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Stardate 0009.18: How to be an Alien

Plus: Trek News, Trek Books, Trek People, Trek PSA

By Michelle Erica Green     September 18, 2000

My colleague Antony at Star Trek Central reported this week a rumor that Tom Paris and B'Elanna Torres would get married 2/3 of the way through Voyager's current season. But one of my Paramount sources says that, unless they've re-shot the ending of 'Drive,' Paris and Torres will wed at the end of that episode in an 'unconventional' ceremony (that doesn't necessarily mean Klingon, but it could). Indeed, both Robert Duncan McNeill and Roxann Dawson hinted at a convention earlier this year that the wedding had already taken place, though it's always possible that they were told to lead the audience on. That would fit in with the endless reports of character deaths to which Kate Mulgrew, Robert Beltran, and others have been happy to add credence.

It's also possible that the producers decided to change the ending of 'Drive' and shoot a more traditional or dramatic wedding scene to be shown later. Since the decision is reached and the marriage accomplished within a brief few minutes at the end of 'Drive'--which focuses most of its attention on a pod-race and an alien who misleads Harry Kim. Or, if the producers really love 'Drive,' they might have decided to hold that episode for February sweeps. But the wedding has already been filmed, according to my Well-Placed Anonymous Off-Set Source (not to be confused with my On-Set Source Who Is Often Though Not Always Right, nor my Highly-Placed Source Who Makes Things Up For My Amusement But Half The Time They Turn Out To Be True).

The Official Star Trek Magazine recently interviewed Brannon Braga, who said he was very proud of 'Unimatrix Zero Part Two.' 'I think we did a pretty good job on all seven Voyager two-hours,' he opined. 'We delivered, and this is no exception. I thought Part I--and this is really a fault of the writing--was a little slow at first. Part II is good from the beginning.' Braga would not say whether the Borg resistance movement will appear again on the series before its conclusion, but he did say, 'I feel comfortable telling you that the Borg will never be the same again!'

Trek News: First Strike

Pictures! Get your season seven publicity pictures from the official Star Trek site. You can find several of next season's promotional trailers in the same place. Maybe it's my monitor, but it looks to me like Paramount has very slightly elongated the photos vertically, so everyone looks a bit taller and thinner than they do on the TV screen. Or maybe it's that the TV screen makes everyone look shorter and heavier than they should. At any rate, Robert Beltran and Robbie McNeill both look wonderful, and Neelix has a new outfit. But Garrett Wang's haircut has got to go.

Last week, the British sci-fi site sfx.co.uk reported that the fifth Star Trek series might go into production without producing a pilot. Traditionally, pilot episodes are ordered to give series creators the opportunity to convince a producer or distributor to order additional episodes. In some cases, pilots are also used for test screening purposes to determine what audiences like and dislike about new shows so that certain aspects can be changed before the show's heavily into production. Remember the Babylon 5: Crusade broadcasting crisis, when TNT decided the Babylon 5 sequel needed retooling after several episodes had been shot, then yanked it from production when the issues couldn't be resolved? That's the sort of debacle networks want to avoid.

According to SFX, Paramount may begin production on subsequent episodes for the fifth Trek series immediately after shooting the first episode. This would suggest that Paramount has great confidence in the new series, though it's not unprecedented. Deep Space Nine and Voyager both had orders for full first seasons even before their pilots were completed.

TrekToday speculates that one reason for the quick production may be the likelihood of a 2001 strike by both the Screen Actors' Guild and the Writers' Guild of America. Entertainment Weekly reported this week that the Men in Black sequel has been postponed because Sony realized it couldn't get production rolling before the May deadline for a WGA walkout if negotiations fail. Projects like Jumanji 2 are being postponed because of the expected shutdowns.

Another strike seems increasingly likely, since the current commercial strike by the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists has become the longest in Hollywood history, due to the advertising agencies' refusal to protect residuals. A number of big-name actors wore yellow ribbons at the Emmy Awards in support of the commercial strike. Because they fear a walkout, production studios have begun stockpiling material to air for the fall 2001 season.

