The Annoying High-Pitched Beeping on Kirk’s Bridge, by Belinkie
In the new Star Trek film, the ship gracefully wheels and dives through three dimensional space. The Enterprise on the old show had all the mobility of an oil tanker. This is partially because the special effects at the time didn’t allow wheeling and diving. But it’s also because in Gene Roddenberry’s mind, the Enterprise is a submarine.
You’ve got all the naval designations, like “USS,” “decks,” and “torpedoes.” Not “missiles”; “torpedoes.” And if you think about it, the comparison makes sense. The sea and space are both ridiculously hostile environments, in which a hull breech means almost certain death.
That brings me to the sound effect – the constant beeping that you hear on the bridge. Here’s a good sample, from the great Next Generation episode where Scotty winds up on the Enterprise D.
Anyone who has ever seen a submarine film knows what this sound is: sonar. It’s a powerful audio cue that even though we’re in a crazy sci-fi world, some of the cliches of submarine combat apply. Don’t forget, in the 60’s, audiences would be much more familiar with these cliches. The 50’s were the golden age of submarine movies.
Of course, the Next Generation Enterprise doesn’t make this beeping sound. All you hear on that bridge is the low rumble of the engines. This seems only appropriate, because by the 80’s, we don’t imagine future space exploration in terms of undersea exploration. Post Star Wars, we think of space ships as fast and maneuverable, like planes. Now admittedly, the Enterprise D still maneuvers like a whale – it’s not until some of the later TV shows that you see real dogfighting in the Star Trek universe. But I think the shift from bridge beeping to no bridge beeping is significant. The ship feels less like a dangerous tin can and more of a luxury liner. Whether that’s an improvement is debatable.