ELECTROSHADOW FIELD TRIP NO.3
Editor’s Note: This Opinionator piece is going to be done in a Tag-Team style! Because two opinions are better than one. And because we want to give you the perspective of both a fan and a non-fan.
Electroshadow presents THE most comprehensive walkthrough of “Star Trek: The Exhibition” anywhere on the Net…
WAI: I’ve always been more of a “Star Wars” kinda guy.
Don’t worry. This isn’t going to descend into some fanboy rant about why that galaxy far, far away is a better place than the ones explored by Starfleet. It’s simply a matter of personal taste, not of perceived quality. Here are two of Cinema’s greatest, most enduring properties, and they each have their respective appeals. While “Star Wars” is modeled after rip-roaring old space adventures like “Flash Gordon”, “Star Trek” in its purest form is a little more cerebral. When Gene Roddenberry first came up with the original series back in 1966, he meant for them to be thinly-veiled commentaries on socio-political, philosophical and ethical issues. It also celebrated the spirit of exploration and discovery. Sadly, over the decades “Trek” slowly lost its shine, until JJ Abrams’ 2009 big-screen reboot made it cool and mainstream again. Purists might dismiss this new version as placing big explosions ahead of big ideas, but really, all Abrams did was add some much-needed fun into a franchise that had grown stuffy and too self-serious.
MARIE B: Isn’t he also tasked with doing the same thing for “Star Wars” now?
W: Yup. May the Force be with him on that. Anyway, it’s about time “Trek” started regaining its foothold in pop culture. Things like “Star Trek: The Exhibition” do help.
The organisers reserve the right to refuse entry to patrons who are drunk, disorderly, or fans of Babylon 5.
MB: Galaxies, spaceships, aliens, alien planets… it’s easy to see how people can mix up their space stories. The unfortunate truth is that despite a sci-fi world as rich in lore and history as “Star Trek”, not everyone is knowledgeable on the mythos. Many out there, like myself, can’t really tell the difference between warp speed and hyperdrive. (Is there even a difference at all?) So while it was interesting to cover the exhibition for Electroshadow, I couldn’t help but wonder if a non-Trekker like me would even appreciate it at all.
W: True. Naturally, geeks would get more mileage out of something like this than regular folks, who’d have much less emotional investment and attachment. But with attachment comes expectation. And expectation can sometimes set one up for disappointment, whereas a non-fan might not even notice or care if anything’s lacking. While I won’t go so far as to call myself a Trekker, I am very much a fan.
MB: So, as a fan, how did you find the exhibition?
W: I’ll get into that in a bit. First up, I gotta send out a very big thank you to Charles Yong of EMS Entertainment and Lennie Ong of RAPR for providing complimentary tickets and allowing us to take photos in the exhibition. They also assigned us a tour guide, a friendly, obliging chap by the name of Hafiz.
Star Trek history: Only slightly less fictitious than Malaysian history textbooks.
Right. So “Star Trek: The Exhibition” is held at the National Science Centre in Bukit Kiara. It’s that building that looks like a giant green golfball. You can’t miss it. FYI, the parking area is across the road from the Centre’s main gate, but since it was a Sunday, the guards allowed us to drive in and park right outside the building. Good thing too, otherwise it’d be a long walk.
Hafiz was waiting for us inside, and we wasted no time on the other sections of the Centre. The first thing that greeted us as we entered the exhibition was a replica of the Captain’s chair from the Original Series. It was placed against a greenscreen wall, so I assumed that was for photo ops. There are only a handful of areas where pictures are allowed, and they charge you for it. So I was grateful to have full access with my trusty SLR.
MB: “The Exhibition” serves its guests a great opening salvo. As soon as you cross that threshold, you know you’re about to boldly go where no man has gone before. Helping to set the mood was the iconic “Star Trek” theme playing in the background. How can you not feel in the moment when you have a musical score backing it up? Immediately my eye took in a hint of what the exhibition had in store for me: props, videos, anecdotes, etc. This was a glimpse of the creation of a universe. Even though I wasn’t a Trekker, I’m a sucker for pop culture. I thought it was incredibly cool to have access to one of pop culture’s most defining icons.
In this episode, Wesley Crusher discovers what his dad’s monthly business trips to Bangkok were really about.
