[REVIEW] William Shatner’s New Documentary “The Captains”

We have a fascination with those who lead. From heads of state and royal families to sports coaches and film directors. We love to follow the lives and careers of those who shape history and guide others to greatness. As a reader of this website, chances are some of your favorite leaders are the captains of great starships — Names like Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway, and Archer.

Now, thanks to William Shatner’s documentary, The Captains, we can learn a bit more about the real-life people who brought these great commanding officers to the screen. This entertaining offering from EPIX debuted in July and is currently available on the EPIX channel and through their EpixHD.com.

Chris Pine and William Shatner
Chris Pine and William Shatner

My fiancée and I signed up for the free two-week trial EPIX currently offers to check out Mr. Shatner’s latest work, and we were still talking about it long after the final credits.

The Captains is an interesting, engaging glimpse into the personalities of these actors, but don’t go in expecting a documentary-style look at Star Trek‘s leading men and woman: Shatner has recorded an hour and a half of conversations and reflections and released it for Trek and film buffs to listen in on. This is not a history of the franchise, but a look at how it (and so much more) has affected each of these talented artists. The film briefly introduces each, as Bill flies out to meet them; then it shifts from one to the other and back again as Shatner asks questions about their careers, their relationships, and what they’ve all taken away from the captain’s chair.

Sir Patrick Stewart and William Shatner
Sir Patrick Stewart and William Shatner

While William Shatner is certainly the center of the film, the true stars of the piece are Patrick Stewart (Jean-Luc Picard), Kate Mulgrew (Kathryn Janeway), and Scott Bakula (Jonathan Archer). Stewart displays great emotion and insight, and plays off Shatner well. Mulgrew is a class-act, tough and no-nonsense; she opens up and discusses some clearly painful memories, but also takes Bill to task when he seems unwilling to reciprocate. In contrast, Scott Bakula is relaxed and easy-going. He talks casually about his family life and his career; he sings; and he laughs at life’s misfortunes. All three are a joy to watch. The remaining interviewees do not fare as well. Chris Pine gets short shrift here, with very little screen time. The most recent big-screen captain struck me as earnest and honest, but intimidated. He appears uneasy around his predecessor, and Shatner does little onscreen to change that. Bill seems to have far less to ask the younger actor. They do arm-wrestle, though, so there is that. As for Avery Brooks… here, the commanding presence that kept DS9 from falling apart is nowhere to be seen. Brooks comes across as an eccentric intellectual who would rather play his piano than discuss acting and Star Trek with Captain Kirk. My fiancée suggested that perhaps he’d spent a bit too much time in the celestial temple, “hangin’ with the prophets.”

William Shatner and Avery Brooks
William Shatner and Avery Brooks

Guest appearances by other Trek actors and footage from last year’s Las Vegas Star Trek Convention add even more to the conversations between captains. I highly recommend it to fans of the franchise, but (as the Borg might say) it falls short of perfection. The pace is quite slow and some strange editing can be distracting at times. It’s clear throughout that as William Shatner interviews his fellow captains, he’s also focused on interviewing himself. Although I get the impression that William Shatner was hoping it would be a bit more, The Captains is a fun, light look at these talented thespians and their thoughts on life, love, and Trek. Should it become available to own, I’d happily add it to my Star Trek video library. Be sure to check it out yourself on EpixHD.com (which is still running a free two-week trial, for a limited time!) and post your thoughts in the comments below.

Engage!

Get your free two-week trial of EPIX today at EpixHD.com.

Columnist — Federation Follies
Willie is a long-time aficionado of cartoons, comic book superheroes, games, and science fiction. He’s a big fan of Stark Trek in general and the 24th Century in particular, and plans to move there as soon as he can afford to slingshot himself around the sun. In the meantime, he spends his time drawing comics and cartoons.

2 Comments Join the Conversation →


  • James Roeden

    I’ve watched it twice so far and really enjoyed it. It’s nice to see these actors as real people and I think this doc did a great job humanizing them. The footage from the convention makes me REALLY want to attend my first one sooner than later. All in all great film. I’ll probably watch it at least once more before my free trial expires.

  • Anonymous

    Very awesome and in-depth review!! Willie knows his “Trek”