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The Captains (2011)

by on 2013/09/12

Captains (2011)

“Have you seen Star Trek? Did it change your life?”

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When William Shatner asks his questions, I perceive a constant subtext: “Won’t you tell us how great I really am?” To call The Captains Shatner-centric would be as much an understatement as misleading.

Ostensibly it compares the shared experiences of six top-line Star Trek actors, but their interviews seem more a means to hear different sounding boards echo obsequiousness. This film isn’t (just) by William Shatner . . . it’s usually about him.

In fact, one of the few entities to rival Shatner’s presence here is the spectre of corporate sponsor Bombardier, which no doubt paid a hefty share of, er, bills. An executive makes an appearance, donates a jet and an oft-present hat, and is mentioned in a pivotal story.

Promotional considerations aside, Shatner seems mostly into himself. What with my being a moderate nerd, I’ve observed him at our local convention, where he made a different impression on me than here. There, he sat at a distance, alone, earning big bucks at a signing table, making no contact with fans except for a gofer who brought him one each of their swag. Here, he’s a dynamo, mingling with con-goers, fleeting and clumsily giddy.

Some of the “fans” he interviews include Patrick Stewart (The Next Generation), Avery Brooks (Deep Space Nine), Kate Mulgrew (Voyager), Scott Bakula (Enterprise), and Chris Pine (2009’s Star Trek reboot), although there’s relatively little of the last two. Additional actors appear for less time, including Christopher Plummer, Jonathan Frakes, Robert Picardo, Rene Auberjonois, Nana Visitor, Jeri Ryan, Sally Kellerman, and others.

The conversations progress through roughly similar topics: backgrounds, accepting their roles, how working affected their personal lives, work philosophies, and the aftermath of their experiences. I was struck by how profoundly unique each was. Surprisingly little related to Star Trek is actually discussed. Instead, they seem to share more common ground in the theatre and music.

When Shatner lets them, that is.

A very touchy-feely host, he often interrupts them, telegraphing what they’re going to say, or what he seems to believe they should say. If they finally get their point across, he might respond with a defensive “I know!” or occasionally contradicting their response. He stumbles into outright offensiveness with Kate Mulgrew, making off-putting “hormonal things raging” suggestions about women in authority.

Fortunately Mulgrew is more than a match for him. She’s feisty, even threatening his ego at times. For his part, Pine appears standoffish, with Bakula closer to fawning. Most interesting to me was Patrick Stewart, just listening, covering his mouth, murmuring non-committally, with the patience of a saint. When he finally speaks, he’s gracious, with lines like, “Extraordinary. I’ve had so many observations about what you’ve been saying.”

Which brings me to Avery Brooks. Not since Gru and I saw a Nina Simone concert have I been so concerned about a celebrity’s faculties. This anti-Sisko runs the gamut from exasperated to giggly. I wondered if he was playing a prank on the vainglorious Shatner. I’ll be diplomatic and suggest he’s simply eccentric. That is all.

From a production point-of-view, there’s a nice mix of interviews, location footage, vintage clips and stills, much of it Canadian. Unfortunately, some visual treatments were fuzzy, the location focus could blur, and only once were some rough cuts softened by a cross-fade. It might have been smoother, if the audio needed editing, to cut under an alternate image.

For that matter, the audio was similarly uneven. I disliked when dialogue faded out in the middle of a speaker’s words, dissolving without warning into a subsequent scene. Composer Andy Milne’s score, a pleasant enough blend of piano, harmonica, acoustic guitar, and pipe, is often mixed too high, distracting from – or worse, obscuring – the voices. And while it was great many Star Trek clips were cleared for inclusion here, it sounds as if their accompanying music was not so lucky.

Now, I’d seen the documentary before. This viewing was my second. As it strained my attention, there probably won’t be a third. I kept flashing back to a skit by The Kids in the Hall, where Scott Thompson stars in a film he has produced, written, directed, and so on, the credits for which are ludicrously packed with his name.

William Shatner amuses me, but I think I’m done with The Captains. It’s intermittently interesting but, once you’ve mined it for trivia, you’re done. Repeat viewings only serve to remind you what a self-serving wading pool it really is.

Admittedly, a wading pool I’ve written nearly 800 words about.

* * *

Not Rated

96 minutes

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