Klingons Star Trek character
The Klingon insignia, designed by Matt Jefferies
First appearance "Errand of Mercy" (1967) Created by Gene L. Coon
Klingons are recurring villains in the 1960s television show Star Trek: The Original Series, and have appeared in all five spin-off series and eight feature films. Initially intended to be antagonists for the crew of the USS Enterprise, the Klingons ended up a close ally of humanity and the United Federation of Planets in The Next Generation and Voyager. In the 90s series Deep Space Nine the United Federation of Planets briefly goes to war with the Klingons. Later in the series the two join together with the Romulans to fight the Dominion.
As originally developed by screenwriter Gene L. Coon, Klingons were darkly colored humanoids with little honor, intended as an allegory to the Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, though Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry did not aspire to any political parallels. With a greatly expanded budget for makeup and effects, the Klingons were completely redesigned in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), gaining ridged foreheads that created a continuity error not explained by Star Trek canon until 2005. In later films and the spin-off series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the militaristic traits of the Klingons were bolstered by an increased sense of honor and strict warrior code.
Among the elements created for the revised Klingons was a complete language, developed by Marc Okrand off gibberish suggested by actor James Doohan. Klingon has entered popular culture; the works of William Shakespeare and even parts of the Bible have been translated into the glottural language. A dictionary, a book of sayings, and a cultural guide to the language have been published. In addition, according to Guinness World Records, Klingon is the most popular fictional language by number of speakers.
The Klingons were created by screenwriter Gene L. Coon, and first appeared in the 1967 episode "Errand of Mercy". They were named after Lieutenant Wilbur Clingan, who served with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry in the Los Angeles Police Department. In the original television series (TOS), Klingons were typically portrayed with bronze skin and facial hair suggestive of Asian peoples, and possessed physical abilities similar to humans (in fact, Coon's only physical description of them in his "Errand of Mercy" script is "oriental" and "hard-faced"). The swarthy look of Klingon males was created with the application of shoe polish and long, thin moustaches; budget constraints would not allow any further creativity. The overall look of the aliens, played by white actors, suggested orientalism, at a time when memories of Japanese actions during World War II were still fresh. The production crew never came to an agreement on the name "Klingon"; Coon was adamant about keeping the name, and it persisted because no one else offered up a better name. The Klingons took on the role of the Soviet Union in opposition to the United States' future counterpart, the United Federation of Planets. As such, they were generally portrayed as inferior to the crew of the Enterprise. While occasionally capable of honor, this depiction treated the Klingons as close to wild animals. Overall, they were shown without redeeming qualities—brutish, scheming, and murderous. Klingons became the primary antagonists of the Enterprise crew, in part because the makeup necessary to make Romulans was too time-consuming and costly.
For the first two seasons, no Klingon ships were seen despite being frequently mentioned. This was because of budget constraints— designer Matt Jefferies did not have the money to create a Klingon ship until the third season. When the episodes were remastered beginning in 2006, Klingon ships were digitally inserted into shots earlier than their original appearances.
For Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the Klingons were retconned and their appearance and behavior radically changed. To give the aliens a more sophisticated and threatening demeanor, the Klingons were depicted with ridged foreheads, snaggled and prominent teeth, and a defined language and alphabet. Lee Cole, a production designer, used red gels and primitive shapes in the design of Klingon consoles and ship interiors, which took on a dark and moody atmosphere. The alphabet was designed as angular, with sharp edges harkening to the Klingon's militaristic focus. Costume designer Robert Fletcher created new uniforms for the Klingons, reminiscent of feudal Japanese armor.
While no Klingon characters were seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, their appearance as the central enemy in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) led to minor alterations. For the third generation of Klingons, the heavy, cragged head ridges of The Motion Picture were redesigned and made less pronounced. While Fletcher was happy with the original film uniforms, more had to be created as the old costumes had been lost, destroyed, or loaned out and altered irreparably. New costumes were fabricated, retaining the air of feudal Japanese design; Fletcher thought it was an important part of the Klingon authoritarian attitude. New Klingon weaponry, including an energy weapon and a special knife known as a d'k tahg, were designed.
