The TOS aesthetic…

Discussion in 'Star Trek - The Original & Animated Series' started by Warped9, Mar 7, 2022.

  1. Warped9

    Warped9 Admiral Admiral

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    I didn’t want to drag someone else’s thread off-topic so I decided to start another thread on this subject.

    My above quote states my point reasonably succinctly.

    We can accept that TOS had a time and budgetary constraint in terms of what they could do in terms of fx and production. But, of course, there is more to it than that. There is also the consideration of when TOS was made, the mid 1960s. The general perception of what a far future could look like was not only a matter of budgetary limitations, but also greatly due to the general perception of society as reflected in industrial design of the time.

    I have often used the automotive market as something of a parallel analogy for computer technology. This really hit home for me recently when I watched a video about a restored 1965 Ford Thunderbird coupe. That design epitomized the mid 1960s. It was a clean streamlined design touched by a hotrod sensibility. It didn’t look space age rocketship like in the vein of the late 1950’s designs. It evoked a future that was streamlined and clean without the pulp 1940s-‘50s sci-fi look of technology. Indeed that mid ‘60s T-bird, along with other designs, is an interesting terrestrial parallel to Matt Jefferies’ Enterprise.

    The Enterprise was a stroke of brilliance. It was a deft melding of technological extrapolation with clean cool design. It looks cool not only because it’s supposed to, but because it also looks believably purposeful. Add to that the magic that how it functioned was not immediately apparent. We were given tantalizing clues through occasional terminology and evocative technical jargon that sounded just convincing enough to make it feel more real and more possible.

    Part of the Enterprise’s beauty is in the fact we don’t fully understand how it works the way it supposedly does. It followed the notion that any sufficiently advanced technology can seem like magic. Alien ship designs in TOS followed the same mindset. It’s far future, it’s alien—we shouldn’t be able to easily discern how it works.

    Hell, I’m writing this on an iPad—a device that does feel like magic and certainly would appear so to someone living a hundred or so years ago.

    Now a good question to ask is, what might Star Trek have done if they had magically had more time and money? Is it likely the Enterprise, and everything else, could have looked more like TMP? I think the short answer is “no” because the general societal perceptions were different in the mid 1960s than they were in the late 1970s. One might argue Star Trek might have looked a bit more detailed and finished, but not radically different than what we got. More time and money could have allowed them to do some things they otherwise had to forego, but I don’t think it would have looked greatly different because of the existing perceptions of what the future should look like.

    This mindset changed within a decade of TOS ending production. The debut of Star Wars completed changed the public perception of what far future and alien technology should look like. Now technology took on a rather industrial real world aesthetic. Future technology now looked accessible and understandable. It looked like it could be easily explained. I don’t mean this in actual real world terms, but in terms of perception. In some cases spacecraft were hardly indistinguishable from terrestrial aircraft. Gone were smooth and seamless hulls constructed in some fantastic advanced manner, replaced by obvious plating that looked right at home on early 20th century ocean vessel hulls and akin to contemporary jet aircraft fuselage panels. The TMP refit now had obvious reaction control thrusters for fine maneuvering (that would still be useless at higher velocities). Gone were many of the spacious interiors meant to stave off claustrophobia on extended voyages, replaced by grey and darkened interiors that emphasize the idea of being enclosed in a smallish area (after a brief relapse in TNG this has gotten ever worse with each successive Trek production).

    In essence the magic was tossed aside. And it’s why as beautiful as the TMP refit is I still prefer Matt Jefferies’ original. I feel the level of detail on the refit was carried too far such that it took away the magic of the original.

    I don’t need to have it all explained.
     
  2. publiusr

    publiusr Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Minimalistic design, open spaces. The sets were the canvas for the actors.
     
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  3. Captain Kris Kringle Pike

    Captain Kris Kringle Pike Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I am always of two minds on the design aesthetic of TOS. On the one hand, that was my first real introduction to this idea of traveling among the stars, beyond the Apolllo program that I enjoyed. There was a cleanness to the aesthetic, and simplicity to it that I always liked. Things seemed smooth and operational without much question. In essence, it was a pure fantasy world untouched by my reality, largely because tech that I grew up with felt a bit disconnected from the tech that had spawned it a generation before. And so technology goes. TOS stands apart as something other.

