William Shatner: You Can Call Me Bill review — Vanity Trek

Directed by Alexandre O. Philippe | 96 min | ▲△△△△

WIlliam Shatner is a famous Canadian actor who has lived an impressively long life — he’s just about to turn 93 — and has managed to sustain a career in show business much longer than his initial fame as Captain Kirk in Star Trek might’ve suggested.

He’s trod the stage, he’s performed in movies, written science fiction novels that have been turned into a TV series, he’s recorded music, but mostly he’s acted in television. He’s acted and acted and acted. Anyone who’s had this kind of career longevity has earned the right to be proud of it, but who asked for this abysmal doc?

It gives the Montreal-raised former starship captain a chance to indulge in his self-obsession, to ramble on about his personal obsessions — death, dogs, identity, trees, the appeal of the audience — in a wildly self-indulgent way. In that respect, maybe the doc is an analogy for Shatner’s work itself. Subtlety, nuance? That stuff’s never been his bag. He’s always gone big. Like Madonna, or like Val Kilmer in his recent documentary, we’re never going to know who Bill is when the camera isn’t on because the camera changes him.

He’s played leaders, so the film asks us to compare that fiction with American military officer George S. Patton. It’s laughable, and so is his drawing attention to a terrible-looking film he made 60 years ago in Spain called White Comanche. 

To Shatner’s credit, in the latter part of his career he’s been pretty comfortable with a certain amount of self-deprecating humour — as much as he’s been a target of good- or not-so-good natured teasing, he’s also skilled at making fun of himself. The comedy clips shared here have aged well, and I’ll always have a soft spot for his work in Airplane II: The Sequel.

But the takeaway with this project is vanity. Shatner’s musings are much less profound than he thinks, and any documentary purporting to give us an inside look at Bill Shatner that doesn’t address his colleagues’ frequent reports of his diva behaviour isn’t being honest with its audience. This isn’t wisdom, this is boredom.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.