Zack & Nick's Culture Cast

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

Trek Tuesday: How William Shatner Changed the World


I’m getting burnt out with Star Trek documentaries.  Fortunately for me, I have reached the last one I planned to look at: How William Shatner Changed the World.  Unlike Trekkies or Trek Nation, How… doesn’t look at the history of Star Trek or the fandom for that matter.  It takes a different approach by looking at all the science and technology that has been inspired from the Star Trek television shows and how we use these technology in everyday life.  Connecting everything is William Shatner, playing the fool as usual in comical segments linking the various interviews and showcases.

How… discusses several innovations made over the past 50 years and how they connect with Star Trek.  The cell phone, of course, being the most popular example as it is reminiscent of the classic communicator that Kirk and Spock used back in the 1960s (the documentary even interviews Martin Cooper, the inventor of the cell phone).  Other things that the film highlights as being inspired from Star Trek include the modern personal computer, non-invasive medical equipment, and space exploration vehicles.

While all of this stuff was interesting (and some of it scary such as Dr. Kevin Warwick working towards connecting to the internet though a mental connection), there were times I felt that the film gave Star Trek a little too much credit for inspiring new and everyday technology.  For example, the film interviews Ed Roberts, who created the first home computer which he named after a planet in Star Trek (the Altair 8800).  It then goes to imply that because Bill Gates created BASIC for the Altair and created Microsoft from it, that Star Trek was indirectly involved with the creation of Microsoft.  It is sort of a giant leap in logic with that one.

The other issue I noticed with How… was that the film goes in a very different direction during the second half focusing on the Star Trek spin-offs.  It became less about what these series inspired (which, granted, would be difficult to do given the relative “newness” of them), and more about how they reflected what society was going through.  Instead of Star Trek inspiring the world, the world was now inspiring Star Trek.  It seemed like the film didn’t know what to do after they were finished discussing the original series.

Shatner’s host segments are amusing, but it really seems to lessen the impact of what the documentary is trying to say.  How can a viewer be wowed by the idea that astronauts became astronauts because of Star Trek while Shatner is trying to hit on a women whose house he broke into?  It makes it really hard to take seriously.

How William Shatner Changed the World is a really uneven documentary for me.  It wants to do so much, but it just doesn’t quite connect in the way that I think it really could have.  But, maybe I’m not the audience the documentary was targeting.  Much to my surprise, I discovered that it was nominated for two Emmy Awards in 2006.  As far as I am aware, no other Star Trek documentary has been nominated for anything.  Clearly, this film did its job well to many others.

Fun Fact: my good pal and friend of The Culture Cast Brian Hajik gave me burnt me a copy off of his TiVo/DVD Burner way back in 2006 (it took 3 DVDS for the two-hour special).  He really liked it and wanted me to see it (but refused to tell me anything about it, because he didn’t want to ruin the surprise).  Well, I never got a chance to watch it until last night (March 17, 2014).  Since 2006, it was sitting on my TV stand, waiting to be watched.  It has moved with me to five different living locations, but resting in the same spot in each of those places waiting to be watched.  After all this time, I almost wonder if it was a bigger sin to watch it than not to.


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