Undies in Trek

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There are films and television series I love in which the characters strip down on a regular basis. I’m not a perv just to preface that, I’m just saying that some program’s I like have people disrobing. However, there’s a lot of nudity out there that leaves me cold and confused. (Probably it leaves the actors involved quite cold as well, but that’s another story). You hear much about “gratuitous” nudity on TV dramas like Game of Thrones and Rome, but one person’s “gratuity” is another person’s “essential character development.” Of course, the characters who are most frequently naked on screen are the young, attractive women. Where is the line, then, between storytelling and exploitation?

When Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) strips down to her bra and undies during a boring exposition scene in Star Trek Into Darkness, I wasn’t so much offended as baffled. Sure, she needed an activity to keep the scene moving while she explained the history of the mysterious torpedoes to Captain Kirk, but did it have to involve him sneaking a peek of her body? She was apparently “changing clothes” to complete the next part of the mission. In the rest of the film, however, the characters swap out outfits off-screen. Somehow, Marcus is the only one who doesn’t get to go back to her quarters to change. A very affable J.J. Abrams appeared on Conan to address the scene, explaining he tried to balance female and male (near-) nudity while acknowledging he may have edited the sequence poorly. He even offered up an “evil shower scene” featuring Benedict Cumberbatc that, although fun, didn’t belong in the movie either. It tells us nothing about Cumberbatch’s character, other than the size of his abs and his hatred of running water.

Weirdly, there was a far longer bra-and-undies sequence in 2009’s Star Trek that I didn’t mind as much. Kirk is hooking up with Gaia, Uhura’s roommate at Starfleet Academy, when Uhura comes home and begins to change clothes. She figures out that Kirk is hiding under the bed and flips out. That scene, while filled with characters in a state of undress, gives us insight into Kirk (he’s the kind of guy who knows nothing about the girls he hooks up with) and Uhura (she’s that roommate who throws a fit when her roomie brings a guy home). It’s also worth noting that all this takes place during off-duty hours. Part of the appeal of highly structured science fiction universes (like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica) is that everyone has to work together, no matter what they were doing the night before. When characters do hook up (or have sexual tension), it can add complexity to tense situations on the bridge. If a nude scene doesn’t add to character or plot, then it might as well be a Victoria’s Secret ad.

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Ferengi

This race of ‘Yankee traders’ evolved over the years from a hostile, opportunistic culture in their early depictions in TNG to a fully structured complex society as seen on Deep Space Nine. While in large measure the characterizations of the Ferengi grew because of Armin Shimerman, Max Grodénchik, Aron Eisenburg, and Wallace Shawn, to mention a few, the characters were also effective because of a collaborative makeup design process.
All through the appearances of the Ferengi on TNG, the makeup department had a one-head-fits-all policy. When Armin Shimerman was cast as Quark, that policy changed. The original heads were relegated to Max Grodénchik, Aron Eisenburg (Rom and Nog) and to the background Ferengi. A newer, larger head was constructed, something that would be more comfortable for Armin to wear. And to make the head appliance more comfortable for him, makeup sculpted holes in the sides of the appliance for Armin’s ears to go through so they wouldn’t have to be flattened. His ears fit inside the ear appliances. The ‘new head’ allowed Armin to stand out.
Eventually two customized heads were developed, one for another Ferengi, Jeffrey Combs, called Brunt, and the female Ferengi, whose ears were smaller than the males’. For the grand nagus, the makeup department started with the basic Quark head appliance and made larger ears and a more wrinkled forehead and neck. Thus the Zek head contains additional pieces that were glued on over the top of Quark’s head so that the grand nagus looks older and far more wizened than either Quark or his brother Rom.
Another Ferengi development concerened the way the makeup department enhanced their teeth. The original TNG Ferengi had sharp jutting upper teeth but straight lowers. In DS9 the makeup department added a set of lower teeth to fill in the gaps in the uppers and give them an even more piranhalike appearance. The designers made moulds for the lower teeth to fit into the spaces between the upper teeth so the characters could talk, even though it affected their speech. The Ferengi also had blue painted fingernails, and Zek was given longer false nails.”
Source: Star Trek Aliens & Artifacts [Michael Westmore et al.] 2000

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