Earlier this week, Geeks of Doom reported that about the first full look at the USS Enterprise from JJ Abrams‘ upcoming movie Star Trek.
Few images are so immediately identified with the heart and soul of the Star Trek franchise. Few images have also changed so little over the intervening years; there was one major design for Star Trek: TOS (which changed slightly over the course of the series) and another design introduced in Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1978 that lasted almost unchanged until Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country in 1991.
Mr. Abrams is delivering the first major change in Enterprise design in 30 years, and the first not approved by Trek creator Gene Roddenberry himself. He had to know that anything he and his creative team changed in the profile of the USS Enterprise would be controversial. This is why we are seeing it now, not when the movie comes out — so the Star Trek fan base can talk all this through and figure out if we really like it.
So do we really like it?
For myself, personally, I am not sure. The scale and mechanics of the original USS Enterprise were evidently inspired by battleships, with The Original Series itself taking cues from naval adventure stories like C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels. As such, the original USS Enterprise was almost austere in its design, letting form be dictated largely by (apparent) function. This look was streamlined slightly in ST: TMP version for the movies, but left most of the basic proportions of the first design intact. This new vision of the Enterprise appears to depart from that template. I look at this design and see a creature of art and design rather than a thing of engineering. Engineers love straight lines, and only use curves when function demands and technology allows. This Enterprise has curves that make for an interesting Rorschach inkblot test: the first words that sprung to mind when I saw it were “electric guitar,” “Asian calligraphy,” and “abstract art.”
This first impression could be completely wrong. It took me a couple of seasons of looking at the Galaxy Class Enterprise D before I began to appreciate its aesthetics. Perhaps this design will grow on me as well. I am enough patient to wait and see, but please Mr. Abrams, don’t screw this up. You’re the only Star Trek game in town right now. There will be no joy in Mudville if you strike out.