Wednesday, March 11, 2009

These are the voyages...

Space... the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before...

This May, Star Trek returns with a motion picture re-imagining of Gene Roddenberry's original 1960's series. Having crashed and burned with the last two films (Insurrection and Nemesis) and the most recent television series (Enterprise), the once venerable Star Trek franchise has but one last chance to recover its footing.

It's no surprise then, that Paramount Pictures is pulling out all the stops to ensure that Star Trek XI (or just Star Trek) spreads its wings. This includes recruiting director J.J. Abrams (Alias, Lost) and the formidable talents of Zachary Quinto (Heroes) and John Cho (Harold & Kumar). The new film looks to set a frenetic pace of action and be liberal on the eye candy. But what's more fascinating is how they have taken the tacky 1960's style of Star Trek and modernized it, while keeping faithful to the original. The gaudy, tight fitting, and technicolour garments of the original series have been translated into quite functional looking Dri-Fit uniforms, which are unmistakably authentic without conjuring nauseating images of the disco. And boy does Karl Urban make a convincing looking Dr. Leonard McCoy...

But let's back up a minute and review the basics for you Star Trek neophytes. Star Trek is a fictional series taking place in the distant future (23rd to 24th century). The discovery of faster-than-light (warp speed) travel and subsequent contact with alien species dramatically alters mankind's perspective regarding its place in the universe. As technology advances in leaps and bounds, people around the globe put aside their differences and work toward the common goal of exploration and the advancement of human civilization. Poverty and currency are abolished. Guiding mankind into the space age is the United Federation of Planets (the successor to the United Nations) and its military wing, Star Fleet Command, which maintains Earth's formidable fleet - equipping and commissioning men and women to take their places among the stars.

Star Trek paints an almost Utopian vision of the future - glistening opulence, technological mastery, and moral superiority. Yet amidst this world so very different from our own are struggles so very similar. Conflict, intrigue, and romance meet these future explorers at every turn. However evolved they are, they are still human. This is what keeps Star Trek so engaging: a world so fantastic and ethereal, brought to life by such genuine characters.


Despite compelling trailers, my brother refused to be excited about the upcoming Star Trek film. He cited significant departures from the spirit of the original, including fast-paced starfighter-like combat and images of the series' iconic starship Enterprise being constructed on Earth rather than in Dry Dock.

Yet what truly defines Star Trek if not a series of beautiful and monolithic space cruisers. Thus, it was when I saw the new film's re-imagined USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) that my heart truly started pounding.

I quickly fired off an e-mail to my brother:

Okay - look at that baby and just try tell me you're not excited.

Just try.

He could not.

The re-imagined Enterprise takes many a design cue from the Enterprise-A featured in the 1986 film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. It's a good choice, since the Enterprise-A remains one of the most elegant ships ever conceived. Is it any wonder that this ship was born the same year as yours truly?

But indeed, Star Trek has such a long and storied history that it would be a shame to end the discussion here. Let's take a walk down memory lane to consider the best and most beautiful Star Trek had to offer.

Star Trek: The Original Series and Motion Pictures

The USS Excelsior was a truly striking piece of 23rd century technology. First appearing in Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, it bore all the hallmarks of the Enterprise, but with sleeker and more slender features. Indeed the Enterprise-A's successor, the Enterprise-B would be an Excelsior-class starship. Its advanced design meant it would continue to see use well into the 24th century alongside the Enterprise-D. My brother insists, however, that the Excelsior is nothing more than the "Enterprise in a turtleneck." Oy.

Star Trek: The Next Generation

Fast forward to the 24th century. The monolithic Galaxy-class Enterprise-D (left) is perhaps one of the most iconic space ships in television history, under the command of Patrick Stewart's (X-Men) Jean-Luc Picard. My choicest pick for the most graceful starship from those days, however, is the USS Phoenix, a modified Nebula-class vessel. Minimizing the blatancy of the Enterprise-D's enormous saucer section with its compact design, the Phoenix also sports an unusually sleek torpedo bay sticking up from the stern of the ship.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

In a series revolving around a space station, there aren't liable to be many space ships. Early on, DS9 featured nothing larger than the shuttle-sized Runabouts. But eventually, they got their dues in the small and nimble USS Defiant. Its diminutive stature was more than compensated for by its heavy armaments, high manoeuvrability, and specially procured cloaking device.

