Future Technology in the ‘Star Trek’ Reboots: Complex Future(s)

Future Technology in the Star Trek Reboots Complex Futures.jpg
Co-written with Dr Garrath T. Wilson. Full Essay Available for Free at: Popmatters.com

With our first explorative adventure in Future Technology in the ‘Star Trek’ Reboots:Tethered and Performative, we examined how, through looking at future cultures and locations brimming with advanced, shining examples of gadgetry that are tethered to our own contemporary reality, one might grasp that future technology across the Star Trek reboots — Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness (2013), and Star Trek Beyond(2016) — doesn’t necessarily reflect a better way of living, or a more sophisticated culture, but can be one way in which, as “performative artifacts” within a fictional diegesis, they may reflect upon our own place within society and the governing ideological structure of society itself.

As a part of this introspective endeavor, when focusing on the technology used within the Star Trek franchise, there’s usually an attempt to lay out communicators, teleporters, phaser weapons, and hand-held tricorder devices as a prediction of future technology and as an attainable final goal. This is problematic because science fiction is not a terminus point; it doesn’t act as the end point of a straight line according to how we perceive the world will be from today, but rather it can be used as a lens for us to probe, reflect and actively shape today into the future that we want it to become.Star Trek doesn’t foretell a type of future as a concrete inevitable outcome and final destination, it presents us with a fictional diegetic vision of how the world could be.

Future(s) Technology

When considering the fluctuating probabilities presented by future worlds in the Star Trek reboots, perhaps nowhere is more at the forefront of this issue than the creation of the Kelvin Timeline, an alternate universe from the Prime Universe continuity of Star Trek: The Original Series, caused by Nero’s (Eric Bana) time-travelling attack on the USS Kelvin in the opening scenes of the Star Trek film (2009). As the events play out, Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) is able to bring technology (red matter and his ship, the Jellyfish) and information (such as the equation for transwarp beaming) from not only a different point in time, but also an entirely impossible to replicate future place of existence from within the Kelvin Timeline.

According to visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett, production designer Scott Chambliss (who worked on the design of the Jellyfish), imagined the ship’s exterior surface as “sophisticated technology married with organic things” as “It might even be a technology Vulcan’s ‘grow’, like a plant of high tensile steel.” Guyett also explains that the ship’s warp signature was intended to evoke clean “green” energy, in contrast to the “burned dirty fuel” aesthetic of the Narada (Star Trek: The Art of the Film, Cotta Vaz, 2009: 138 and 139). In the reboots, the planet Vulcan is destroyed, which suggests that the technological advancements enjoyed by an unhindered species would not likely be repeated in the Kelvin Timeline, but it’s equally significant that the notion of growing organic materials (and Spock Prime’s “human” response to using it: that it can’t solve the problem he was given, so technology still has limitations much like himself) is given space to breathe in a hypothetical future scenario where voice activated controls and a rotating tail section do not seem, to employ a double-negative, illogical. After all, bio-inspired structures are currently taking-off for optimizing support material in 3D printing and load bearing applications (such as bridges or medical splints) primarily as a result of the advancement in CAD and the high order of computations needed. Vulcan technology, in this respect, doesn’t seem that far-fetched, although the “growing” aspect is probably a long way off…



The full 4,400 word version of this essay is published at Popmatters.com, where you can read the rest of the article for free.

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