The newest Star Trek movie is premised on the idea that a new, alternate timeline is created when Nero’s ship appears and destroys the USS Kelvin at the beginning of the film, killing Jim Kirk’s father and depriving the captain-to-be of the stable childhood he had in the original timeline. Everything before that point remains the same as the established canon; everything after then will develop differently. It’s a solid enough foundation with which to play with the original series’ characters without interfering with all the established stories of the past 40 years. But some extended thinking brings up several questions about and potential paradoxes within the events of this new alternate universe.
Please join me as I devote far too much mental energy to some of these issues.
The Beastie Boys Paradox
In an early scene of the new movie, a young Kirk steals a car and cranks up some Beastie Boys (Sabotage) for a little joy ride.
Now the Beastie Boys have a couple of songs where they make explicit references to Star Trek. Intergalactic features a line about a “pinch on the neck from Mr. Spock” and Brouhaha mentions “Bones McCoy” and “Sulu” by name. The song Ch-Check It Out shouts out Klingons and the video features the Boys dressed as Kirk, Spock and McCoy.
Since we now know that the Beastie Boys exist in the Trekverse, how might the observant future-aficionados and scholars of classic music react to the realization that the rap group are themselves potential time travellers, spinning tunes with oblique nods to events and people in the future?
***this post assumes you’ve seen the movie***
Star Trek has officially been “rebooted” in the form of a new feature motion picture. It’s like a new operating system and everything. I saw it last week and must say that I am duly impressed. I walked out of the theater having enjoyed two hours of solid film making. To be sure, it’s no Wrath of Khan. But the dialogue is well written with plenty of good lines scattered throughout. The acting is believable and the character portrayals aren’t so bad. The production value is sky high, with lots of little touches (especially sound) that bring a nice immersive feel to the universe presented. And the film’s opening sequence is among the most emotionally forceful of anything with the “Star Trek” name on it.
But it has its shortcomings as well. Oh, it’s good, and by any other title it may have been great. But as Star Trek goes, it leaves much to be desired. For one, there’s very little intellectual meat to be digested. After some really enjoyable character development (young Jim Kirk listens to the Beastie Boys* [Sabotage]) in the first act, the movie essentially becomes big-dumb-action flick, with one-dimensional villains that lack the nuance and human tragedy that embodies the adversaries in the Star Trek universe. There is no take-home parable or allegory or examination of the human condition, things that are at the very heart of the Star Trek experience. On top of that, parts of the premise really do strain even the considerable suspension of disbelief that Star Trek is afforded.
In true Trek fashion, here are some of my criticisms. I’ll try to avoid nitpicking and stick to the major ones:
- While the opening scenes are great cinema, why the hell was Lt. Kirk’s 9-month pregnant wife aboard the Kelvin? There are rules about being on planes when pregnant as I assume there would be for space-faring *military* vessels.
- I’m not sure how old anyone is supposed to be. Kirk is in his early twenties. Spock is already an officer and so is Scotty, so they’re both older. McCoy is also older, having had another life before Starfleet. Checkov is 17 (does that mean he was accepted into the academy at a younger age?).
- The Narada, Nero’s ship, is a mining vessel. How it was able to outmatch the Federation fleet while orbiting Vulcan is a mystery to me. I would not expect a mining ship, whose primary purpose is to extract and transport ore to be well armed at all. Yes, it’s from 180ish years in the future, but it was also wandering the galaxy for 23 years without a homebase. To me this seems to equivalent of a modern supertanker and it’s crew of roustabouts with deck guns taking out Admiral Nelson’s Royal Navy.
- As a side thought to that, why didn’t Nero just present his ship and its tech-from-the-future to the Romulan Empire, which could use the advances to conquer the galaxy? The Federation having to overcome that advantage actually seems like a decent platform to base this new alt-Trek around.
The whole last scene, ie the cadet-to-captain thing. Throughout the movie, Kirk isn’t even a commissioned officer. Yet upon graduation he’s given the flagship of the Federation? I don’t care how many planets he saved, there would certainly be dozens or hundreds of older, experienced superior officers more qualified for such a distinguished post, many of whom would probably resign in protest. Assign him to the Enterprise with a bump to full lieutenant until he gets some field experience, sure. But captain? Hardly.
- Finally: Too much lens flare.
Overall, an enjoyable flick, if you’re not hoping to have your mind challenged and you don’t think too hard about what you just saw. This movie was a foundation however and I’m looking forward to seeing what the sequels will bring. Maybe our characters might actually “boldly go” somewhere. Also, everyone has been going on about how good the new cast seems to work, but for my money, the most compelling character in the film is Captain Pike. I wouldn’t mind seeing more adventures with him at the helm.
And oh yeah, I could probably write an entire paper on Abrams’ apparent disdain for Vulcans and their suppressed emotions and logical approaches to life: destroying the planet and “unvulcanizing” Spock by the end of the film while rewarding Kirk’s recklessness. But that’s a subject for another post.
*The Beastie Boys are huge Star Trek fans, so I’m sure they’re thrilled that young Kirk listens to their music.
i spent the past few days in boston and have some sore legs and about 330 photos to show for it. i had fun; boston has earned a place on my ‘favorite cities’ list, which includes pittsburgh, paris, and the strip in vegas. the side effect, of course, is that outside of my normal daily routine, i had far less opportunity to tunequest. so now, i’m officially behind schedule. whereas before this trip, i had to listen to 45 songs per day to be done by 1/1/07, i now must listen to 46. hopefully, i can make up the lost time in the coming week.
what did i listen to in beantown?
- propellerheads [decksanddrumsandrockandroll]
- bjork [all is full of love]single
- bonobo [animal magic]
- tosca [dehli 9 disc 1]
- the dismemberment plan [change]
- mouse on mars [actionist]single
- bran van 3000 [discosis]
- blur 
propellerheads: excellent big beat electronic music that channels the above-mentioned james bond sound and seemingly anonymously took the world be storm in 1998-99.
tosca: dehli 9 is perhaps the finest example of downtempo electronica in my collection. this side project of dorfmeister’s (of kruder & dorfmeister) is about as upbeat and groovy as downtempo gets. this disc is energic and jazzy.
bonobo: more downtempo electronic, but slower and with a flair of india.
dismemberment plan: this was the first plan album i heard and it is also the group’s last. having heard the previous records, i must say that the band’s trajectory was ever upward. musically more complex and lyrically engaging than anything to date, this album rocks.
and finally, bran van 3000. discosis is an inventive album that features some very slick song-writing and an impressive array of guest stars. unfortunately, the record was slated for american release about a month after the beastie boys grand royal record label collapsed. thus, this expression of musical genius remains hard to find in the states. don’t ask, if you find it, buy it.