Have you ever had a conversation with someone who didn’t know how to take turns? I mean, most people know how to talk to someone else. You say your bit, you listen to their bit, you say something in return. It’s really not hard. That’s why it’s so striking when you meet someone who can’t do it. They’ll say their bit, and when you start to chime in, they’ll barrel over you to continue their thoughts, repeating the process over and over again until you just give up and let them talk at you, periodically checking your watch and wondering how much longer they could possibly keep jabbering. Eventually, you wonder if the last sound you’ll hear is their voice, yammering continuously as you die unnoticed, your final breath interrupted in favor of another train of thought.
This is kind of what it feels like to watch William Shatner in The Captains.
Shatner hasn’t exactly had the most exciting career lately. He pays his bills with Priceline commercials and convention appearance fees, and uses what’s left of his Star Trek pay for his money baths. To make his life slightly more interesting, Shatner decides to interview the former captains of the other Star Trek series, asking about the impact of the show on their lives and seeing what else they’ve been up to. He finds Kate Mulgrew (Captain Kathryn Janeway of Voyager), Avery Brooks (Captain Benjamin Sisko of Deep Space Nine), Scott Bakula (Captain Jonathan Archer of Enterprise), and Sir Patrick Stewart (Captain Jean Luc Picard of The Next Generation), as well as Chris Pine, who plays the new Captain James T. Kirk in 2009’s Star Trek reboot.
Of course, by “interview the other captains,” I mean that Shatner talks at them non-stop about himself, only allowing the others to talk about their own lives during his brief pauses for breath. Even when he’s actively asking a question, he interrupts their answers to ask more questions. He is, in short, the worst possible person to be interviewing others for a documentary. The only person he doesn’t constantly tread all over is Stewart, and given the venomous look on the man’s face during their conversations, one can assume that there’s plenty of footage on the cutting room floor of Shatner getting a good talking-to.
Shatner does more than just interrupt: he actively baits the subjects, and it’s a wonder they all manage not to punch him in the face. All of the actors had a negative impact on their personal relationships, and instead of just asking them to talk about those clearly painful experiences, Shatner is an absolute pest. “What about your personal relationships? Tell me more about your divorces. You sure had a lot of those!” Perhaps the most infuriating sections for me are his conversations with Kate Mulgrew. She mentions that it was impossibly hard to be a single mother and work eighteen hours a day, and Shatner insists over and over that it was actually just impossible, telling Mulgrew what a terrible, neglectful parent she was. This is shortly after telling her that she couldn’t realistically be a leader because of “all those hormonal things.” Yes, really.
What makes this behavior even worse is how absolutely nice everyone is to Shatner. All the interview subjects tread very carefully around his lack of career and praise him for his impact on the series as a whole. Even after Shatner says some of the worst things he can muster, trying to actively make them cry, they manage to swallow their anger and tell Shatner what a great guy he is. I know this is Shatner’s film and he wouldn’t be in a negative light, but it gets a little ridiculous. There is some footage where he meets his fans at conventions. He looks mostly disinterested and unhappy unless the fans are children or disabled, and then he makes a big show out of meeting them. I’m honestly surprised that there isn’t a shot of him kissing a baby. The only negative section is Shatner talking about how he peeked in the dressing room of Funny Girl and watched the dancers changing, but he seems pretty proud of that one.
The only really interesting part of the film is Avery Brooks, and that is because he seems absolutely insane. I’m not entirely sure he know what he’s saying most of the time, and when he isn’t babbling at Shatner, he’s playing the piano and singing. There is a point where Shatner sings with him (very badly) and Brooks openly laughs at him. Shatner thinks he’s laughing with him, of course, but it’s the closest thing to a bad thing about Shatner that this movie has. More power to you, Mr. Brooks. Keep that crazy train running. There is also an appearance by Apple Annie, a crazy homeless woman on the street who loves TOS but can’t recognize Shatner. She is, perhaps, the best person in the world.
From a technical standpoint, the film isn’t an absolute disaster, but it’s pretty bad. The sections are all grouped together logically, but the cuts are messy and placed strangely. The pacing is very slow, especially toward the end: I thought I was seeing the ending at least five times before the movie was actually over. There are little clips of Star Trek throughout, but considering how often they use still images (and the same still images, at that), it feels like they couldn’t get the rights to use more. The music is disjointed and fades in and out oddly; I did, however, see an early cut of the film, so there is a chance that they may fix that.
If you want to watch William Shatner masturbate for an hour and a half while his peers look insulted and uncomfortable, The Captains is the movie for you. If you’re looking for a reverent look at anyone but Shatner on the cast of Star Trek, you won’t find it here.