The new STAR TREK is an extremely enjoyable ride, capitalising ruthlessly on any affection we may have for those 1960s TV characters. It also touches on an idea recently explored in another project associated with director JJ Abrams, the TV show Lost. In Lost, which Abrams co-created, the latest series has introduced time travel as a device which not only offers a solution to many of the apparently imponderable mysteries of the previous seasons, but offers a happy ending to characters much knocked-about by fate and the writing team. Briefly, in the last few episodes, a plan is hatched to change the future by detonating an atomic bomb, which will cause a chain reaction of events ultimately preventing the plane crash that began the series. If this plan works, the show’s narrative will erase itself.
In STAR TREK (written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, directed by Abrams), a black hole transports a rogue Romulan vessel back in time, altering the flow of history by killing Captain Kirk’s father, and then, more seriously, destroying an entire planet. Since this event is not undone, it means that sequels to this movie will not have to follow the continuity of the TV show, since the whole course of history has changed. It’s an ingenious way to defeat the objections of pedants.
(Both Lost and STAR TREK feature temporal paradoxes in the form of the ourobouros – in Lost, one character gives another a compass, and the receiver then travels back in time and returns it. That compass has no maker, and is immune to destruction: it exists in a perfect loop of time. In STAR TREK, Spock comes back in time and gives Scottie a set of equations that Scottie is supposed to formulate in the future: now the equations have no origin, and are merely passed from brain to brain without ever being invented.)
The idea of rewriting history also seems like a metaphor for the story of STAR TREK as told in the movie. It seems to me that the writers may have taken some inspiration from Oliver Stone’s W, or perhaps from the trailer for Oliver Stone’s W. Consider: in both W and STAR TREK, the hero is the son of a man called George (Captain George Kirk, George Bush Snr) who is a powerful leader, but only briefly (twelve minutes, in STAR TREK). The hero is a ne’er-do-well and barroom brawler who seizes power ruthlessly during a time of crisis, defeating a more sober and apparently reliable authority figure by underhanded means (Spock; Al Gore and John Kerry). The hero must then do battle with a psychotic terrorist. At this point the writers depart from the W plan: realising that what it takes to make this story popular is a happy ending, they have Kirk rise to the responsibility of the position of Captain. His combination of guts, instinct, tactics and authority allow him to triumph over the opposition and unite his colleagues.
Rewriting history, get it? I don’t mean to be cynical and I’m not knocking STAR TREK –
Pluses: a really well-cast bunch of charismatic people; some very good lines for older Nimoy; lots of excitement; and I loved futuristic Iowa!
Minuses: I wouldn’t have so callously destroyed Vulcan; the idea of a supernova “threatening the galaxy” is silly, even if you’re not a science nerd; the canister of “red matter” looks like a poor man’s lava lamp; they stole so much from STAR TREK II that I seriously hope Nicholas Meyer is getting royalties.
– I just thought it was sort of interesting.