Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Creature Feature: The Gorn

On the barren surface of an asteroid in an uncharted region of space, the courageous Captain James T. Kirk confronts a fiercesome reptilian creature in one of the most memorable sequences from the Original Series. The clash between these two adversaries has been often imitated. Even the popular sci-fi series Stargate Atlantis went on to pay homage to this encounter in their season one episode "The Defiant One". Nothing has come close to the awesomeness of this intergalactic smackdown, and the creature has gone on to become one of the fan favorite Aliens from Star Trek lore.

Audiences got to witness this legendary brawl during the first season episode "Arena", first broadcast on January 19, 1967. The episode was written by Gene L. Coon, based on a short story by Fredric Brown and directed by Joseph Pevney. Brown's story was originally published in the June 1944 issue of Astounding magazine. The story was also included The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One 1929-1964.

According to various accounts Desilu's research department noticed the similarity between Gene Coon's script and Brown's short story after the script made its way through the studio's rights and clearances department. Desilu's Business Affairs officials decided to call Brown and offer to buy the rights to his story, before the episode went into production. Brown agreed without really knowing that the script had already been written.

As the episode opens The Enterprise is in pursuit of an unknown alien ship which has destroyed a Starfleet base on the planet Cestus 3. The Enterprise and the alien ship are trapped by an advanced race called the Metrons. Angry at the two ships for trespassing into their space the Metrons inform the crew's of each ship that physical combat is the answer to finding justice.

The Metrons transport Kirk and the Gorn captain to an uninhabited asteroid to fight to the death in which the victor and his ship will be set free, while the loser will be destroyed, along with his ship and crew.

Part of the popularity of the Gorn has to be atributed to the storyline for the episode which made for an exciting, and immensely fun hour of television. The other part has to be atributed to the creature's design by legendary Hollywood prop and creature designer Wah Chang. At the young age of 7, Wah Chang was already exhibiting his paintings and sculptures regularly at various art galleries in San Fransciso. At the age of 20 landed a job at Disney where he contributed multiple designs to such films as Fantasia, Bambi, and Pinocchio . In 1960 he won an academy award for his work in bringing HG Wells' time machine to life in George Pal's feature film adaptation of the classic time travel tale.

Wah Chang accepts his academy award for "The Time Machine".

In order for the episode's director to accomplish the task of shooting the fight between The Gorn and Captain Kirk it was soon realized that the character had to be a highly mobile creature realized through the creationof a sculpted costume which could be worn by a stuntman, in this case Bobby Clark and Gary Coombs -- who alternated playing the Gorn during the grueling shoot in the warm exteriors of Vasquez Rocks near Los Angeles. Chang proceeded to build the costume in sections so the stuntmen could slip in and out of it multiple times during the day. This way it was also possible to wear only a portion of the suit whenever it was neccesary to shoot a close up or an insert.

Various pieces from the original Gorn suit.

The script went into as much detail to describe a close up of The Gorn's hands as he throws a rock at Kirk which is why Chang sculpted the gloves extra carefully. Chang sculpted the head, hands, and feet using modeling clay on plaster positives. He then made a two piece plaster sculpt of each piece. The final components were made of slush liquid latex, which had been poured into each of the negative molds. Once the latex had dried the pieces were painted by Chang using a combination of techniques including a final coat of thinner that Chang airbrushed.

Fully painted Gorn suit upper half.

The Gorn's body was constructed out of a neoprene diving suit jacket. Chang cemented poly-foam build ups over the jacket in order to sculpt the arms and chest. A series of holes were cut into the jacket for ventilation. The legs were sculpted over a pair of diver pants and painted to match the rest of the costume. In order to hide all the seamlines in the costume William Ware Theiss -- the show's costume designer -- produced a tunic, belt, and gauntlets to fit over the suit.

Gorn legs pre-paint stage.

The Gorn captain's growls were provided by actor Ted Cassidy, who also provided the voice of Balok in the episode, "The Carbomite Maneuver".

The episode "Arena" was not the only appearance of the Gorn in the Star Trek Universe. The Gorn also made an appearance in the Animated Series episode titled "The Time Trap" and in the 2005 2-part episode of Enterprise titled "In a mirror, Darkly". In the episode a Gorn who goes by the name of Slar is an overseer of a group of slaves which belong to the mirror universe's Tholians. Slar even gets to have his own hand to hand battle with Captain Jonathan Archer. To the chagrin of many fans the creature was created via computer generated imagery by the artists at Eden FX instead of being creatd through a practical live action method (such as the original series' man in a suit technique).

In January 2001, a couple of years before the Gorn's retun to television screens, Wildstorm Comics released the graphic novel "The Gorn Crisis" with beautifully painted art by Igor Korday and a story by Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta. The story takes place during the time of the Dominion war as The USS Enterprise-E is assigned to the Gorn sector in order to convince the rulers of the Gorn hmeworld to enter the war as allies to the Federation.

Through a series of highly detailed and intense panels we get to witness the tale of a civil war on the Gorn homeworld as a military group overthrows the government and even succeeds in killing off almost every member of the ruling party during a massacre at the royal palace.

Captain Picard arrives on the Gorn homeworld at the moment of this vicious takeover and soon has to stop this group of violence driven Gorn, who will have no peace with the federation.

The rebels go as far as destroying the eggs of the ruling council, essentially murdering all their offspring. There's a great deal of bloodshed and violence in this tale. Enough to guarantee that this story would never have been told on any of the television series. If you haven't read this book I highly recommend it. The story is pretty fast paced and exciting and the artwork is raw and breathtaking to say the least. All the Gorn carnage depicted is quite striking and visceral.

Warrior Gorn character study from "The Gorn Crisis".

The Gorn have also made appearances on various novels from pocket books including "The Lost Years" (TOS) and "Requiem" (TNG). Over the yeas we have been treated to a great deal of collectibles featuring the Gorn creature as seen in the "Arena" episode. Some of my favorites include the Playmates figures from the mid 90s and the minimates and action figure from Art Asylum released a few years ago.

Art Asylum concept sketch for their 2004 Gorn action figure.

This year we will also be getting an accurate Mego style Gorn figure thanks to the folks at EMCEE TOYS. The original Gorn figure released by Meego during the run of their Star Trek toyline had no resemblance to the Gorn as seen on the TV show. It was nothing more than a brown repaint of their Lizard figure from the Marvel line with a Klingon Uniform. Head on over to the Mego Museum to take a look at this atrocity.

The new figure will feature an all new sculpt as well as an accurate cloth
tunic and accessories. It should be hitting online retailers and comic shops in the coming weeks. Also in May we will be getting a new line of Star Trek bobble head from funko featuring characters from the original series.
The Gorn will be one of the first offerings as part of the line's first wave of figures. There will also be a wave of smaller sized urban vynil bobble heads known as Nodniks. The first wave will include a two pack featuring Kirk and The Gorn. More items featuring The Gorn will be arriving in stores in the coming months including a highly detailed mask from Rubies costumes as well as new t-shirts featuring the Gorn depicted in the Quogs animation style. Happy hunting!


  1. Great, comprehensive post on the Gorn! I am enjoying your excellent blog and have added it to my list of links.

    Keep up the good work!



  2. I was enjoying your other blog and then you sneak this one in! Great post on the Gorn, that EMCE one is already out, and it is way better than the old Mego one, though that one still has some charm.

    Great Job, stop by and join in on the Spockcation!


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