Saturday, May 12, 2012

Irony In My Expressions: Star Trek: The Exhibit Fails To Impress With Its Reproductions!

The Good: Interesting costumes, Entertainment value
The Bad: Not that big, Expensive for what one gets, WAY too many prop replicas!
The Basics: Disappointing for fans who have had access to more, Star Trek: The Exhibit provides fans with few set pieces or props they've not had access to before.

This review was originally written when the Exhibit had just begun! Enjoy it as a look at what you – probably – missed!

Last year, when I left my annual Star Trek convention in Las Vegas, I found myself considering the Star Trek: The Experience (reviewed here!) which was being taken down from the Las Vegas Hilton. I had attempted to coin the phrase "Once you've been to Mecca, Dearborn just won't do," as a result because having seen thousands of props and costumes from all five incarnations of Star Trek and the films, the hundreds of props in the Star Trek: The Experience seem much less impressive. The irony in my making that phrase last year is that this year, I found myself in Detroit, Michigan (of which Dearborn is a suburb) after Valentine's Day for Star Trek: The Exhibit, a roving exhibit of Star Trek sets and props that is hitting several major cities in the United States.

Having seen the real things, as part of an auction of "cultural artifacts" of Star Trek props and set pieces, replicas will just not do. Unfortunately, as I explored the Detroit Science Center and Star Trek: The Exhibit, I found myself woefully unimpressed. Indeed, it was only in the fine print that many of the pieces in The Exhibit were noted to be "prop replicas" as opposed to actual props. And having seen some of the actual props, some of these were poor replicas indeed.


Star Trek: The Exhibit is located - currently - at the Detroit Science Center in downtown Detroit. The center is part of the museum district, located at 5020 John R Street, in Detroit proper. As one who is relatively unfamiliar with Detroit, I had to use MapQuest directions and I had no problem locating the science center using them. It is worth noting, though, that the Exhibit will only be in Detroit for a few more months, before heading to Philadelphia, Boston and a few other major cities. The setup in each city is intended to be as identical as possible and the content will be the same in all cities, even if there are slight variations in the arrangement of it.

Star Trek: The Exhibit occupies the entire fourth floor of the Detroit Science Center and is accessible only via an elevator. In fact, leaving the exhibit, one has to go down several stairs so while it is handicapped accessible getting in, getting out is a little more problematic for the wheelchair bound.

Ease Of Local Transport/Parking

Again, Mapquest provides adequate directions for the Detroit stop of Star Trek: The Exhibit and there is metered parking right on the street. However, for those who want their exercise, I discovered that two blocks over there was free on-street parking for more than two hours, which is more than enough time to experience Star Trek: The Exhibit!


Star Trek: The Exhibit is a remarkably simple exhibit composed of one floor of activities (though there is a prop of the starship Enterprise-A from some of the films in the lobby) which are essentially displays. Access to the fourth floor for the Exhibit is $18.95 and this price is pretty steep for what one sees when there. In fact, the most original and interesting aspect of The Exhibit for me was the painting in the elevator. In black light, the starships on the wall become a three-dimensional mural and riding up the elevator was pretty trippy, even with the uniformed escort droning on about how we were not to take pictures in the Exhibit.

The exhibit itself flows with little sense of rhyme or reason, though it generally tracks in a chronological way for the Star Trek universe, with a few costumes and props from Star Trek: Enterprise preceding those from Star Trek. Costumes like jumpsuits from Commander Tucker and Lieutenant Reed are draped on mannequins in glass boxes before all of the main cast of the original Star Trek has uniforms provided in similar boxes. Next to each uniform is a placard with information on the uniform and some, like McCoy's short sleeve medical uniform, have video clips featuring the onscreen appearance of the uniform.

As one wanders through the corridors, facts and behind-the-scenes information on the costumes, props and set pieces is written on the walls and the display has over a hundred pieces that are from all of the franchise elements of Star Trek. So, as one progresses deeper into the display, one finds the starship model that was both the Stargazer and Hathaway (close up one can see where the lettering for the Hathaway was removed to make the current incarnation of it!) as well as shuttlepods from the movies and shuttles used in only a single episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. There are uniforms from Captain Sisko and Major Kira from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as well as Captain Janeway, Seven Of Nine and Kes from Star Trek: Voyager. There is a first or second season jumpsuit of Captain Picard's as well.

Amidst the displays and timelines of the Star Trek universe, there are much larger set recreations. The Star Trek: The Exhibit includes set recreations of the U.S.S. Enterprise (1701) bridge from Star Trek, a brightly lit Guardian Of Forever set recreation (not the actual set in any way, I discovered upon inquiry), a transporter room recreation (which at least has floor light panels from the actual set) and the Riker and Troi's quarters from Star Trek: Nemesis (which appears to be an actual set piece with the props from the film intact! With only one set piece being an actual on-screen piece - and the only one visitors cannot have their picture taken in by the staff - the Exhibit is far less intriguing or overwhelming than The Experience even was.

But what sunk The Exhibit for me was the sheer number of prop replicas. None of the original Star Trek props were actually props from the show. Instead, they were carefully noted in footnotes as "prop replicas." Prop replicas have been circulating since the 1970s and are available increasingly cheaply at Star Trek conventions. Once one has seen an actual tricorder or phaser prop, it is hard to get excited about seeing prop replicas like these and it pains me to think that this might be the best some Star Trek fans might ever experience as a result of the major artifacts being sold off years ago.

Nowhere is the poor performance of prop replicas realized than with the Cardassian phaser rifle that is on display at Star Trek: The Exhibit. This replica might have been cast from the original mold, but having seen several of the rifles used on the sets, this bears almost no resemblance in the paint job to those actually used on the set.

The Exhibit makes a few passing references to the science behind Star Trek, but most of the exhibit is in-universe explorations of the technology and props of the beloved television and movie franchise. It is underwhelming for anyone who has seen . . . well, anything more than this and those who experienced even Star Trek: The Experience will likely be disappointed by this.


Given that this is a museum, there were no real dining options, at least at the Detroit venue.


The Detroit Science Center has a gift shop, though it does not appear to be actively capitalizing on the Star Trek: The Exhibit, which is actually somewhat decent. In fact, outside of a single table which was mixed with space exploration and a few books, the only Star Trek collectibles at the store seemed to be the new two-packs of Star Trek action figures.


Star Trek: The Exhibit may be moving on from Detroit by the end of summer, but wherever it ends up, seasoned Trekkers will not need to flock to it. Any fan devoted enough to want to see The Exhibit is going to be devoted enough to be disappointed by this. They will go in with the information that is on the walls in their heads and outside seeing some of the matte paintings up close, there was nothing so extraordinary as to justify the expense. Casual fans of Star Trek who are in the area and decide to go to "The Exhibit" are likely to enjoy it more, though they will also likely leave shaking their heads and mocking the geeks who genuinely enjoy the exhibit.

For CBS/Paramount, it is a no-win scenario and considering the way the timeline includes a place for the forthcoming film Star Trek, one suspects this is just a terribly lame publicity stunt.

For other exhibits, museums and live performances, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Monty Python’s Spamalot
American Museum Of Natural History
The House Of The Seven Gables


For other travel reviews, be sure to check out my Travel Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the travel-related reviews I have written!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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