Monday, September 30, 2013


This past weekend, Premiere Props had their most recent Hollywood auction (September 29 and 29) that featured items from film and TV productions. They were offering a number of Star Trek items, so they definitely caught my attention.

Unfortunately, PP has a very bad reputation for two aspects of their auctions. The first is shipping in a timely manner. For some reason, the folks at PP are unable to place won items in a box and ship to winners in anything like a reasonable time-frame. They state "Please allow approximately 10-12 weeks from the date payment is received and processed for your order to ship." That's three freaking months! And that's crazy.

The second aspect is their apparent lack of authenticating items they are selling with any sort of accuracy. In their Hollywood Auction X, they offered several classic Star Trek items as original props when they were obviously fakes. Obvious, that is, to those with knowledge of such things. But Premiere made no effort to reach out to those that could definitively tell them whether or not their items were real. And as a company that resells props FOR A LIVING, they had to know of the inherent problems when dealing with Star Trek original series props. They are among the most faked props in the hobby!

Once they were confronted with the truth of the items, they then sold them as "real fakes". I kid you not. They changed the title to "Forgery Communicator". The difference was that the fake sold for $200, while an original would have sold for tens of thousands of dollars. Big difference.

Now we fast-forward to the recent auction and we find that Premiere has added new text to each of their auction listings which specifically deal with authenticity:

"This item has been authenticated and marked with new technology by MovieProps DNA to prevent against fraud and counterfeiting. A panel of industry experts not affiliated with Premiere Props in the movie & TV memorabilia business has authenticated this item. This item now includes three levels of security: 1) DNA laced invisible ink – a 9-digit code laced with DNA ink is placed on an appropriate place of the prop/costume and can be only viewed using a high-frequency UV light. The chances of replicating the specific DNA sequence which is unique to MPDNA is 1 in 33 trillion. This DNA sequence is so secure it is admissible in a court of law.?? 2) Archival Microchip Encrypted Tag - a patented,  acid-free,  1"x 3" tag with an encrypted microchip is placed onto the Certificate of Authenticity. The microchip contained within the tag contains all of the pertinent information about the prop or costume. The tag is tamper proof and the microchip is encrypted,  making it impossible to duplicate.? 3) The certificate also has the 9-digit DNA invisible ink mark which must match the 9-digit invisible ink mark on the prop. This will ensure that it is a genuine prop issued by Premiere Props and authenticated by MPDNA."

Now this is what I call "blinding with bullshit". I don't know about other collectors, but for my money, the ONLY important part of the text deals with authenticity. The rest of it – the MovieProps DNA – is all smoke and mirrors. What we really care about is HOW YOU AUTHENTICATED said prop, not how you then branded it with some high-tech stamp. But while the marking of the prop gets 90% of the attention, the actual authentication issue is handled only with this:

"A panel of industry experts not affiliated with Premiere Props in the movie & TV memorabilia business has authenticated this item."

Who are the individuals that comprise this wondrous panel of experts? We don't know. What's their background and expertise? No idea. But apparently we are supposed to take comfort in the fact that people they won't identify, who have an expertise that we can't evaluate, have authenticated their offerings. Wow, I feel better already. Here, let me throw my hard-earned money at you.

People, PLEASE don't buy into this bull! They are offering you NOTHING in authenticating! Anyone can make a claim. But without substantiation, a claim is worthless. Just as this claim is worthless. So if you bid on anything last weekend based on this "assurance", I've got a bridge to sell you in Brooklyn. This so-called "panel of industry experts not affiliated with Premiere Props" is nothing but a way to make you feel artificially confident in what you are buying, so don't be fooled.

In screen-used prop and costume buying, you really need to do your own, independent research. Talk to other collectors and people in the know. Only when you have independently satisfied yourself that something is legit should you proceed. When it comes to dealing with auction houses there's only one way to approach the situation: question EVERYTHING and believe NOTHING.

The only way that these kinds of things will get fixed in the future is if we call the perpetrators on it now. Don't let them get away with it.



Thursday, September 19, 2013


There's lots of places for Star Trek collectors on the Interweb. But there's only one place dedicated exclusively to screen-used Star Trek props and costumes with a membership that values fun and integrity above all else: The Star Trek Prop Room.

Our members range from long-time collectors to folks looking to buy their very first Star Trek piece. And The Prop Room is not a dictatorship or cult – showing fealty to ANYONE is not a requirement! The only thing you'll need is a passion for Star Trek.

Prop Room members are all honest, decent fans who are ardent screen-used Star Trek collectors, many of whom could be considered experts in their field of collecting. Information is openly available to all members at any time. And as a bonus, there's always buying, selling and trading going on between members. We literally have things that aren't offered ANYWHERE else!

(BTW, there's no fees or premiums involved in buying or selling in The Prop Room and there never will be. That would just be stupid.)

So if this sounds like something worthwhile to YOU, join us today and check it out for yourself. We look forward to meeting you!


