Monday, October 21, 2013

The Captains

The highest compliment I can pay to this film is that, while watching it, I wished it would never end.

Here's the gist: The Captains is a documentary written, directed, and produced by William Shatner, chronicling his quest to meet and get to know every other main Star Trek captain, including Patrick Stewart from Next Generation, Avery Brooks from Deep Space Nine, Kate Mulgrew from Voyager, Scott Bacula from Enterprise, and even Chris Pine who played the young James T. Kirk in those new Star Trek movies the young people seem to enjoy. Now, if any of that sounds the least bit appealing or fun, watch this movie because you'll find it glorious. But if any of that sounds awful, give it a major pass, and while you're add it probably give 99% of this blog a pass too. Why are you here?

As a "documentary," this film earns the title in the strictest, most literal possible way, since it's not so much a documentary as it is five different conversations intercut with one another, as well as footage of Shatner at a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas. In fact, the footage of Shatner walking around the convention floor and hamming it up with unsuspecting fans is probably the most fun stuff in the entire movie. The montage of him telling all the female actors that they were "the most beautiful woman to ever work in Star Trek" had me rolling on the floor.

But the rest of the film is pretty great too, at least... if you're a Star Trek fan, since it's just two hours or Shatner talking to other Star Trek captains. As the film began, I kind of got the impression it was just going to be a two hour film where Shatner throws his ego around -- and it was to some extent! -- but he revealed himself to be an astoundingly good interviewer. His questions were always interesting, but often profound and thoughtful as well, and even though this was certainly his film, his greatest strength was in knowing when to let his subject just talk. I seriously could've watched 7 seasons of just William Shatner conversing with Patrick Stewart, since both men are that interesting, that charming, that intelligent, and had amazing chemistry.

I also really loved all the bits with Scott Bakula, who seems like the nicest, most happy, and well rounded of the bunch. I actually wanted him to talk more about Quantum Leap, but that's neither here nor there, since he seemed like a really cool guy, and probably the one I'd most want to meet for a beer in real life. The moment where they both meet on camera appeared to be the moment where they both met for real... and if not, they are astoundingly brilliant actors since the moment felt so genuine and the mutual respect and admiration they had for one another was infectious.

Kate Mulgrew is still a lovely woman with a commanding presence, but I'd be lying if I said I was either a fan of her or of Voyager. But it was still an interesting conversation, and after Patrick Stewart, Shatner seemed to have the best chemistry with her, even though she admitted that before she took on the role as Captain Janeway she hadn't heard of William Shatner. They talked a lot about the theater and in trying to raise a family while forging an acting career. Interesting topics to be sure, but not ones I really cared about. But then again, I have no real affection for Voyager so the site of her doesn't fill me with awe as the other captains do.

Chris Pine is ridiculously handsome, which was accentuated by the fact that he was the only person on screen through the entire film that wasn't about 60 years old. He was also pretty funny and likable and smart, which is good because while his segments were entertaining, they didn't quite reach the levels of the segments with the other actors. Then again, he's a kid who just entered the world of Star Trek, which is something Shatner doesn't seem to find interesting, since most of the questions he poses to the other actors were about growing older, gaining perspective on life and their careers, and even what happens to us when we die. He didn't ask Chris Pine any of these questions, or, if he did, they ended up on the cutting room floor because his answers weren't interesting. However, I was impressed with Chris Pine and came away with more respect for him than I had before, since he really does seem very smart and very thoughtful about his chose career. I wish him well, even though I hate his two Star Trek movies.

And then there's Avery Brooks, who is my pick for the greatest actor to ever sit in the Captain's chair, which is an opinion that has gotten me a lot of flack, but almost always from people who never actually watched Deep Space Nine in its entirety and saw just what he did with that character over his seven year run. Anyway... Avery Brooks is a crazy person. He was completely incoherent, rambling, and insane. I literally didn't understand a single thing that came out of his mouth during this entire film. Sometimes he didn't even answer Shatner's questions with words, but with music, since his interview was filmed sitting in front of a piano. I seriously can't express in words just how weird this interview was, and it just has to be seen to be understood... but even then you won't understand it. It was incredibly entertaining, though, and even though he's a nut, he still seems like a kind soul. But the acting William Shatner did pretending to understand what Avery Brooks was saying is among the finest in his entire career, and he should get some kind of honorary Oscar or something.

If I have any complaint at all about the film, it's that the conversations weren't so much about Star Trek as they were acting and even life in general. That's fine, since the conversations were fun and interesting and enthralling, but I'm a Trekkie so I want every conversation at all times to be about Star Trek. Honestly, I don't really care about Scott Bakula's (or anybody's for that matter) theories on what happens after we die. I'd much rather hear his thoughts on, say, what he considers the main strengths and failings of his Star Trek series. And since the film also has brief clips of other Trek actors giving their opinions of their respective captains, I think there was a bit of a missed opportunity by not talking to more actors who played various captains during the run of every series and film. I think it would've been cool to see Shatner talk to, say, Ronnie Cox about his appearance as Captain Jelico, Picar's replacement during the two-parter Chain of Command, or even George Takei on how he approached the role of Captain during Star Trek VI.

But other than those small nitpicks, this is a really fun movie that I thoroughly enjoyed from start to finish. It's funny, insightful, thought provoking, and even profoundly moving. There is one scene where William Shatner meets a trekkie who was some kind of paraplegic confined to a wheelchair who could only move his eyes and I'd be lying if I said that moment didn't make me cry. If you're a Star Trek fan, it's a must see, and since it's on Netflix Instant there's no reason not to go watch it right now. You'll be glad you did.

1 comment:

Justin Garrett Blum said...

I saw that this was available from Netflix streaming, and it intrigued me a little. I read some reviews of it, and people generally weren't very kind to Shatner.