William Shatner's "The Captains" is an ambitious documentary feature, written, directed and starring Shatner himself, with the on-paper intent of examining how playing the role of a captain on the Enterprise has changed the lives of the various actors over the course of Star Trek history. It's most definitely a project for Trek fans, although the end result is a mixed bag that is partially the fault of Shatner's ego and Shatner's noble effort to not shortchange any of the actor's interviewed, even if it makes for an non-compelling viewing experience.
The initial novelty of seeing Captain Kirk interview the Enterprise's successors or in the case of Scott Bakula, predecessor, wears off as Shatner's larger-than-life personality dominates the first moments we get with each actor. However, in these moments we get a strong sense of who will be the most fascinating subject and who would have best been left on the cutting room floor. From there the movie embarks on a diversion following Shatner on the floor of a Trek convention where he photobombs astonished fans, tells no less than three actresses they were the most beautiful woman to ever appear on "Star Trek" and then wow a packed house with his confident, I dare say (initially) arrogant demeanor. Then, halfway in, 'The Captains" enters some very serious territory.
Shatner takes a very distinct approach to each of the interviews and with Patrick Stewart, it's alarming at how in awe Shatner is of the man. The two have a nice conversation with Stewart relating a tale of how his seriousness was handled by the first season cast (the story is also told in a more full version on a podcast with Chris Hardwick) before Stewart drops a bombshell of his choice between career and family. From there, Stewart becomes a silent observer as for the first time Shatner himself opens up with his own insecurities and fears. It's blunt and honest and some fans may find it initially distressing to hear their hero acknowledge his own impending fate. It's never as honest or as candid as Shatner's extended sit-down with co-star and friend Leonard Nimoy in "Mind Meld," but one gets the distinct impression, that had the whole program been Shatner and Stewart and Shatner and Bakula, "The Captains" would have been a more rewarding experience.
Running over 90-mminutes, "The Captains" becomes an exercise in tedium anytime Kate Mulgrew or Avery Brooks are interviewed. Mulgrew is guarded and standoffish, which pushes Shatner into a semi-hostile mode of interviewer. There are some personal revelations, but mostly it's uncomfortable to watch. Brooks' segments are a disappointment if only because the man chooses to speak almost exclusively in musical metaphors, sitting at a piano with Shatner. I've heard of peoples' encounters with Brooks and if I had to guess, I'd say along with Bakula his time on Trek hasn't had as big a life impact as the other stars. Brooks is by no means a stupid man, but as Shatner himself puts it later on, he's on another level and his contributions don't have as great an effect on the program as a whole.
The closest viewers will get to a jovial and relaxed Shatner comes with the Scott Bakula and all too brief Chris Pine segments. Bakula and Shatner seem to connect instantly and comfortably talk about the personal stresses of the show (although Bakula seemed to have more trouble during the filming of "Quantum Leap"). The two come off as a couple of regular guys who despite their age difference have a common bond and it's here that Shatner's obvious intent of the project is most fully realized. The Chris Pine segments, are a nice addition with Pine being very down to Earth and Shatner never once trying to come off as pushy with advice; instead it's a chance for the original Kirk to relieve some great memories with a young actor in all too familiar shoes. Sprinkled throughout the remainder of "The Captains" are brief interviews with co-stars as well as quick sit down with Christopher Plummer (a friend and early colleague of Shatner) who gives his own take on being a (Klingon) ship commander in the franchise.
"The Captains" sadly fails to live up to its lofty goal, but is still a very worthwhile viewing experience. There is enough substance contained within to recommend a viewing from start to finish, although for Trek fans wanting true insight, "Mind Meld" is still the best package deal. Ultimately, "The Captains" may end up being Shatner's swan song to Trek. There are enough hints (and some blatant statements of fact) as the program progresses that the experience turned into a way for him to deal with the possibility that when he dies, many will only remember him as Captain Kirk. Fortunately "The Captains" shows Shatner is far from a one-note persona who has quite literally changed lives with his work.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is acceptable for a documentary project. Long and medium shots suffer from some noticeable compression issues and soft detail. Close-ups are much richer and consistent, while colors vary from setting to setting, with a few areas where moiré patterns become a distraction to the eye.
The Dolby Digital English 5.1 audio track is overkill for the dialogue driven production. It's a front loaded affair, albeit a balanced and distortion free one. A more reasonable English 2.0 track is included as well as English SDH subtitles.
"The Making of The Captains" is a brief, promotional behind-the-scenes featurette, that isn't long enough to be a waste of time. The film's original trailer is included as well.
While the intent of "The Captains" isn't always clearly realized, the side paths some of the interviews take are reason enough to warrant a viewing. The complete program is a bit too ambitious and could have used some more judicious editing and even for Trek fans, repeated viewings aren't really foreseeable. Rent It.