Friday, September 17, 2010

Sci-Tech #1: "The Cage" Edition

For the last couple months, I've been contemplating a new brand of post here called "Sci-Tech." 

The mission of such a post is to gaze at the technology/production design of popular cult-tv series over the decades. 

After all, film and television are visual media, and one reason we enjoy these cult TV shows (even ones that have been around for decades...) involves the look of the program in question.  

Many of us are science fiction TV/film fans in the first place because we appreciate the imaginative, or speculative hardware of these futuristic programs.

Given the importance and prominence that Star Trek has in our culture today -- the origination point for cell phone designs, perhaps? -- I thought we would take a gander today, for our first such Sci-Tech post, at Starfleet technology as envisioned by "The Cage" all the way back in 1964. 

One of the things I have always admired about Star Trek is that the universe imagined by Gene Roddenberry boasts a distinctive history and feel; and this "unaired" original pilot is a prime example of that aspect of the series.  

Later used in "The Menagerie," the bulk of this episode's footage displays Starfleet technology as it was before Captain Kirk assumed command of the starship Enterprise.  Years earlier, in fact.

But what remains amazing to me is that the tech of "The Cage" -- while futuristic -- nonetheless looks  somehow less futuristic than Kirk's Enterprise.  The view screen on Pike's Enterprise is smaller, for instance.  Then there are these goose-neck intercom transmitters everywhere on Pike's starship.  Overall --- in general -- the equipment in "The Cage" appears bulkier, heavier.

You can even see inside the transparent communicator's circuitry in several shots, a touch done away with for the more familiar communicators of the series. 

And -- I love it -- Starfleet is apparently not yet "paperless" here, as you'll see in one shot of the bridge's science station.

You'll also notice there was far less color on the Enterprise in "The Cage" than in the series proper.  Here, almost everything is shaded metallic gray and blue.  There's also more architectural "noise" on the ship too -- pillars surrounding the table area of the briefing room, etc.  Captain Pike's cabin (not pictured) has this weird low ceiling, maybe some kind of lighting apparatus...

Call me a heretic, but I rather enjoy this "busier" approach to production design and 23rd century starship technology.  Somehow, the Enterprise of "The Cage" feels more like a real working ship than some later renditions of the starship. 

So to start us off on "Sci Tech", here's a look back at the distinctive "sci-tech" of "The Cage," from 1964. 

Future installments will include an Alphan edition (Space: 1999), an Altrusian edition (Land of the Lost), a Robinson edition (Lost in Space), a Batcave edition (Batman) and even a Rambaldi Edition (Alias). 

Feel free to comment on any other TV series (or movie...) tech you'd like to see reviewed in imagery here in the weeks and months ahead.

Now, tell me what you see...


  1. As usual for John Kenneth Muir, an interesting concept is born.

    Best of luck with these posts. I really like the concept. The images are great John.

    Some of your points about The Cage are really well put such as the use of color. It is more serious in tone and definitely gave the entry a harder science fiction edge. It really is amazing the mood color can create.

    I always loved the simplicity of the Star Trek tech aesthetic. They were functional but really imaginative. Cheers John.

  2. "Call me a heretic, but I rather enjoy this "busier" approach to production design and 23rd century starship technology."

    YES! I couldn't agree with you more. Looking forward to the future posts in this series,

  3. I love this episode of ST:TOS! Yeah, everything was a bit more clunky, but it has an undeniable 60's style to it all. I recently moved to new home (well... new to me, anyways) that was built in the early Sixties and I can still pick out some of these futuristic elements. This is a great idea to cover, John. I'm looking forward to those future tech episodes. Thanks for this.

  4. Great idea for a new 'series'. My mom recently got an iPad and I felt that Apple owed Star Trek some kind of royalty since the main device used for books, reports, everything was called a PADD. Hmmmm.

    The Cage is one of my favorite Star Trek episodes: good captain, good drama, female number one, and Spock was a bit more frightening, which gave credit to the alien-ness of his appearance.

    One thing I hate about the show Enterprise (and my hate is not limited to just one thing, trust me) was there approach to technology. They tried to make Enterprise NX-01 'busy' and 'metallic', like as you mentioned the NCC-1701 is in 'The Cage' but ended up making it MORE futuristic then even the NCC-1701-D's bridge and surroudning areas.

    The best way to analyze the complete difference between TOS tech and future-Trek tech is to watch the DS9 episode 'Trials and Tribble-ations'. It is almost shocking how more 'hands on' the NCC-1701 is compared to the almost hands free Defiant, Enterprise D/E, etc.

    Now, I wanted to point out the biggest 'technology' point that 'The Cage' established: the command chair. What sci-fi show EVER had a command chair before Trek? Sure, it's not exactly technical. . .but it paved the way for almost every single design of starships in almost every single television and movie series since the 1960s. When some franchises try to 'get away' from the command chair (like Alien or Halo (video game)), you always wonder 'where the hell is the captain sitting'. It's just EXPECTED to be there.

    Great article. . .look forward to future installments. Will you be looking at movies as well or just TV? I'd love to see an analysis of the revised BSG since it blends older and new technology so often.

  5. Great post, JKM!

    I like the "older" look of the two pilots from ST:TOS, too. I found them to be cool when I was a kid, and nothing's changed ever since!

    You forgot screen shots of Pike's captain's hat and Spock in a duty jacket while holding the first version of a phaser pistol; still, this is the type of quality article that drives one to go shopping on Amazon!

    Well done!

  6. Anonymous6:30 PM

    Is it just me, or does the Asian transporter tech look a lot like James Kyson Lee (Ando from "Heroes")?

  7. Sci-Fi Fanatic:

    Thank you for the compliment about the images. That means so much to me, especially coming from you, because -- as I've written before -- you truly have a great eye (or even two of 'em!)

    Ivan: We're agreed about the look of the pilots. I love this iteration of Star Trek and harbored a deep and yet totally irrational hope that Star Trek 09 (which I still liked a lot...) would somehow incorporate some of this retro-futuristic look.

    More to come...