Saturday, November 28, 2015

William Shatner and Chaos on the Bridge (a Netflix documentary review)

The Netflix release, William Shatner Presents: Chaos on the Bridge, is a must see for Star Trek fans, especially Next Generation ones. In it, Shatner candidly interviews many players who were instrumental in recreating Gene Roddenberry's brainchild from the original sixties TV show. The series almost never left the ground, so to speak, because of a production power vacuum that existed during the first two seasons. Although Roddenberry's vision and relentless drive carried the momentum during the franchise's infancy, it wasn't until the third season when head writer Michael Piller took the reins from frustrated Maurice Hurley that the series solidified.

Shatner congenially evokes anecdotes and memories from the cast and crew like only an insider into the Star Trek legacy can do. His presence, no doubt comforting to the interviewees, generates a fond reminiscence of what otherwise sounds like a tortured and chaotic beginning to a project that was always one chop from the cutting room floor. The animated vignettes of Roddenberry and others who butted heads at that time are well suited to the documentary's overall purpose--to inform as well as to entertain. In fact, there's even one clip that shows sausage being made in order to describe the frantic pressure put on writers to produce scripts that would sell the audience to a new, bloodless type of Star Trek, one with less 'fighting and fornicating' (as one writer put it) than the original series. Piller was able to make things gel in ways that Hurley couldn't and Shatner gets a last jab at the latter at the end.

Probably the funniest story was the fact that Patrick Stewart had to have his toupee flown to Hollywood from England in order to read for the part of the captain because nobody imagined a hairless commander at the helm, but as Roddenberry reportedly quipped, "Hair won't matter in the 24th century."  And so it goes. The genius behind Star Trek didn't live to see the awards and popularity and spin offs that the franchise created, like a whole slew of comics and paperbacks, many of which were created by New York Times best selling author, David Mack, who I interviewed twice on this blog, here and here, but rest assured, if Gene, the Genius, is looking down at us somewhere from the Delta Quadrant, he'll be smiling that his vision has baldly gone where no man has gone before.