Friday, August 7, 2009

A Visit to the 24th Century, Part 2

In yesterday's post I explained the basics of Star Trek: The Exhibition and recounted some stories of all there was to see and do outside the actual exhibit. I daresay it's time to talk about what happened inside.

...But first, a few more words about what it was like outside.

From the main lobby of the Franklin Institute was a series of ramps that took us up into the main attraction. Sparsely decorating the walls were little informational posters about some of the most iconic Star Trek starships, along with quotes from the likes of Gene Roddenberry and John F. Kennedy concerning space and the future of mankind. Out the windows you could see a space capsule sitting on the front lawn. Personally, I think a gauntlet of Klingons jabbing us with pain sticks might have been more apropos, but you take what you can get.

At the top of the ramps was a landing that was completely empty except for an unassuming green-painted wall and a woman standing nearby with a camera.

"Would you like a picture of yourselves on the transporter?" she asked us.

I took a quick look around again, just to make sure I didn't miss something as obvious as a transporter platform in the immediate vicinity. Unless someone had gone to the curious trouble of installing a cloaking device on the transporter, there was no transporter to be found.

"Just stand over against the wall," she told us, gesturing at the green wall.

Oh. Like standing in front of a green screen. They were going to Photoshop an image of a transporter behind us. How quaint.

Star Trek: The Exhibition transporterFour of us stood in a straight line against the wall. I readied my best Roger Wilco transporter pose from Space Quest V and prepared to have my molecules scattered across the universe, because there was absolutely no way to tell whether they'd edit the picture so that we were standing properly on the transporter pads. As I'm sure you're aware, improper positioning on a transporter pad can lead to some strange and unsightly accidents (such as blending two peoples' DNA), and having only the left half of a person's body beam down to a planet is only funny until it happens to you.

Of course, the resulting picture had me standing halfway on my transporter pad and halfway on my girlfriend's. We're doing quite well together now, thanks.

From that point on, the only photographs allowed were those taken by the hired photographers at one or two specified locations; if you wanted a photo of your friend getting hauled off by security for "borrowing" one of the prop phasers on display, you'd need to ask the guards to pass by one of the designated areas and have a professional take the shot. This is not as easy as it sounds, by the way.

Anyinfraction, I must voice three disclaimers before I continue:

DISCLAIMER #1: All of the pictures from here on out are either from the official Star Trek: The Exhibition website or from Memory Alpha; I didn't secretly take any inside the exhibit. Wah.

DISCLAIMER #2: Star Trek: The Exhibition is a traveling exhibit, so the layout of the exhibit and the items on display vary from place to place. Your results may vary.

DISCLAIMER #3: I like disclaimers.

Also, I'll try to keep everything a little more general for the sake of our readers who haven't memorized every episode and character name from the past 40 years of Star Trek history. I guess that counts as a disclaimer, too.

Stepping into the first room of the exhibit was not like stepping onto the bridge of the Enterprise; rather, it was like walking into an art gallery or museum with a vaguely high-tech feel to it, with lots of informational plaques about specific Star Trek characters, behind-the-scenes videos running on continuous loop, and objects in big glass display cases.

And oh, what wondrous objects they were.

Star Trek: The Exhibition costume displayThe first area of the exhibit was dedicated to the original Trek--both the series and the movies--with a few items from other series thrown in for good measure. The first things I saw were costumes: a radiation suit worn by one of the grunts in engineering; a revealing, fall-off-the-shoulders outfit of an alien woman; Picard's Robin Hood outfit from that one holodeck episode; Captain Janeway's uniform (Note: Big captain; small actress); about four different uniforms worn by Captain Kirk at one time or another; and the clothes worn by the unforgettable villain Khan.

Despite several years of stage performance, costumes (and, for that matter, makeup) never held much interest for me, so I wasn't expecting to be terribly interested in that aspect of the exhibit. However, examining the costumes up close, I gained a tremendous appreciation for the costumes and the people who made them. One of the things I appreciate most about the props and models used on Star Trek is the attention to detail, and I was a bit surprised to discover that the costumes were just as creative and detailed as any tricorder or starship.

The fabrics of these costumes were richly textured and vibrantly colored, and there were details that are all but completely impossible to spot on TV; the buttons on one of Kirk's uniforms, for example, each featured the Starfleet emblem. You know; that delta arrowhead thingy they use as a communicator from Next Generation on. If the logo on the buttons is even visible at all on a person's tiny television screen, who would ever notice? What struck me is that this question didn't matter: the costumers could have used plain gold buttons, but they didn't.

Thanks to the attention to detail, these weren't just costumes; these were real clothes worn by real people.

The other objects on display were no less interesting: a wrist communicator; a few different flavors of phaser pistol; a dilithium crystal fragment... These were the types of things I really came for. Well, these, and the ship models.

