‘William Shatner: You Can Call Me Bill’ Honours the Canadian Icon’s Deserved Legacy

Directed by Alexandre O. Phillipe

BY Tanner JamesPublished Mar 18, 2024


Even the most casual Shatner fans will find some comfort in William Shatner: You Can Call Me Bill, the latest from documentarian Alexandre O. Philippe. Bucking the linear storyline of a standard biographical documentary, Philippe gives Shatner free reign to ponder life’s deeper questions, only talking about his career when it serves as an adage to one of his philosophical musings. In some ways, the documentary feels oddly posthumous, as Shatner gazes on his personal end-of-life concerns, alluding to the final frontier that lies ahead.

Best known as Captain James T. Kirk in the Star Trek franchise, Shatner has found a way to stay in, or very near, the public limelight, even at the ripe age of 92. His staying power as a public icon can at least be partially attributed to his laundry list of film and television roles displayed throughout the film. From forgotten Hollywood bombs to cringe-worthy TV ads to moonlighting as a recording artist (with heavy emphasis on the spoken word), comedian and public speaker, he simply never stopped working. Shatner’s lengthy resume as a working entertainer is overshadowed by his role in Star Trek, which seems so perfectly tailored to the Montreal-born actor that it almost feels serendipitous. He didn’t just play Captain Kirk, he was him all along — and still is.

You Can Call Me Bill offers no other interviews. No additional insights from fellow cast members, Trekkies or ex-wives. The film simply allows Shatner to pontificate on life in a dark room with essay-like rants about the meaning of life. The intentionally disjointed narrative is scored by soft piano and filled out by lots of images of nature and footage from his filmography.

Don’t expect the film to bridge the gap between the young kid from Montreal and the world-famous television icon. That’s not the point — Instead, You Can Call Me Bill feels more like a lecture by Alan Watts explaining the notions of Eastern philosophy in the West than the story of the guy who helped shepherd in the rise of nerd culture. Strangely, the concept feels unforced. At 92, Shatner remains an engaging and sharp entertainer with enough charisma and stories to carry viewers through the relatively tight 94-minute runtime.

Since its debut in 1966, Star Trek has featured innovative technologies, a diverse cast and the first interracial kiss on television. It’s aged incredibly well, and so has William Shatner. He carries a legacy lovingly showcased in You Can Call Me Bill, and he’s earned the right to steer the ship like the captain we all know him to be.

(Vortex Media)

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