My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
This documentary is a series of interviews, actually conversations, between iconic actor William Shatner and the other actors who have played Star Trek captains. Jetting around the country, Shatner talked with Patrick Stewart, Captain Picard from Star Trek: The Next Generation, Avery Brooks, Captain Sisco from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Kate Mulgrew, Captain Janeway from Star Trek: Voyager, Scott Bakula, Captain Archer from Enterprise, and Chris Pike, Captain Kirk from the 2009 Star Trek movie.
Interspersed with the interviews were clips from a Las Vegas Star Trek convention at which Shatner appeared, where he met other Star Trek actors, including Rene Auberjonois, Jonathan Frakes, Robert Picardo, Connor Trinneer, and Nana Visitor, among others. Shatner also had a short interview with his old friend Christopher Plummer for whom he understudied at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario early in his career and who played the villainous Chang in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991). The only really obvious omission was Leonard Nimoy.
This documentary was fascinating in how it revealed as much about Shatner as his subjects. Topics ranged from how they got started acting, to how each actor got their Star Trek role, to how the Star Trek experience changed their lives and affected their families, to philosophical musings on death, and many things in between. Most of the captains are classically trained stage actors who weren’t necessarily immediately onboard with playing a science fiction character for TV. Bakula and Brooks both have extensive musical backgrounds, Bakula as a singer and Brooks as a jazz pianist. In fact, Brooks provided the documentary with a pleasing smooth jazz score.
All of the captains came off as intelligent, hard-working, and frank. It was nice to see that they all still took their roles seriously and were truly humbled by the fan reactions to their work. Shatner, especially, seemed genuinely moved when he found out that the Canadian head of Bombardier Aerospace was inspired to take up aerospace engineering from watching Shatner on Star Trek. There was also a poignant scene at the convention where Shatner greeted a young wheelchair-bound man whose devotion to Star Trek seemed to be about the only thing that kept him going.
The interview with Stewart seemed to have the most resonance. It was obvious that there was genuine rapport between him and Shatner. When they talked about how the long hours playing their roles negatively impacted their marriages, it was heartbreaking. Mulgrew’s take on being a single mother during her tenure as captain was also touching.
Shatner turned out to be an excellent interviewer. He kept things light and often humorous, such as when he conducted Pine’s interview at a card table on a busy intersection or when he met Mulgrew sitting in a cardboard box. This allowed him to get his subjects relaxed and able to open up about some of the deeper questions. Shatner used his personal experiences to draw out measured responses from the other actors. Shatner has a reputation for being egotistical and antagonistic, but none of that was evident here. Maybe time has mellowed him out.
The Captains is a journey of discovery for Shatner that is an enjoyable look at the world of acting in general and the Star Trek universe in particular. It is a sincere glimpse into the heart and soul of Star Trek.