Sunday, January 20, 2008

Review: Star Trek: The Tour

The following is a comprehensive, personal review of Star Trek: The Tour. Be warned, it is not spoiler-free, and if you're planning on paying to attend when the Tour comes to your town, I'd recommend not reading, to preserve your sense of wonder and appreciation. If you're gonna read it anyway, you might as well check out my pictures at Flickr. It's all there, folks!

Several years ago, my Project Ideal teacher (an elementary school program for "gifted students" in Arizona) asked our class to visualize "a special place" for a meditation exercise. In the throes of early Star Trek: The Next Generation fandom, my friend Travis and I visualized ourselves on the Enterprise-D; fortunately, I shared my experience first, making Trav look a little sheepish. (Our pal Raul thought of Paris, which impressed our teacher but was obviously a reference to Captain Picard's roots from the fourth season episode "Family." We were onto you, man.) Despite the dangers of Cardassian peace negotiations or persistently imminent Borg threats, a twenty-fourth century starship seems like one of the safest, most comfortable places in the universe, and ever since that day, I've still fantasized about wandering the Enterprise's halls.

On Saturday, January 19, my dreams became a reality, thanks to Star Trek: The Tour.

Star Trek: The Tour is a comprehensive, interactive traveling museum of Star Trek memorabilia and began its multi-city voyage last week at the Queen Mary Dome in Long Beach, California. My girlfriend bought us (really, me) tickets to its second day, and we were wise to wake up early and line up for the 10 a.m. opening, because by 11:30 the Dome was filled with Trekkies and pop culture aficionados alike. In addition to the multitude of costumes and props, the Tour offers two rides, five full scale set pieces, and a round-theater show. The Dome was a logistically perfect venue for the Tour's inaugural exhibit, accommodating all of its features (and the lines for the rides) without overcrowding the prop and costume displays; further, being so close to the ocean, my inner Trekkie couldn't help but remember the holodeck-rendered seafaring scene from Star Trek: Generations. Captain Picard's envy of Earth's earliest adventures surely came full circle with his ship on display alongside the mythic Queen Mary.

Since we arrived early and were among the first fifty fans through the door, my girlfriend and I had the advantage of avoiding significant waits in line. Of course, I was eager to walk onto the bridge of the Enterprise-D, but with the classic Enterprise bridge adjacent to the entrance, I couldn't resist an exercise in nostalgia. When I sat in Captain Kirk's chair, the attendant was quick to explain its delicacy, pointing to a few broken buttons that resulted from a female fan's exuberance the day before. While my girlfriend took a few pictures, I posed for the Tour's keepsake photo, starring a superimposed Enterprise crew and available for purchase in the gift shop. Even at $17.95 for a 5" x 7", who can turn down an opportunity like that?

With the taste for the captain's chair fresh on my pallet, we rushed to the back of the Dome, where we found the beloved bridge of the Enterprise-D. The crowd was already clogging itself into the exhibit's entrance, where the original series' memorabilia was displayed, so I had a significant amount of time to myself on the flagship bridge, which satiated the fifteen-year wait of my inner child just fine. I sat in the captain's chair and at Lt. Comm. Data's ops station, then at tactical, in a moment of silent reflection that must have rivaled Picard's from those opening moments in the episode "Starship, Mine." Perhaps because we were still in the first few minutes of the Tour, the bridge was too dimly lit for my tastes, which certainly affected the quality of my personal pictures. Further, while the scale of the Enterprise-D bridge was grander than its classic counterpart, the Tour made no effort to superimpose crew members, which made the pricey purchase of a studio-style photo unrealistic to me. Still, I was grateful for the opportunity to, yes, engage in a boyhood fantasy. As Picard explains to Data when they behold the inaugural warp ship in Star Trek: First Contact, something about touching it makes it much more real to the human condition.

The other three full scale set pieces were more subtle in their presentation but just as viable in their picturesque potential: a section of TNG's Engineering, an Enterprise-D hallway, and a 24th century Transporter Room (which, for argument's sake, I'll say could apply to any post-original series). The mini-Engineering model, with a 2-D replica of the Enterprise's warp core, was a pleasant surprise; for every command decision made from the bridge, Data, La Forge, sometimes Ensign Crusher and even Lt. Barclay were responsible for brainstorming that "it" in Picard's "make it so" around that little technical island. Down the Enterprise's hallway, facsimiles of Sick Bay and the Captain's quarters could be observed, each with their own respective, trivia-inducing props. Of course, the Transporter Room was the final, more interactive guilty pleasure of the corridor, and though the attendant boasted an ill-timed Scotty-like accident (unless we were to recollect the TNG episode "Relics"), attendees could watch themselves beam off a television monitor. To my surprise, I was the only one that commanded the attendant, "Energize," which evoked knowing laughter from the watchful crowd.

