THE CAPTAINS (writ., prod., dir., host., narr. William Shatner, 2011, 97 minutes, Film Canada, for the Epix Channel) is one of the best and most profound documentaries I have ever seen. It goes beyond being an original 1st-generation Trekkie. It goes beyond the love for Captain Kirk. It delves into places where no one has gone before ~ and I loved every single second.
First off, allow me to be rightly understood. My wife and I are original Trekkies, so there was no such word when we were enjoying every minute of "Star Trek" on TV. This documentary is exactly what it advertizes: interviews with actors who have played captains of the Enterprise, plus an interview with Christopher Plummer who never played a captain of Starfleet. This IS about the ACTORS, including Shatner, not about "Star Trek" itself or any other thing. Actors are full of hot air: it's what they do for a living.
Shatner begins this documentary with a suddenness that is most fitting: he is off to chat with all the main actors who have played captains (all captains of the Enterprise with the exception of Avery Brooks, who was captain in "Deep Space Nine", and Christopher Plummer who was a Klingon general).
To England for Sir Patrick Stewart. To God knows where to listen to Avery Brooks groove on the piano. To a steaming hot New York City for Kate Mulgrew. Shatner visits Scott Bakula at some interesting California horse ranch. Right outside the gate at Paramount for Chris Pine (who was undoubtedly shooting the next STAR TREK which will be entered into our archives as STAR TREK 12 though it is titled STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS).
The entire film reminded me of Shatner's amazing stamina and youthful energy.
Intercut here are tiny bits of Shatner's beginnings at Stratford, Ontario; these alternate with Shatner's latest appearance at a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas (where he appeared with Stewart). But the interviews are splendid, deep and revelatory. I have never learned so much about actors or acting as I did during this 97 golden minutes. Shatner has a way of bringing things out of people, and boy, does he do it here.
He interviews fellow Stratforder Christopher Plummer, known for playing Klingon General Chang in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country ~ Plummer and Shatner are old, old friends who went back together almost to childhood.
Naturally, Chris Pine as the baby of the bunch got little screen time here (but Shatner says to him earnestly, "You're me fifty years ago!"). Scott Bakula, a perennial favorite of mine and my wife's gets almost as little screen time but all that is fine. Shatner draws out what he wants from them, and one feels satisfied.
There is much humor and the best quality of pathos which as far as I am concerned is 100% unscripted (because there are obviously scripted moments and one or two gags). However, the best is in each actor coming together with Shatner, seemingly for the first time ever, as former captains of the Enterprise.
They talk turkey about the brutal hours filming, the loss of family (Shatner and Bakula shared that in common) and breakups of marriages. They examine what Star Trek has done for each of them as actors and as people, not least of all Shatner. I was startled by his confession to Patrick Stewart that he had finally come to grips with his pride at playing Captain Kirk. He claims he had lived with something akin to shame over the whole thing.
An example of the pure joy of learning is Kate Mulgrew explaining her initial appearance on Star Trek Voyager: The Complete Series as captain of the Voyager. Many of us know Genevieve Bujold was hired and filmed for exactly one day ~ a breakdown of some kind which she suffered chased her off the set, and Mulgrew was immediately called in to replace Bujold. Mulgrew says little about that, merely referring to it as a sort of disaster that resulted in her participation as Captain Janeway.
Here, I got the honor of seeing Shatner, and all the other captains plus Plummer, in all their glory as people. Simple, ordinary people as I have always said actors are, riffing on acting and life. You cannot be a Trek fan without this. You cannot profess a love of cinema or the craft without this. It is an Oscar-worthy documentary film because it is an important historical document.
I can't imagine a Star Trek fan who would willingly miss seeing this film ~ or bitch about it.
MINOR UPDATE: Though it is my habit to try and ignore comments, there is one posted beneath this review and it made me think a bit. Let me humbly ask readers: if you hate Star Trek, what are you doing even reading reviews for this or any Star Trek-related film? If you hate Shatner, well, there's a long line stretching decades before you ever came along. PLEASE don't take it out on me or my review. The internet is full of hateful people: let's start changing that!