I was particularly excited about being able to hold an original copy of a TV script for one of the episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. Don’t ask me why, I just found it thrilling. And here’s a little trivia shared by Hafiz: some visiting Trekkers have re-enacted scenes from that show by reading off the script. I thought that was awesome. It made me excited to find out what more I could look forward to.
So far, so good.
W: I’m not as familiar with TV show scripts as I am with film scripts, so I wasn’t able to recite dialogue even from milestone episodes like “Encounter At Farpoint”. But I do agree that it’s a pretty cool feeling to hold in your hands the very same documents the actors used in their line-reading rehearsals. Here’s a geek factoid for you: Ronald D. Moore, who penned the scripts on display (“Sins Of The Father”) later went on to mastermind the highly successful “Battlestar Galactica” series reboot.
Picard’s request to institute Sexytime Saturdays At The Captain’s Cabin was rejected by Starfleet.
I didn’t spend much time browsing the screenplays, as something else caught my eye. A re-creation of Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s Ready Room! Or least, that’s what I thought it was at first. In the corner was the Captain’s uniform for official ceremonies, and on the table was a bottle of Chateau Picard. Fans will of course know that the Picard family used to run a vineyard back on Earth. And the command desk was littered with what looked like stuff that belonged to Picard. Why then, was there a wedding portrait of First Officer William Riker and Counsellor Deanna Troi on the wall? I’ll admit my knowledge of TNG isn’t terribly deep, so perhaps this diorama is indeed screen accurate. Whatever the case, it’s still a nifty set-up, and lit very much like the show. It would’ve been nice if they’d also re-created the Ready Rooms for the other Captains, or at least sets from the other shows.
Bright young thing, that Krige girl. Got a good head on her shoulders… What’s that? Oh.
MB: At this point I noticed that the Trek universe was starting to gradually unfold. The first room talked about the show, its origins and rise in popularity. As we moved down, it began to highlight the world of “Star Trek” itself. Props and costumes aren’t just props and costumes. They’re artifacts with history and a place in the overall story of the almost 50 years that this world has been evolving. Take the display of the Borg Queen. It doesn’t tell you about the materials, the craftsmanship or even the actress that played her. It tells you who the Borg Queen was, what she had done, what it meant for the Federation and for the world. In that sense, she’s almost real.
They also have an impressive display of the different ships that have been seen through the years. Each has a distinct look, purpose and even a backstory. These aren’t just pretty-looking space vehicles. They’re all part of a bigger saga. Look for the display on the evolution of the USS Enterprise and you’ll see what I mean. This fictional space ship traces its roots to a very real point in human history. That’s kind of amazing to me.
There’s a Death Star joke in here somewhere. I just can’t seem to find it.
W: Meanwhile, I was too busy trying to stare down the Borg Queen’s top to soak in the grandeur of Roddenberry’s universe. Alas, my camera lens failed to reveal any sweet cybernetic cleavage, but a tangled mass of circuitry and mechanical implements instead. First introduced in “Star Trek: First Contact” (my favourite film with the TNG crew), the Queen is the closest thing “Trek” has ever come to a sexy villain. Sorry, Persis Khambatta as V’Ger doesn’t count. Come to think of it, the Borg do have the market cornered in kinky piercings, body modification and S&M wear. But that’s not why they’re my favourite baddies. They’re cyborg zombies, man. What’s not to like? So I was hoping for a little more on them. The little we did get, like the scaled Borg Sphere replica, was extremely well-made and insanely detailed, as were the other ship models. A delight for any afficionado of filmic collectibles.
I had a hard time trying to scrutinize the ships, when right behind me stood a wall of awesomeness. The full gallery of Captain’s uniforms. From Archer, to Kirk, to Picard, to Janeway, to Sisko. Everyone has a Captain they like best, and least. For me, it’s kinda like the different James Bonds. There’s something to savour in each and every one of them. Yes, I even dig helium-voiced Capt Janeway, alright. So sue me. Staring at the display, two things struck me. The first was the shocking revelation of just how short William Shatner’s Kirk is in relation to the others (all costumes are tailored to actors’ measurements). The second thing was at this point, I finally got the feeling Marie B was talking about. In my mind’s eye, I could picture all the Captains across the “Trek” timeline standing side by side… and it just felt special. Like there was a sense of occasion, of shared history between the fan and the franchise. This is where I believe the fan will get way more mileage out of “The Exhibition” than the casual visitor.