    My other mind is the research minded young man that I became. Someone who didn't just want to be in TOS, but wanted to understand a certain part of it, even the basics, the way I understood the basics of computers and tech in real life. And that's when I discovered that space travel is hard. Really hard. And the fantasy, as much as I still value it, was broken. TOS lost a small amount of that because as much as I love it, I didn't understand it but I wanted to. So, I read the various manuals, compared it against real world technological understanding.

    I think TOS has value in the simplicity but I think to continue to capture that aesthetic would require an increased understanding of the tech. And I don't think the two marry well in this day and age of tech ubiquity.
     
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  4. Warped9

    Warped9 Admiral Admiral

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    Something else can also be said about perception. I think there was something generally more optimistic and idealistic in that era, and thus more willing to believe. Today we are swamped in cynicism.
     
  5. ZapBrannigan

    ZapBrannigan Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Didn't TOS-R try to split the difference, by putting Aztec plating on the Enterprise? Funny, I can't remember for sure. I must be thinking of TMP The Director's Cut CGI.
     
  6. Captain Kris Kringle Pike

    Captain Kris Kringle Pike Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I'm always disinclined to say it's cynicism as much as skepticism. Do I think that humans will travel the stars? Yes, I do. Do I think it will look anything like Star Trek? I don't.

    That's the balance, at least for me, that I have to strike. The realistic aspect of space travel, which everyone uses Star Trek (TOS) as this prime example of inspiring people to space travel. Well, if it is that inspirational then there is also a fundamental awareness that Star Trek made it look too easy.
     
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  7. Warped9

    Warped9 Admiral Admiral

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    I was never keen on TMP’s aztec plating or the Christmas tree lighting. And in some respects I think the flattened nacelles are at odds with the rest of the design.
     
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  8. Warped9

    Warped9 Admiral Admiral

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    Star Trek made it look easy because it posited that all the serious obstacles had been solved. The idea of antigravity solved a host of issues. The idea that energy was (relatively) plentiful also solved issues, allowing the ship to be spacious. Warp drive also made the multiple stories possible on an interstellar scale.

    We know the real world television production reasons why these things were done, but that doesn’t take away from the world building it conveyed on the screen.
     
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  9. Captain Kris Kringle Pike

    Captain Kris Kringle Pike Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Of course it doesn't take away from it. But when you have real world thinkers trying to make Star Trek a reality then that magic is going to give way to pragmatism.
     
  10. STEPhon IT

    STEPhon IT Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I've made this comment before, when George Lucas imagined Star Wars it was more in the vain of Flash Gordon where the ships and tech were smooth and future looking like Star Trek, but because of budgetary constraints his team had to smash up models and paste on what they could do at the time in 1976. Travel to the future of 1997, Lucas returned to Star Wars and when he had the money and tech to bring his movies back he made his spaceships more in the vain of Star Trek than what he did 20 years earlier. Star Trek had it right from the start and believe it or not Lucas was taking or borrowing a lot from what Gene Roddenberry had done.

    Star Trek had a large budget and what the art team had done was state of the art in the 1960's and unfortunately Kubrick's brilliant film 2001 struck a cord in him when thinking of an idea for the God Thing. The Studio in the 70's wanted to ape off of Star Wars and I thought that was a mistake because Star Trek really didn't require the tech to be downgraded for it to be more in line with Star Wars. Star Trek's upgrade for Enterprise should've been more in line with the spaceship seen in "The Day the Earth Stood Still" or Padme Amidala's or Naboo's Queen spacecrafts. Something to show the ship was presented as more advanced in design and even more alien to comprehend; having all of the functions that is more aeronautical. The base buttons of the consoles could appear less chunky but smaller, things just needed refinement than the clunkiness produced for all of the TOS movies.

    The phasers and the equipment should be less bulk and more defined, the best way to compare it would be what the original cell phone looked in the 80's and how it is refined to today. Small and compatible. Uniforms should appear more shiny within the fabric of the uniforms similar to the pants; if anyone had seen The Menagerie presented in cinemas you will understand how clever Bill Theiss was for Star Trek; he should've won awards for his work.
     
