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A blast from future’s past

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HOLLYWOOD — I have seen the future's past, and it looks pretty cool.

Frankly, I've been somewhat worried about the whole premise behind "Enterprise," the "Star Trek" prequel that premieres this fall on UPN. And, while those fears have not been entirely allayed, they have been quieted a bit by a trip to the show's set on the Paramount lot along with a look at a few minutes of clips from the two-hour pilot episode.

Both looked darn good.

Now, the fact is that Trekkies (if not Trekkers) are going to carp about a show that is set about 90 years before the future that featured Captain Kirk and his crew. But, frankly, the producers and set designers seem to have handled it rather well to this point.

A trip through the bridge, engine room and munitions room of this particular Enterprise was more than encouraging — the sets are certainly high-tech, but at the same time they look more contemporary — panels and switches and buttons and modules that are far removed from the sleek settings of "Next Generation" and "Voyager."

"You know, there's a great irony about developing things that you don't want to be more advanced than things that you know are going to come in 90 years, let's say, at the time of Kirk," said executive producer Rick Berman. "That's a problem. The computer that sat on Captain Janeway's desk was bulkier than the one that sits on my desk now. There are cellular phones that are far more compact than the communicators that Captain Kirk used."

This Enterprise doesn't have shields or phasers or photon torpedoes, none of which have been invented yet. It has hull plating and torpedoes that look like high-tech missiles.

Up until now, the first-generation transporters have been used only for cargo. "It's been approved for people . . . but nobody wants to use it," said executive producer Brannon Braga. "They're all nervous about it."

"We're always walking a very thin line in terms of developing things that are less advanced than from the time of Captain Kirk," Berman said. "But we think that one of the most fun elements of the series, especially for our fans, is going to be able to watch all of the things that they know are coming to 'Star Trek' in their infant stages — to be able to see the development of things like transporters and phasers and tractor beams, etc. And we're having a lot of fun with seeing these things when they don't operate perfectly when they're being developed and perfected."

Frankly, I'm never going to criticize "Enterprise" for eschewing the cheesy cardboard sets and Styrofoam rocks of the original series. And, while there's already been more than a bit of Internet chatter about the look of the Klingons, "Enterprise" is not going to go back to the minimal make-up look of the Klingons that was part of the original series.

It's the right decision. But fans might be a little bit taken aback by the fact that Berman and Braga — the two men charged with making sure "Enterprise" fits into the "Star Trek" mythology as seamlessly as possible — disagreed over when the new-look Klingons first appeared. Berman maintained it was in the second movie; Braga insisted it was the third.

Actually, it was the first movie. The first few minutes of the first movie.

"Because it's set before the first series, a lot of the continuity elements haven't even occurred yet," Braga said. "We have paid close attention to all things 'Star Trek' in conceiving the show and plan to utilize and exploit a lot of the things that people have come to appreciate about 'Star Trek.' "

Berman correctly pointed out that there have been some continuity problems in the past between various "Trek" incarnations, including hundreds of books that don't necessarily jive with the on-screen representations.

"In terms of being tripped up by fan kind of things, it hasn't really been that much of a problem because we're sort of creating an era that's not yet really been explored," Berman said. "And we have to take some degree of liberty with just how closely we adhere to those things because they very often contradict each other."

And Braga pulled out a prime example.

"In the original series, it was established that in 1996 half the human race was killed in the Eugenics war," he said, coming close (at least) to the actual plot of the original "Star Trek" episode "Space Seed."

"Well, what do you do? Do you pay attention to that, or do you just glide on by," he said. "You take it on a case-by-case basis."

But more than the technology, the attitude will be different on "Enterprise." The show is set at a time between the 21st century that Captain Picard and the Enterprise-E visited in the movie "First Contact" and the time of Captain Kirk and what had heretofore been known as the original starship Enterprise.

"We have chosen a place kind of halfway between to sort of create the world of — how did it all begin? What was it like for the people who truly were the first people to go where no man has gone before?" Berman said.

The "Enterprise" ship is the first to have warp technology sophisticated enough to make interstellar travel practical. The Vulcans, whom they met in "First Contact," haven't exactly been helpful in terms of sharing technology — a point of contention between Earth and Vulcan. (And, compared to most of the aliens they meet, human technology is inferior.)

For them, space is "a very terrifying place in that everything is unknown to this crew," Braga said. "Earth is in much better shape than it was in the movie 'First Contact' in that poverty, crime, disease, hunger have all been eradicated for the most part, but the Federation has not yet formed. That's a long way off. And Starfleet is very, very young, and this crew has met very few alien species since the Vulcans arrived. So, really, the landscape of the universe is virtually unknown to these people. And they will meet many friendly and also many terrifying aliens."

Berman pointed out that in previous incarnations of "Star Trek," meeting aliens was business as usual. But for the crew of this ship, "it's a pretty spooky occasion. It's always something that's filled with awe and excitement and a little bit of trepidation and fear. It's really almost more like any of us finding ourselves in the situation where we're about to run into an alien species. . . . certainly not just a day-by-day occurrence the way it would be for a Picard or for a Janeway."

E-MAIL: pierce@desnews.com