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|Written by Kevin Johns|
|Thursday, 29 January 2009 13:26|
I've been re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, and, at a time when television is filled with pessimistic shows such as Battlestar Galactica and 24 depicting ugly portraits of mankind, TNG's charming naïveté and unbridled idealism is a breath of fresh air. I've argued before that ‘90s television was the last gasp of modernist storytelling, and TNG's simplistic examination of complex themes certainly supports the argument. There is something wonderful and heartwarming about watching a show which represents mankind as essentially good, especially when even the existence of 'goodness' itself is now questioned. In the post 9/11 world, where even the optimism of Obama's election can be undercut by the collapse of the global economy, an optimistic portrayal of mankind's future has become a radical idea.
In a vision that can now be considered bold, TNG depicts a future worth sticking around for, and assures its viewers that no matter how petty, bigoted, and selfish humans beings may currently be, our shortcomings will eventually be overcome. The future, says TNG, will be truly beautiful.
TNG's beautiful future is depicted in the noble actions of its unflappable main characters, but also in the design of the show's ship, the Enterprise D. From the original Star Trek series, to the Shatner-led movies, to The Next Generation, to the prequel series, Star Trek: Enterprise, there have been numerous ships named "Enterprise." None of these ships have, however, equaled the startling beauty of Star Trek: The Next Generation's Enterprise D.
The original Star Trek series (which aired from 1966 to 1969) featured the initial iteration of the ship, the Enterprise NCC-1701, helmed by Captain James T. Kirk. The ship was designed by art director Matt Jefferies, who combined cylinders with a flying saucer to produce one of science-fiction's most iconic ships. Jefferies, a
World War II bomber veteran and engineer, brought practical thinking to his design by placing the extremely powerful and potentially dangerous engines a good distance away from the main saucer section for safety purposes.
After serving three years on television, the ship made the jump to the big screen in 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture, where director Robert Wise felt it deserved a five-minute-long unveiling! As the franchise pressed on into the '80s, the Enterprise started to look dated, and the ship was ultimately destroyed in the conclusion of 1984's Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. When the franchise returned to the big screen two years later, the crew were aboard a new ship, the Enterprise NCC-1701-A. In actuality, the same model as the preceding three films was used for exterior shots, and interior sets were simply redressed.
So while design tweaks happened over the decades - as the ship moved from '60s television to '70s and '80s cinema - the Enterprise remained essentially the same for over two decades. Imagine, then, how startling it must have been for audiences when, in 1987, a radically redesigned Enterprise made its debut in the pilot episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.The Enterprise NCC-1701-D was designed by concept designer and illustrator Andrew Probert, a veteran of the original Battlestar Galactica series. Probert had assisted in updating the original Enterprise for The Motion Picture, and had produced a sketch that caught producers' eyes. While maintaining the basic concept of the original series' ship, Probert's redesign provided the Enterprise with softened edges, clean lines, and a sense of massive scope never before accomplished on Star Trek. While the familiar saucer section remained, the cylindrical aspect of the ship's body and engine were reshaped to produce a smooth and organic visual transition from engines to body to saucer. The Enterprise no longer looked like disparate geometric shapes stuck together; rather, a through-line could easily be followed from one end of the ship to the other.
One of the most defining traits of the Enterprise D was its uncluttered exterior. Unlike Star Wars' Millennium Falcon, X-Wing fighters and Star Destroyers, which featured detailed, industrial-looking exteriors, the Enterprise D's exterior was remarkably smooth, creating an undeniable air of grace and elegance.
The ship's interior, and most notably its bridge, echoed the exterior design sense. Sets were filled with soft, clean lines, and spacious, well-lit rooms. The hairstyles of guest stars and background actors still scream "'80s!" in the early seasons of the show, but the ship itself, to this day, looks remarkably undated. Never before has faux wood paneling and tan pleather looked so timeless!
Designed after the Enterprise D, the Enterprise B, which appeared in the opening sequence of Star Trek: Generation (the first Trek film to feature the TNG cast) was, perhaps, intentionally ugly. Its bulky body section and awkward engine projections only serve to emphasis the beauty of the Enterprise D when it appears later in the film. The Enterprise C, featured in the beloved Season Three TNG episode "Yesterday's Enterprise," was specifically designed to demonstrate the transition between the earlier "Excelsior"-style Enterprise and the TNG "Galaxy Class" Enterprise. As a result, the ship is an amalgamation of both styles, and serves only as a stepping stone towards the design perfection of the Enterprise D.
Unfortunately, Star Trek producers felt the need to destroy the Enterprise D at the climax of Star Trek: Generations. As a result, when the franchise returned with Star Trek: First Contact, Captain Picard and his crew were aboard a new ship, the Enterprise E. Described as "leaner," "sleeker," and "more militaristic" by the film's producers, the ship's design reflected a transition for the Star Trek franchise as a whole. The series was drifting away from the philosophical science-fiction that had always differentiated Star Trek from Star Wars, and moving towards the more action-focused sci-fi of the later films. Filmmakers increasingly had trouble recapturing the magic of the series, and by Star Trek: Nemesis, the Enterprise E had run its course. The movie was promoted as the crew's "final mission," and when the next Star Trek film was announced, it was described as a prequel that would feature the original series characters and the original ship.
While the Enterprise will, no doubt, look wonderful under the assured hand of director J.J. Abrahams, it is doubtful that, given the current cultural environment, the film will capture the idealism that still allows me embrace TNG so wholeheartedly. TNG and the Enterprise D were not about looking to the past and trying to recapture the greatness of the original series. TNG and the Enterprise D were about pushing the Star Trek franchise, along with popular culture's vision of mankind, forward into a future that was both hopeful and beautiful.
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