The release of a new television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation, prompted a further revision in the depiction of Klingon culture, though Gene Roddenberry had wanted to avoid re-appearances of races from the old series. Set a century later than the original series, the USS Enterprise-D featured a Klingon crewmember, Worf. Makeup artist Michael Westmore needed a consistent reference to base the Klingon look on, as each individual Klingon had distinct head ridges. He found what he was looking for in a book of dinosaurs; observing dinosaur vertebrae laid out flat, Westmore cut the designs in half and modified them to suit each Klingon. Westmore designed his Klingons' beards to be Elizabethan, combining prehistoric and aristocratic elements to give audiences a feeling of depth from the appearance. Over time, Westmore and the other makeup artists designed different sizes of prosthetic headpieces which could be quickly applied and modified to save time; the amount of preparation to turn an actor into a Klingon decreased from around three hours to one. While important characters had custom headpieces, background actors used pre-made masks with minor touchup around the eyes and mouth. The Next Generation effects artist Dan Curry used his martial arts experience to create a flowing fighting style for the race. When the episode "Reunion" called for a special Klingon blade, Curry drew on Far East influences to develop a weapon known as the bat'leth. Curry, a collector of weapons, was annoyed by fictional weaponry that were designed to "look cool" but could not be handled practically. Curry combined elements of the Himalayan kukri, Chinese axes and fighting crescents to create a two-handed, curved weapon that has since been widely used in the franchise.
The culture of the Klingons began to resemble revised western stereotypes of civilizations such as the Zulu, the Vikings, and various Native American nations — as a proud, warlike and principled race. Whereas the TOS Klingons served as an allegory to contemporary totalitarian regimes, The Next Generation Klingons held principles more in line with Bushidō; actor Michael Dorn stated that without the revision in Klingon culture, his character, Worf, would not have been a Starfleet officer. With the first Klingon-centric story in The Next Generation, the first season episode "Heart of Glory", the Klingons once again became an important part of the Star Trek universe, and by the advent of the series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Klingons had fully become heroes rather than villains.
The final Star Trek film to feature the entire cast from the original television series, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) served to bridge the original series Klingons at war with the Federation to the time of The Next Generation, and presents a subtly different treatment of the race. At the time of the film's development, the Soviet Union was collapsing, and with the advent of glasnost the old allegory of Klingons as Russians was becoming obsolete. The Klingons were redesigned to evoke the Nazis, with the red, white and black Klingon flag deliberately similar to that of the National Socialist German Workers Party. The Klingons in the film liberally quote Shakespeare, a trait stemming from director Nicholas Meyer's comparison of the Empire's appropriation of Shakespeare to the Nazis' similar attempt in the 1930s. Meyer also felt it was apropos for Shakespearean actors such as Christopher Plummer and David Warner to speak the lines. The breakdown of the Klingons' empire because of a Chernobyl-like incident results in a new age for the Federation and Klingons, leading to the time of The Next Generation and later series where the two governments are trade partners and occasional allies. Starfleet members are shown to be highly bigoted against Klingons, who in turn feel that their way of life will be obliterated by peace. The Klingons were given new uniforms designed by Dodie Shepard, in part because there were not enough of Fletcher's The Motion Picture costumes to meet the demands of the film.
Dorn described playing a Klingon as simple, joking that after hours sitting in a makeup chair, actors were highly motivated to get the dialogue right the first time. Repeat Klingon Robert O'Reilly told all neophyte Klingons that the most important part of speaking was to say the lines with belief and "go all the way". When O'Reilly and Dorn's character had a confrontation, makeup artists wiped spittle off each between takes, a consequence of the harsh-sounding language. Todd Bryant (Captain Klaa in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) similarly noted that if an actor was projectile-spitting on others as he spoke Klingon, he was doing a great job.
When filming The Undiscovered Country, Christopher Plummer asked director Nicholas Meyer to adapt his character's look, feeling the heavy forehead appliances looked rather fake. Instead, Plummer's character, General Chang, was made bald with very subdued ridges and an eyepatch bolted to his skull. Plummer felt that the unique appearance helped "humanize" the character. In contrast to white actors portraying the warriors, more recent Klingon roles have been predominantly played by black actors.
