The PNE's Star Trek: The Exhibition a dream come true for Trekkies in Vancouer
The bright red doors of the turbolift open with a swoosh. Captain James T. Kirk, still reeling from the hypnotic effects of the alien poison, steadies himself as he steps on to the bridge. His antidote to any love potion, hallucinogenic plant or alien drug is his singular devotion to his one true love, his lady, the starship Enterprise. Back in his command chair, his confidence returns and his crew know their captain is back in command.
Now, that throne-like chair, where "not chess, Mr. Spock, poker" was played so many times, saving the ship, planets and even whole galaxies, is here, in Vancouver, at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE). As the showcase return to the Fair’s walk through pavilions of years past, Star Trek: The Exhibition collects 300 original items on display in the 20,000 square foot Rollerland Building next to the Pacific Coliseum.
EMS Exhibits, under exclusive contract from CBS, has managed the traveling museum since 2008. Having finished a six month stint in St. Louis, The Exhibition is making a too brief 18 day stopover at the PNE before beginning an Asian tour to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Over 45 years of Star Trek memorabilia, covering five TV series and over a dozen movies, is on display.
Photo by Douglas Shimizu
At the entrance to the exhibit, Kirk’s actual command chair offers the first photo opportunity available. No photos or videos are permitted inside, but some unique photo products are available for purchase, here at the chair and throughout the show. Up close, the buttons on the chair arms reveal themselves as plastic and wood -- not switches that could decide life and death in space.
The exhibit proper begins with a hallway of movie posters leading to a room with original scripts, concept art and a timeline of the shows. The first of many costumes and models is represented by one of the actual shooting models of the Enterprise D, used in Star Trek: The Next Generation, now celebrating its 25th anniversary. The great detail on the model shows portholes and hatches from an era when ships were still shot live rather than completely computer generated.
As you turn the corner and move further into the galleries you get a sense of the vastness of the pavilion. At least that's how it feels before opening day. During the run of the show, the galleries will be packed.
“The Exhibition (PNE) takes about 900,000 people in a year. We'd like to get a minimum of 30 per cent of that," operations director Tony Doblin explained.
The layout is well spaced with display cases of models and props in the center of the floor and walls lined with info-graphics or costumes. One of the first displays includes Kirk’s gold command tunic next to Captain Jonathan Archer’s blue jumpsuit. Archer is “the original captain of the Enterprise, so that's kind of cool to have,” Doblin added.
Another one of his favourite pieces and one of historic significance is the red uniform dress of Lieutenant Uhura, a woman, an African-American, who as a bridge officer was an important role model on 1960’s television. Costumes best show the wide representation in this exhibit of all the manifestations of Star Trek through the years right up to the 2009 J.J. Abrams movie, which has a sequel in post-production now.
Photo by Douglas Shimizu
Die-hard Trekkies and curious regular Joes
If you don't know your TOS from your TNG, not to worry. The timelines and posters help visitors differentiate The Original Series (1966-69, also known as TOS), as it's commonly called, and its popular following incarnation, The Next Generation (1987-1994) and all the other shows.
“We've got hosts by PNE. They'll be trained so that they'll know the exhibit backwards and forwards.” Not everyone will know the provenance of the Borg alcove in the wall or the Klingon Bat’leth weapon looking menacing even behind plexiglass. They look cool anyways.
“People pay to get into the fair and all these things are free. So you don't know if you're going to get Trekkies -- people that are really interested -- or people who say, 'you know what, I paid to get in here. I'm going to blow through this thing and see what it is.'
"So then it's up to us as the operations team to take people who may not know what they're seeing, to kind of educate them on, this is a phenomenon. You got to understand how long this has been going on, how many millions watch this.”
Phaser, tricorder, communicator: visionary Star Trek technology
Certainly, many people will at least recognize the distinct design of the starship Enterprise. A great piece in the center of the display hall is a model of the Enterprise A, over ten feet long. Hanging from metal scaffolding, the ship looks like it could be docked at a space station. Although never used in filming, the model represents the design of ship used in the six motion pictures featuring the original crew.
Nearby is a case of props from the original series containing a phaser, tricorder, communicator and medikit. These were items carried by the crew when exploring strange, new worlds. Another case concentrates on the evolution of the communicator itself from handheld device to touch activated uniform insignia reflecting the technological expectations of changing TV audiences.
Doblin marvels at the brilliance of the design. “You get a look at the original communicators, which is the Motorola flip phone. It's just amazing how visionary (series creator) Gene Roddenberry was," he said.
Yes, an iPhone today is a little smaller than a Star Trek communicator and you can argue that it's computing functions are closer to that of the more powerful tricorder instrument used for analyzing alien environs. Still, there's no app for communicating directly with orbiting spacecraft. Yet.
Towards the end of the exhibit, a cluster of photo ops await. A large green screen you walk in front of provides an insight into how the technology is used in film. Various effects and backgrounds can be added to fill in the imaginary scene behind you. Next door is the bridge from The Next Generation Enterprise.
The whole thing is there from center seats, stations above, nav/ops consoles and giant view screen ahead. Perhaps the best photo set though is the transporter room. When you get your photo taken on the pad, the final product is a lenticular print. You know those plastic covered photos that seem to change when you view them from different angles? Here, from one angle you are standing on the pad and next, you have disappeared, transported away. Photos are available in sets of one lenticular or 3D photo plus a 2D photo at the exhibit store, the last stop.
The merchandise available at the store is somewhat limited by the logistics of international travel, but besides t-shirts, pointed ears and pizza cutters, you can find furry Tribbles to warn you of approaching Klingons. The small fur-ball Tribbles can be purchased for $12.95 each.
For Star Trek fans, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see it here in Vancouver. Organizers are hoping that Star Trek: The Exhibition will bring people to the Fair who otherwise might not go.
“When we do these sorts of thing at casinos or exhibition centers like this, we find that over 50 per cent of the people that come to the exhibit have never been to that particular venue before," Doblin said.
"It would be great if every year we could bring a different exhibit to drive unique visitors to PNE.”
Besides The Exhibition, Star Trek fans can also look forward to a visit from Marina Sirtis and Brent Spiner, Troi and Data, from The Next Generation series. They will be appearing at the Fair on Friday, August the 24th, as part of the WestJet Family Fun Series. Also free with admission, the Series takes place at the WestJet Concert Stage every afternoon at 2pm.
The PNE looks to be a great experience for Star Trek fans this summer. Throw in a Superdog show, some mini donuts and an Olivia Newton-John concert to round out your visit. "Ahead, warp factor one. Engage!"