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While watching the Crew Commentary on the Babylon 5 Pilot Movie "The Gathering", I heard JMS and John Navarro talk about "the mystery object", a prop which has supposedly been passed around and included somewhere in many Sci-Fi movies. It seems to be an inside joke in Hollywood. I've been looking for it, but I can't figure out what it is.

Anyone know?

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"virtually every Sci-Fi movie", sounds like way too many, isn't this just a few isolated incidents? – Mark Rogers Jan 18 '11 at 5:53
I have been thinking on this as well. There is a black ball the size of a grapefruit with silver studs on it. John Chriton plays golf with it in Farscape. It was on the shelf or desk of various people in Andromeda and Star Trek, and was in Babylon 5. Anyone else know about this – user17198 Sep 7 '13 at 17:55
Can you provide a specific quote? If it's an episode commentary, it's probably in the episode (?) – joshbirk Mar 19 '14 at 3:02
John Navarro confirmed ( that it's the "overthruster" from Buckaroo Banzai. – Valorum Apr 5 '14 at 17:44

10 Answers 10

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Per FITorion's earlier answer, the 'Mystery Object' referred to in the Crew Commentary for "The Gathering" is known as the Oscillation Overthruster

Buckaroo Banzai

Voice of God (JMS himself) stated that John Navarro knows what the object is;

Now it's driving me crazy -- did John ever tell you what the mystery object was that has supposedly appeared in every sci-fi movie/tv project? And, more importantly, is it true?

Yeah, it's true, and no, he wouldn't tell me.

There was a group of folks in the art department who were referred to jointly as the Woodland Creatures...Dark[Hoffman], Bear [Burge], and Dragon (two of which are real names, the third is a nickname, I'll let you do the investigation on that one). There could not have been a more apt description of these guys...


And an archived interview with John Navarro on JMSNews confirms that the object in question is the "over-thruster" originally used in Buckaroo Banzai;

"Well, this thing has been driving me crazy for several days, and I finally found a bit of time to comb through some old interview notes, and I'm 99% convinced that the object in question is the over-thruster from Buckaroo Banzai. During production on B5, I spent a fair amount of time with the props guys Bear Burge and Dark Hoffman, and they were nice enough to give me a tour of the prop cage and let me take some photos for an article I had hoped to do for the B5 Magazine. For those who haven't seen it, the prop cage was like a wizard's cave of cool B5 stuff, basically every object that had been purchased or built from scratch for the series, all crammed into shelf after shelf. And one of the items that Dark Hoffman showed me was the over-thruster, which I think had appeared as a piece of Whitestar debris in one episode. But one of the guys told me that the object had been handed around to other prop department guys on other shows and movies, who would then do their best to work it into a shot. I think it was a private joke amongst themselves, not really meant for anybody else.

You can read a list of properties (including Star Trek, B5 and others) that the prop has been used in enter image description here

Trek Overthruster

Trek Overthruster 2

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I think they are talking about the teddy bear.

The story goes something like that, J. Michael Straczynski, creator of Babylon 5, hates cute things. He promised there were going to be no children or androids in Babylon 5 (maybe in response to Wesley Crusher and Data). Eventually, someone gave him a teddy bear. A writer. And the saga begins.

JMS promised to get revenge and a paraphrase "by fucking up his script". It's somewhere on Babylon 5: Artifacts from Beyond the Rim. The teddy bear was pictured on a Babylon 5 episode when they open a merchandising store:

The writer then wrote a Star Trek episode, or some other series, where the teddy bear appears, in space, and one of the characters says:

Who would space a teddy bear?

Some more about it:

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actually, didn't the teddy bear appear in space in a b5 episode? I could swear i remember one of the b5 characters flying around in their ship and the bear smacks into his window. – merk Jan 11 '11 at 23:14
Yes, it did appear in space in B5. Someone, likely Sheridan, spaced it. Look at the video I linked. – J. Pablo Fernández Jan 11 '11 at 23:15
It could be the teddy bear. But the commentary was not on that episode, but on one of the last. It was in an office, and they were commenting on props on the desk, one of which was the Hugo award. JMS put it there as a, "so there!" to others. Then another person commented about "the prop" which has been moved around and included in at least one scene in virtually all scifi movies. – jedihawk Jan 14 '11 at 3:00 – Nick T Nov 25 '11 at 7:34
There was an episode of B5 where, IIRC, Ivanova receives a teddy bear as a present from Marcus Cole, and in a subsequent scene you see it floating past a window and some other characters comment on it. – KeithS Jan 6 '12 at 19:06

A Prop newspaper has been in dozens, maybe hundreds of TV programs, among them various SF episodes.

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This is most-likely it, actually. – DampeS8N Feb 6 '11 at 2:45

I have a feeling it may be this item, featured in Star Trek Voyager in the Project Pathfinder lab:

Always see this prop everywhere!

