cardboard box as well as painfully awful sequences like the one in which Brooks and Shatner “sing” together at the piano. Do we need to see Bakula and Shatner ride horses? Oh yeah -–that reminds us how vital Shatner remains at 80. To him, it’s crucial. To a decent editor, it should’ve been on the floor.
The roundabout construction of The Captains means the movie barely touches on Trek until around the half-hour mark. I’m fine with the exploration of the actors’ lives and careers pre-Trek, but a) not for nearly one-third of the film’s running time, and b) not in the manner we see here.
If Shatner spent that 30 minutes or so on actual content, I could live with it. However, between the dopey sideshow scenes - like the cardboard box and the horse riding – as well as the loose interview techniques, we don’t really learn much in that span. We find many five minutes of real content during that half an hour – and it’s not even five particularly good minutes, either.
Shatner does occasionally allow Captains to follow a more straightforward path and – gasp! – actually allow us to learn something about Trek, but not for long. One minute we hear about how the actors came to the series, and then we get a pointless chat between Shatner and apparently homeless woman “Apple Annie”. Why? Ask Shatner – these moments come out of nowhere and do nothing but slow down an already sleepy program.
Even when Shatner tries to play interviewer, he flops. I guess he doesn’t think anyone would like to know much about Trek nuts and bolts, so he comes up with a mix of lame vaguely psychoanalytical queries. This leads to painful moments such as the sequence during which he asks Mulgrew if a female captain can really do the job given all the “hormones”. Oy – in 2011, he’s asking that? Why not just ask Mulgrew if she feels women should be allowed into the corporate workplace or if they should remain barefoot and pregnant?
And that might not even be the worst of it. Shatner also spends long periods musing about life after death with the actors. Who the frack cares if Scott Bakula believes in the afterlife? What does any of this have to do with a discussion of Star Trek?
In the end, The Captains should be retitled The Original Captain and Issues That Concern Him. Shatner can’t be bothered with subjects that don’t fascinate him, and it’s clear Star Trek itself bores him. In return, The Captains bores me.