By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Ah, William Shatner. How effortlessly he moves from show to show, era to era, platform to platform.
For those of you who missed him as Capt. James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise in "Star Trek" in the 1960s, there was "The Barbary Coast" in the 1970s. Or maybe you bought his 1968 album, which featured a spoken-word version of "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds."
No? Maybe you saw him as hood-hurdling police officer T.J. Hooker in the 1980s, or on "Rescue 911." Missed those? Maybe you read his "Tek War" novels. You probably saw him sing in Priceline.com television ads in the 1990s, or in the film "Miss Congeniality" or in any number of self-spoofing roles that continue today.
Heck, he's even created a new character -- mad-cow-afflicted, gun-toting lawyer Denny Crane on ABC's "Boston Legal" -- that may, may enter the Shatnerian pantheon alongside Capt. Kirk.
Now, like a virus that hops to successive hosts as they are introduced into a system, Shatner is mastering e-commerce: He's started his own online club to sell DVDs to sci-fi fans. ( http://www.shatnerdvdclub.com/ )
For a one-time annual fee, the site says, of $47.99 ("Dammit, Jim! I'm a doctor, not a bank!"), customers gain entry to the club, which will give them access to a "selection of rare and compelling Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror films, personally selected by William Shatner."
Okay. First off, there's no such thing as a "one-time annual fee." It's one or the other. The site promises that sci-fi buffs will "own the underground hits no one else has!" but fails to actually, um, list most of the titles that Bill will send you, once a month, for $4 per DVD.
"Only members can enjoy expert selections from the William Shatner DVD Club," the site reads. "We never publish a list of our constantly evolving collection." It grudgingly lists three examples: "Ginger Snaps," "Immortal" and "Dragon Storm," a made-for-the-Sci-Fi-Channel film. All three have received fine marks from the critics.
I mean, as much as anybody, I implicitly trust Bill Shatner and his judgment in all matters. This is the man, after all, who pioneered an . . . entirenewwayof . . . deliveringDIALOGUEthat . . . no one had seen . . . BEFORE! Or SINCE!
But I'm not sure I'm ready to plunk down nearly $50 on the idea, even though, as the site reads, "The iconic Captain Kirk has watched literally thousands of Sci-Fi, Horror, and Fantasy films and has selected his personal favorites for you."
Wait a minute: Who's watching these movies, Shatner or Kirk? ("Dammit, Jim! I'm a doctor, not a Jungian psychoanalyst!")
I might be even more wary of the upfront fee if I checked out, oh, say, Netflix, and found out that for $9.99 per month I could rent -- one at a time, viewing and then returning one DVD and then getting another -- as many DVDs as I could watch in that month. With Netflix, there is no upfront fee, the DVDs are mailed to my house and returned in prepaid mailers, I could hold onto each DVD as long as I want, and I get to choose from a list of 55,000 DVDs that are in plain sight. ( http://www.netflix.com/ )
I understand that's not the same as Shatner and his "team of expert film critics" (now, there's a job) picking out movies for me, but it might have to do.
Tell you what, though. I might be willing to pay $47.99 and $4 per DVD to join a William Shatner DVD Club that sent me only movies starring William Shatner.
Oh, sure. It'd be fun to watch him acting mano-a-maniac with Ricardo Montalban in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." That's a holiday favorite in the Web Watch household and should be in yours.
But where else would you get the chance to own 1961's "Judgment at Nuremberg," a fine retelling of a Nazi war-crimes trial, in which a young Shatner acts opposite Werner Klemperer ("Hogan!")? Or, best of all, "Incubus," the 1965 art-horror classic starring Shatner filmed entirely in Esperanto?
Web Watch had the great pleasure and privilege of hanging with Shatner in Spring 2001, when he hosted the Miss USA pageant in Gary, Ind., as unlikely a combination as you'll find anywhere. The man's energy and keen eye for new enterprise was amazing.
I am certain that he would find nothing more personally edifying than selling a library of DVDs starring himself.