Star Trek The Exhibition at The Franklin Institute

Set phasers to “meh”!

My wife arranged a visit to The Franklin Institute a couple of weeks ago. We didn’t actually know that this Star Trek exhibit was there.  I was ready to pass, in favor of the more educational exhibits, but my wife made it a Father’s Day treat and shelled out enough gold-pressed latinum for the four of us.

No photography was allowed in the exhibit, which was annoying, so I wasn’t going to blog it at all because, well, sometimes words are boring.  But this YouTube clip, in between the chatter and the promos, shows some of the collection.

Despite her ability to channel William Shatner, my seven-year-old quickly got restless. My son enjoys reading every single line on every single card in every single display, so we took our time working through the place.  I kept hoping maybe there would be a ball pit full of tribbles for the girl, or a
dress-up area where she could try on different forehead bumps.  No such luck.  My wife had to take her out early.

The Franklin Institute has an educational mission, but I’m not so sure the exhibit was successful in forming links between Treknobabble and real science.  For instance, in a panel that explains how the transporter supposedly works, the tie to real science was basically “That’s impossible.” (Those mean, mean scientists!)

I was disappointed by how many of the items in the exhibit were replicas of the props built to represent imaginary gadgets, rather than the actual props that stood in for those imaginary gadgets in the show.

Yes, it was nice to see the special effects model for a random shuttlecraft or a minor ship that was glimpsed for a few seconds here or there.  It was kind of nice to see the original model of the lopsided alien probe from the TNG episode The Inner Light, but it only made me notice the absence of the original (fake, non-working) Ressikan flute from that show.

So we paid a lot of money to look at copies of copies, and because photography was banned, we couldn’t make digital copies of those copies of the copies.  (I didn’t even ask  how much they were charging to get your picture taken in a replica of Kirk’s chair.)

My wife did end up buying a few things in the gift shop, but we never even considered the $70 tribble (even if it does have both trilling and hissing sounds).  The postcards were cheap, but who needs postcards?

I was perfectly happy with the Father’s Day gift, but I would only recommend the show for die-hard fans with cash to burn.  And if you are a die-hard fan, chances are you probably already know most of the trivia and Treknology, and chances are you’d be very conscious of where this collection falls short.  (I had already seen similar shows with far more original stuff — particularly room after room of costumes.)

The educational materials (PDF grades 4-7, grades 8-12) were better than I expected, but if a kid doesn’t already happen to be interested in Star Trek, I can’t imagine why a teacher would first want to teach kids about the Cardassian form of government, and then teach them about how it relates to our own form of government.

On the other hand, because my son loves technology, and is still at the stage where he thinks stuff I’m interested in is cool, I can imagine going through the lesson plan with him on a day when we’ve got nothing else scheduled.  (I wish we’d known about the exhibit beforehand, so we could have read through the materials and prepared, but such is life.)

Of more lasting interest at the Franklin Institute was the chance to look up close at Maillardet’s Automaton and the steam-powered Burroughs Adding Machine. (Too bad they weren’t actually running.)