I've seen this prop loads of times, maybe some others can confirm this, there was also a couple of props in this same lab - one which had two large handles (like Joysticks) which had lights on which Dr Franklin used in the first season in this lab too, but this is not shown here. There are some more images of props I'm sure have appeared a few times in B5 and Star Trek at the source : Pathfinder Lab - Star Trek

This prop has been used in many Sci-Fi projects including Star Trek, The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988 TV movie), V (the old one), The Last Starfighter, Buck Rogers and oddly enough in AIRPLANE II: The Sequel with William Shatner who would again encounter it in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier which William Shatner directed and starred in!

Larger list with screencaps here.

"Modern Props designed and fabricated dual medical / lab / control room generator with rotating neon lights inside an acrylic tube; light-controlled panel with knobs and buttons."

enter image description here

(It can be rented from for $775 for the first week, in case you want to be in on the joke.)

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Which was also featured in "Airplane II". – LarsTech Oct 21 '11 at 18:28
It was also in Star Trek: TNG season 1: "Datalore" in soong's lab where they find lore. – ApproachingDarknessFish May 28 '13 at 3:00
I hope you don't mind that I expanded on your answer, because heck, why not? I think you're right. – Meat Trademark Mar 19 '14 at 3:27
Thanks, great to see my answer further expanded on, have seen this prop a few more times since I posted this answer myself! – RoguePlanetoid Mar 19 '14 at 8:54
Someone had some fun with video clips of many of the appearances of this prop: – Joe Baker Dec 12 '15 at 23:59

Humans. Humans are in almost all sci-fi. Why? I honestly don't know.

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If you think about it, there should be billions-on-billions of awesome stories to tell about non-humans. Hard SF that exists in binary star systems. Societies that span a planet and moon with independent evolutionary histories. Nope, always about humans. – DampeS8N Jan 12 '11 at 2:24
Because stories without humans-or-things-that-behave-like-them are hard to write, that's why. (And very hard to film...) – Tynam Feb 6 '11 at 2:39
@Tynam: Poppycock. I mean you are right, but it is still poppycock. Lazy-ass writers/film-makers. – DampeS8N Feb 6 '11 at 2:44
Read Orson Scott Card's "How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy", and you'll find out. Basically it's just hard to relate to a story where there are no humans... – PearsonArtPhoto Feb 17 '11 at 13:14
Because Klingons don't buy Sci-Fi. – Cos Callis Jun 11 '11 at 16:31

I really doubt that it is found in other Sci-Fi shows but Han Solo in Carbonite found in quite a few scenes in the Firefly series as a prank.

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I don't know about a prop, but have you ever noticed that in every single Babylon 5 episode, a classic science fiction novel is mentioned, mostly in passing, in conversation, but occasionally as part of a plot device. This may seem like flame bait, but if you know your SF, you'll spot it. Every single episode!.

I first noticed it, in an episde when talk about a ship visiting the station, and they called it the Ship who Sang, which is a old famous Anne McCaffrey book. After that I checked every episode and sure enough every episode, a classic SF book is mentioned.

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"Famous SF authors" also seems to be a B5 naming convention for civilian passenger liners. – Tynam Mar 18 '11 at 17:48

I just watched the commentary where they mention it last night. It's the commentary on the redone pilot episode.

The prop is described as smaller than a bread box and bigger than a coke can. It has nothing to do with the creators or writers of Babylon 5. Babylon 5 and many other shows rent props from various prop rental companies. The company B5 rented from has employees with real names like Bear or Deer or other things like that and have jokingly become known as the "woodland creatures". This company has a prop that they make sure appears in the background (usually on a desk) of every show they work on.

They have worked on nearly every scifi show or movie. So this prop has appeared in nearly every scifi show or movie.

A teddy bear would fit. But the addition of the story that it was a joke on JMS to get something cute into the show ... eliminates it as an option. It could be that black viewing device someone mentioned... but that seems larger than a bread box to me. I don't know what it is. The mystery continues.

Doing some further research... Oscillation Overthruster Seems to be the thing. As I'm now going back through every B5 episode I will keep my eye out for it.

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The Prop you are speaking of can be best seen in the original "V" series. Towards the end you will see a device on the console they use to try to turn off the self-destruct program, next to the child as she puts her hands on the turn keys and begins to glow.

The prop is a black box like construction about the size of a breadbox. It has a top part that flips up and has blinking lights on it. The flip up part has an "X" light on it.

I figured it out after watching Babylon 5 and hearing about it. In the episode where the science shuttle is taking readings from the planet the station orbits, it is used by the Asian actor.

I have seen it in other shows too, can't think of them off the top of my head. One was in a medical room in the background.

Hope that helps, sorry I couldn't offer more at the moment.

Here is a link to a pic of it, next to her as she glows

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None of these fit, except possibly the bear, though I can't think of seeing a teddy bear in very many sci-fi. It was John Iacovelli who confessed it's existence to JMS, on the commentary of the B5 pilot. He refused to spoil what it was, but gave the hints that it is larger than a soda can, smaller than a bread box, and innocuous enough to fit into almost any scene. Someone once suggested to me that it might be a book, which fits (even in futuristic settings where paper books have fallen into disuse there are often a few in the possession of some of the more nostalgic characters or in time-travel episodes, archaic cultures, etc.), but I have yet to spot a specific book recurring in multiple shows and films.

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protected by Jimmy Shelter Apr 5 '14 at 23:07

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