Early production could ensure a Trek series on the air at the end of next summer's hiatus even in the event of a lengthy strike. In anticipation of a strike, many studios have a self-imposed deadline of March 1 for new projects, so Paramount may want to get as many episodes in the can as possible.

Trek Books: Star Trek: Aliens & Artifacts

'Create your own makeup and props!' urges the cover of Star Trek: Aliens and Artifacts. And indeed the final section shows ordinary people--well, ordinary actors and models, meaning they're still more buff than the average fan--using Rubies makeup kits to become Klingons, Borg, Romulans and other aliens. In other words, you've got to spend a lot of dough and get a lot of equipment not included in the book if you want to reproduce Trek makeup. Plus you need something called a Dremel tool to make a 'dermal regenerator' out of a hairbrush. I'm not even sure what that is, let alone how to use it.

Don't be fooled by the misleading hype for this volume, claiming that makeup and props are as easy to recreate as the ships in Star Trek: Paper Universe. This book demonstrates far more effectively that the fabulous alien faces and cultures could not have been created by amateurs. Trek has won numerous Emmy awards for makeup and visual effects, and reading this volume, it's obvious why. Paramount makeup supervisor Michael Westmore, Trek property master Alan Sims, and Emmy-winning makeup artist Bradley M. Look collaborate with New York Times bestselling writer William J. Birnes to give an overview of three decades of Trek development.

In addition to numerous color illustrations from the shows, sketches of tattoo and sideburn designs, and in-production shots from various makeup trailers, Aliens & Artifacts offers fascinating explanations of the rationale behind many of the decisions that shaped the franchise. We discover that Cardassian neck ridges were developed because the producers didn't want full prosthetics and Marc Alaimo, who played the first Cardassian as Gul Macet, has an exceptionally long neck that Westmore likened to a cobra. We learn that Bajorans differ from humans via their nose ridges because the producers wanted simple makeup to emphasize Michelle Forbes' attractive features, but the ridges were modified for Kira and later Bajorans because the uppermost ridge furrows caused problems with the frown lines across many actors' foreheads.

Because viewers had already seen a wide variety of Klingon skin tones and foreheads on the original series and in the films by the time The Next Generation started filming, the makeup crew decided that all brown-toned actors would play Northern Klingons, like Worf, while all fair-skinned actors would be Southern Klingons. The Duras family members were all given similar cranial ridges, while half-Klingons like K'Ehleyr and B'Elanna Torres have muted ridges and attractive human-standard teeth. Visual effects specialist and Klingon fan Dan Curry came up with the bat'leth, the mek'leth and other weapons with the idea that Klingons would use a kind of tai chi, to get up close to their enemies and force combatants to become covered in one another's blood.

Though the original series aliens suffer a bit by comparison to the extraordinary creations of the later shows, the props remain fascinating. The neural parasites of 'Operation: Annihilate!' were made out of vinyl and 'breathed' through a balloon inserted into the center. The Horta was created by a stuntman who showed off his creature costume to writer Gene L. Coon. Coon, who helped invent the Klingons, developed 'The Devil in the Dark' from an impromptu demonstration on the sidewalk outside the production offices.

In the later series, the props get short shift compared to the makeup. We are told that great care was taken in the creation of the Orb case because the writers knew Bajoran religion would play an important role in the series, but we don't learn whether a Torah case, reliquary or other object inspired its builders. We discover that the gold head at the end of the Nagus' staff resembles Quark because its designer used him as reference, since he didn't know that the staff would be held by the Ferengi leader, but there's no discussion of the development of Wallace Shawn's staff-banging, sneering characterization of the many-lobed Nagus. There's more on the 'how' of the props--converted potato peelers, new tricorder models--than the 'why' of the props, the script or production notes that inspired the creators' imaginations.

Patrick Stewart wrote the introduction, primarily a tribute to Westmore, though the book is dedicated to Rick Berman, because 'his vision...is Star Trek.' Yet the first chapter makes clear that Gene Roddenberry was a hands-on exec. He wasn't only the writer of the pilot and the creator of the characters. He was the one who insisted that Vina's green skin would have to be believable for audiences to accept the series, so he kept after the color lab to get it right. And he came up with the idea of having the Talosians played by androgynous-looking females with fake big heads so that they would be diminutive, yet frighteningly alien.