Explanation and theories
According to the official Star Trek web site, the Klingons' varying appearance was "probably the single most popular topic of conversation among Star Trek fans". While the real reason for the discrepancy between The Original Series Klingons and their feature film and later television series counterparts was a lack of budget, fans took it upon themselves to contrive an acceptable canon reason for the sudden change. These theories postulated that TOS Klingons were in fact humans raised as Klingons, similar to Janissaries; that for cosmetic or diplomatic reasons, Klingons removed the ridges via surgery; or that TOS Klingons were in fact hybrids with a more human species. Simple theories that the different Klingons were different racial breeds were complicated by the fact that the characters of Kang, Koloth, and Kor appeared with smooth features in the original series, yet reverted to a ridged appearance in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and that Worf acknowledged the difference in appearances when the crew of Deep Space 9 returned to the 23rd century in the episode "Trials and Tribble-ations," but offered no explanation, saying merely, "We do not discuss it with outsiders."
A canonical explanation for the change was given in a two-part storyline on Star Trek: Enterprise. The two episodes, "Affliction" and "Divergence", aired in February 2005. An earlier story arc featured the Augments, genetically-engineered humans left over from the Eugenics Wars of the late 20th century, and who were defeated by Captain Jonathan Archer and the Enterprise in Klingon space. The Klingon High Council fears that Starfleet was developing armies of Augments; after gaining access to genetic material from the Augments, the Klingons perform experiments to increase their own intellect and strength. The experiments turn disastrous when a flu strain mutates and becomes a deadly plague that spreads across the Empire, causing physical changes resulting in the afflicted bearing a TOS-era appearance. Dr. Phlox of the Enterprise formulates a cure for the virus, but the physical alterations remain in the populace and are inherited by offspring. Phlox indicated that "someday" the physical alterations could be reversed.
In comparison to The Original Series, Klingon culture is thoroughly examined in later series episodes, part of a larger movement by Star Trek writers to deepen viewer understanding of the alien races of the franchise. The Klingons adhere to a strict code of honor, similar to feudal Japanese customs. Their society is based on war and combat; ritual suicide is often preferred over living life as a crippled warrior, and may allow a warrior to die with honor. To be captured rather than killed in battle brings dishonor to not only the captive but his descendants. Death is depicted as a time for celebration, not grief.
Klingons are depicted as a spiritual people. According to their legends, Klingons slew their own gods. The equivalents to heaven and hell are called Sto-Vo-Kor and Gre'Thor, respectively; in Sto-Vo-Kor, battle and feasting can be eternally won and shared, while those sent to Gre'Thor are condemned to eternal torture unless their honor is restored by living relatives. Those who do not die in battle may not enter Sto-Vo-Kor; relatives undertake quests to guarantee their deceased comrades entry into paradise. Despite believing in an afterlife, the Klingons perform no burial rites, and dispose of corpses by the most efficient means.
The Klingon's spiritual leader is Kahless, a messianic figure who established early codes of honor and was the first Klingon emperor. His fabled weapon, the Sword of Kahless, is depicted as a unique bat'leth that serves as the Klingon equivalent of the Holy Grail. In the TNG episode "Rightful Heir", Kahless appears in the flesh to Worf, who had doubted his Klingon faith. This Kahless is revealed to be a clone, created in an attempt to bring Klingons together, and who is chosen to lead the Klingon people as a figurehead.
The Klingons have their own language that was developed for the feature films, often described as "guttural." For The Motion Picture, James Doohan, the actor who portrayed Montgomery Scott, devised the initial Klingon-language dialogue heard in the film. For The Search for Spock, Marc Okrand, who created the Vulcan dialogue used in the previous film, developed an actual working Klingon language based on Doohan's original made-up words.
