One of LeVar Burton’s most well-known parts is Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge from “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” but the actor found the character’s instantly identifiable VISOR to be a real headache. One of the numerous cutting-edge technology featured in “Star Trek” was the ocular device, which allowed the electromagnetic spectrum to be used by the blind Geordi to acquire visual information. One of the emblems that best represents Geordi—and all of “The Next Generation”—is his VISOR.
LaForge’s disability is turned into a strength by the process, which enables him to recognise energy wavelengths that are much beyond those that are typically visible. This enables him to recognise visual details that most people would be unable to. A Chief Engineer like Geordi needs to be conversant with the kind of high-tech environment, therefore the equipment is very helpful in this regard. Fans continue to attempt to cosplay the well-known appearance today.
Contrarily, La Forge’s vision on the Enterprise was significantly superior to Burton’s on the set.
A Blind Burton
LeVar Burton’s vision was so severely impaired by the real-life VISOR prop that he was nearly blind, which was a funny twist. Burton spoke with Alibi and explained his experience as follows:
“People always ask me, ‘Could you see out of that thing?’ And the answer is, no, I couldn’t. It was always very funny to me because when the actor puts the visor on 85 to 90 percent of my vision was taken away, yet I’m playing a guy who sees more than everyone else around him. So that’s just God’s cruel little joke.”
When the “Reading Rainbow” and “Roots” actor was getting acclimated to navigating and before the crew made changes to the prop, the VISOR was extremely confusing during the first season. In a subsequent interview with the BBC, Burton explains why he was fumbling all over the set:
“I bumped into everything the first season light stands, overhead microphones, cables at my feet I tripped over it all, I walked and sometimes ran into walls and pieces of set. It was really, really hard.”
Tired of the Pain
Poor Mr. Burton’s blindness was only part of the issue; because of the way the VISOR was affixed to his skull, he also had frequent headaches. Burton’s temples were pressed by the prop’s mechanisms, causing him agony in addition to his vision impairment. In the Alibi article, he says:
“It’s sufficient to say there was pressure applied through a mechanism of flanges and screws that put pressure on my temples. So after about half an hour, I’d get a headache.”
Unlike Burton’s genuine blindness, the headaches at least fit Geordi’s persona better. In the first episode of the show, “Encounter at Farpoint,” Geordi notes to Dr. Beverly Crusher that the stimulation from the VISOR cause him to experience constant discomfort and interfere with his natural senses. It’s entertaining to consider how much annoyance Burton was conveying in that specific delivery.
In fact, the actor became so angry that he insisted on having Geordi have ocular implants for the movie “Star Trek: First Contact.” It simply makes natural that the Federation’s scientists would eventually discover a less intrusive method of enabling the blind Geordi to sight in the technologically advanced universe of “Trek,” as Burton described to Rolling Stone:
“…Geordi’s visor was a shorthand language of communicating the technological sophistication of the 24th century. I learned to be OK with that, until I wasn’t. We did seven years and one movie [1994’s Star Trek Generations]. After that, I was done. I was tired of having my eyes covered and was really insistent. We found a way, as I always knew we could, to shrink that technology into an ocular implant.”
The Chief Engineer of the Enterprise possessed an everyman character thanks to LeVar Burton’s inherent charisma and likeability; this feature seemed to inspire the TNG writers to continually subject him to danger and stress. Burton was similarly (and, in retrospect, perhaps comically) left in the dust by his prop technology in real life.