Every so often, while watching TV, I’ll suddenly press the pause button and exclaim “Hey, isn’t that the guy from…” or “Hey, isn’t that the same place they filmed..”
That also happens once in a while for props. Such as is the case with the above item, which had four neon tubes that flash in a sequence that makes it appear they are rotating. I have seen it in all sorts of science fiction shows for years, but until today I had never found it.
According to a couple of blogs, this device was produced by Modern Props - an outfit in Los Angeles that provides all kind of props to studios. A little digging and I found the reference on the Modern Props website.
What the Heck is It?
According to the website it is a “dual medical / lab
/ control room generator with rotating neon lights inside an acrylic tube;
light-controlled panel with knobs and buttons.” It was designed and fabricated by Modern Props for futuristic looking sets.
If you want to rent it, it costs $675 for the first week, and it is prop #195-290-1. Here’s the specific link.
At one point, Modern Props referred to it as having blinking tubes without function. Online, that seems to be the phrase most often used to referred to it.
Above is a picture posted at Doug Drexler’s website showing the prop at the Modern Props warehouse years back. More info at this link.
Ok, so where have I seen it before?
I will add to this blog posting as I find more references but here’s a few screencaps to start.
Here’s the “control room generator” as seen in Datalore. It’s in the lab on Omicron Theta where they discover Lore. In this picture, Data seems like he might recognize the prop as well. “Commander, didn’t I see this piece of equipment in the Incredible Hulk?”
Thor Vs. Hulk
The same prop also showed up in the 1988 TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns. This sequel to the Hulk TV series was supposed to serve as a pilot for a potential new Marvel Comics TV series based on Thor, but that never emerged.
One big scene in the movie was a battle between the Lou Ferrigno Hulk and the Eric Allan Kramer Thor. At the start of the fight, Thor takes out some of his frustration on the control room generator, as seen below.
Alien Meth Lab
Here’s the tubes in their notorious role – equipment to produce drugs to peddle to “Newcomers” in the 1988 movie Alien Nation. Actually, this wasn’t a meth lab, it was a Jabroka lab.
It took me a little while to remember where I saw the control room generator in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, but there it is on Regula One, right in the foreground of the shot where Carol Marcus talks to Chekov and Terrell.
Beedee Beedee Beedee
The blinking tubes also made it into the second season of Buck Rogers, which happened to be replete with props from other science fiction series as well as plenty of gizmos from Modern Props. The scenes above and below are from the episode “Shgoratchx!” which was, well, one of the low points of the series.
The crewman below is called in when a group of alien little people trash the ship. Yep, this is the grumpy tech support guy on the spaceship Searcher. No doubt if I was in the 25th century I would have ended up with this job!
As luck would have it, part way through composing this post, I found this article on reused Star Trek props. So based on that research, here are a bunch more appearances of the “control room generator.”
In the launch bay aboard the Visitor ship in “V.”
And above in the lab with Alex and Grig in The Last Starfighter.
And here’s a pile more Star Trek appearances..
The first of two appearance in the Star Trek: Enteprise episode “Cold Fusion.” This is in Soong’s hideout (which makes sense in light of the earlier Datalore appearance of the prop).
And here we are on the actual Cold Station 12 that the episode is named for. And there’s Soong himself. Note this is the version with the cool blue tubes. Ooooh!
Dr. Farallon uses the tubes for some reason in the TNG episode “The Quality of Life.” Seems like in the Trek universe these may have something to do with artificial intelligence? (or genetics, or Genesis)
For some reason it’s also aboard the Talarian ship in “Suddenly Human” from TNG.
And the Entharans use them in the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Retrospect.”
And they are also in the Pathfinder lab in Voyager’s “Inside Man.”
The ultimate appearance of this prop HAS been be Airplane 2, however. In this scene, none other than William Shatner comments on the device.
Captain: What have you found?
Crewman: All I’ve found is that these red lights keep moving back and forth. Aside from that this thing seems to have no function whatsoever, sir.
Captain: That’s impossible. It must have some sort of function. I mean, why would the government put all that money into a thing with red lights that keep going back and forth? It doesn’t make any sense. Keep working on it.
Of course, the Shat and the “blinking tubes with no function” did of course share a set again in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier which William Shatner directed and starred in!