Judge Patrick Bromley has spend a little too much time on Rigel VII.
Boldly go where no man has gone before.
If you know me or are married to me (a narrow group of people, to be sure), you know that I have, in recent years, become a total Star Trek nerd. Having always been aware of the show but never really committing to watching it or caring about it one way or another, a switch was flipped in me after seeing the 2009 reboot, and I was a goner. I started watching every single episode of the series (and writing about the experience in a column called "Boldly Going" for TV Verdict). I've got the action figures up in my office at home. I listen to Star Trek-themed bands. It's become a bit of a problem. I recognize that I'm still a newbie, and while I wouldn't dream of holding myself up against the true devotees, I am a work in progress. I will get there. Needless to say, when the opportunity arose to review The Captains, a new documentary about the Star Trek phenomenon directed by William Shatner, I jumped.
There's not much more to The Captains than what it sounds like: Shatner travels around and talks to each actor that has played the captain of a starship in each of the Star Trek franchises: Patrick Stewart of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Avery Brooks of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek: Voyager, Scott Bakula of Star Trek: Enterprise and even Chris Pine, the alternate universe Kirk of J.J. Abrams' 2009 Star Trek. The results are a very, very mixed bag. It's a shapeless, meandering ramble of a documentary, not sure what it wants to say or how it even wants to go about saying it. Part fan doc, part vanity project, The Captains rarely answers any of the questions you might think of when the idea of a film like this one comes to mind. It's not really about the lasting popularity of Star Trek, nor is it about the responsibilities the actors playing the captains have in securing the show's legacy. These things are brought up, sure, but then quickly dropped as Shatner chases some other thread like a dog that loses interest in a toy too quickly. The movie is charming and sincere, but I'm not even sure what its sincerity is directed at.
At times, a certain topic or idea will come into focus long enough to make the movie compelling, leading one to wish Shatner had explored these ideas further and ditched the extraneous stuff. Almost every moment with Patrick Stewart is great, because he is very honest and has something to say about his history with the show and relationship with the character; his interviews are what all of The Captains could have and should have been. Scott Bakula also has some insights into his incarnation of the phenomenon (and even confesses that he's aware Star Trek: Enterprise didn't quite work); he's also forthcoming about the sacrifices he's had to make in his personal life for the sake of his career. Too often, though, Shatner is happy to get off topic and start discussing some metaphysical nonsense about life after death instead of trying to explore the Star Trek phenomenon with some of the people who were closest to it. Kate Mulgrew comes off somewhat pretentious, mostly engaging in theoretical discussions about the "craft of acting" (there's a lot of that throughout the movie), though there is one interesting exchange in which she talks about the role of women in leadership versus men. It isn't really tied into Star Trek, lest you think she's explicitly referencing her role as Captain Janeway (the only female commander of a starship in any of the Star Trek franchises), but it makes for some compelling conversation nonetheless. Avery Brooks, unfortunately, spouts mostly incoherent nonsense behind a piano, indulged at every turn by Shatner, who is more than willing to meet him weird for weird.
The Captains comes to DVD courtesy of E1 Entertainment, and it's a pretty straightforward release. The film gets an anamorphic transfer in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, and shows a surprising amount of detail for standard definition. Facial textures are detailed, skin tones are accurate and the various clips and archival stills shown throughout the feature look good. The program consists primarily of talking heads, but it's all done well on the DVD and fans shouldn't find much to complain about. The Dolby 5.1 audio track is serviceable and almost overkill given what the demands of the feature are, but it's not like the surround channels are utilized all that much. The interview dialogue is presented clearly in the center channel, and that's what really matters. Optional English subtitles are also offered, which is a nice touch.
The only supplements included on this modest DVD are a short "making of" featurette and the movie's original theatrical trailer.
I won't say I didn't enjoy The Captains, mostly because it afforded me a chance to spend 90 minutes with some major players from the Star Trek universe. As a movie, I walk away still unsure of what Shatner was hoping to accomplish. I don't know much more about Star Trek or about who its captains are as people. I did learn that Patrick Stewart is totally awesome, but, then, I already knew that.
At least it's Star Trek. Sort
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