He is the voice we hear over images of the inky blackness of space. He is our first Captain, regardless of additions to official canon. He is, and always shall be, our friend. He is William Alan Shatner and today is his 81st (81st!) birthday.
He is also a man who can't be bound to just one timeline. Kirk is, of course, Shatner’s biggest and best role, but it is just the tip of the shatberg. As we celebrate Mr. Shatner's birthday (galloping on a purebred stallion with our shirts off, shouting “I AM KIROK!”) let's take a moment to reflect on some of this great man's extra-Trek achievements.
10 – Shatner's World
As I type this, Mr. Shatner is delighting audiences across the country in his one-person show. The energy Shatner exudes on stage for 90 uninterrupted minutes would exhaust an ordinary man half his age. Supported only by occasional video projection, the Shat tells stories from his childhood in Montreal to today, making stops at McGill University, the Shakespearean Stratford Festival, NASA and a troubled night on the Tonight Show. Anyone who has seen Shatner riff at a Trek convention and thought “Man, I could watch a show of just this,” owes it to themselves to check this out.
9 – The Incubus
Low-budget black-and-white horror flicks: they have their place! A reasonably decent one is Leslie Stevens' 1966 production of The Incubus. It is set in a curious village with charmed wells and demonic curses, but the weirdness comes when the characters open their mouths. The Incubus is (still!) the most famous feature length film entirely in Esperanto.
So if you left your universal translator at home and want to hear Shatner speak a language for everyone, this is the movie for you.
8 – I Am Canadian
Imagine how it feels being Canadian. Hipster T-shirts refer to you as America's Hat. A few years back Molson Breweries made a series of commercials boosting Canuck pride. William Shatner (the coolest Canadian of all) did a parody video that took the Internet by storm (a version lives on YouTube here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AOnQROgk1IM).
While some Trekkies may wince at some of the anti-Enterprise rhetoric (I'm convinced he's only joking) it is still exciting to see our Captain beaming from pride and not a transporter device. Now, if only we can find some video of him actually speaking French.
7 – Fanboys
You never hear Trekkies saying that Star Wars stinks. But most Star Wars fans hate Star Trek. I guess the insecurity comes from backing an inferior franchise. (Hey, how does Phantom Menace stack up against the 2009 reboot? Boy, that shut 'em up quick.)
Anyway, the very entertaining film Fanboys takes a fun, Trek-centric detour in its salute to all things Lucas. After our “heroes” destroy a statue of Captain Kirk, they later discover that they need the help of Mr. Shatner to break into the Skywalker Ranch. But don't worry – as he is quick to remind us, “I'm William Shatner. I can score anything.”
6 – Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
Great; thanks to The Twilight Zone, director Richard Donner and writer Richard Matheson it isn't just horrible airplane food that terrifies me. Now I've got to worry about horrible Ferengi-lookin' creatures ripping up the engines.
Other than Captain Kirk himself, this nervous flyer is probably the most parodied character Shatner has ever portrayed – and should also come as a warning to all psychologists out there who so nonchalantly assume that the paranoid ravings of their patients are simple delusions. Do a thorough check out the window before you cast judgment, people!
5 – Kingdom of the Spiders
William Shatner is Dr. Rack Hansen, outlaw veterinarian of the West, ready to do battle against the raging fury of cattle-destroying tarantulas.
And is there a reason you are still reading and not immediately searching for a place to download this?
Trivia: the co-editor of Kingdom of the Spiders was Steven Zaillian, who later wrote the screenplay for Schindler's List.
4 – Denny Crane
Something about Ally McBeal bugged me. I never watched it and I let my general disinterest bleed over into The Practice and Boston Legal. And then I started hearing things. Not only was William Shatner in it, but it was supposedly the best thing he'd done in years.
Eventually my love of the Shat won out and, as anyone who has ever checked in on the law offices of Crane, Poole & Schmidt can attest, I am the better man for it. I can think of no other actor who could possibly play the self-proclaimed legal legend Denny Crane. The mix of comedy, sadness, irritability and lustful, manic energy has become so intertwined with the late-career persona of William Shatner that it is hard to tell if he knew the cameras were rolling. And I'm sure that's just how they wanted it.
3 – TekWar
All right, some real talk. William Shatner is credited as the author of an awful lot of books. Only he and his God know just how much of his stuff is ghostwritten. Regardless, at some point when the Shat was in the shower or taking a jog he had the idea for TekWar, and that's a good thing.
The nine novels, tie-in comics, low-ish budget TV shows, video games and collectable card games present a dystopian cyberpunk future where digital enhancements and virtual reality are addictive and illegal. The franchise also provided Principal Skinner with one of the greatest and most obscure Simpsons jokes ever.
2 – The Negotiator
Okay, hear me out.
To start, you must accept that most young people know William Shatner as the Priceline Negotiator first, and Captain Kirk (and Denny Crane) second. You must also accept that the manic-psycho-goofball persona Shatner has embraced in later years was able to blossom because of this never-ending series of television commercials. It is something that Shatner has fully exploited and it has definitely served him well. Some of the ads were better than others (the one with Nimoy, naturally, was the best), but for years we've been treated to a quick, 30-second visit from our Captain every time a show has had a break. It's been fun.
Also, there really ARE good deals for flights and hotels on Priceline.com!
1 – Airplane II: The Sequel
Not one of the original writers or directors had a thing to do with Airplane II: The Sequel. They've even publicly rejected it. It is a complete rip-off of the first one, but that doesn't mean that it isn't really funny.
Set in “The Future,” the circumstances of the first Airplane happen all over again on a commercial shuttle to the Moon. This time it is Commander Buck Murdock who has to talk Ted Striker down to safety.
Airplane II marks one of the first times William Shatner was willing to poke some fun at his Star Trek notoriety, and his comic monologues are just priceless. This was the first glimmer of Shatner's ridiculous side (shouting “Shh!” to automated doors) and was a hilarious harbinger of things to come.
With a career as varied and vast as William Shatner's, there's no doubt I left some stuff off this list. Since I don't believe in the no-win scenario, I'm opening myself up to complaints and criticism in the comments below. Let me hear 'em!
Jordan Hoffman is a freelance writer, critic and independent film producer living in New York City. He fell in love with Star Trek through TOS reruns just as TNG was getting ready to launch. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels. He has a funny story about the one time he met Leonard Nimoy. Click HERE to follow him on Twitter.
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