Science fiction's goofiest gadgets and technology

A preview of what gizmos won't be appearing in future editions of tech magazine columns

  • This is the type of weapon that would be really cool if didn't look so much like the Super Soaker CPS4100. According to the Star Trek weapons gallery fansite, the phaser rifle is "bulky," "considered extremely powerful,' and "only issued in unusual circumstances." In case you're wondering, "unusual circumstances" means that it was only used in one episode, likely because the studio allowed the show to increase its special effects budget from $50 to $53 afterward.

  • Dr. Who has always been a goldmine for cheesy gadgets, but this particular device might be the show's finest effort. Known as the "timey-wimey" detector, this machine seems to consist of a tape recorder, a telephone, an alarm clock and a lunchbox. According to the good Doctor himself, it is used to detect "temporal anomalies." Also, it apparently "goes ding when there's stuff" and is very good at boiling eggs. Anyway, I'm sure this thing has its uses, but it's still not as cool as the Sonic Screwdriver.

  • Remember the excitement you felt as a child the first time you watched Star Wars? Do you remember clinging to your blankey during the Darth Vader-Luke Skywalker light saber fights and asking your father, "Daddy, how did they make the light sabers work in the movie?" The special effects geniuses that designed props for Star Wars' Turkish remake never asked that question, apparently, because they decided that the best way to depict one of the iconic weapons in the history of science-fiction films was by cutting a piece of plywood in the shape of a lightning bolt and spray-painting it yellow. While the Force may still be with us, it's apparently gotten really cheap in its old age.

  • Another film that deserves to be mentioned in any worst-film-ever-made debate, "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians" is the story of several jealous aliens who kidnap Santa Claus to force him to make toys for their bratty little Martian kids. How bad is this movie? Well, the Martians are basically dudes who wear old-school leather football helmets that are painted green and that feature television antennae and vacuum-cleaner tubes as extremities. Additionally, medical experts have estimated that listening to the opening "Hooray for Santee Claus" theme song in its entirety will take approximately three weeks off your lifespan. Although most of the gadgetry in this film is extremely goofy, the "tickle ray" that the chief Martian uses to torture his subordinates deserves special mention. It's basically a long metallic probe that...well, I probably don't need to go any farther with this, do I?

  • This slideshow is about tools that science fiction prop designers created years ago that nowadays look about as awe-inspiring as a Betamax player. From screen-house tanks to Super Soaker-style phaser rifles to mysteriously menacing bubble machines, science fiction movies and television shows have given us a wide assortment of silly technology that even the swarthiest Jawa would be embarrassed to use.

  • Now before any of you start complaining, let me just say that I think the original "Time Machine" is one of the better sci-fi films to come out of the 1960s. Although the story strayed thematically from H.G. Wells' brilliant 1895 classic -- mainly because it transformed a Marxist allegory about class war into a standard Cold War-era anti-Commie tale -- it was also a tightly-woven and compelling story. But then there's the time machine itself. Basically, it's a Victorian comfy chair that's attached to a set of bejeweled levers and a metal umbrella. When you pull the lever forward, the umbrella starts to spin, seizure-inducing lights flash all around you, and you somehow end up in the future. How does this machine actually work, you ask? Who knows! Spinning metal plates and blinking lights were apparently science-y enough back in the '60s to be accepted as a realistic portrayal of breaking through to the fourth dimension. At least the DeLorean in Back to the Future looked cool enough so that we didn't think too hard about what the heck a "flux capacitor" was.

  • Ah, Flash Gordon, the timeless story of a blonde-haired All-American dude who fights an interstellar war against a licentious racist caricature named Ming the Merciless. The cheesiness of Flash Gordon's technology literally spans decades, from the zombie-creating "Dehumanizer" Ray (which only works temporarily) in the 1930s serial films to the memory-sapping "brain drain" machine in the 1980 feature film (which doesn't work at all). The best gadget, however, has to be Ming's "power ring" that looks like an oversized mood ring and that has the power to both destroy planets and make unwitting Earth girls perform sexytime dances for his entertainment.

  • The tricorder is sort of like a BlackBerry/iPhone for the 23rd Century, but without as many cool applications. The Memory Alpha Star Trek Wiki describes it as "a portable sensing, data analysis, and data communications device" that is used by Klingons, Romulans and humans alike. While some tricorders do indeed look as sleek and impressive as you'd expect for future technology, others look about as advanced and futuristic as Speak & Spells.

  • While "Lost in Space" is widely ridiculed for featuring one of the most absoludircrous robots in the history of science fiction, many forget that the Robinsons' version of the Family Truckster was nearly as strange. It seems as though the producers wanted to make a vehicle that combined the rugged toughness of a Jeep Range Rover with the family-friendly safety of a Volvo station wagon, but instead wound up with a screen house mounted on top of some tank treads. With its assortment of SCIENCE!!!-y doodads (A satellite dish! A bubble thingy on the roof that has no discernable purpose!), this contraption is too silly for even the most hardened mini-van fanatic.

  • Let's say you're a devious alien invader who comes from the most technologically advanced civilization in the entire universe. Or let's say you're not. Let's say instead that you're some chump dressed in a gorilla suit and a diving helmet who wants to wipe out all of humanity. How would you go about doing it? Would you use nuclear missiles? A powerful mega-beam death ray? Spores that turn people into creepy pods, perhaps? Or maybe you could just sit around in the desert flipping dials on a bubble machine. Because that's what the alien named Ro-Man does throughout the classic schlock-fi stinker "Robot Monster," and he unsurprisingly doesn't get anywhere with it. I'd tell him to try a different method for ensuring our destruction, but what do I know? I'm just a foolish Hu-Mon.

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