Perhaps you remember the shiny metal model ships displayed in the observation lounges of the Enterprise-D and the Enterprise-E? On display at the Franklin Institute were shiny metal models of all the most major ships from the various Star Trek shows and movies (plus Deep Space Nine, which technically isn't a starship), including Zefram Cochrane's Phoenix, the Defiant, Voyager, Captain Archer's Enterprise, and all six of the Enterprises that followed it. As a bonus, other real-life vessels to bear the name Enterprise were present as well.

Star Trek: The Exhibition metallic ship modelsThose were neat... but I kinda was kinda hoping to see the real Enterprise-B. The one they used when filming Generations.

Honestly, there were enough models throughout the entire exhibit to satisfy me--like I said, the saucer section alone of the Enterprise-D was amazing in its own right--but none of my favorite ships were anywhere to be found. And I have a lot of favorite ships.

There was one ship that was nice to see, except they didn't make a terribly big deal out of it and put it in the same display case as a few of the props.

I'm talking about the original USS Enterprise. Kirk's Enterprise.

I was fortunate enough to see the original, full-sized model at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum many years ago, so the smaller one I saw at the Franklin Institute didn't have quite the same oomph. This model was somewhere around three feet long, and unless I'm mistaken it was either a prototype for the final model or else a smaller filming model used only for some shots.

Obviously I didn't pay much attention to the informational plaques, or else I'd know for sure. While I certainly would have spent the entire day reading and watching everything there if given the chance, time constraints required me to prioritize what I spent time on. Granted, the plaques were well worth reading--F'rinstance, did you know that James Doohan hid his hand from the camera as Scotty because he was missing a finger?--but I already knew a good deal of the information, and there was no telling when or if I'd ever be able to see some of these items in person again.

There was one object in particular that I was sure I'd never see again, and I don't think anybody needed a plaque to tell them what it was.

Placed casually in the corner, as if it were some overgrown prop with no other logical place to put it, was the command chair of Captain James T. Kirk.

Just... there.

No glass case.

Not roped off.

No signs that said, "Do Not Touch."

Kirk's chair was just sitting there where toddlers wearing Spock ears could run over and gnaw on it.

The plain green wall behind it should have also been a clue that it wasn't the real thing.

I sat in it anyways.

Replica of Captain Kirk's chair at Star Trek: The ExhibitionYou know what? Even if it was a mere replica, Kirk's chair is pretty comfortable. Big armrests. The knobs and doodads on the arms were more like no's and do-not's, because nothing happened when you pressed them. Actually, you couldn't even flip the switches.

Did not care. In Kirk's chair.

With no photographer in sight, mind you. How was I ever going to prove that I wasn't really sitting in Kirk's chair? I mean, uh, sitting in Kirk's chair?

It was neat to sit in the captain's chair, but it wasn't the escapist experience it could have been. I was kinda hoping for a secluded tent with a line out the door and carnival-style signs pointing to the tent, saying, "Witness The Magic! The Mystery! Sit In Captain Kirk's Chair! You Won't Believe Your Eyes, Or Your Butt!" The lack of fanfare and the unceremonious placement of the chair detracted a little bit from the experience. Also bear in mind that I'm not as fond of The Original Series as I am of some of the other brands of Trek, so sitting in Kirk's chair, no matter how iconic or revered it may be, would not be as cool to me as, say, sitting in the cockpit of the Delta Flyer shuttlecraft.

Regardless, it was pretty cool.

But before I even spotted Kirk's chair, I found the one place I wanted to sit more than anywhere else. Around the corner I caught a glimpse of Captain Picard's command chair.

Picard's chair was not in the corner in front of a funky green wall. Picard's chair was where it belonged: in the center of the bridge of the Enterprise-D.

Bridge of the Enterprise-DI cannot ever remember this happening before, but my jaw actually dropped. I distinctly remember my heart skipping a beat. Around the corner was the bridge of the Enterprise-D. I spent my childhood watching Picard and his crew save the galaxy from that bridge. I spent my childhood wanting to be on that bridge, wanting to live in an era where people traveled the stars in gorgeous spaceships with unthinkable technology, an era where humans made friends with each other instead of hurting each other with their words and their actions. While other kids played kickball at recess, I pretended to be the captain of a starship, and I even drew up the blueprints for my ship at home. If I've ever belonged anywhere, it's in the captain's chair.

Stepping into the first room of the exhibit was not like stepping onto the bridge of the Enterprise; rather, it was like walking into an art gallery or museum with a vaguely high-tech feel to it, with lots of informational plaques about specific Star Trek characters, behind-the-scenes videos running on continuous loop, and objects in big glass display cases. Sitting in Kirk's chair gave a mild feeling of being in command of a starship, but the experience was largely powered by imagination.

Stepping into the second room of the exhibit was stepping onto the bridge of the Enterprise.

I was home.

Conclusion to follow tomorrow.

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