Don Hillenbrand

Wednesday, September 18, 2013


These awesome road signs stand outside launch Pad-OA near the Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, left, with its Cygnus cargo spacecraft aboard, at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Virginia. NASA's commercial space partner, Orbital Sciences Corporation, launched the spacecraft today (below), Sept. 18, for its demonstration cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/NASA, Bill Ingalls)
To have private enterprise involved in space is a big step in the right direction (UP!). To see a rocket launched from Virginia, of all places, seems strange to those of us who grew up with everything launching from The Cape, but it shows how far we've come.

Up next: Warp Drive!



Monday, September 16, 2013


Star Trek Into Darkness' is now out on DVD and for those who hoped some of the extra features would include a story that made sense, you're out of luck. Detractors (including me) have said a lot of things about the movie. Most are, frankly nit-picks. I don't expect Chris Pine to sound just like William Shatner, so having Carol Marcus speak with a British accent is not a deal breaker for me.

But whatever you think Star Trek is, was or should be, there is one specific, overwhelming issue with STID that should upset just about every Star Trek fan, and yet it hasn't (and no, I'm not referring to Khan – another, different problem altogether). I'm talking about the infamous "transwarp transporter' that was first introduced in the last film as a "deus ex machina" – a plot device introduced out of nowhere to satisfy an impossible situation with an equally ludicrous solution. In short, the "transwarp transporter" (TT) can apparently transport people from one point to another no matter the receiving end's location, distance or speed. And it can do it instantaneously! It's one of those things that you assume the writers want you to not notice and then they never bring it up again. But no! This singularly bad idea was resurrected for Star Trek Into Darkness, which means that from now on, this device is part of this Star Trek's universe.

"So what," you say? "What's the big deal?" Well, let's look at this (forgive me) logically. We now have a device that can beam someone to...well... anywhere. Across solar systems, across even interstellar space...ANYWHERE!!!

Which begs a question: why does Star Trek need starships anymore?

Simply put, it doesn't – the TT makes starships obsolete. I'm not splitting hairs or using selective truth to make a point. Given the way the device is used IN TWO FILMS, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is the fact that Star Trek no longer needs an Enterprise or any other ship to get from here to there, because now you can transport lightyears in a snap. And like that metaphorical gorilla, this fact is totally ignored.

And therein lies the problem that I have with these movies. Director JJ Abrams and his writers invented the TT just to fill a plot hole and in so doing Abrams negates the very premise upon which Star Trek is built – exploration of the Galaxy aboard the Starship Enterprise – and is either not aware of it or simply doesn't care. There are no other options.

But despite the TT being a game-changer in our fictional universe, after each time it is used, there's no acknowledgement that the basics of Trek science and warp physics have been redefined by this miraculous device. But how can that be? If we suddenly had a device that could send us from our homes to the other side of the planet (or anywhere else) in an instant, we wouldn't need cars anymore. Trains and planes would cease to be used, and our civilization would forever be changed, right? THIS WOULD BE A BIG DEAL!!!

Alas, apparently in the world of new Star Trek, everyone forgets about this ground-breaking technology until such a time as they need it to perform yet another miracle. And that is simply lousy storytelling, whether you're talking Star Trek, Sherlock Holmes, or Hamlet. 

By needlessly introducing this magical device we are left with nothing but a non sequitur: if the world of Star Trek has Transwarp Transporters then we don't need the Enterprise, but if we don't need the Enterprise, we can't tell very interesting stories, so we can't have Transwarp Transporters, but we DO have Transwarp Transporters, but that means...

And on and on and on.

Unfortunately, the Transwarp Transporter is only a symptom, not the real disease. The true sickness with STID is the willingness to trade-off true, emotional storytelling with expediency. What's next – a hand phaser that can incinerate a planet? Don't laugh – to JJ it's just another plot device to make a situation easy to resolve.

Star Trek shouldn't be easy. Our heroes shouldn't be able to get out of situations via magic technology or magic blood or magic screenplays. They should win because they are smarter, more capable and more determined than their opponent. Trick transporters bely that.

Star Trek has always been about the human condition and aspiring to be better. The action part has always, ALWAYS been subordinate to the story, just as it was with the original Star Wars, for instance. I need Star Trek to be better than Armageddon and Transformers. I need it to aspire to greatness, not settle for being popcorn fodder. Copying Wrath of Khan or simply mentioning the word "family" does not make for truly emotional connections. I need more depth than duplication.

A friend of mine recently said that he'd rather have bad Star Trek than no Trek at all. I'm exactly the opposite. If Star Trek aspires to be something greater than mindless entertainment and fails, so be it. But to set the bar so low as ID does is selling Star Trek short. I hope the next Trek is turned over to someone who is fundamentally a better storyteller. A person that understands that the story is the most important part of any movie and that to settle for stitching together a series of action scenes that make no sense lacks vision.

It's HARD to make a good movie. So we need better, smarter people making them. My favorite Trek film, Wrath of Khan, is not flawless, but it has no deal breakers – moments so incredulous as to pull me out of the story. I don't need a perfect movie – just one that doesn't insult my intelligence.