Star Trek: Voyager

The USS Prometheus appeared only briefly on Star Trek: Voyager but left Trekkies everywhere breathless. Its swift temperament, quadruple warp nacelles, and multi-vector assault mode (essentially allowing it to split into three parts, each of which could attack individually) made it the ultimate warship. While researching for this entry, I quickly discovered that the Prometheus' bloated saucer section was actually quite unattractive from a frontal view. Thus on close inspection the Prometheus does not quite live up to the eponymous USS Voyager in elegance. However, because of the mystique associated with this ship, it takes my vote for the sexiest ship of Star Trek: Voyager.

Star Trek: First Contact and beyond

Following the destruction of the Enterprise-D in Star Trek: Generations, Commander William Riker muses, "Do you think they'll build another one?" Captain Picard replies, "Plenty of letters left in the alphabet." The Sovereign-class Enterprise-E made its debut in 1996's Star Trek: First Contact, arguably the last great Star Trek film ever made. With a crew complement of 855, it holds slightly fewer personnel than its predecessor. But what it lacks in manpower, it makes up for in firepower. Technologically advanced, sleek, and armed with quantum torpedoes, the Enterprise-E proved a force to be reckoned with. It's this writer's humble opinion that the Enterprise-E is the most beautiful starship ever commissioned. My brother, however, argues that it lacks the finesse of the Enterprise-A.

If the Enterprise-A is like a piece of fine china, then then Enterprise-E is like a stainless steel Starbucks coffee mug. It's slick, but it's not elegant.

Star Trek: Enterprise

I thought I would take a moment (just a moment) to touch upon the horrendous disaster pictured above. Struggling with Star Trek's sagging popularity, Paramount Television opted to depart with the franchise's storied history and rule-laden lore, instead lurching backwards into a 22nd century prequel. This allowed humans to be primitive again, providing for a more action-packed, sexy, visceral experience... at least in theory. Instead, Enterprise ripped apart the franchise's canon and sent Star Trek spiralling toward new lows. Hopefully, having learned from this experience, Paramount will accomplish with the upcoming prequel film what they could not with their four-season-long prequel television series.

But back to the ship! The "NX-01" (experimental) starship Enterprise is a primitive looking vessel. Departing from the series staple of tangible starship models, Enterprise went fully CG. However, we're not talking about the quality CG used in the films, but rather cheap CG reminiscent of a 90's video game cutscene. Its flat shape makes it look like someone took the Enterprise (NCC-1701) and stepped on it, and the inexplicable pod between the engines (apparently housing a "warp field governor") is simply atrocious. Because of the poor quality of the CG the windows and decals (reading "NX-01 Enterprise") look like stickers from a cheap model kit. And let us not forget that everything on the NX starship is painted in dull shades of grey. Gone are the colour-coded uniforms, bright cabins, and vivid consoles. In are dark blue pyjamas, mood lighting, and inferior-looking knobbies.

You'll excuse me if I pretend this ship never existed. Now if you don't mind, I have to go back to gushing about the upcoming film.

1 comment:

Jerry said...

Andy, I am very disappointed in your section on Enterprise. I have seen all the episodes of the 4-season series and while the first two seasons lacked much, the last two were among the best seasons I have ever watched in Star Trek! I do not think it strayed too much from Star Trek Cannon but instead helped improve it! You find out why in Kirk's era the klingons do not have ridges. You find out about Dr. Soon when he is younger. You find out about stray borg that were discovered in the arctic post-First Contact. AND you see the formation of the United Federation of Planets. If you have not watched all 4 seasons of it yet, then please do!

Lastly, one BIG THING you missed, which I already told you about, was Enterprise J - the most advanced Enterprise that Star Trek fans have been exposed to. Enterprise J is involved in the temporal war against the Suliban, and is unique to say the least. It at least requires an honourable mention :D

In any case, keep up the Star Trek Posts! I look forward to a future post by you about which Star Trek Characters you would choose as your bridge officers.

Keep up the good work!