Young Set-Phaser-to-Stuns*

Heard about the new Star Trek film (title: “Star Trek”) coming out next month? For real: this one is apparently going to reveal the pre-history of that great space epic, i.e. the story of those times before the USS Enterprise embarked upon all those space-adventures depicted in the original late-1960s TV series, the period back when James Kirk, Mr. Spock and all the rest of the crew were still just . . . well, “space cadets” might be the best term. There must still be a healthy Trekkie community in Germany, for no less than the prestigious weekly Die Zeit has an article up about this (From Lad to Captain) by Bernd Musa.

Perhaps you are a Trekkie yourself (I confess I am not), and at this point are grumbling “Who needs a new Star Trek movie? That last one [“Nemesis,” which came out in 2002] sucked!” Well, that’s really rather the point: both the movies and the TV-rerun versions of Star Trek have seen their popularity wane over the fast five years or so, so that this new movie represents an attempt to breathe new life into the franchise via a new plot approach. as well as a new director. That director is Jeffrey Jacob (or “J.J.”) Abrams, who – although he confesses right off the bat in the article that he has never been a Trekkie – has served as writer, producer, director, and even occasionally actor in an extensive series of TV and movie productions including “Mission Impossible III” (director), “Cloverfield” (producer), and the TV series “Lost” (co-creator, writer, executive producer, director).

As for the plot approach, Musa explains how the movie will try to return to what he describes as the “anti-authoritarian Rock’n’Roll feeling” that pervaded the original TV series, by introducing a new generation of young actors to depict the USS Enterprise’s crew at the beginning of their careers. Kirk is played by the 28-year-old Christian Pine – do check out the article, where they have a cool crew photograph at the very top, with Pine/Kirk there looking all serious and commanding, in the black shirt – and Mr. Spock by the 31-year-old Zachary Quinto. Basically – spoiler alert! – in the new movie Kirk and Spock first meet and have to work together, and apparently there is plenty of rivalry between them, plenty of personality conflicts – but in the end, of course, they work out their issues to become, as Musa puts it, “the legendary Dream Team” ready to kick Klingon-ass and take Klingon-names on board the USS Enterprise.

Star Trek Technology Becomes Real

As an accompanying article to Musa’s report on the upcoming movie, Die Zeit also offers a survey, by Alexander Stirn, of the various eye-catching futuristic technologies features in the Star Trek series (When youthful dreams become true) – how they correspond, if at all, to physical reality and how probable it is that they could one day actually see the light of day. Sorry folks, this is no cartoon, but a serious technology article (it’s written by a German, published in a German newspaper, for Heaven’s sake), so if you read it there is no way to escape some sad-but-true news: those Star Trek technologies you would most like to see – you know which ones I mean, the “beam-me-up-Scotty” and the time-travel – are assigned here, respectively, virtually no chance (0.1%) and absolutely no chance (0%) of ever happening. (In any case, we’re all at least passingly familiar with the extremely convoluted logical problems that time-travel would bring with it, right? – like going back to kill your very own grandmother before she has given birth to your father, etc.)

On the other hand, you might be pleasantly surprised by other technologies that do have a good chance (i.e. that do have some basis in scientific reality). The X-ray spectacles, for example – advertised in the back-pages of cheap comics since time immemorial, and the obsession of teenage boys everywhere – Stirn actually awards a 90% chance of coming true. You may have actually already heard of machines (called here Tetrahertzscanners) that can in effect see through clothes by sending out harmless radiation-waves; I believe there has been discussion at various airports of bringing them on-board for passenger screening. Their main remaining problem is their large size, but Stirn is confident that the means can be found over time to miniaturize them to eventual bridge-of-the-nose mounting. His verdict: “technically fully thinkable, legally extremely controversial.”

Or the invisibility cloak: again, it gets a 90% score. That’s because something along this line has already been shown to be workable, namely so-called “meta-materials” that use electronic nano-components to interrupt light in such a way as to divert it around a given object. At this point there are really only a few remaining technical hurdles to overcome to get to an honest-to-God invisibility cloak, Stirn reports, like managing to divert all light this way, not just light of certain wave-lengths, and fixing things so that the person hiding within the invisibility cloak can also look out through it without ruining the effect. The trump card here, Stirn reports, is that the US Defense Department, with its mega-budget, is reportedly fully involved in this quest, so that if there is any physical, scientific way that the invisibility cloak can happen, it will.

* Get it? The title reference is to “Young Guns,” with “Set-Phasers-to-Stuns” taken as the Star Trek analog to “Guns”! No, I don’t recommend it as the title for the new movie – but I think they could have at least come up with something more original than just “Star Trek”!

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