How do you review something that touched you in such a way, it left you speechless? That is a question I’ve been asking myself every since I watched William Shatner‘s (@WilliamShatner) documentary The Captains.
I knew before I sat down to watch this documentary that it was not a documentary about Star Trek, but instead about the actual people who had the daunting task of filling the role of Captain. It was this that made me want to watch it. I am such a fan of the series—at least Gene Roddenberry’s vision, not Rick Berman’s or JJ Abrams—that I already know pretty much all there is to know about Star Trek. What I did not know, or at least not to the extent that I wish I did, was who are the actual people behind the iconic role of The Captain.
I am not a fan of people. Yes, there are a good many people whom I admire and have great respect for, however, I do not go out of my way to watch interviews filled with nothing but soundbites or tabloid accounts of their lives. I have a huge respect for both William Shatner and Sir Patrick Stewart, but aside from a couple of small details, I am not able to give you an accounting of their lives. After all, they are just people who happen to have extraordinary careers and I believe they should be afforded the same privacy I’d like. And I couldn’t tell you anything about Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula—exception being Quantum Leap—or Chris Pine, without having to look up their careers on IMDB. So when I heard William Shatner say that The Captains would be about the actual people, not the same tired information spat out by the media, I was intrigued.
I found the way The Captains was edited to be quite appealing. Instead of having the documentary divided into sections according to the person being interviewed, it is divided according to subject matter and each individual’s point of view on said subject matter. Among the various sections, you learn, in turn, how each of the actors was cast in the role of Captain, their prior careers, their knowledge of the series, the toll it took on their personal lives and relationships, their regrets, and more. I think one of the reasons why this appealed to me is because it is the way that I would have done it.
I learned many things by watching this documentary. I learned how difficult it was to be a woman cast in such a role. I learned just how kooky and eccentric Avery Brooks is. I gained an overall greater respect and appreciation for those individuals who take on such a daunting career and the sacrifices it involves.
Tears came to my eyes as I watched two distinguished gentlemen, William Shatner and Sir Patrick Steward, discuss their regrets about lost family time and Bill finally coming to terms with his role as James T Kirk, at the tender age of 80.
After I watched The Captains, I did something I never do: I read what other people had to say about the documentary. I saw many negative comments about, to paraphrase, too much of Bill’s ego and not enough about the other people or Star Trek itself. When you consider that if it were not for Bill accepting the role of Captain Kirk this documentary would have not been made, I think this documentary would have been extremely bizarre had he not spent some time talking about his own struggles and giving his point of view on the unconventional questions he asked of the others. Also, this documentary was never suppose to be about the series. Instead, it is about the actual, real people behind the roles they played. Too many people make the mistake of associating a role with the person who plays them.
As someone who conducts a lot of interviews, interviews that are more about conversation and the actual people I’m interviewing, I have a huge admiration and love for how this documentary was shot and the questions asked. If I wanted just another soundbite, I’d be watching American talk shows and reading American tabloids. Also, my appreciation for this documentary could also stem from the fact that it is very Canadian.
I remember an interview Bill did at San Diego Comic-Con when he was launching The Captains. I remember becoming very angry with the interviewer, on Bill’s behalf, because he kept asking Bill about Star Trek. It didn’t matter how many time Bill said he was not a fan of the series, nor had he ever watched an episode or movie, plus he was there to promote the documentary, the interviewer insisted on asking Bill questions that he could not answer and put him in a position of coming off, yet again, as someone with attitude, one that some have dubbed ‘The Shatnertude’. I have to admit, if I spent the majority of my career being ignored for the person I am and haunted by a single role, I’d probably have the same attitude.
It is because I sympathise with Bill, it is because I can see how extremely difficult it would be to be seen for only one thing, that I was so extremely happy to see Bill finally make peace, at the tender age of 80, with the legacy of Star Trek and playing the iconic role of Captain Kirk. I knew that the documentary would have a certain candid aspect to it, but I was thrown off and surprised by just how touching I found it. It also made me happy that in the process of wanting to discover more about the other people who’d go on to play the role of Captain after Bill, Bill would discover more about himself.
If you are wanting just another documentary about Star Trek, then do not watch The Captains. But if you are interested in finding out more about the real people behind the iconic role of Captain, their lives before and after playing a role that has been a cultural icon for 45 years, and how it has affected all of them, then I definitively recommend The Captains. Also, if you have difficulty watching grown men become teary and emotional, grab your box of tissue.