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FEATURE: Set phasers to fun for trip to Starfleet Academy

By Andy Webster  /  NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

The Starfleet Academy has established a base in a 1,115m2 tent just north of the aircraft carrier Intrepid on Pier 86. Your mission: to boldly go and discover your role in future starship missions. Cosplay not required.

That, more or less, is the premise of “Star Trek: The Starfleet Academy Experience,” opening today and running through Oct. 31 at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. The conceit is that you are a cadet at the Academy’s Career Day in the 26th century. You pass through zones pertaining to certain specialties — language, medical, navigation, engineering, command and science — and respond to multiple-choice challenges. Later, “cadets” are assigned their role (think military occupational specialty) in a certificate of sorts sent to their e-mail.

This interactive exhibition, produced by EMS Entertainment, is part of the full-court publicity press that CBS is conducting tied to the 50th anniversary of the Star Trek franchise. In addition to “The Starfleet Academy Experience,” Trekkies can anticipate the third installment of J.J. Abrams’ big-screen reboot (Star Trek Beyond, opening July 22) and the premiere of a new Star Trek TV series, spearheading a CBS streaming service starting in January.

If it all sounds a bit corporate, it is. And it looks it, too. The “Experience” lacks the bright light and vibrant colors that flood the decks of the Enterprise in the recent Abrams spectaculars. The ambience here suggests the immaculate interiors of the TV versions, but in shades more muted and accoutrements more nondescript. A similar show has been running in Ottawa, and similar exhibitions are planned for various US cities.

New York’s version of “The Starfleet Academy Experience” has plenty of ancillary events planned, including film screenings, overnight gatherings and astronomy nights. However, its central attraction is the exhibition itself, at its core a series of aptitude questions (no wrong answers) designed to identify your field of expertise on a starship. (Call it “What Color Is My Starfleet Parachute?”)

Of course, this being Star Trek, the zones come with 26th-century tech to play with. Entering through a chamber lighted in fluorescent blues and oranges, you pick up a wristwatch-like contraption that you will rub against a sensor at the various exhibits, activating your experience. In that same chamber you also behold a 6.5m-long model of the original Enterprise, from the production designer Matt Jefferies’ still-inspiring initial conception.

Now you, well, enter the zones. Wall screens offer glimpses into the franchise’s six primetime manifestations. (Go ahead, count them — forgot about Star Trek: Enterprise, didn’t you?) One honors all the captains; another the chief medical officers; another the engineers; and so on. Many of the screens — about, say, transporter devices and beaming technology — are divided between “now” (meaning the future) and “then” (meaning the 21st century and said hardware’s current status of development).

At points, you find costumes from the TV shows and big-screen installments in transparent cases: a ’60s-era Captain Kirk uniform here, a Klingon ensemble from the same era there, Jean-Luc Picard’s Robin Hood costume over there. (Surely you recall the Next Generation episode QPid, in which Captain Picard, clad in Sherwood Forest apparel, rescues the comely Vash. You do not? That is it, no more Romulan ale for you.)

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