x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

The next final frontier for William Shatner

The former Star Trek actor William Shatner is boldly going into social networking.

Myouterspace.com is William Shatner's web venture aimed at fans of science fiction and fantasy.
Myouterspace.com is William Shatner's web venture aimed at fans of science fiction and fantasy.

Captain James T Kirk, commanding officer of the starship USS Enterprise. For many actors, that would be more than a satisfactory career epitaph as they approach their, gulp, 79th birthday. Not William Shatner. He still regularly pokes fun at himself in advertisements for discount travel websites, breakfast cereal and online video games. He has made a record with the cult indie songwriter Ben Folds to huge critical acclaim. He breeds horses and races stock cars. He's written science fiction novels, produced a series of video blogs titled Shatnervision, and has appeared on Conan O'Brien's chat show reading celebrity tweets and performing Sarah Palin's speeches deadpan.

And now he's launching his own social media website. Facebook, you have been warned. Myouterspace.com (and can you see what they've done there?), is not quite the Next Generation of websites. It's essentially a nicely constructed portal where creative professionals who have a love of the arts - and in particular science fiction, horror and fantasy - can talk with each other, network, and find jobs.

But it is a nice idea, and Shatner's role in it all is typically, well, Shatnerian. As always, he's having fun with his own legend: users register for the "planet" that best matches their profile (Creatia for writers, Orpheus for musicians, and so on). Specially chosen "starship captains" will create a film, stage show or animation on the site, and then recruit talent from the planet's "inhabitants". And Shatner will apparently "be monitoring all Starship projects, and reviewing each Captain's Log, where progress will be recorded". Which would be scary in a Big Brother kind of way - if it weren't almost impossible to take Shatner's beaming round face seriously

Take one look at the site and the Star Trek heritage is clear - which at one point would have been the last thing Shatner would have wanted. He felt typecast, and would regularly get annoyed at the armies of Trekkies hero-worshipping him. But since he made his peace with Star Trek and his role in it, he's had a whale of a time. He spoofed the Kirk character in Airplane II and National Lampoon's Loaded Weapon. He sent up his celebrity status in Free Enterprise, where Shatner played himself attempting to stage a rap opera of Julius Caesar where he took all the male roles. In comedy drama Boston Legal, his character believes he is, naturally, the greatest lawyer of all time. A prestigious Emmy followed in 2005 and he's been nominated every year since.

Shatner's sharp sense of humour is key: it helps keep his massive ego in check, keeping him loveable and charming. In his autobiography, he writes that the original Star Trek cast hated him for getting everyone else's lines cut except his own. Of Kirk he once said: "We were basically one and the same, although Jim [Kirk] was just about perfect, and, of course, I am perfect." And so it must have been rather galling, not to say illogical, not to receive the call from JJ Abrams inviting him to star in last year's rebooted Star Trek film series - a call that went to his best friend, Leonard "Spock" Nimoy.

Abrams tried to smooth the waters, suggesting that the filmmakers had tried to get him into the plot (in fact, late last year some initial drafts of the script surfaced which had a Shatner cameo), but in the end didn't want to shoehorn him in for the sake of it. You also get the sense that, when it comes to Star Trek, Shatner isn't going to do cameos. All of which was the only dark cloud over what was a fine film. The DVD even featured an extra called The Shatner Conundrum. So it's not surprising that rumours have started to surface that he will indeed be beamed up to the sequel - rumours fanned by Abrams himself when he announced that he'd love to work with him.

Still, Shatner has certainly proved that he doesn't need to reprise old roles to keep himself relevant. Seemingly, whatever he does spirals into increasing levels of madness. So the record he made with Ben Folds, Has Been, was turned into a ballet called Common People (the first track on the album is a hilarious spoken word version of Pulp's 1995 hit). That wasn't the end of it - Shatner filmed the premiere and in 2009, a feature film entitled William Shatner's Gonzo Ballet was released. His regular feature on Conan O'Brien's chat show, in which he read the tweets of celebrities, was so popular, it led to Shatner's involvement in a television adaptation of Justin Halpern's infamous Twitter account, where he tells more than a million followers the ridiculous stuff his ageing father says.

So by this rationale, you wouldn't actually bet against Myouterspace.com ending up as the biggest social networking site in the universe. He could actually host it from space - not such a ridiculous prospect when you consider that Richard Branson has offered Shatner a free ride on his Virgin Galactic spacecraft when it is finally ready to take passengers. Those flights are projected to cost a boggling $200,000 a time - which just shows the esteem in which Shatner is held. May he continue - for sheer entertainment alone - to live long and prosper.