Star Trek is ridiculously entertaining.

Film Star Trek is ridiculously entertaining.

Given that nearly everyone seems to have seen the film (if you haven’t yet I’d stop reading now, spoilers ahead) and a percentage of them have written reviews, it seems a bit pointless to trot out the usual stuff about how well cast everyone is, how well directed the action sequences are and how the only thing wrong with it is that we have to wait so long for the next adventure. It somehow manages to divine the magical essence of the original series and movies, oxidise them and create something new but completely within the spirit, a conical reboot. I laughed, I cried, I gasped, I spent most of the running time saying “I can’t believe they just did that…” under my breath.

What particularly interested me given my usual franchise predilection was how time travel would be dealt with by screenwriters Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman. Across the decades, Star Trek’s approach to time travel and parallel worlds has been fairly strict; in most of these kinds of episodes it’s accepted that we’re watching one particular timeline and such stories are mostly about the crew figuring out what disruption has been made and then go about the process of making right what once went wrong. So in City On The Edge of Forever, Kirk finds that he has to let Edith Keeler die; Yesterday’s Enterprise is about convincing the captain of the Enterprise-C to take her ship back to were it came from to end civil war; Star Trek: First Contact is about making sure the first warp ship launches on schedule. Enterprise’s main plot arc was about stopping the Xindi’s plans to make the future their own.

On initial inspection, the film would seem to conform to that idea; when Nero breaks into the past and kills Kirk’s father, it looks as though forty years worth of continuity has been chucked out of an airlock, ironically with the exception of the underrated Enterprise which is referenced in there somewhere. But I it isn’t that simple. Cleverly, in franchise terms, what Orci & Kurtman have done is change just slightly how time travel works in their universe by introducing a measure of one of the series little used reality benders, alternate realities. Star Trek hasn’t much dealt with parallel worlds, timelines running concurrently with our (their) own. Basically it’s the hokey old mirror universe or that Next Generation episode, Parallels, in which Worf does indeed travel between realities like the main character in the rubbish Jet Lee film The One, visiting a variety of different universes including one in which Wesley is the tactical officer of the Enterprise-D.

As they explain in this interview without naming names, the writers are essentially using the approach to time travel postulated by physicist David Deutsh to cope with the grandfather paradox. My understanding of what Deutsh suggests that if someone took the decision to travel back in time to kill their own grandfather, what they’d unconsciously succeed in doing is not only travelling in time but also creating an alternate reality in which such murder would be possible allowing for them to continue to exist afterwards. Here, when Nero and Spock pass through the temporal anomaly they’re not just travelling backwards in time, but also space, with the latter pitching up twenty-odd years after the former has set to work. What that would mean is that the Star Trek universe we’ve been watching for forty years still exists and carries on after the destruction of Romulus into the future that Daniels, the Xindi and the timeship Relativity missing one mining ship and a Vulcan Ambassador.

Some reviewers have been sniffy and said, well, it’s action packed but it doesn’t have the thematic depth of the Roddenberry sourced version. Rubbish. The film wrestles with the very theme which has been fundamental to the whole franchise; identity and what makes us human. On a more visible level there’s the eternal struggle between Spock’s Vulcan and human natures where his home planet is, but beneath that, the time travel elements allow us to see what of these characters changes when one of more elements of their biography are interfered with and what doesn’t. As say themselves, in changing history Nero has changed them and so can't predict what their choices will be. Kirk seems more reckless here than in the prime timeline – is that because of the death of his father; how does the death of his mother and home planet effect Spock’s approach to life and how come McCoy hasn’t change a bit (including the casual racism)? Does this mean that Uhura’s first name is finally officially Nyota not Penda or Samara or are they her middle names?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm sure someone will become tired of the new franchise at some point. If they - for example revenues are unexpectedly low for one of the new-series outings, I suspect perhaps, that the USS Relativity will be called into action , and presto - James T, Jean-Luc and the rest will still be able to vacation on Vulcan.

It's just that simple, I'm sure Mr. Abrams will have some fun, but I'm just as sure that Mr. Roddenberry's vision will be find a new revisioning in another 10 years or so.