Thursday, May 14, 2009

Technology on Star Trek

As part of the media blitz for the new Star Trek movie, Newsweek published "Confessions of a 'Star Trek' Writer" by writer and physicist Leonard Mlodinow. He provides a behind-the-scenes glimpse at what it was like writing for Star Trek: The Next Generation - including an explanation as to why the science could be so very bad on the show:

One of the first staff meetings I attended concerned a script that had come in from the outside, and was considered insufficiently exciting. The consensus was that it needed a good injection of crew jeopardy so that it wouldn't drag. That could be difficult because it had to make sense in the context of the existing story, and, to keep from sending the episode over budget, it had to be cheap to film even though special effects are generally costly. I had what I thought was an idea that fit those constraints and, even more exciting (for me), an idea rooted in real astrophysics. I took about half a minute to pitch it, and for the first time everyone's attention was focused on me, the new guy. When it was over I turned to my boss, a producer who was a gruff middle-aged former NYPD homicide detective. He stared at me for a moment, his face totally unreadable. Then he said, with great force, "Shut up, you f––king egghead!"

That producer and I eventually became close enough that when he later sensed he was going to be axed, he gave me advice on what to do in the unlikely event that I survived. (No. 1: never mention the "old days." No. 2: when you do see the inevitable pink slip coming, turn down the heat on your swimming pool.) One thing I learned from him is that I had had it backward. The fun in "Star Trek" didn't come from copying science, but from having science copy it. My job wasn't to put real science into "Star Trek," but to imagine new ideas that hadn't yet been thought of.

Trek is about gadgets and engineering, not science.

Mlodinow then goes on to talk about the similarity of Star Trek's "free thinking" point of view to the burst of American post-WWII technological innovation, which makes sense to me. The future depicted on Trek is one in which technology - particularly American inventions - has made the world a much better place. Well, except for human genetic engineering, which resulted in a war that killed 30 million people. No wonder we don't hear much about their innovations in biotechnology.


1 comment:

  1. I guess I'm "old school". I prefer the original star trek series, back
    in the day when doing endorsements was unheard of. But if Kirk did
    do endorsements, would it be like this cartoon??



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