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Boldly going where lots of people with tickets have gone before...

Star Trek: The Exhibit

A Critical Review

By Eric Brooks

B Movie Man Nic Brown wondering if "Intelligent life downtown" is an

I intended to open this review with the statement “I sat in the chair. The Chair. Unfortunately, that proved financially undesirable so I’ll have to settle for “I stepped into the Transporter. The Transporter.” Yesterday, I visited Star Trek: The Exhibit with B Movie Man Nic Brown. I did in fact, step into the transporter. I think it was one from Star Trek: The Next Generation but I am not certain. That will be discussed further shortly. Star Trek: The Exhibit is the latest means for Paramount to milk its most lucrative cash cow and is at the Louisville Science Center until May 22. It is meant to be a comprehensive overview of the entire Star Trek universe from the original series to J.J. Abrams’s 2009 reboot. It is also meant to allow serious Trekkies (or Trekkers as some prefer) to get closer to their beloved crews and ship while also giving casual fans a sense of the breadth of the franchise. This is done through props and costumes (or more often replicas), set pieces and recreations, text panels, and interactive exhibitry. Nic and I spent about 2 hours going through which is about what it should take on a busy Saturday afternoon.

On the plus side, the exhibit is very informative and entertaining even for long time fans like B Movie Man and I. There are numerous text panels that explain the various races, characters, and technologies of the Star Trek Universe. There are also many panels that describe the real world science that underlies or more often renders impossible Star Trek’s technology. Even the biggest of Trek geeks like me can learn something. Nic and I learned that Klingons are named for a man named Walter Klingan who served with Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry on the police force. I am not sure what it says about Mr. Klingan that Gene Roddenberry named his first bad guys after him but he did! The most informative sections of the whole exhibit were a mockup of the Enterprise-D corridor and crew quarters and a giant timeline of the Star Trek Universe. The corridor and quarters provided the closest thing to actually being on the Enterprise one could hope to have (at least in the exhibit). One could face the series of wall control panels and fancy oneself running diagnostics or accessing Starfleet databases. The cabin mockup really gave one the sense of what it would be like to live on a starship. The timeline, though, is the true highlight. It graphically demonstrates the complexity of the Star Trek universe and how much has happened in it. It also shows the interweaving and overlapping of the 11 films and 6 series. It would actually be a neat thing to encapsulate into a book.

 

Though the exhibit is by and large very interesting and enjoyable, there were a few shortcomings to it. In the interests of full disclosure and truth, I am by profession a museum curator and have done a number of exhibits in my career. I therefore have a heightened sensibility about them. Others may not have been as concerned with these things as I but they are all there no less. Star Trek: The Exhibit is a traveling exhibit which means it was designed in one place but must be put up in many others of widely varying configuration and size. This means that sometimes things must be set up a little differently than originally planned. If the exhibit is properly designed and the installers pay close attention to labels and artifacts this should be no problem. In the case of the exhibit as installed at the Louisville Science Center, someone did not pay complete attention and a few things were a little out place. A text panel welcoming visitors to the exhibit was mounted a third of the way in. A text panel referring to Captain Picard’s EVA suit from Star Trek VI: First Contact was mounted halfway up the exhibit from the object itself. These may seem like trivialities but they contribute to a condition called Museum Fatigue that results in tired, visitors ultimately. Most of the issues in the Star Trek exhibition seemed to be easily correctable and simple oversights which really only makes them more annoying.

 

Another fundamental truth of museum exhibition is that while reproductions are sometimes necessary, there is no substitute for the real thing. Star Trek: The Exhibit featured a number of props but many more replicas. For serious fans, for whom the information is not new or as important, see the actual props is a major reason for seeing the exhibit. Seeing so many facsimiles is somewhat disappointing. That was especially so for me since I had been to other Star Trek Exhibits, including one about 20 years ago at the National Air and Space Museum with B Movie Man, that were fully stocked with actual props. As I viewed Star Trek: the Exhibition, one replica in particular explained why there were so many others. After the exhibit, I confirmed my suspicions. In the crew quarters mockup was a replica of the Resikkan Flute Captain Jean-Luc Picard plays in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Inner Light”. I thought it looked familiar and discovered why once I got home. On Oct. 5-7 2006 Paramount auctioned off most of its Star Trek prop collection at Christies Auction House in New York. They published a magnificent 2 volume catalog for the event which is quite the collectible in and of itself. I happened to have shelled out the 50 bucks for a set and have read it several times. On page 27 of volume two is the real Resikkan flute which was estimated to sell for between $800 and $1200. Many of the other props replicated in the exhibit appear in the auction catalog. In this reviewer’s opinion, Paramount would have done better to save a better representative collection of material to exhibit and sold fewer of the original props. Paramount further exacerbated things by charging the outrageous sum of $25 for a CGI enhanced picture of visitors sitting on what may have been the most important original prop in the exhibit: the original captain’s chair from the original series. It just seems really greedy to have so few props and then to charge more than the admission to the exhibit to get up close to the best one. Further, Paramount could not even provide a label to clearly define the prop as authentic. This is why I chose to step into the also possibly authentic or not transporter instead. It was free and I don’t pay for ambiguity.

 

It may seem that I had a great deal to complain about and that the exhibit was not worth the $18 admission, but Star Trek: The Exhibit was. It was fun and informative and did have some nice costumes that were authentic and the replicas were at least made by the same folks who made the originals so they at least had the right look and feel. Bottom line, If you are currently wearing pointy ears and translating this into Klingon or just occasionally watch an episode, you will enjoy the show. Besides, the Vulcan Test Pod simulator rocks. Just don’t forget to skip the chair which would at a lower price.



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