This week I went to see the latest Star Trek movie. I know, know, it’s been out awhile, but I was waiting to see it in IMAX and then I had to find a time I could get to the theater. I have to say WOW! It was definitely worth the wait. However, despite all the reviews and everything I read (and there were more articles around here due to the Riverside connection, see my Riverside post) I was totally unprepared for what I saw. It was NOT a Star Trek movie. Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (my personal favorite) and Star Trek III: The Wrath of Kahn were Star Trek movies. This was quite simply the most glorious piece of visual fanfic ever devised by man.
This is going to be more of analysis than a plot summary, so if you want a summary with plenty of details, check out the detailed version from IMDB.
However, the details of the plot don’t, maybe can’t, give you any idea what this movie is really like.
Clearly the people who made this movie were not only fans of the original and all following Star Trek franchises, but of other things as well. There were references to The Princess Bride the fire jets that Wesley uses to kill the ROUS, the classic light saber fight between Luke and Darth Vader and the ice world Hoth in The Empire Strikes Back, the bar scene in the original Star Wars movie (this one set in Iowa of all places) among others. Even the jumpy camera work seemed a reference to the fan made movie rather than a slick Hollywood thriller. It was full of thrills though and I must admit at one point I actually said out loud, and rather loudly I’m afraid, “Cut the lines! Cut the lines!” before I suddenly remembered 1) Kirk and Sulu couldn’t hear me 2) everyone else in the theater could.
I was completely unprepared when Spock’s mother died. It was such a shock. I whispered to my cousin, “But that breaks canon.” She returns to the franchise again and again. Her dying while Spock was so young broke the canon, but good. I figured they would have to go back in time and prevent all this from happening. That’s what would happen in a normal Star Trek movie, BUT THEY DON’T! The canon STAYS broken, we’ve found ourselves in an alternative universe in the multiverse and some things that we know happened still will, but they won’t necessarily happen or happen in the way we saw them happen originally. The people we know have the same characters, but their life experiences are different and it’s changed events and even relationships (for example Uhura and Spock are now a hot item). Some facts (the Starfleet Academy is still in San Francisco, Romulans are related to Vulcans) remain, others have changed (the planet Vulcan remains destroyed, Vulcans become an endangered specifics, barely 10,000 remain, instead of being one of the dominant power brokers in the universe).
Many things that are typical in fan fiction appear, the cute previously unknown race of alien (Montgomery Scott’s sidekick when we find him on the ice world), humorous visual shorts (Kirk’s reaction to the vaccine Bones gives him to get him aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise as an emergency medical case), and even visually recreating onscreen events that had epic proportions in fandom (and not doing it very well – true to the fanfic concept, OK they probably meant to do justice to the Kobayashi Maru test, but I think Kirk’s cheat to make it winnable probably had more depth, more subtly, and more fairness than suddenly all the enemy ships simultaneously losing their shields for no reason). You even get cute explanations for things, Kirk calls McCoy Bones because when they first meet he complains his divorce left him with nothing but his Bones (much more colorful than the probably real explanation that it was a shortening of the usual Dr. nickname of Sawbones) and James Tiberius gets his name from his two grandfathers (Gene Roddenberry just liked the middle name Tiberius, Kirk wasn’t the only character he gifted with it). There are all sort of short little exciting setups like you find in fanfic. For example, when Scott and Kirk beam back onto the Enterprise while it’s traveling at warp speed, Scotty is accidentally trapped in some kind of water pipe. Without dialog they quickly set up that he is running out of air, heading toward a bad end, and Kirk must figure out how to quickly open the emergency release hatch and get him out. Just the sort of mini-adventure fanfic thrives on.
The actors who’ve taken on these legendary roles aren’t so much re-creating the characters as channeling them. They seem to be copying the accents, word choices, and very inflections of the originals. Bones says his “I’m a doctor, not a…” line. Scotty says “I’m giving her all she’s got” and then comes up with a brilliant plan to give her a little more. The older Spock (Leonard Nimoy) not only says Jim with a grin on his face and true joy in his heart when he realizes who he just saved in the ice cave (referencing one of my favorite scenes out of the original series), but also ends the movie with the famous “Space, the final frontier…” quote. Kirk sits exactly how the Kirk we know used to sit in the command chair. Sulu, who famously fences in a great action sequence in the original series, admits to being highly trained in fencing and helps recreate that light saber scene on the platform of the drill. There is a red shirt character (it was pretty obvious even before he dies that he was a red shirt), the first chief engineer who dies horribly to give Scotty the job. We even get to see (in direct contradiction of NBC’s orders after the pilot “no more green dancing girls”) a member of that famous, if never seen again race, doing a lot more than dancing under Kirk. Scotty is still a brilliant engineer. Bones is a brilliant doctor. Kirk is Kirk. Some characters are even fleshed out a little more. Checkhov is now a mathematical prodigy. Uhura works communications because she a brilliant linguist (she speaks all 3 dialects of Romulan, a race that hasn’t been seen in decades when this takes place). Most importantly the spirit of family, team, and support that make up what makes Star Trek unique is there in full force.
However, the breaks in canon remain. No longer was the U.S.S. Enterprise captained for 12 years under Captain Pike, making Kirk it’s 3rd captain. Pike ends up in a wheelchair shortly after its launch and is promoted to Admiral after the Romulan torture, but now not completely a, well to use a piece of unpleasant but accurate WWI slang, literally a “basket case” or “hulk” and can continue to serve, if not on shipboard. Kirk is given the job of captain of the Enterprise before he has actually completed all the requirements to graduate from Starfleet Academy. Everyone now being closer in age to each other, they all start their service on the Enterprise at the same time. Some familiar faces, Kirk’s yeoman and Nurse Chapel no longer seem to be on the radar (although Chapel gets one line directed to her), are gone and anything can happen, including a return of the Kirk we know because with the timeline altered the events of Star Trek: Generations might never have taken place.
We’re on the wildest ride of alternative universe fiction ever conceived and I for one can’t wait for the next installment to be “posted” and I’ll definitely be buying a copy of this on DVD this Christmas.
If you are a casual fan and are unfamiliar with Alternative Universe stories, it comes from a real theory in Quantum Mechanics. Known as the Many Worlds Interpretation or the Evervett-Wheeler Interpretation or the Relative State Interpretation, it holds that seeing only one observed outcome is merely an illusion created by our viewpoint and that there exist other parallel universes, equally real, in which the other possible outcomes actually happen. To steal an image from Robert Frost, if you stand at two roads diverged, in the Many Worlds Interpretation, you would actually follow both roads, with an entirely independent world being created for each from your point of decision. This theory was best illustrated in the Star Trek world by the “Parallels” episode (Season 7) of Star Trek: The Next Generation where an encounter with strange radiation causes Worf to be thrown through multiple versions of reality where eventually the entire crew discovers alternatives that range from Deanna and Worf being happily married to Picard never having been rescued from the Borg Collective and a badly damaged Enterprise being about all that remains of the Federation. First picked up by comic books, in the world of fiction, an alternative universe or AU story is one in which something has been altered from the world we know. It can be something large or small, but it is then played out among characters and situations with which fans are familiar to see what happens in the new conditions. Comic book companies have been especially aggressive with this approach, creating within a series a Multiverse which allows stories to be set with the same group of characters in a wide range of situations, each one of these separate storylines makes up a world in the Multiverse. With this movie the Star Trek will continue to show story in at least 2 distinct Alternative Universes which is by far the biggest and most mainstream investment in the Multiverse concept so far. Enjoy!
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.