Not all the good ideas were Roddenberry's. For instance, he originally wanted a red-skinned, energy-devouring Spock, but was persuaded by Samuel A. Peeples that humans wouldn't relate to such a character. Roddenberry seems to have known when to insist on his own ideas and when to let the professionals around him refine them. It's been alleged that Gene Coon came up with many of the Trek concepts for which Roddenberry has been given credit, but even if that's true, the creator deserves credit for putting together a team that often put their egos aside to make the series work.

From this book, Berman's single biggest influence on the look of the show has been to insist on muted prosthetics for all attractive stars--Suzie Plakson, Famke Janssen, Michelle Forbes, Terry Farrell, Robert Beltran--so as not to detract from their human allure. Westmore may owe Berman many favors, but Aliens & Artifacts strongly suggests that when Trek's alien cultures make an impression, it's because of Roddenberry's original team's vision--and it was Roddenberry who hired Westmore in the first place. I don't like it when current Trek people overlook the contributions of the founders.

The surprisingly short section on Voyager concentrates mostly on aliens like the Borg and Hirogen, and makes no mention of the struggle visible onscreen to perfect Seven of Nine's body-sculpting costume. Sims seems to have had fun with the Captain Proton toys and Borg equipment, but one wonders whether Westmore might be burning out--or just less inspired by the come-and-go Voyager aliens of the week than he was by Mask, Rocky and the many other films for which he has won Academy and Emmy Awards. Aliens & Artifacts is a fitting tribute to his Star Trek legacy.

Trek People: Speaking of Michael Westmore...

Following Smithsonian magazine's fascinating article on the Westmores of Hollywood this spring, the British magazine Star Trek Monthly offers an interview with Michael Westmore in its October issue. The legendary makeup artist sounds enthusiastic about finishing Voyager's run, but said he fears changes in the shooting schedule, and he's not certain he would stay for the whole run of another show before retiring.

'I work an awful lot on variations on a theme now. We've made literally thousands of aliens, with all different colors, spots and stripes. They asked Errol Flynn if there was anything he'd like to do, and he said he'd already done everything twice. Here, I think we've already done it three times!'

By the time Voyager wraps production next summer, Westmore will have worked for over 500 hours of Trek air time. 'Every time I look at somebody else's show, I'll say, 'Ah, we did that a couple of years ago. I've seen so many copies of what we've done on other sci-fi shows,' he said. 'It's gotten to the point here now where we've done this for so many years it almost isn't a challenge anymore. It's more like: here's another alien to do. How much are we going to do? Is it going to be ears? Is it going to be a nose? A forehead? A full head?' For inspiration, he consults science magazines, dinosaur books, children's books on animals, and any nature books that come his way.

Though Westmore was responsible for reinventing Neanderthals in Clan of the Cave Bear, remaking Robert DeNiro's face in Raging Bull, creating boxing bruises in the Rocky series, and developing the disfigurement in Mask, he was quick to praise the talent of his entire staff. He noted that the producers had told him not to expect a Voyager wrap-up until the final six to eight shows, but expected to have an intense schedule in the home stretch.

'If they give you something large to do, and they want something new...the thing you hate is when you get a phone call that says it's got to work on the first day of shooting, which means sometimes having to work on the weekends or late at night to be able to have it ready on time.' Typically, 'after they've given me the approval to do it, we just do it, and it's literally not ready until the day that it's going to work. . .we really have to live with our first thoughts. There literally is no time to change our minds.'

Trek Public Service Announcement

My Toronto Trek friends tell me that William Shatner has recorded a public service announcement denouncing cigarettes. 'As a friend of mine would say: illogical!' he says of smoking. The ads were produced by the Canadian Cancer Society. TrekToday reports that Shatner hosted a program in the 1980s called Time to Quit that also encouraged smokers to quit.

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