There are two equally valid reactions to “Shatner in Space,” an Amazon special about William Shatner’s recent flight aboard Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin: A cynical one, with Amazon essentially using the “Star Trek” actor as a living product placement; and a more generous read seeing the 90-year-old Shatner giddily reaching the final frontier, this time for real.
Wisely, the special only runs about 47 minutes, enough time to throw in highlights from Shatner’s career, introduce his companions and let Bezos explain his vision for space travel and its potential environmental benefits, in part while he and Shatner ride horses and chat. (The program contains a dedication to Glen de Vries, who died in a plane crash not long after this experience.)
Both Bezos and de Vries make clear during their conversations with Shatner that they were “Star Trek” nerds growing up, and as an added bonus, the producers visit a convention along with the actor, where there’s plenty of enthusiasm about Captain Kirk going to space. The only real cautionary note, understandably, comes from Shatner’s kids, to whom he breaks the news of his plans on camera.
Still, most of that boils down to window dressing – as well as a very effective infomercial for Blue Origin – leading up to the main event, and the images of Shatner finally taking off and gazing at the Earth from above it. Moved to tears, he keeps repeating “Oh wow” while floating weightless, and later thanks Bezos for what he calls “the most profound experience I could imagine.”
The public-relations value of Shatner’s involvement might be obvious, but the special underscores just how many levels that encompassed. Shatner linked Blue Origin to the science-fiction-informed vision of space, the uplifting future that “Star Trek” represents and the reassuring idea that a nonagenarian could undertake the brief journey and return no worse for wear.
Other celebrities, like “Good Morning America’s” Michael Strahan, will follow, but Shatner’s colorful, larger-than-life personality made him an ideal ambassador for what Bezos is seeking to accomplish, a practical reality that shouldn’t be lost on anyone.
Listening to Shatner’s exultation after landing, though, it was hard not to be moved, at least a little. Having pretended being “out there,” he appeared to genuinely savor his chance to go where, for now, so few have gone before.
“Shatner in Space” is available on Amazon Prime.