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Is Spock Superman?

While watching Star Trek with my family over the weekend, I noticed something. Something small, probably insignificant. But you know how things are. They grab you and they stick in the back of you mind like a piece of thread, slowly unravelling over time until all of a sudden you have some sort of epiphany. My epiphany is this: what if Spock – as imagined by JJ Abrams – is Superman? Yes, the four-colour comic book character. Or – at the very least – a stand-in for him? It might not be as crazy as you think…

Okay, it’s probably as crazy as you think. But hopefully not crazier.

The world's favourite aliens...

So what led me to the conclusion that Abrams was treating Spock using the archetype of the Man of Steel? Well, several things. One of the wonderful things about the recent motion picture was the depth of character study that it gave to its two leads. I never really understood Kirk and Spock as fundamentally as I did in watching the movie – I certainly wasn’t sure how two people so different could come to respect each other so deeply.

I know that Abrams begged and borrowed from all manner of sources in his depiction of the Star Trek universe – mostly for the better, at least as a cinematic experience. There’s very definitely a heavy influence of Star Wars in there, for example.

I’m now fairly sure that a large part of Abrams’ conception of Spock derives from Superman – particularly Richard Donner Superman films. Ignoring the coincidental and nonsense similarities that existed between the two characters before this (stuff like both having a name beginning with ‘S’ with a ‘p’ in it or Spock’s above-human strength and intelligence or the fact that both wear blue), most of the additions and revisions to Spock’s character seem to be intended to place him in the same mould as everyone’s favourite Kryptonian. Let’s revise what’s new with the character as of this movie:

  • his homeplanet has been destroyed (and most of the inhabitants are in cave structures at the end of it)
  • he is an alien with a human lover
  • he travels back in time to save the people he cares about

Ignoring these core parts of the storyline, there are other more subtle markers pointing the way. One of the changes to the storyline this time around seems to be that Spock and his father have a much more… well, stable relationship (as opposed to the rocky relationship depicted in the Star Trek: The Original Series episode Journey to Babel). You might argue that it’s a side effect of the lose of Spock’s mother (I hope that the original Sarek would also embrace and counsel his son after that), but that’s irrelevent. The key point is that it allows the father to articulate how he sees Spock:

You will always be a child of two worlds. I am grateful for this, and for you.

In many ways this reflect’s Jor-El’s view of his own son’s role as he is sent to Earth:

Live as one of them, Kal-El, to discover where your strength and your power are needed.

In both cases, it’s the joy of a father appreciating the role that their son will play as a bridge between two different worlds.

It’s odd, because it wasn’t any of these factors which tipped me off. It was something very simple and in the background. It was the style of Vulcan. The way the sets were constructed. Everything has a clear triangular shape, as with the set design of Krypton in the Superman movies.

Talk about "universal" design...

It’s odd that such a small things should set me off thinking along these lines, but there are other factors. Evidently actor Zachary Quinto has always wanted to play Superman. When asked about his dream projects by JoBlo, he replied:

I missed the Superman Returns boat, so I’m angling for Star Trek. People are constantly telling me I bear some resemblance to Leonard Nimoy.

There’s not only that, but there’s also Winona Ryder’s very modest appraisal of her role in the film:

I really don’t have much more than a cameo [in Star Trek]. I was king of thinking I’d be like Marlon Brando in Superman. Not that I’d ever compare myself to Brando!

These things probably subconciously add up. That and the look of Vulcan set my mind thinging. I’m not sure there’s much there – and I’m not sure if it’s worth being too concerned if there is. JJ Abrams admittedly borrowed from all manner of pop cultural institutions in bringing the story to the screen.

What makes this interesting – at least for me – is the fact that Abrams famously worked on a Superman screenplay which was never developed. The screenplay was received with typical fan revolt on-line – it featured a Krypton Lex Luthor – but is Star Trek an example of the matinee-style flair he might have brought to Superman? Does Spock’s journey in this film perhaps echo what how Abrams sees in the Man of Steel’s attempts to integrate with mankind?

I don’t know. Being honest, I’d be almost willing to let Abrams take on any light-and-bright franchise he wants at this stage. It isn’t as if his work would be blocking anyone else from tackling the still-in-development-hell Kryptonian.

Anyway, just a random thought for the day.

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