Starring (from L -R): Quantum Leap; Fukk You Chris Pine; Prof X; Space Martha Stewart; and I’m Not Samuel L. Jackson Dammit.
MB: What is probably the highlight though is the full-size replica of the USS Enterprise’s bridge. Picard’s Enterprise-D, anyway. For a few minutes, fans and casual visitors alike can experience the feeling of commanding the famed ship. No one can resist standing in the middle of all that grandiosity and with authority, proclaim, “Take her to warp speed.” Or some other memorable movie/TV line. And yes, I speak from experience, having succumbed to the lure of the Captain’s chair.
Photo op aside, what impressed me about this set was the detail they had put into it. Those aren’t just random lights you see in the background. There is an order to them. Each console refers to a specific aspect of the ship, be it Engineering, Science or Environment. And within these consoles are buttons that correspond to important functions. Set designers not only thought of aesthetics, but took the time to figure out what a space-travelling ship’s bridge needed to operate efficiently and effectively. Never mind that the ship doesn’t even exist! Never mind that the buttons did nothing but light up! Never mind that no one at home or in the movies would ever notice the specifics in those background consoles. They were treated as if everything they represented was real. That’s commitment.
Productivity on the Enterprise has gone way downhill ever since they started hiring government servants.
W: As soon as I saw the set, I could not resist either. I stood dead centre on the bridge, assumed that authoritative stance, gestured at an imaginary ensign, and barked in a British accent “Make it so.” Ahh. You haven’t lived until you’ve pretended to be the commander of an intergalactic Federation vessel. I suppose I did look a tad out of place, what with my Darth Vader t-shirt. Still, I’ll bet even a Dark Lord of the Sith wouldn’t mind having one of these babies at his disposal.
MB: It’s only logical.
W: Thank you, Mrs. Spock.
Rounding a corner after the bridge, we came to a wall dedicated to the various alien species that populate this particular universe. The sight of the grotesque heads proved too much for some visitors. A wee toddler ran screaming past me, with his bemused dad in hot pursuit trying to console him. LOL moment.
So this is what Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj and Lindsay Lohan look like without makeup.
Thrown into the mix was Lt. Commander Data, the android fan-favourite from TNG. I guess the exhibition’s organisers wanted to lump all the busts together for convenience’s sake or whatever. This inconsistency was the first of quite a number to follow. I began to notice a certain haphazardness in the way the displays were presented. We came to another gallery of costumes, mixing TV shows with those from the movies, laid out in no discernible order. They had “Voyager” Borg babe Seven Of Nine’s skin-tight costume next to Spock’s Fal-Tor-Pan ceremonial robes from “Star Trek III: The Search For Spock”. Laying them out in chronological order would’ve made more sense.
MB: I agree. Midway into “The Exhibition”, much of my initial excitement was starting to wear off. The items on display were still interesting and they all had an immense contribution to “Star Trek” lore but it assumed too much that I was familiar with the universe to begin with. I could no longer follow the significance of certain characters. I couldn’t appreciate the relationships between the different alien species. Perhaps this is where the line is drawn between me and a true fan. After such a great start, I was starting to feel left out.
No, that’s not where Klingons go to potty.
W: That’s why it helps to have with you someone who’s well-versed in this stuff. Unfortunately, whether you’re a fan or not, the following sections left something to be desired. By this juncture, we’d reached what I gathered was the “educational” portion of the exhibition. Which to me was also the weakest part. Look, it’s a great idea to have a science-fiction exhibition housed in a venue dedicated to science fact. And of all sci-fi properties, “Trek” has the biggest potential to use its made-up mumbo-jumbo to sell real-world physics, engineering, astronautics, and whatnot. The thing is, the link between “Trek” tech and actual applied sciences was done in a rather low-key manner. For example, it’s pretty mindblowing to note that the minds behind “Trek” envisioned inventions like mobile phones, touchscreen tablets and tasers decades before they were actually invented. Yet, here they’re presented in a way that makes it easy to miss the connection.
Samsung’s and Apple’s lawsuits are pending.
One of these astronauts was fined by NASA for smuggling a durian onboard the International Space Station.
