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I guess I just like liking things

On paper it sounds great: Have Captain Kirk talk to Captains Picard, Sisko, Janeway, Archer, and nuKirk and film the results. Who better to have a unique perspective on being a Star Fleet captain, after all?  I was sold on the description alone:

In the Star Trek entertainment universe, the list of actors cast as Starfleet commanders remains short. William Shatner — the player who initiated the role — interviews a raft of other “captains” in this affable documentary, which he also directed.

I guess I should have paid more attention to the last four words of that, as that would have helped me get in the right mindset for the documentary.  To help you understand what I mean by that, please remember that William Shatner directed Star Trek V.

Honestly, there are bits that are very interesting, but overall the doc is… weird. There’s a very strange overall tone that is hard to pinpoint. It hit me about twenty minutes in that the movie was less about hearing how all the captains related to being captains in Star Trek and more about William Shatner using their comments as springboards to talk about his experiences.  If you’ve been a Star Trek fan for longer than ten minutes, you’ve no doubt heard that this seems to be standard operating procedure for this particular captain. Obviously I have no firsthand experience with him, so I can’t say for sure, I can only go by what James Doohan and George Takei have had to say about it.

Shatner’s relationship to Star Trek has been a strange one.  The famous Get a Life! skit on SNL (which still seems incredibly mean-spirited to me) is most likely an encapsulation of his feelings at the time, but he still went on to appear in three more Trek movies. As time has gone on, Shatner has seemingly embraced his time on Star Trek, though I’m sure the more cynical among us might attribute that to thing$ other the enduring power of Star Trek.

So with that base understanding of the person making the movie, and even setting that aside as much as possible, the movie becomes interesting – not so much because of the content, but because of how it’s presented. We probably all understand that the rigors of filming a weekly television show might wreak havoc on one’s family life, but seeing the look on Sir Patrick Stewart’s face when he’s asked about it will turn your stomach into knots – less because you understand the difficult time it must have been for him and more because that moment on film is just so very uncomfortable, and you have to imagine he’s thinking, “Surely this will not make the final cut of the film.”

I’m still trying to parse the sections with Avery Brooks.  I’m only 19 episodes into Deep Space 9, so I don’t know much about it yet, and I know even less about the man playing Captain Sisko. His segments in this movie were… man, I don’t know. Surreal! I got the distinct impression that he’s more musician than actor, and I tend to agree with Shatner’s summation at the end of the movie where he refers to Brooks as having a “jazz mind.” That is most likely not a direct quote, but the idea of him having a jazz-like thought process sure seems like a theory with plenty of on-screen proof to back it up.  Brooks spends a lot of his on-camera time playing the piano, which is unusual for a documentary about Starfleet captains, but is certainly fine, but it leads to William Shatner singing improvised lyrics along with the piano and it’s just so very weird.

The other captains all do a nice job of recognizing what’s happening – in the sense of “we’re all part of this Star Trek phenomenon, and here is the guy that started it.” In his defense, Shatner had no idea going into that show what would happen with it. Nothing like that had ever happened before. Any of the actors in the following series, though, had to have at least a little idea, and it was fun to hear a couple of them talk about growing up with the original series.

I don’t think the film was wasted time. If you’re a Star Trek fan at all you will find it interesting, for sure. And if you’re not, you might still want to experience the very particular oddness of it. Come for the improvised jazz lyrics, stay for the thoughts on dying.


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