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Quantum Leap (1989)

[Quantum Leap] Quantum Leap
Universal Studios, 1989
Rated: PG in the UK
Running Time: 409 minutes
Directors: David Hemmings, Mark Sobel, Gilbert Shilton, Ivan Dixon, Aaron Lipstadt, Michael Vijar, Alan J. Levi
Producer: Harker Wade
Amazon.com: NTSC DVD
Amazon.ca: NTSC DVD
Amazon.co.uk: PAL DVD
Recommended by: Greg Slade

To be honest, most science fiction on film and television doesn't really excite me. For the most part, I keep watching in hopes that Hollywood will eventually come out with something decent. Quantum Leap is one of the exceptions to the general run of things that keep me watching in hope of more.

Sam Beckett is a physicist who has theorised that it's possible (given the right equipment) for a man to time travel within his own lifetime. And he succeeds: he jumps back to a time just three years after his own birth. Unfortunately, he has jumped into the life of another man. Everybody else sees him as a test pilot who is due to fly an experimental aircraft in a few days. The only person who seems to see him as himself is Albert, whom nobody else can see. Then Sam learns that Al is an observer from his own project. Sam can see and talk to Al, and Al can see and talk to him, but Al can't touch anything in Sam's "present." The project attempts to retrieve Sam, but for some reason, he doesn't jump. As Al puts it,

Ziggy's theory is.... that God or time or something was just waiting for your quantum leap to, uh, to correct a mistake.... Once that's put right, you'll snap back.... ("Genesis")

Eventually, Sam does manage to fix the "mistake" and leaps out, but instead of leaping back to the present, he leaps into somebody else's life. As the story goes on, it becomes clear that Sam keeps jumping into other people's lives in order to fix some "mistake", and then jump on to the next.

There are several reasons for the popularity of the show. On one level, Quantum Leap combines the "sense of wonder" factor of good science fiction with the nostalgia value of series like The Wonder Years or Happy Days. On another level, it taps into the sense of regret that most, if not all, people have, thinking that, "if only this one thing had gone differently, my whole life would have been so much better." Then, too, there's the feel-good aspect of somebody going around doing good and helping people out, much like like popular shows such as The Littlest Hobo or Highway to Heaven.

However, even though God is presumably in charge of Sam's leaping from life to life, He never comes into the story directly, and there is no preaching. In fact God (at least in this story universe) makes some very interesting moral choices: He doesn't seem to be bothered too much by foul language, fornication, gambling or other personal vices, but He's definitely opposed to racism, sexism, wifebeating, or pretty much any form of death. Essentially, the God of Quantum Leap is a God of the Left, although, to be fair, there doesn't seem to have been any more of an effort to consult the Religious Left in the making of this show than there has been to consult the Religious Right. Even so, it's interesting that, even in this post-Christian era, the filmmakers felt it necessary to invoke God, even if only by implication, to make these stories work.

Still, even if the theology is pretty much an afterthought, I have enjoyed seeing these shows again, just as I enjoyed the original broadcasts. The premise is interesting, the acting is good (occasionally rising to excellence), and it's a real relief to see a show which tries to promote positive values for a change. (January, 2007)

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