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USS Enterprise

Star Trek
by Artemis

We here at Starbase OAFE have reviewed a whole bunch of Star Trek characters recently, but there's one left, the most important of them all - here she is:

"Space - the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Her ongoing mission: to explore strange new worlds; to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before."

There's no shortage of fictional space vessels, and each has its fans; Star Wars is lousy with famous ships, the Battlestar Galactica was well-loved decades before it actually got good, and even minor contenders like The Black Hole's neo-Victorian USS Cygnus and the titular Event Horizon have their admirers (me, for instance, otherwise I wouldn't have bothered mentioning them). But even Star Wars fans will admit... well, actually they won't, but they should - the USS Enterprise rises saucer and nacelles above the rest. From humble beginnings in a 1960s model shop through story after story, it's become more than just a mode of transport: the Enterprise represents Star Trek's hope for us all, that we can be the great and noble people we wish we were, that we have a place out there in the galaxy, that what we find will enrich us, and we will enrich the galaxy in return.

So you don't redesign it lightly; fans have been up in arms about every little bit of the reimagined Enterprise since images first started circulating (and to be honest, I'm still not entirely happy with the idea of it being built on the ground; I just don't care enough to let it spoil a great movie). But y'know what, it looks good - it's the Enterprise. It looks elegant, it looks purposeful, it's got that simple quality that Roddenberry advised Matt Jeffries to go for (words to the effect of: "You need to be able to recognise it even if you just glimpse it on a TV in the other room for a second, or if a child draws it in messy crayons") as the distorted "warp effect" movie posters prove. I've got models of all six Enterprises (y'know, all the ones that didn't come from a show that sucked), so even though this is a toy, not a model or "replica", it wasn't a difficult decision to buy it.

Having said that, the distinction between toys and collector-quality vehicles is getting pretty blurred these days - I've got lots of patience and a steady hand, so my model Enterprises look pretty good, and I'd have little hesitation putting this alongside them (although since they currently fill their shelf to capacity, that'll take some reorganising). The Big E measures almost 15" from stem to stern (7" beam and about 3½" depth, if you're curious), a bit small considering the size of the box it comes in but decent for display, and while it may not measure up to the standards of crazy hermit-like model-makers who live in basements and only come out at night to ambush passers-by for glue and enamel paints, it's certainly not simplistic.

The saucer section (or "primary hull" for purists) has plenty of sculpted detail - hull grid, phaser batteries, the dorsal spine running back to the impulse reactor (that glowy dome thingy that Kirk shot off Khan's ship near the end), the bridge of course, various windows and viewports, and the lower dome, whatever that is in this version of the ship (in the old series it tended to be whatever the visual effects people made it on any given week - it's disgorged phasers, photon torpedoes, sensor and tractor beams, practically everything the ship can dispense). On the secondary hull there's a detailed deflector dish, and its housing elements in the hull itself (the "collar" kind of thing around the dish), the distinctive "clamshell" shuttlebay doors, the torpedo bay on the "neck", and the engine nacelles sport their newly enlarged cowlings, the old "running rail" beams near the back, and various small bits and pieces to make them look technical.

All in all, the only flaw of the sculpt I can solidly put my finger on is the way the nacelles are mounted on their pylons - having already seen the toy and wondered, I took note of them during the movie, and the pylons are supposed to attach at an angle to the nacelles, at the bottom and side of the protruding ventral module. On the toy the nacelles sit exactly on top of the pylon tops - you can draw a vertical line more or less straight up from the end of the pylon through the nacelles' center line - which has the effect of moving the nacelles a bit closer together than they should be. It's not a huge oversight, but when you know the shape of the Enterprise as well as I do, it's something you notice at a glance.

The paintwork is capable, but simple - this is where the toy is most toy-like, so far as appearance goes. The hull's pale grey is detailed a bit by blue-greys on various points of sculpted detail, with the odd spot of darker grey (and one bit of tan) mostly on the nacelles and pylons. The ship's name and registry number are printed on in crisp detail on the saucer, just as they should be, with the registry number repeated on the nacelles, on the lip of the shuttlebay, and beneath the deflector cowling. The deflector dish itself has a gold center, which helps brighten up the one-tone clear blue plastic; clear blue also gets used on the bridge dome and ventral dome, and the underside and rear of the nacelles. The rearmost section of the nacelles, kind of the end-cap, is actually all clear blue, with the hull colour painted on; the Bussard collectors (the light-up domes on the front of the engines) are smoky dark when unlit.

To let it fly, the Enterprise has quite a nice base, a Starfleet arrowhead with a triangular frame rising out of the lower points, angled forward to give the whole thing a sense of leaping forward. The frame ends with a ball which fits tightly in a socket in the bottom of the secondary hull, around about where the center of mass is - you can turn the ship any way you like, within reason, and it'll stay in place and remain steady so long as it's on a flat surface.

Since this is kind of a toy, though, it has to have a party trick. Naturally enough (since it's what pretty much every large spaceship toy does) that's lights and sounds - load some batteries into the underside of the saucer, flip the switch beneath the shuttlebay, and pressing on the bridge dome will activate a randomly-chosen effect. The speaker is located in the saucer, and gives a nice clear sound; the lights are: blue in the lower dome, white in the three "floodlight" ports around the bridge and the two running lights bracketing the registry number, red in the impulse drive, blue in the deflector dish, and blue in the Bussard collectors and nacelle rears. Yes, the collectors are blue, not red - I thought it was a mistake at first, since they're traditionally always been read and promo photos suggested they still were, but in the movie they are indeed blue. There you go, alternate universe. There are four separate sound effects:

  • "Captain... Engineering reports ready for launch," spoken by Spock as the blue and white lights slowly come up to full strength; at full brightness the impulse drive lights up and there's an engine-blast kind of noise.
  • "Maneuvering thrusters, Mister Sulu," spoken by Captain Pike (I think), with the blue and white lights glowing.
  • "Arm phasers, fire everything we got!" spoken by Kirk, with blue and white lights on, followed by three weapon-firing sounds, at each of which the nacelle lights flicker.
  • The red alert siren (three times) with all lights flashing rapidly.

All this fulfils the toy requirement to be bright and loud, but from a collector's point of view, it's a bit lacking. For one thing, there's no mode in which the ship can just be left glowing, which is a bit of an oversight, I'd have thought - surely it couldn't have added significantly to the cost of production? For another, the lights aren't quite as well implemented as they could be. They're bright little bastards, and in several cases - the white light inside the saucer, and the blues at the front and rear of the nacelles - they shine through the "solid" hull, as well as through the ports they're meant to be coming out of. The Bussard collectors (though they are the right colour) are also a lot simpler than they should be - the real things have a rotating pattern within them, but all the toy has is a single bright light per nacelle.

As a toy, the Playmates Enterprise is pretty good - it's accurate (give or take the slight error in the nacelle placement), sturdy, flashy and noisy, and subtract the flashy and noisy parts and it makes quite a decent physical model as well. But the lights could have been so much better than they are - even if it had've added some to the price tag, a screen-accurate light up mode would've had every Trekkie worth his tribbles buying one of these things to put on their desks. As is, it's more in the range of Star Wars vehicles - decent toys, but that's all.

-- 05/16/09

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