By Neil Schneider
It is very rare that I write about something that has absolutely nothing to do with stereoscopic 3D gaming. However, this is an exception to the rule, and I think you will understand why.
Red Alert! Neil Schneider at the helm of the USS Enterprise
I confess to being a closet Trekkie (Trekker?), though not as closet as my wife would like. Last weekend, Pam and I traveled to Wilmington, Delaware to visit family. On the way, we stayed an extra night in Philadelphia. Why, you ask? The Franklin Institute, a famous science museum named after Benjamin Franklin, was holding a special Star Trek exhibit! Well worth the nine hour drive, I assure you!
I was most excited because it promised the opportunity to sit in Captain Kirk’s original chair from the Star Trek series! Amazing! Before entering the museum, I called my older brother Gary to explain the excitement, and this is what he said:
“Yeah, I know, it sounds exciting. But you have to realize, it’s just a chair. It’s probably not that comfortable and the buttons don’t do anything.”
Like I care! I will share more about the chair shortly.
Walking up the staircase leading to the exhibit, there were pictures on the walls of all the starships, complete with their construction stardate and a famous moment in their history. It was cool because everything was written as though it really happened (no, it didn’t really happen!).
The exhibit itself featured countless props and costumes from the shows and movies. It’s amazing that on TV, everything looks so sturdy and crafted, but in person, Jean-Luc Picard was wearing clothes with the same quality and durability as pajamas. Also, looking at the size of the costumes, and thinking back at the heroic Captain Kirk scuffles of decades past, I kept thinking to myself “I could take him.”
Many of the props were replicas rather than originals, but I couldn’t help but feel disillusioned. I knew nothing would work and there weren’t going to be any misfired phasers or transporter accidents - though there was always hope! Nothing could prepare me for the flimsy nature of the Star Trek stage props. Klingon disruptors made of nuts and bolts from Home Depot, starbases made of cheap paper-thin plastic, and tricorders that had no electronic parts to speak of.
Back to the Captain’s chair! While it carried far more significance than my witty brother suggested, it was indeed just a chair. Almost completely made of wood, it looked like many-a-captain had sat in it before my Shatner-esk behind took command of the Enterprise.
I risked a trip to the brig when the right arm nearly fell loose, but I quickly returned it to ship-shape fashion. I immediately recognized all the buttons and knobs, even though it was hard to believe they were painted over to the point that buttons couldn’t be easily flipped on and off. Remember those 3 ½” floppy disks that Spock used to fling around the bridge? Wood. In fact, the chair was filled with them, but they were glued in place.
You just can’t give enough credit to the sound engineer. All this time, it was so easy to believe that buttons were being pressed and switched, when in fact it was all just the illusion of perfectly timed sound effects.
Last but not least was the bridge of the 1701D Enterprise, AKA the Star Trek: The Next Generation bridge. While this was somewhat more elaborate and had more detailing, the core technology was still the same…painted wood. The panels were not the electronic touch membrane we were lead to believe, and only a handful of panels were backed by 20th century CRT displays. Sadly, no matter how hard I tried, the only risk of antimatter containment failure was with Pam’s patience.
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Actually, I need to explain this. The only disappointment with the exhibit was photography is forbidden. No cameras or cell phones! Nothing! Instead, you have to buy picture packages, but they only allowed pictures on the Captain’s chair, and on the Next Generation bridge.
I didn’t want a print because I prefer to work digitally, so I inquired to see if I could get a media pass, pay for the photos and use our own camera. This was not as successful as I had hoped, so we had to do it the hard way. Their staff camera person was very nice, and I must have run between the old and new captain chairs three times before we got pictures I was somewhat happy with. Hey, it took nine hours to drive down to that chair and it cost $27 for the camera work, I’m coming back with pictures!
Suffice to say, I got my money’s worth, Pam’s anti-matter explosion was averted, and we all get to live long and prosper!
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