Friday, February 10, 2012

From the Archive: Sci-Tech #1: "The Cage" Edition

 The mission of these "Sci-tech" posts is to gaze at the technology/production design of popular cult-tv series and films 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 productions.

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. 

The transparent communicator, bristling with visible circuitry.

Gooseneck monitor screen.

Starfleet is still using printers.
The science station, under red alert lighting, with gooseneck monitor and printer.
An early, smaller and more "rounded" viewscreen.
An early Enterprise schematic.  Notice the preponderance of blues and blacks here.
There's ore visual "clutter" in this version of the briefing room.  Notice the pillars bracketing the room.
Mr. Spock uses an entirely different-looking type of computer interface.
The original transporter room.
The transporter controls, replete with goose neck screens.  Notice too the "techs" wearing jumpsuits instead of standard issue Starfleet uniforms.
The Enterprise brings its power to bear on Talos IV with a laser cannon.


  1. Anonymous6:49 PM

    You are right about "The Cage" having many elements being a more believable future than the series proper that would follow, such as the look of the bridge and a female number one.


  2. Grayson7:49 PM

    Even more of a Forbidden Planet in 'The Cage' than the series proper, no?

  3. Well, Star Trek was inspired by Forbidden Planet, so, yeah, pretty much.

  4. Hi folks,

    SGB: I'm still intrigued by the future look of The Cage. I kind of wish Enterprise had gone with a look closer to this. Less overtly colorful, but still futuristic in some senses.

    Grayson: The Forbidden Planet vibe is DEFINITELY here to a degree more so than the series proper. I see that too. Good observation.

    Lionel: Yeah, I've always thought it was inspired by Forbidden Planet too. Stories of a human dimension told against a cosmic backdrop.

    Best to all!