Published Feb 6, 2020
A Trek Through the Paramount Lot
One fan visits the ghosts on the Mountain.
On October 30, 2019, I went on the Paramount VIP Studio Tour. While I love Star Trek, the Paramount tour was my first true studio tour for more than just franchise loyalty. I was also tickled by the idea that it is an actual studio tour and not a studio-turned-theme park. Nothing against theme parks or rides, mind you; but I was there for the history.
A damning January 2019 New York Times article pointed out that the Mountain’s studio heads might now regret letting go of Marvel as well as Blumhouse — which produced Jordan Peele’s era-defining Get Out and Us. These losses force cinephiles and Hollywood historians like myself to wonder what exactly is Paramount’s identity in 2020, and how does it align with where they have historically stood in the Hollywood hierarchy?
The only officially active film franchises Paramount can (mostly) call their own are Mission: Impossible and Transformers, the latter of which currently has a ride at Universal Studios. Thirty years ago the Hollywood and Orlando Universal parks also had something called the Star Trek Adventure, an attraction so dire that this very article will be the first time it’s been mentioned on StarTrek.com. (Rumors have circulated in recent years about a new Trek ride in the works at Universal, but like with Trek movies, lots of rumors circulate about lots of things.)
When taking the Paramount tour in 2019, one is greeted in the foyer by an array of classic costumes, many of which are by famed designer Edith Head.
The notable outliers are Sanja Milkovic Hays’ costumes for Spock and Uhura from Star Trek Beyond, which happen to be my favorite Starfleet uniforms since Star Trek: Voyager.
On the foyer wall is a mosaic of past Paramount things. Out of thousands of potential images to represent Star Trek, they chose Leonard Nimoy in a terrycloth bathrobe directing the climax of The Voyage Home while speaking through a bullhorn., because why not?
In the next room is a display of props from the first two Kelvin-timeline films, in front of a wall-sized screen with a scrolling video of Paramount film titles. Among the music piped into the room included Nina Rota’s theme from The Godfather; whenever there was an excuse for music on the Paramount tour, Rota’s theme was in the mix.
The majority of the original Star Trek films were shot in Stage 9, which we couldn’t visit because because NCIS: LA was in production, but it was still nice to be in the sun-drenched presence where the magic once happened. We eventually passed through Stage 4, which was used for Deep Space Nine.
As we were being led into the Set Lighting & Grip building, I glanced down a hallway and noticed an image of Kelvin-timeline Spock and Kirk!
Nearby was this equally randomly-placed poster for Paramount’s 75th Anniversary, and those of us who owned the original VHS release of The Voyage Home got to know that anniversary logo very well. I now observe with entirely unearned pride that of the four Star Trek movies which had been made as of 1987, only The Motion Picture was used to represent a given year in the poster. For as venerated The Wrath of Khan is now, the prestigious An Officer and a Gentleman was a bigger deal for Paramount when it was released in 1982.
Behold the parking lot which doubles as the Blue Sky Tank, where the terrycloth-clad Leonard Nimoy once used a bullhorn while directing.
We weren’t able to go through the Paramount backlot because a Hungry Man commercial was being filmed, but even this view from the tour tram looking down Leonard Nimoy Way toward Avenue H in Brooklyn brought back many memories.
There have been cosmetic changes over the decades —and probably over the past few weeks— but this is still the intersection where Shannon O’Donnel’s station wagon broke down in Portage Creek, Indiana on December 27, 2000 in Star Trek: Voyager’s “11:59.” And it was under the Orb-like lamps of the subway entrance on the left where Benny Russell first encountered the Preacher in 1953 New York in Deep Space Nine’s “Far Beyond the Stars.”
On my way into Los Angeles on October 28, I made a long-overdue pilgrimage to Vasquez Rocks. For as much we associate Vasquez Rocks with “Arena” and its many other appearances, I had to laugh that Paramount’s “100 Years of Filming” collage relegated the franchise a small, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it picture at the bottom. The rest of the world is not obligated to view pop-culture history through the same Trek-filtered lens fans often do.
In any event, if I could have pulled aFrom the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler anywhere on the lot, it would have been here in the Archives, Paramount’s own Memory Alpha. In fact, archival access was the main reason I’d been willing to spend money on the VIP Tour in the first place.
Though there were some transitory film canisters in the Archive — including Terminator: Dark Fate, which was opening a few days later — it was mostly a vault of obsolete video formats. Need a letterbox Betacam copy of a Trek film, or TV ready clips? The Paramount archive should be your first stop.
I could have spent all day just marveling at the eight zillion boxes in the Archives from Warren Beatty’s 1981 Reds. Seriously, there were so many Reds boxes, for in 1981 Paramount’s identity was 195-minute films about the Russian Revolution. (Their Important Movie About Important Things for 1979, by the way, was Star Trek—The Motion Picture.)
Thankfully for both my tourmates and readers of StarTrek.com, we moved on to more visually interesting areas, such as the Sign Shop. Note that Star Trek and Enterprise are listed as two separate projects, just like Paramount tried to do for Enterprise’s first two seasons.
On one wall were the dedication plaques for the Enterprises NCC-1701 (pre-refit), NCC-1701-A, NX-01, and the U.S.S Relativity from Voyager.
Elsewhere was the logo for the Columbia NX-02, and the Enterprise-B’s plaque. Note the U.E.S.P.A. shoutout!
Meanwhile, over in the Costume Department there was George Takei’s jacket from The Search for Spock, and Leonard Nimoy’s jacket from Star Trek (2009). Next to Nimoy’s jacket was a Star Trek prop cabinet.
It was understandably heavy on the Kelvin-timeline stuff, but my favorite part was the bottom-right shelf, which included a nameplate for Captain Esteban of the ill-fated U.S.S. Grissom from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The nameplate itself was ill-fated as props go, since it never appeared onscreen.
The climax of the tour as it related to Trek was the Prop Warehouse, where Nina Rota’s Godfather theme was heard more than once, and we were greeted by this sign. Our guide said it was from a Brady Bunch episode in which the kids went on a tour of Paramount, which is already more than I care to know about any given Brady Bunch episode.
But, I was all about the full-sized props from Beyond, including the Yorktown’s public transporter, and a big ol’ pink space tree from the Yorktown’s Central Plaza.
Best of all was the Enterprise’s turbolift, which everybody else kept calling the transporter for some reason.
I get why most people are attracted to more theme park centered studio tours, but for me, that’ll never be as much of a rush as getting to see the cracks in the turbolift ceiling up close —perhaps a real-world leftover from filming Krall’s make-believe assault?— or examining the wiring in the back.
There was an undeniable sense of melancholy throughout the tour—but also, as the saying goes, a spark of hope. There’s no telling what the future holds, but whether you’re into Trek in particular or film history overall, I highly recommend the tour.
Sherilyn Connelly (she/her) is a writer and a youth librarian from San Francisco, and was the head film critic for SF Weekly from 2013 through 2019. She's on Twitter at @sherilyn, and her books Ponyville Confidential: The History and Culture of My Little Pony, 1981-2016 and The First Star Trek Movie: Bringing the Franchise to the Big Screen, 1969-1980 would have had even lengthier titles if she could have gotten away with it.