Saturday, March 6, 2010

Warp speed to San Jose 'Star Trek' exhibit

True "Star Trek" fanatics who visit "Star Trek: The Exhibition" at San Jose's Tech Museum may find some flaws in the life-size replica of the starship Enterprise's bridge.

Sure, Capt. James T. Kirk's chair sits in the middle of the bridge, encircled by panels, instrument consoles and blinking colored lights.

But the seats for Kirk's multiethnic crew are missing, and the funnel-like device that Science Officer Spock used to analyze space anomalies is on the wrong side of the bridge.

Planning your trip

"Star Trek: The Exhibition," Tech Museum of Innovation, 201 S. Market St., San Jose; (408) 294-8324, http://www.thetech.org $25 for adults, $19 for children, $22 for seniors and college students with ID. Includes admission to all Tech Museum galleries. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays-Wednesdays, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. -8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Still, few visitors have complained about such discrepancies, says Janice Thompson, a museum volunteer at what is billed as the world's largest collection of "Star Trek" memorabilia.

"They take it all in good fun," she tells me as she cradles a replica tribble, the wriggling toupee-like creature featured on the original TV series. "They are having a blast."

I don't consider myself a Trekkie, but I watched enough of the television episodes as a kid to understand why the exhibit has drawn nearly 60,000 visitors since it opened in October. The show runs until April 11.

At the exhibit, I got to sit in Capt. Kirk's chair and pretend to order Chekov to fire photon torpedoes at Klingon ships.

Elsewhere in the exhibit, I stood in a replica transporter room while a museum employee zapped me off the ship to the surface of a planet.

The exhibit boasts more than 200 pieces of "Star Trek" memorabilia, but only about a quarter of items are authentic props from the television series and the subsequent movies, says Roqua Montez, a spokesman for the Tech Museum.

But even a hard-core Trekkie who speaks Klingon and can name all 11 feature films and five television series that spun off from the original would have a hard time telling the replicas from the genuine props.

The authentic stuff includes several costumes worn on television and in movies, plus scale models of various spaceships used in filming the shows. Among the real props are the cube-like Borg starship used in the television series "Star Trek: the Next Generation" and the Klingon captain's chair from "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier."

The replicas include a display of "Star Trek" tricorders (used to scan and analyze unfamiliar surroundings), a phaser rifle, a communicator and a universal translator.

The "Star Trek" exhibit arrived in San Jose after a stint in Detroit, where it was housed in a 9,000-square-foot space, Montez says. But at the Tech Museum, the exhibit is spread throughout a 15,000-square-foot space, large enough to hold additional items, including several costumes from the most recent "Star Trek" movies, plus an interactive table where you can play the three-dimensional chess game that Spock played in several television episodes, Montez says.

But when you see all the props and replicas in person, they look more like toys than gadgets from the future.

That was true for Bruce Dobben a San Jose resident who stayed up late as a kid to watch "Star Trek" with his dad. He says the light panels on the Enterprise bridge looked like a Lite-Bright set, the popular 1970s toy with the glowing bulbs.

Another visitor, Fred Sauer of Los Altos, Calif., who wore a sweatshirt with an Enterprise insignia, agreed.

"It's a little bit less than I expected," he says of the replica bridge. "It's still a very cool show."

But the exhibit is more than just a collection of "Star Trek" props and replicas. It's a look behind the scenes of a show that became a cult phenomenon.

For example, a panel in the exhibit explains that "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry came up with the transporter room to save on costs so the show producers didn't have to create a new docking port for each new planet visited by the Enterprise. Instead, Kirk and his crew simply zapped themselves off the ship.

And if you look closely at a starship Enterprise schematic that appeared in the background of the original television show, you will see that the prop makers had a warped sense of humor. The illustration that is supposed to show the layout of the ship's mechanical and electronic components instead includes tiny pictures of a duck, a mouse and a hypodermic needle.

Apparently, the production crew didn't think putting a duck in the artificial gravity substation would hamper the mission to boldly go where no man has gone before.,0,1825575.story