Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Complete Guide to Starfleet Style: The TOS Movies Rad Suit

When Star Trek: The Motion Picture came along in 1979, Trek fans were introduced to an entirely new Star Trek, far removed from anything seen before. One of the key components introduced was completely new costume design by Robert Fletcher. Gone were the bright golds, blues and reds from The Original Series. In their place were muted colors with an emphasis on gray, a directive from director Robert Wise. And instead of a single style of uniform as seen in TOS, there were now uniforms for every occasion, use, or taste. The crew were dressed in one-piece jumpsuits, 2-piece pajamas, 3-piece lounge wear (no, I'm not kidding) and on and on in a seemingly endless variety. But perhaps the most striking new costumes were featured in Scotty's engine room – the Engineering Radiation Suit or Rad Suit.
Scotty and crew in Rad Suits. Note the helmets held by actors.
The Rad Suit was a completely new concept that had no counterpart in TOS. It spoke to the idea that the Engineering section of a starship can be a very harsh and dangerous place – when energy is released by the controlled annihilation of antimatter, there must be one heck of a lot of radiation. Hence, Rad Suits to protect the engineers that work right on top of a force of nature.

Fletcher's original sketch courtesy of Brett Leggett
The suits were bright white with all sorts of padding and whiz-bang accoutrements that hinted at mysterious, unknown uses. They were finished off with a heavy black collar, heavy gloves, and big black-treaded boots. Some engineers could be seen wearing matching helmets. While it would have made sense to have everyone wearing helmets (the head would be the most important body part to protect, after all) the fact is that when actors wear helmets, everyone looks alike. And in Engineering, we need to pick out Scotty right away, so drama trumps reality and the helmets became strictly background pieces, usually being carried under an actor's arm.

Though most suits were white, there were a few that were not. On his original design sketch, designer Fletcher make this notation: "Make 4 in orange for emergency fire suits". I have not been able to find these in TMP, but they show up in later movies so I have no doubt that they were made for TMP.

Orange "Fire Suits" from Star Trek IV
It's impossible to say exactly how many suits were made, but based on known sales there had to be at least twenty-eight white versions and six orange. And since a lot of money was spent on The Motion Picture ($40 million – the most expensive movie ever made at the time!) and later productions were always tight with budgets, I think it likely that all Rad Suits seen throughout the TOS films were originally made for TMP in 1979 and reused over and over. This idea is supported by the appearance of multiple actor's names inside various Rad Suit components.

An interesting side note: in TMP, an old movie-making trick effect called "forced perspective" was used with the help of Rad Suits. Two special Rad Suits were made in very small sizes and worn by small actors (kids?) in the background of the Engineering Warp Core shots. The small suits made the set appear larger and deeper than it actually was (see photo, below).

Small, "forced perspective" suit is seen in background to help give the illusion of depth.

When Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan came along, the Rad suits were reused and seen extensively throughout the movie. Minor updates made by Fletcher included the addition of a rank/department strap on the arm, a Starfleet patch on the shoulder, some metal clips to the suit's front and a disk designed to accept an emergency breathing tube. Scotty and his crew were wearing Rad Suits throughout the attack by Khan, and when Scotty memorably carries his dying nephew onto the bridge, both are clad in burnt, heavily distressed versions. It became an iconic moment in the film.
Scotty with his injured nephew.
In both Kirk's inspection scene and Spock's funeral scene, both the white and orange suits are present.

In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, some of the orange Rad suits appeared briefly in the Starfleet Command scenes and were worn by emergency crews.

The Rad Suits returned for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Again, they were shown extensively in various Engineering scenes, but this time they also filled a special role. Modified Rad Suits were worn by two Enterprise crewmen who acted as assassins. Their suits were modified with a smaller gray collar which fitted under an all-new, very cool space helmet. Instead of the usual boots, they wore magnetic boots. Later, these same suits were found on board the Enterprise with pink Klingon blood. My specimen matches specifically to one of the assassins, complete with gray collar and blood stains.

For some reason, later incarnations of Star Trek had no equivalent to the Rad Suit. Perhaps they felt that they got in the way of TV storytelling, or maybe by the 24th century (NextGen's era) radiation in Engineering was supposed to be more under control. But whatever the reason, when the Rad Suit concept was discarded, Star Trek lost a unique background element that added to the complex feel of the Star Trek Universe.



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