Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Visit to the 24th Century, Part 1

Ever since I started keeping a list of the things I want to do before I die, one of the most important items on the list has been to be on Star Trek. Sure, I'd love to land a regular role as the captain or the chief engineer or the doctor, but I'd gladly settle for being the redshirt who beams down to the planet and gets caught in an enemy trap that instantly reduces him to a puddle of goo. Heck, I'd settle for a cameo where you can only vaguely make out the back of my head on the other side of the room. Even if none of those were possible, I'd be more than content to simply pay a visit to the set so I can feel like I'm somehow part of Star Trek.

This weekend, I got my wish.

I sat in the captain's chair.

...Both of them.

You see, I went with a small group of my family and friends to Star Trek: The Exhibition at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA; as I mentioned on Saturday, Star Trek: The Exhibition is the largest collection of Star Trek stuff on public display anywhere in the world. A sampling of over forty years of costumes, props, models, makeup, and sets all gathered together in one place. Much of it was roped off or in a glass case... but not everything. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Out in the main lobby of the Franklin Institute were teasers for the exhibit: two large glass cases, one with Klingon and Romulan costumes and prop weapons on display, the other with assorted alien things and the Borg Queen dummy from her grand entrance in First Contact where her head gets lowered into her body. Sadly, photos were prohibited throughout the rest of the exhibit (except when taken by the professionals who charge you almost $30 for just two glossy prints), but I'll be sure to throw in at least a few more pictures of the stuff we could capture on film.

Star Trek: The Exhibition display case with a Borg Queen dummy and various alien props, costumes, and makeup samples[Edit: In retrospect, I believe the Borg Queen body may have been from an episode of Voyager instead. Sorry to mislead you!]

So, before going into the actual exhibit, we paid a visit to a side attraction they had set up: a Star Trek simulator ride. There were mercifully few people waiting to get in when we arrived, so I stood faithfully in line to enter a small capsule that would rock back and forth, spin me around, and turn me upside-down. Because, apparently, violent motion is fun.

Did I mention I get sick on rollercoasters?

No matter! I was not about to pass up any opportunity to immerse myself in my favorite fandom, even if it meant getting unpleasantly ill in that small capsule and immersing myself in--wait, no, that's disgusting. I'll just stop there.

Happily, it seemed the folks in charge had given some consideration to the potentially long wait times, both for the people standing in line and for the people waiting impatiently for their friends and family to just get into the stupid simulator already.

Posted on the wall next to where people stood in line was a timeline that placed all the TV series and movies from Enterprise to Nemesis in chronological order, pointing out some of the most major events from each series and film. Against the other wall was a replica of part of Quark's bar from Deep Space Nine, complete with electronic trivia games at a few of the seats where you could put your Star Trek knowledge to the test by answering a gauntlet of randomized True/False or two-answer multiple choice questions about every series and movie.

Based on the results of the quiz I took, I know way too much about Star Trek. (Not that I needed any more confirmation of this.)

Star Trek: The Exhibition display case with Klingon weaponsFurther geek cred was accumulated when the people behind me couldn't remember a particular piece of Next Generation trivia and I jumped right in to help them out. Again, I know way too much about Star Trek.

To add to the atmosphere, the main themes to the five TV shows played on continuous loop (and I think I may have caught one or two of the movie themes in there as well); while I do enjoy all of the themes (yes, all of them), I admit I was glad to hear only one iteration of "Where My Heart Will Take Me" (A.K.A. "Faith of the Heart") before stepping into the ride.

I think of what it must be like for people in the retail industry when Christmas music is playing nonstop in their stores from the week before Thanksgiving until the end of December, and I imagine that kind of insanity must have set in a lot quicker for the Franklin Institute employees when they only had about five songs to listen to.

But I digress.

My copilot and I stepped into the pod (there was room for two at a time), and after getting secured into place, the door closed, sealing us in what felt like an actual attack shuttle (albeit a very tiny one). Pedals on the floor and a joystick for each hand gave the illusion that we'd have some control over the ride, but I think it was entirely preprogrammed (or else my controls were all duds and my copilot got to have all the fun, but I doubt it). After a few moments of nothing happening (no doubt to allow the claustrophobia to set in), the screen in front of us came to life.

Star Trek: The Exhibition simulator ride exteriorMuch to our surprise, the deep voice of Michael Dorn as Lt. Worf came booming over the speakers, informing us that we were about to embark on a mission to recover a--you know what? It really didn't matter whether he was telling us to raid a Ferengi cargo ship or to pick up milk and eggs from the grocery store; we were flying around in a shuttlecraft, and we were taking orders from Worf, for crying out loud. This was a Cool Thing.

Granted, the computer-generated images on the screen weren't the most awe-inspiring I've ever seen, but the whole experience of flying through space, nearly crashing on a planet rife with active volcanoes, firing phasers at Borg vessels, watching some big explosions, and entering the Enterprise shuttle bay at high speed, all the while spinning and rolling in every direction and hearing authentic sound effects and Worf saying, "Perhaps today is a good day to die!"--all that was pretty neat.

And I didn't get sick!

After exiting the ride, I scurried over to the one other item in the room that, in my opinion, was the second-coolest thing the entire Franklin Institute had on display.

Standing in the corner of the room was the saucer section of the Enterprise-D.

Saucer section of the Enterprise-D from the crash scene in Star Trek: GenerationsStarships are easily my favorite Star Trek artifacts; beyond the spine-tingling feeling you get when you see in person something you've only ever been able to admire from afar, the sheer size of this particular model was enough to fill me with wonder before I even got close to it.

Strangely, there wasn't a single informational plaque or even a plastic tag labeling what this majestic object was, but--because I know way too much about Star Trek--oh, and spoiler alert, by the way--I presume it was the model they used in Generations when the saucer section crash-lands on the planet.

Saucer section of the Enterprise-D from the crash scene in Star Trek: GenerationsThe underside of the saucer section, which was partially against the wall (so you had to lean behind it to get a look), was actually quite flat and only had a few decals with symbols and signatures (presumably) of the people who worked on the model. Star Trek folks like to do that, especially in the graphic design department--throw in little tiny things that no one will ever notice on TV or the big screen.

To be honest, I would have been satisfied enough to go home right then and there. Ah, but that wasn't even technically part of the full exhibit! There was much more to be seen... and sat upon.

And I'll tell you all about that tomorrow. Bwahaha.


Scott said...

I'd owned a set-used phaser signed by Michael Dorn at one point... my wallet went through a series of contortions before vanishing into a fifth dimension in my freshman year when I discovered a forum devoted solely to prop collecting and the creation of replica props.

As a bit of weird side trivia, Vic Mignogna (yes, THAT Vic Mignogna) is (was?) quite active there. If you watch his Full Metal Fantasy video, you can actually see a lot of his props...

Flashman85 said...

Must... resist... temptation to ask you for a link to that forum...