Blu-Ray Review: William Shatner’s ‘The Captains’ Collection’ Digs Into ‘Star Trek’ And The Man Himself
by Erik Amaya
Although the perception of William Shatner seems to change every fifteen years or so, there was a time when his “Bill” persona was self-deprecating and disarming. It allowed him to become Star Trek‘s elder statesmen for a time. It also allowed him to examine his relationship with the legendary science fiction series via a series of books and, across the early part of the 2010s, a number of documentaries he made in conjunction with Epix.
Now, Shout! Factory has compiled them into a handsome collection called, appropriately enough, The Captains Collection which will remind you of those days when “Bill” was riding high on two Emmy awards and ready to talk all things Trek.
The first of the films is called The Captains and sees Shatner globetrotting to talk to the small group of actors who portrayed Starfleet captains — Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and even Chris Pine. Set to a beautiful score by Andy Milne, Shatner questions his fellow actors about their backgrounds, the rigors of working in broadcast television, their passions outside of acting and other topics. Of keen interest to Shatner is the effect being a TV star had on their marriages. Stewart, Mulgrew, and Bakula all readily admit being a fictional captain ended the relationships they were at the time. Stewart goes one step further to say his behavior in regards to his marriage while making Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of the great regrets of his life. Mulgrew offers a similar sentiment. For those familiar with Shatner’s own marital troubles, his interest in the topic may not be a surprise, but the other actors’ observations may offer something illuminating.
Equally surprising are their thoughts on mortality.
The film also takes time to follow Shatner to a large Star Trek convention in Las Vegas and on a nostalgic trip to Toronto, where he visits one of the early theaters he worked in and chats with Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country guest star Christopher Plummer. If you’ve read one of Shatner’s autobiographies, the sections he devotes to his own journey may be a little less interesting — that said, his time with Plummer is a highlight.
The Blu-ray release comes with an interesting “Making of” documentary in which the crew discuss their association with Shatner and the rigors of shooting a documentary.
Several years later, Shatner remixed the footage from The Captains for a short-run series called The Captains Close Up. Each half-hour segment goes further into depth with each actor via extended interviews and material from other Star Trek actors Shatner and his team collected on other productions. Mulgrew’s episode is very much the standout as she and Shatner discuss her early move to television — something she’s come to regret — and the difficulty of being a single mother and the captain of the Voyager. Continuing the theme from The Captains, Shatner’s episode is the least revelatory and he’s shared many of the same thoughts in other venues. Although, he does offer some new insights into the failure of his previous marriages, if not outright admitting to Mulgrew that he tended to be an unfaithful husband. Stewart’s episode goes further into his family history and the shadow the original Star Trek cast over the early production of TNG while Brooks offers a look into his love of music. Bakula’s episode just continues to affirm that the Quantum Leap actor is the nicest man in Hollywood. And like its feature-length cousin, The Captains Close Up is an entertaining treat for fans of the various Star Trek series and the actors themselves.
Special features include an unofficial sixth Close Up episode in which Shatner and Plummer continue to talk about their time together in repertory theater. Some of their conversation will be obscure to those unfamiliar with mid-20th Century stage actors, but there is a certain delight in watching two older talents like these reminisce about those long gone days and some of the people they outlived. As Plummer says late in the episode, all that’s missing is a glass of wine.
The latter two documentaries see Shatner tackling topics he is a little less familiar with — The Next Generation and the Trekkie phenomenon itself. Chaos on the Bridge tells the story of TNG‘s first three seasons; a chaotic time in which Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry‘s already failing health made the difficult job of establishing a new Trek without the original crew a nightmare proposition. Add to that a volatile showrunner who found Roddenberry’s ideas to be “wacky-doodle,” a premise which prevented seasoned TV writers from using go-to plots, and an attempt by Roddenberry’s lawyer to take direct control of the series. Realized via talking head interviews and motion-comic-style animation, Chaos on the Bridge is the best of the set. Shatner’s distance from the show — although he admits to being a great friend of Season 1 showrunner Maurice Hurley — probably aided in telling the story without a lot of the Shatner-centric flourishes of the other three.
Which brings us to Get a Life!, Shatner’s look at the annual Las Vegas Star Trek Convention. Though a special feature on the disc suggests the film was conceived as a look at making a large fan convention run smoothly, Get a Life focuses on a number of fans at the show and Shatner’s attempts to understand the ritualistic nature of conventions. Like the two Trekkies films, the vignettes centering on the fans reveal a wide set of backgrounds, interests, and reasons for coming to the convention. One story in particular — that of David “Captain Dave” Sparks Jr, who suffered from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, but nonetheless came to conventions throughout his life — proved especially poignant. Other stories include an entirely family who make the pilgrimage every year, a cosplayer who finally won the top prize in the costume contest, and a young woman who meets her idol, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s Terry Ferrell.
Shatner intersperses these stories with a handful of a behind-the-scenes moments with convention staff and a sit down interview with Dr. Scott Richards. Though Dr. Richards has interesting things to say about why Trekkies behave as they do, Shatner’s attempt to come to grips with it feels a little forced. More true to his life is any moment in which you see him interact with a fan.
Curiously, the visual quality of Get a Life! wavers wildly as some footage was captured by the fans at home and the professionally recorded segments span three distinct production blocks. This follows over into the special features as they contain more of the filmed-at-home fan segments and what appears to be a sizzle reel for the project’s original intent. To be honest, we’d love to see a film about managing a large fan convention. We’re just not sure Shatner’s the right filmmaker to do it.
All in all, though, Shatner’s various explorations into Star Trek are charming and great viewing for fans. They will even remind you of the days when “Bill” was a beloved raconteur who could use his charms to talk to just about anyone — be they a half-naked Tribble hunter or the notoriously reclusive Avery Brooks. Those outside the Star Trek milieu may still find something interesting here as an actor uses hours and hours of digital video tape to understand the very thing which gave him his fame.
The Captains Collection is available now from Shout! Factory.