I love these widescreen images from the original Star Trek by Nick Acosta. Much of what made the show work was it’s excellent set design and lighting, shown here to superb effect.
Stories don’t just distract us. Walk in to the average home and see how many ways we give ourselves to escape in to stories. Break down the 24 hours of the day and see how many of them we spend immersed in fictional worlds. Stories are a compulsion. For some, an addiction. If politicians ever looked seriously at them, we might have a War on Stories to add to the War on Drugs.
Why are we compelled by stories?
Hindu philosophy has a few things to say about stories. In Hinduism all you are is a story. A story being lived out by the super-consciousness of the universe which, given infinite time, will live out all possible stories. Hinduism calls that super-consciousness the Atman. The Atman – which we filter in to Western theology in bastardised form as god and / or the soul – is the creator of everything. Not because they make everything, but because they dream everything. After an eternity being super-novas or Emperors or planets or William Shatner gets boring. And the Atman, seeking variety, decides to be you. Or indeed me. Or your unremarkably dull housemate Colin who collects ring-binders. You might struggle to see why the Atman would dream itself the life of Colin, but given infinite time all things become more or less equally interesting. Even ring-binders.
We – that is the part of us that thinks we are who we are, rather than an aspect of the dreaming Atman super-consciousness – do not have infinite time. We believe our selves finite and we believe we live within constraints. In stories we can escape our constraints. We can be other people. Live other lives. Explore strange new worlds. We can be William Shatner. Or, at least, Captain Kirk. For the length of the story we are free of our self. Then we go back to being who we are. Wondering about Colin, and his odd affection for ring-binders.
We might feel a slight disappointment. A come down after the trip. But we shouldn’t.
When the story begins the Atman is FASCINATED. In some ways all the Atman is, the very essence of its being, is fascination with stories. That’s why you seem to disappear in to the story. The Atman, which is you, the part of you that is truly aware, is temporarily fascinated by the story unfolding on the screen, or stage, or in the book, or comic page. The Atman that once dreamed it was you, now dreams it is Captain Kirk. But. It has been Captain Kirk. It has been Captain Kirk a lot. And after an hour or two, it gets bored. It wants to be you again. Because you, of all the wonders of the universe, are the most fascinating story of all.
(This is, incidentally, why Hindu stories like the Mahabharat are so fascinatingly dramatic. And epicly long. They’re trying to tempt the Atman out of you and keep it forever.)
Originally published on Fantasy Matters.
In my regular blog for The Guardian, I’m on record as saying that there are only two truly great science fiction movies. These are, of course, 2001 and Bladerunner. And if I think about science fiction as a ‘genre of ideas’ then I stand by that statement. No other SF movie even comes close to the vision of these two.
But. I have a confession to make. There are other SF movies that I love rather a lot, even though they have none of the philosophical depth of truly great SF. And when it comes to SF movies lacking any philosophical depth, there are none greater than the greatest of all Star Trek movies…Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan.
Let’s be frank. Star Trek taken in its entirety has nothing of any great depth to say. Yes, I know, I know. The Federation is a utopian future society. If you altered the laws of physics just a teeny weeny little bit everything on board the Enterprise-D REALLY WOULD WORK, and classic Trek episodes like “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” played around with political ideas like the civil rights movement. I grew up a Star Trek geek, I know the arguments. But let’s be honest with ourselves here for just a moment…all that stuff is just trimming around the edge of what we really love about Trek…it’s unabashed pulp storytelling.
From the opening sequence of the Kobayashi Maru, through Khan’s mind control ear wigs, to William Shatner’s greatest screen moment screaming ‘KHAN!!!’ in the Genesis caves, WoK is simply the greatest pulp adventure movie ever made.
I challenge even the most high brow cinema goer not to release a small whoop of joy when, with the USS Enterprise dead in space after an underhand attack from the hijacked USS Reliant, Kirk and Spock hack the opposing ship’s computer, lower her shields and, even as the eponymous Khan gloats over their defeat, unleash phaser hell on the Reliant. HURRAH!!
But there is more. Star Trek may not be deep in concepts or philosophy. But it does have heart and soul. Beneath all the photon explosions and vengeful villains, WoK is a film about friendship. With the Enterprise unable to reach warp speed, Spock enters the radiation filled warp chamber to fix the engines, sacrificing his own life to save those of his crew. Kirk and Spock’s final exchange, even through an inch of plexiglass, is genuinely moving. Bill Shatner overcomes his usually wooden acting style and manages to shed a tear. And I’m not ashamed to say, I do too.