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William Shatner: You Can Call Me Bill (Film Review)

3 min read

From traversing the universe as Captain James T Kirk to fighting crime on the streets of California as Sgt TJ Hooker, has had quite the career. His acting, his musical exploits and unique brand of stand-up comedy have made him a generational icon as well as a household name. Shatner is perhaps most associated with for understandable reasons, but his impact goes far beyond science fiction into the well of cultural relevance. The new documentary William Shatner: You Can Call Me Bill gives the man behind the legend an opportunity to espouse his thoughts on a number of topics and indeed the legacy he built across his career.

William Shatner: You Can Call Me Bill is not a career retrospective in a conventional sense. It doesn't follow a strict chronology, nor is solely concerned with Shatner's feelings on his film and television career. In fact, the specifics of what it was like filming Star Trek and his many other projects are only touched upon briefly. Instead, this film is a musing on life and the very universe itself, seemingly conducted in one, sprawling interview and interspersed with relevant, but not necessarily specific, clips of Shatner throughout his career. 

William Shatner talking to an off screen camera
Signature Entertainment

Certain topics fare better than others. There is a heavy focus on climate change and Shatner's feelings on the potential end of the planet as we know it, a subject the film perhaps lingers on too long. Likewise, Shatner's thoughts on death and the nature of human existence are given far too much prominence. It's not that Shatner's ideas on the subject aren't of interest, it's just that perhaps they have been given too much time in a ninety-minute film to the point it devolves into rambling at points. There's a lengthy story about a monk seal that could be perceived as poignant but doesn't completely land. There are far more effective sections on his thoughts on his distinctive acting voice, as parodying a million times, and a bit more about his childhood. However, weighting this film differently may well have benefited the overall end product. 

One moment in the film that shines is the footage of Shatner going into space, looking into the vast blackness of space itself as well as the Earth from above. Hearing the viewpoint of a man who spent large swathes of his career acting as the captain of a spaceship upon actually seeing the majesty of the planet from outside the atmosphere and experiencing weightlessness is a joy to behold. 

William Shatner: You Can Call Me Bill's success will depend on how much you enjoy listening to Shatner discuss what it is to be alive and human. It's a film that arguably should, and could, have relied on a more traditional structure with a more prominent focus on his career. That said, William Shatner is a captivating voice with some interesting ideas and a certain gravitas that makes an audience inclined to listen to him, so giving him a platform to do so yields an interesting experience; if not one that could have benefited from a tighter sense of focus. 

William Shatner: You Can Call Me Bill is available on Digital Platforms and Blu-ray on May 27.