As I descended down into a new exhibition underneath Seattle’s EMP Museum I was giddy with geek anticipation. Icons of Science Fiction features some of the most inspiring artifacts of the sci-fi genre. I felt like Neo. I was a “Chosen One” receiving a sneak peek and chance to meld with the mind who created this new exhibition.
You pass the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. I had to find the glass bearing the photo and name of Ray Bradbury to pay homage. Then prepare to be transported. The curator has designed an entry way that reminds you of an iconic experience in a sci-fi adventure. If you’re a Star Wars fans it would be going to light speed…if the hyper-drive is fixed! If you’re a Star Trek fan you’re going to warp. For the 2001: A Space Odyssey fans it’s going on a trip into void with Dave!
Fans can marvel at artifacts that have never been shown publicly like Lt. Uhura’s uniform from Star Trek, Yoda’s walking cane from Star Wars, the Kryptonian spaceship from Superman starring Christopher Reeve. You can even see the Captain’s chair James T. Kirk sat in while commanding the Enterprise!
What If? This eternal question drives the exploration of ideas behind the genre’s greatest creations. Curator Brooks Peck explains why he built the exhibition based on questions as opposed to by chronological order or sub categories.
“One of the things science fiction does is ask these crazy strange questions. Any science fiction story can be framed as a question. Star Trek is framed as what if we could explore space and the stars. What would happen? What stories would come out of that? Or Men In Black – what if aliens came to this planet? Or Terminator - what if robots took over the world? So the exhibition asks six of these big questions and presents lots of stories, films, tv shows, novels, comics that answers those in different ways. So if you’re not like a hard-core science fiction person…you see the questions and it gets your thinking. Questions like what if we could design our children? It gets you thinking about it and I hope makes it accessible to everybody - science fiction fans and non fans alike.
What If You Were the Chosen One? This section highlights the idea of the savior who inspires change. Paul Muad’Dib was the prophesied messiah of Frank Herbert’s Dune series. You can see the jacket worn by Neo (Keanu Reeves) of The Matrix. I was fascinated and little freaked to see the Anakin Skywalker lifecast from Star Wars: Return of The Jedi. It takes you back to that moment when Luke lifts the Vader mask so Anakin can look on his son with his own eyes. You can see a costume Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) wore on a key Battlestar Galactica episode that reinforced her role as a messiah for the human race.
What If I Had Superpowers? This section features Alan Moore’s classic Watchmen, Christopher Reeve’s costume from Superman IV and the miniature starship from his first Superman film that carried the young alien from Krypton to Smallville.
What If We Fought A War With Aliens? From Will Smith’s impossibly huge gun in Men in Black, to the warrior headgear from the original Stargate film to the saucer from Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space – this section is filled with weapons and gear to make you feel ”absolute bad asses” like the Colonial Marines in Aliens. In fact you can see the helmet worn by Michael Biehn in the James Cameron sequel!
What If We Were Enslaved By Our Machines? Who can forget the Terminator skull once the Ar-NULD visage from burned off? A robot skull from T2: Judgement Day is part of this section. What might be THE artifact of the exhibition is the centerpiece of this section: a Dalek from Doctor Who.
“I think the Dalek is fantastic because…it’s a Dalek, right? And since Doctor Who is created in England it’s rare that objects make it make it over to the United States for us to see much less something this big and heavy and crazy like a Dalek. This Dalek in particular is special because it’s an Imperial Dalek which were the first Daleks we actually saw on camera climbing stairs and levitating,” declares Peck.
This rare artifact is from the Remembrance of the Daleks episode from 1988 and Peck adds they call it “the glam-rock Dalek.”
What If We Could Design Our Own Children? The teddy bear from the Steven Spielberg directed AI, Commander Data’s uniform Star Trek: The Next Generation, the work of local author Octavia Butler highlight this section that asks a question that may be answered in a future that’s closer that we may think.
EMP Museum always deliver more than just inspiring visuals. This exhibition makes you a Ridley Scott, George Lucas or Steven Spielberg! The Create Your Own Special Effects Shot puts your friend on a green screen while you choose the fantasy backdrop and which iconic characters you want to interact with on-screen. You can fly like a superhero in the sky or run from Imperial Stormtroopers on an alien moon.
There is a space age looking control board that gives you an interactive exploration of sci-fi sources and influences on design and modern art. You can touch your way across the genres.
Brooks Peck and his team have collected from across genres and scored some amazing artifacts. I was curious to know what was the hardest artifact in the exhibit to procure?
“There was one on my wish list that I couldn’t secure so that would probably be the hardest. We have on display one of Darth Vader’s light sabres from Episodes Five and Six. We wanted to compliment that with an Anakin Skywalker light sabre from the prequel. They’re very rare to find out and about…but we found a collector in England who had one and we had a plan. One of our curators was going to England anyway and was going to bring it back. Turns out though it was a fighting sabre used to film a combat scenes so it had this long carbon fiber plate so we thought we’d just transport this little handle but actually it was this four-foot long thing that couldn’t come apart so we couldn’t bring it from England. So we wanted to show that. Maybe someday but not now.”
”Maybe someday” is what we often think after seeing a sci-fi film or reading a novel. The search the search for what’s possible, what’s in our future drives science fiction and fantasy fans. Like machine gaining sentience or an alien life form this exhibition is designed to evolve and grow. I am thrilled to be here for the birth of Icons of Science Fiction. Geek Tested…and approved for all.
Stay tuned for more posts: What does a Sci Fi Museum curator think of Prometheus, Doctor Who and why did certain comic books make the cut while others didn’t?