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SciFriday: Written And Directed By William Shatner

Michael Hinman takes a close look at ‘The Captains’

Well, I had a rare experience while at San Diego Comic-Con this year. I had a chance to share a small room with three captains from Star Trek: William Shatner, Avery Brooks and Scott Bakula.

They were there to promote a new documentary that Shatner had put together, where he flies around the world to really get to know the actors who themselves had the honor of sitting in a starship bridge’s captain’s chair.

Shatner, who once wouldn’t even acknowledge the existence of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” left no captain unchecked. Not only did he spend quality time with Brooks and Bakula, but he also sat down with Patrick Stewart, Kate Mulgrew and the new Capt. Kirk, Chris Pine.

I didn’t get a chance to watch “The Captains” when it was first released this past summer. In fact, I had practically forgotten about it until it turned up on my Netflix streaming. But there it was, “The Captains,” and I almost turned it off within the first five minutes when I saw the dreaded words: “Written and Directed by William Shatner.”

The last time I saw that credit, it was for “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.” I was just 13 years old when that film came out in 1989, and I begged my father to take me to the movies to see it. For whatever reasons, it just never happened, and I had to wait anxiously for the film to be released on VHS.

I would call the local convenient store in my town, which was the main place to rent movies, every day asking when “Star Trek V” would hit the shelves. When they finally said it was there, I literally ran the mile or so from my house to that store to be the first to rent it.

Sadly, it became the first time I was disappointed with Star Trek. Sure, I was too young to realize the problems of the first two seasons of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and even too young to realize how much of a disaster Season 3 was of “Star Trek.” But as I watched Laurence Luckinbill hijack the U.S.S. Enterprise with the a rockstar Klingon in pursuit to the center of the galaxy, all I could do was yawn.

In later years, I did see what Shatner really wanted to do. And I have to admit, if technology had caught up with him and we got to see things like the rock creature (that later turned up on “Galaxy Quest), it might have been more interesting. But still, this story was laced with problems, and even my 13-year-old eyes could see that.

So let’s just say that bad experience still sits at the bottom of my stomach 22 years later. And I was certainly nervous going into a documentary where I feared Shatner would mistreat the captains that have come after him.

But you’ll be pleasantly surprised. He’s not. In fact, Shatner appears so elated to be with them, and so interested in everything they have to say, you are sucked right in from he and Capt. Sisko jamming on the piano, to Shatner and Pine arm wrestling outside the Paramount Studios lot where the Star Trek movies were filmed.

There have not been a lot of documentaries that have been good to the Star Trek universe, but “The Captains” celebrates nearly 50 years of this enduring franchise. Even I learned something about each of the actors, thanks to Shatner’s probing questions and tendency to not let throwaway lines remain throwaway lines.

Sitting on a New York stage with Capt. Janeway, Shatner almost grilled Mulgrew about how she tricked her father into sending her to New York so that she could pursue acting. She had her father pay for college, but she soon dropped out when she not only got her first stage lead, but she also won a lead role on the soap opera “Ryan’s Hope.”

Then there’s the hug between Shatner and Stewart. The two had met by accident on a plane shortly before filming began on 1994’s “Star Trek Generations” and have remained friends ever since. Sitting in Stewart’s Oxford home, the British actor shared how his passion for his work affected his home life, resulting in divorces. He also shared how he never once expected he would have to fulfill his six-year contract to play Jean-Luc Picard, believing the series would get cancelled after its first season.

Stewart would’ve never taken the role if he had known how successful it would be. But looking back, he wouldn’t change a thing. In fact, he would be happy being known as not the great Shakespearean actor Sir Patrick Stewart, but as Sir Patrick Stewart, the man who played Capt. Jean-Luc Picard in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

If you haven’t had a chance to watch “The Captains” yet, do so now. It’s well worth the watch. And yeah, “Written and Directed by William Shatner” can be a good thing.

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