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  11. Warped9

    Warped9 Admiral Admiral

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    The look of 2001 worked for a near future setting. It was NASA like, but carried further. You could believe in it. I find the real world Space X looks rather 2001 like. The hardware seen in U.F.O. also looked 2001 like and it, too, depicted a near future.
     
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  12. Captain Kris Kringle Pike

    Captain Kris Kringle Pike Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    I agree, but Star Trek invited this idea of taking it apart, and trying to build it together. That, coupled with Star Wars and you have this grounded taking over from "believable but further out."

    I think it would be fun to do a similar show of that real world looking forward, rather than The Star Trek world looked through a contemporary lens. I think TOS works really well I don't look too closely any more.
     
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  13. JMS

    JMS Ensign Red Shirt

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    It's also funny that the world of 50+ years beyond 1966 (can you believe we've lived through the Eugenics Wars and seen sleeper ships phased out of use back in 2018?) looks a bit like their vision of the future. Smooth cars, smooth stealthy aircraft and ships and minamalist furniture and design. The world took a detour in between and embraced wood paneling, shag carpeting, etc - but Matt Jeffries might have ultimately won the day.
     
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  14. Warped9

    Warped9 Admiral Admiral

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    Star Trek was not really alone in its depiction of the future. Another prime example was Lost In Space. I’m not referring to the storytelling of the show but the design, at least in terms of the Jupiter II. It was set only thirty years in the future and yet it was far beyond anything NASA could hope to build even by today’s standards. That said the Chariot and the Pod were quite reasonable extrapolations. The Chariot was an actual working vehicle and the Pod would somewhat resemble the as yet unbuilt Apollo Lunar Module.

    But the Jupiter II was a very advanced looking piece of hardware, a human built flying saucer that seemed somewhat alien.
     
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  15. Henoch

    Henoch Rear Admiral Premium Member

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    Yes, the T-Bird even had impulse engines on its rear just like the Enterprise... or maybe the Enterprise had backup lights just like the T-Bird. ;)

    I put Space:1999 as being inspired, if not a copied version of 2001, though set 2 years before 2001.

    Another near-term space show is the Expanse, and to make even their solar system transport technology work, it requires technobabble rocket engines. It's quite disappointing that our current understanding of technology cannot give any real advancements for human exploration of the solar system that doesn't take years of travel via slingshotting around planets (and this is only one way travel, so don't plan for a home coming - and yes, I'm including Mars). :(
     
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2022
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  16. Warped9

    Warped9 Admiral Admiral

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    I’ve seen modellers put aztec-king and Christmas lighting on the TOS E. Looks ridiculous.
     
  17. Warped9

    Warped9 Admiral Admiral

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    Yeah, the ‘64-‘66 T-Bird taillights do look like impulse engines. The taillights of the ‘55-‘57, ‘58-‘60 and ‘61-‘63 T-Birds look like rocket exhaust nozzles, which they were meant to evoke. That said they were all cool looking cars in their own right.

    Just as the ‘64 Mustang is said to have originated the idea of the pony car the ‘58 Thunderbird is said to have originated the idea of the personal luxury coupe. But these are whole other stories not really relevant to this thread.
     
  18. BK613

    BK613 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Dunno. Given the TMP Enterprise's FX contemporaries*, I think the model's pearlescent finish continued the smooth tradition of the TOS Enterprise while bowing to the pragmatic need to looking good on the Big Screen. It looked unique. YMMV.

    *(Millennium Falcon, Cygnus from The Black Hole, Valley Forge form Silent Running, Galactica from BG, Nostromo from Alien, the Mothership from Close Entounters, etc. )
     
  19. King Bob!

    King Bob! The King of Kings Premium Member

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    The original Star Trek was just beautifully brilliant.
     
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  20. King Bob!

    King Bob! The King of Kings Premium Member

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    Because plain is actually part of the appeal. It points to a vastly superior technology at play that we simply can’t understand.