Inside a building in the center of downtown Orlando sits an object so ill-fated that it's an icon of awfulness, almost single-handedly ruining careers and bringing a billion-dollar business to its knees. This cursed artifact isn't something sacred stolen from the Seminoles, the Hope diamond or even Uncle Walt's frozen head. It's one of the pieces of pop-culture legend on loan to our Orange County Regional History Center as part of Out of This World: Extraordinary Costumes From Film and Television.
I got a preview of the under-construction exhibit, which opens this Saturday, Feb. 6 (and continues through May 16). When completed, sound and smoke effects will turn your elevator trip up to the museum's second floor into a transporter ride, revealing a retro-styled Enterprise command console (no J.J. Abrams—verse iBridge here) that kids big and little can get their hands on.
The exhibit proper is dominated by the two biggest modern sci-fi franchises: Star Trek and Star Wars. To the right, you'll find William Ware Theiss' vintage designs for Capt. Kirk's "Mirror, Mirror" tunic and Jean-Luc Picard's "Encounter at Farpoint" uniform. Marvel at the '60s-era latex engineering under the lizard-like Gorn and the '90s-era latex engineering under Jeri "Seven of Nine" Ryan's bodysuit. And the original-series Klingon Battle Cruiser prop, which looks like some wooden dowels and metallic paint, will remind you just how junky those old-school effects were.
On the other side of the room towers Darth Vader (someone get me an übergeek to translate the Imperial text on his breastplate), flanked by Luke Skywalker's orange flight suit and Obi-Wan Kenobi's Jedi robes, with Skywalker's lightsaber and severed hand sitting nearby, ironically just out of reach. There's a nicked and scratched Stormtrooper helmet used in the filming of the 1977 original; you can almost still smell the drunken English extra through the Plexiglas.
Between these two giants is a good sampling from the breadth of fantasy filmmaking. Some of these fanboy holy grails include Dan Aykroyd's Ghostbusters II proton pack, Daryl Hannah's post-punk Blade Runner outfit (designed by Michael Kaplan and Charles Knode) and the actual Holy Grail — along with Indiana Jones' leather jacket and whip. The crown jewel of the show is undoubtedly the careworn cap Margaret Hamilton wore as the Wicked Witch of the West in 1939's The Wizard of Oz, which debuted the same year Forrest J. Ackerman invented fan dress-up "cosplay" by wearing his "futuristicostume" to the first World Science Fiction Convention.
The exhibit equals geek nirvana, reminding me of my first visit, in 1991, to the freshly opened original Planet Hollywood in New York; getting to see these fashions in the flesh could bring out the movie nerd in anyone. But, like the food at Planet Hollywood, the Out of This World display left me hungry for more. Last year's spectacular Smithsonian-sponsored Jim Henson's Fantastic World at the history center featured a wealth of rare video footage, revealing sketches and behind-the-scenes insights; even a self-professed Muppet buff like me could learn a lot from the thoughtfully curated exhibition. OOTW, on the other hand, is presented by Seattle's Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, and while the costumes and props are all handsomely presented, the supporting materials lack the depth of a first-class museum installation. Signage is too simplified to enlighten most adults and lacks a pedagogical approach that might educate kids. I'd love to see video interviews with designers, concept drawings and touchable textiles. As is, the exhibit is more than enough to entertain, but it probably won't inspire the next Edith Head.
While you're at the museum, cross the hallway to the sister exhibition, Lights! Camera! Action! Filming in Paradise, featuring photographs and artifacts from Florida's long movie-making history. You'll see Tom Hanks' Apollo 13 flight suit and stills of luminaries from Esther Williams to Jim "Ernest Saves Christmas" Varney. Other accompaniments include a grand opening "block party" featuring KITT, Ecto-1 and other famous movie vehicles; an "Original Designs Based on Superheroes and Villains"—themed fashion show, March 6; the Creature From the Black Lagoon double feature, March 16 (an afternoon talk by original star Ginger Stanley Hallowell at the center, and then an evening screening of the film with her in attendance at Enzian Theater) and Star Wars Day, May 8.
Oh, and that abominable artifact I mentioned? In the corner, between Jim Carrey's spangled Riddler suit and Burt Ward's cartoon-colored Robin costume, stands George Clooney's bodysuit from 1997's Batman & Robin, a rubber monument to director Joel Schumacher's mania. Bring your kids, folks, so that someday they can tell their grandchildren about the time they saw the infamous email@example.com