Okrand was presented with a difficult task of contriving a language that sounded alien, while still simple enough for the actors to pronounce. While most constructed languages or conlangs follow basic tenets of natural languages — for example, all languages have an "ah" sound — Okrand deliberately broke them. He chose the rarest form of sentence construction, the object-verb-subject form: the translation of the phrase "I boarded the Enterprise", would be constructed as "The Enterprise boarded I." Okrand reasoned the language would be indicative of the culture, the Klingon's language focuses on actions and verbs. Adjectives do not strictly exist; there is no word for "greedy", but there is a verb, qur, which means "to be greedy". The language does not contain the verb "to be", which meant Okrand had to create a workaround when director Nicholas Meyer wanted his Klingons to quote Shakespeare and the famous line "to be, or not to be" in The Undiscovered Country. Initially, Okrand came up with "to live or not live", but Plummer did not like the sound of the line. Okrand went back and revised the phrase to "taH pagh, taHbe' ", roughly meaning "whether to continue, or not to continue [existence]". The Klingon language has a small vocabulary compared to natural languages, containing around 2,000 words.
Okrand convinced Pocket Books to publish the The Klingon Dictionary in 1985; in it, Okrand elaborated on the Klingon language's grammar, syntax and vocabulary. While Okrand expected the book to only sell as a novelty item, eleven years after publication the book had sold 250,000 copies. Dedicated Klingon enthusiasts, some but not all Star Trek fans, created the Klingon Language Institute, which published multiple magazines in the language. While Paramount initially tried to stop the Institute from using their copyrighted language, the company eventually relented. The Institute has since published Klingon translations of Hamlet, Much Ado about Nothing, Tao Te Ching, Gilgamesh and has translations of some books from the Bible on its website. The Bible proved to be difficult to translate, as Christian concepts like atonement—and words like God (until the recent addition of Qun meaning "god")—are not found in the Klingon vernacular. From time to time, Okrand has amended the "official" list of Klingon vocabulary due in part to requests from the Institute and other groups. Other Klingon groups include blood drives, bowling teams, and a Klingon golf championship.
The Klingon language's prevalence is not limited to books; a three-disc video game, Star Trek: Klingon, requires players to learn the language in order to advance. In May 2009, a joint collaboration between the KLI, Simon & Schuster, and Ultralingua launched the Klingon Language Suite for the iPhone concurrent with the release of the new movie. The popularity of the language meant that in 1996 it was considered the fastest-growing constructed language, ahead of other languages such as Tolkien's Elvish or Esperanto. While the language is widespread, mastery of the language is extremely uncommon; there are only around a dozen fluent speakers of the language. Okrand himself is not fluent, and the actors who speak the language in the Star Trek series are more concerned with its expression than the actual grammar. According to the 2006 edition of Guinness World Records, Klingon is the most spoken fictional language by number of speakers, Klingon is one of many language interfaces in the Google search engine, and a Klingon character was included in the Wikipedia logo prior to its May 2010 update, when it was replaced by a Geʿez character.
As the Klingons are portrayed as a warrior culture, Klingon starships are usually depicted as warships, heavily armed with a variety of particle beam weaponry and antimatter warheads. Many Klingon ships also make use of cloaking technology to hide the vessel from view. The first Klingon ship design used in The Original Series, the D7-class battlecruiser, was designed by Matt Jefferies to evoke a predator's shape akin to that of a manta ray, providing a threatening and instantly recognisable form for viewers. The configuration of Jefferies' design featured a bulbous forward hull connected by a long boom to a wing-like main hull with the engine nacelles mounted on each wingtip. Later Klingon starships by other designers kept to this same overall configuration, although updated to reflect their respective time periods: Rick Sternbach's designs for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine drew on elements of Starfleet ships features to reflect the alliance between the Federation and the Klingons, while John Eaves' designs for Enterprise incorporated more rugged and primitive construction to make the vessels appear consistent with the earlier time period.
Qo'noS (Pronounced "Kronos") is the Klingon homeworld, also known as Kronos. Early Star Trek literature referred to Qo'noS as "Klinzhai", but the TNG episode "Heart of Glory" called the planet "Kling". It was the film Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country which officially established the name as Qo'noS. Qo'noS is depicted as green in color when viewed from orbital space. It includes a lone huge land mass with a vast ocean, a severely tilted axis that causes wild seasonal changes, a turbulent atmosphere and extremes of both warm and frigid weather. The destruction of the planet's moon, Praxis, was a plot point in the film The Undiscovered Country, the after effects driving the plot of the film and later events in the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation.
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