Albert Whitlock 1966 Matte Painting
I want to preface this blog by saying I grew up an EXTREME Star Wars fan. Thanks to my older brother, I was led to believe that it was an absolute certainty in this world that one could NOT be a Star Wars fan AND a Star Trek fan. This was apparently some sort of unwritten rule that I grew up following. And let’s face it, no way would I give up my hero Princess Leia, Ewoks, Bossk, and the amazingly suave Lando for a pointy eared baby doctor (the name was confusing to me) and that sleazy guy that always kissed people, especially green girls.
Although Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) was airing when I was young, I didn’t really know anything about it. I don’t know if this was because we didn’t have cable, or if it was because I was the younger of two kids, thus never having access to the viewing schedule. Even if I had a chance, I was brainwashed into the Star Wars only rule. I caught an episode of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS) here or there on syndication, thus my knowledge of the philandering captain that liked kissing aliens.
It wasn’t until I met Kip that I learned that a person can indeed love both franchises. And man, did he ever. The number of hours we spent watching TNG is really beyond comprehension. We probably could have done something really great for humanity during those hours, but I doubt we would have.
And we weren’t just casual viewers. As much as Star Wars shaped my childhood, TNG shaped me as an adult. I’m currently typing on Geordi. Kip’s Surface was named Barclay. My phone is Reginod (because he is smart. He looks for things.) My previous phone was Data, because it was an Android.
It’s hard to explain and sounds really rather silly when I try to, but to me, Star Trek isn’t just a tv show or a movie or a zillion dollar franchise. It’s a philosophy. It’s a way of life. No, I’m not a Trekker (or a Trekkie as some uninformed people prefer to say.) I don’t dress in costume (or cosplay as the kids say these days) and go to conventions. It’s not a way of life in the sense that I pretend I’m a space captain. (Although I’ve been known to do that). It’s the way I go about my normal, every day life.
Every single episode of every iteration of Star Trek presents a problem. Mostly, these are giant, end of a civilization/start a war/inadvertently create a religion/save a planet sort of situations. There are no small problems on Star Trek (unless you count Wesley Crusher’s love life.) Every decision impacts an entire crew/civilization/race/planet. Every one. They left the run-of-the-mill after school special problems to the “very special” episodes of sitcoms.
Naturally, these are large casts and they all need story lines, so inevitably there are some smaller problems thrown in too, but that’s mostly to keep everything interesting and not so heavy. I mean, it would have been a shame to not have the beautiful Nurse Chapel pining for Spock, the most unattainable person on the ship. He, however, would most likely called the storyline illogical.
These stories are not just space adventures. They call into question not only what is right or wrong, but also who decides the definition of right or wrong. Sometimes it’s hard to believe the Federation and the Prime Directive are right.
In my favorite episode ever of any Star Trek, “Pen Pals,” Data befriends a young girl via radio on a planet that is dying. What starts as an innocent “Is anybody out there” from Sarjenka turns into a philosophical discussion of the Prime Directive and the difference between “seeking out new live and new civilizations” and interfering with the natural order of things.
That is, until her small voice pleads for Data to save her. In what I believe to be the most powerful line of Star Trek dialogue ever delivered, Captain Picard quietly says, “Your whisper from the dark has now become a plea. We cannot turn our backs.”
I can’t count the times I have been in some sort of (non-world ending) situation when I’ve wondered, “what would Captain Picard do?” I always say the same thing, “the right thing.” And although I don’t always agree with Captain Kirk’s decisions (and would never hold his decision-making skills to the same high standards I hold Captain Picard’s) I can at least know that I’ll have something to think about.
That’s the beauty of Star Trek. It opens your eyes and your minds and your hearts to not just new worlds, but new points of view. It makes you question your own views. It challenges you to be more open-minded, even if it’s not popular. Plainly, Star Trek makes me a better person.
This painting is from my favorite episode of TOS, “The Menagerie.” In an equalling life-questioning scenario, Spock chooses to face court-martial and even declares mutiny in order to bring comfort to Captain Pike. This matte painting was used in this two-part episode to represent Starbase 11.
Al Whitlock was a subcontracted matte painter that painted several pieces for Star Trek. Generally, he had less than a week to complete them, including this one. He was truly one of the greatest matte painters ever, and has an incredible portfolio of work spanning all genres. Some of my favorite work of his is from Dracula. You can see a some of his work here: Whitlock Scrapbook
If you’ve ever been with me to a movie you know I’m a credits watcher (it’s about respect!), but I always like to see how many (if any) matte painters work on a film. It is truly a dying art that never gained the appreciation it truly deserved. Look up some artwork and give some matte painters some love! You can also find a lot of matte paintings from TOS here: TOS Matte Paintings
This matte painting of Starbase 11 just screams Star Trek to me. The palette of cool blues and purples is quintessential ’60s sci-fi. And those buildings? So futuristic! The sculpture in the front reminds me of a jumble of Klingon bat’leths, although I don’t believe they had even made an appearance yet. And I can’t help but think the female Star Fleet officer in the front was modeled after Gene Roddenberry’s wife, Majel Barrett, even though her character (the love stricken Nurse Chapel) was a blonde.
As I’m sure you have figured out if you actually read this entire blog, Star Trek holds special meaning in my life. I know it does for millions or billions or gazillions of others too. Happy anniversary. May we all continue to boldly go where no one has gone before.