MB: Even from a more practical standpoint, I was disappointed in the decreasing sense of spectacle. This is surprising given how rich “Star Trek” is in terms of materials. If any, I thought that this exhibit would have been spoilt for choice on what to highlight. As it is, as one glass display gives way to another glass display, they start to seem so ordinary. Which is a shame because like you mentioned, some of those encased in glass were probably the inspiration for much of the technology we have today. They just sat there randomly and matter-of-factly, their importance undermined.
W: Yeah, just imagine how awed kids would be if the organisers made more of a song & dance out of the science stuff. Personally, I feel that the National Science Centre could’ve taken a slightly more pro-active role here, and added extra value by say, creating interactive elements that play up the Trek/science parallels. Now, this being a syndicated exhibition, I don’t know how much freedom the Centre would’ve had, but I’m sure something could’ve been worked out. As it is, they just took the whole show lock, stock & barrel. In their defense, I will say that the kids there seemed to enjoy themselves, and that’s one step closer to a genuine interest in science.
Little Jimmy’s dream of being transported into the ladies’ shower room was finally coming true.
Speaking of having fun, the next section proved to be a real hit. The Transporter Room set! You can get your photo taken here by the organisers, and for a fee, but from my observation, most visitors gladly went for it. By the way, this is Abrams’ 2009 “Trek” version of the Transporter Room (insert your own lens flare joke here). The entire section is dedicated to the latest Cinematic incarnation of the franchise. So there was a gallery of costumes, some props scattered here and there, and in the middle of the room, the exhibition’s pièce de résistance: a giant model of the redesigned Starship Enterprise, NCC-1701. While not at full-size for obvious reasons, it was still a very imposing sight. I was sufficiently impressed.
MB: It occurs to me now that this is the only section where we really see the Abrams version of “Star Trek”. It makes sense I suppose, since his reboot essentially re-started the story from a new ground zero. So they don’t quite belong with the rest of the exhibition. In a way, this is the start of a whole new timeline. I can only imagine that this section will grow even more, as the new timeline is pursued. By the time it hits the next few countries (Taiwan is its next stop), it might contain memorabilia from the new movie “Star Trek Into Darkness”. Right now, all that we were treated to was the looping of the trailer, along with a lobby standee of the film’s poster.
Well, at least they didn’t park it in the Handicapped Zone.
Which pretty much brings us to the end of our journey through “Star Trek: The Exhibition”. There is a small gift shop that gives you the chance to bring home a piece of the “Trek” universe with you. The selection was a bit limited, but there were a few interesting items. There was a throwback to the 70’s and 80’s with an old-school tin lunch box that features the cast of the original show. My favourite though was the pizza cutter in the shape of the Enterprise.
I wanted to pick up a small souvenir for myself, but even the keychain was a tad too big for my tastes. In the end, all I’ve walked away with are memories and a deeper knowledge of the “Trek” universe. I’m not going to say I’ve been converted into a fan, but I do think this whole experience has amped up my geek credentials. Overall, I would still recommend this exhibition to non-fans like me, but only if you have a strong sense of curiosity and can find amusement by learning about this world as you go along. Otherwise, go with a friend who can help explain things to you. I was lucky enough to have one.
W: Why, you’re welcome. Likewise, it was good having someone listen to me drone on and on with the trivia.
As for the gift shop, normally I don’t bother but there was this one t-shirt that was simply too amusing to pass on. It was in Klingon, and the message read “Hab Sosli Quch” which translated means “Your mother has a smooth forehead”. Heh, geek humour at its finest.
Group photo of the actual cast, after meeting an angry, bitter William Shatner at a Trek convention.
Despite my complaints about the latter half of the experience, I actually had a good time. Interestingly enough, being a fan created a contrasting effect of sorts. On one hand, it allowed me to have a deeper appreciation of certain elements than the average visitor. On the other, the expectations that come with being a fan meant I was a bit more demanding than usual. And hence, easier to be let down. Fortunately, there are way more things to like about “Star Trek: The Exhibition”, and the stuff that’s lacking isn’t that big a deal anyway.
So, Electroshadow’s official verdict is…
MB: Exhibitions like these ensure that the legacy of “Star Trek” will live long and prosper. Check it out while you still can.
W: Now let’s see if they’ll bring in a “Star Wars” exhibition!
STAR TREK: THE EXHIBITION
Pusat Sains Negara, Bukit Kiara
Tickets: Adults – RM20. Senior Citizens/Students/Children (3 – 17) – RM10
Open from now til 7th April 2013 (9am – 5pm, except Fridays)