The two rides were perhaps the most interactive applications to the Star Trek universe throughout the Tour, but also offered the most room for criticism of the experience. While one ride looked very much like a shuttle craft, the other was merely a pale flight simulator, yet both of them included the same video game-like simulation. The shuttle ride could easily be likened to Disneyland's Star Tours or Universal's departed Back to the Future attraction in scale and mobility, but the smaller, two-person flight simulation was much more dynamic, flipping its occupants upside down like an interstellar washing machine. My girlfriend was quick to note her gratitude for doing the shuttle ride first, as its more subtle motions would've been a disappointment in the face of the same video scenario. Still, a chance to dodge Borg spheres with a virtual Worf at the helm, whose "Perhaps today is a good day to die" exclamation evoked cheers from my fellow craft riders, makes for good day, even if you have to live through it twice.

The prop and costume displays were surprising in their scope, particularly from a fan like me who has never ventured to a Star Trek convention or exhibit of this magnitude. All five television series and all ten feature films were tangibly represented in some fashion, and the more specific details were documented in a "History of the Future" timeline that reminded me of the Star Trek: The Experience attraction in Las Vegas. (My friends and I did that ride several years ago, and, in light of everything else that happened that weekend, I only vaguely remember it!) I suppose the truly comprehensive nature of the exhibit implied a certain sense of finality in this chapter of Trek's story; with Abrams' interpretation over the horizon, I wonder how this iconic imagery will mesh with a more modern incarnation of the Enterprise's classic five year mission.

Fortunately, the conclusion of the Tour breathes new life in the Star Trek dedicated fans know and love. With a few dozen other attendees, my girlfriend and I exited the exhibit hall into a round-robin theater, the walls of which are lined with screens. The arena reminded me of the Backdraft tour at Universal Studios. Then, a familiar face greets the group -- Lieutenant Wesley Crusher of the starship U.S.S. Titan. The theater is introduced as the Stellar Cartography deck, and we are identified as participants in a demonstration of the Federation's new comprehensive data stream. In a moment of gleeful revelation, the first element exposed on the stream is the design of the Titan, a ship we know is commanded by Captain William Riker but that hasn't been exposed in film. Suddenly, an alien presence attempts to hijack the stream, and Crusher is joined by Commander Tuvok to combat the threat. The ten minute show is a truly rewarding experience in cheesy light and smoke, and an excellent way to end the Tour. For a moment, attendees like me are actually a viable part of the Star Trek universe, which teaches us that Roddenberry's dream will always remain alive via our persistent fandom. The pleasure is obviously all ours.

In closing, I have to mention the gift shop, where I chose and claimed my classic Enterprise bridge picture. Interestingly, and very ironically, the registers to purchase memorabilia weren't capable of accepting ATM or credit cards, and their floundering staff had to repeatedly announce that they were accepting cash only. Also, all of my pictures were stored on a card given at the Tour's entrance, and staff experienced a bit of difficulty printing and distributing purchased pictures. The inconvenience was fleeting, but having just come from a comprehensive look at a terrible convenient future, the irony was as palpable as Romulan ale, or anything else on the Ten Forward menu, for that matter. Perhaps now that hundreds of fans have experienced Star Trek: The Tour, the appropriate parties have ironed out the kinks. Still, what's the harm in exchanging some our primitive currency for a dream fifteen years in the making? Such an opportunity to relive one's past through another's vision of the future . . . priceless.


Verden said...
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Baron V said...

I'm thinking of checking out the Star Trek experience as well but was just looking forward to take photos on both bridges. How does it work, are other people milling around the bridge while you take photos or is it closed for each person who want to get a shot without people in the background?

KaraokeFanboy said...

Both bridge sets are treated like a ride; potential "captains" line up and attendees get a few minutes each to take their pictures. Of course, others can be in your party to take position in Uhura's or Data's spots, but, no, the bridge is not open game during your few minutes at the helm. I was lucky enough to get the Enterprise-D all to myself for quite a few minutes before the crowd made it to the back of the exhibit hall, so if this is your goal, get there at opening time, and work your way from the back to the front. Sure, you experience the Trek universe in reverse chronological order, but obey the temporal time directive and you'll be fine!