Monday, September 9, 2013


Today's special guest blogger is Brett Leggett, a life-long Star Trek fan and avid collector of screen-used Star Trek props and costumes. Brett's article features a very cool piece that spanned two decades of use in various Star Trek productions.

The intrepid Dr. McCoy operates with help from his trusty Biobed Monitor
From cell phones to virtual reality, we've heard a lot about the Star Trek universe’s influence on real technology. Though taken for granted, Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy’s Biobed Monitor was the precursor to modern advances in non-invasive patient monitoring and diagnosis. While the hand-held tricorder has always been the more popular medical device, Biobed Monitors have actually appeared on-screen more frequently over the years, serving an important technological and dramatic role in every incarnation of the franchise. Although I'm a doctor, not a writer, I think Bones would allow me this homage to the prop known as the Biobed Monitor given his reliance on it during times of crisis on board the Enterprise. And I guess it’s fitting that, as a doctor, I’m the lucky owner of one of the few (only?) surviving specimens of the Biobed Monitor in existence. I was very fortunate to obtain my Monitor from the collection of Star Trek artist and designer Doug Drexler several years ago. (This was the same piece presented on the "Collecting Star Trek's Movie Relics" special feature that appears on the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Blu-Ray release).

The Monitor with its various readings helped tell the story.
Unlike technology available in 1966, the biobed monitor gave Dr. McCoy the diagnostic answers he needed quickly and clearly, without the need for invasive procedures, or instruments of any kind. That same speed and visual clarity also became an integral part of Trek's dramatic storytelling. In “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, we watch Gary Mitchell in sickbay evolving into a power-obsessed super being who shows Dr. Dehner that he can stop his heart and simulate death. Does Dr. Dehner use her stethoscope to confirm her observations? Does she check his pulse? Nope. She watches in amazement as the life functions on Gary's Biobed Monitor plummet to zero. Without a word of dialogue, we realize along with Dr. Dehner just how powerful Gary Mitchell is becoming. Whether heightening the drama of Spock's life-saving transfusion to his father, or suggesting there's more to Mudd's Women than meets the eye, the monitors frequently helped to advance the plot in fast, simple, understated ways. My high school English teacher always used to say that when writing a story, it was more effective to "show" rather than to "tell." The Biobed Monitors did just that.

Even the Mirror Universe had Monitors!
Biobed Monitors have a colorful history beginning with The Original Series (TOS). The Enterprise sickbay set included 4 Biobeds each with a large wall-mounted Monitor. Each one had displays with six large vital sign readout bars for temperature, brain function, "lungs" "cell rate," and two for information related to blood counts. A small triangle next to each bar served as an arrow, bouncing up and down from moment to moment, in sync with the patient’s clinical status. Two centrally-placed circular lights flashed to indicate pulse and respiratory rate while a clear diagnostic "probe" sat below the monitor itself, projecting just a few inches from the wall and conveying the idea that the Monitor never physically touched the patient while making its diagnosis. While it's very unlikely that any of these monitors survived after the original set was struck in 1969 (although I'd love to be wrong), their significance in the Trek universe was secure. When the Enterprise returned after a ten year hiatus in 1979's Star Trek: The Motion Picture (TMP), Bones' sickbay was revamped with a full bank of sleek new bed-mounted monitors. Viewers could now take for granted that no starship sickbay would ever again be portrayed without these diagnostic marvels at the head of each bed. In fact, from 1978 to 1994, the specific monitors created for TMP would earn their own place in Trek history, racking up more light-years across Trek productions than almost any other prop or set piece.

The first of the "updated" Monitors in TMP.
The Monitors get a power surge in TWOK.
The Monitors are bequeathed to The Next Generation with TWOK graphics.
A couple of Monitors get a facelift for 1991's Star Trek VI.
 In TMP, we first see these new biobed monitors as Spock recovers from his mind meld with V'ger. While his Monitor is not actually active, we can see other lit versions in the background. With 1982's Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (TWOK) we see all the monitors illuminated in their full glory after Khan's initial attack on the Enterprise. Although featured only for a few moments, the row of green and red monitors helped convey the sobering reality of the casualties the ship had just suffered. The Monitors then sat unused until 1987 when they were resurrected for use in Dr. Crusher’s Sickbay on the all-new Enterprise-D of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Two Monitors would then be modified for use in 1991’s Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, using all new graphics that matched the look of that film.

When I received the Monitor, I was a bit surprised at its bulk and weight (30+ pounds). The fiberglass housing contained an array of light sockets, wires, and wood and metal pieces. Two curved brackets on each side of the housing were held in place by large silver threaded knobs, allowing for adjustment of the display angle. The lower portion of each bracket was flat, allowing the monitor to be bolted onto the biobed itself. A black plexi-covered graphic with large static readout bars paralleled those of the original series, but with two less bars than their TOS counterparts: one on the left labeled "BRAIN" with three on the right labeled, "CIRC," "RESP," and "TEMP."  Also unlike the TOS monitors, the triangle-shaped arrows pointing to the readout bars were also static.  Although just to the right of the "BRAIN" readout were several small square and circular areas where red, green, or yellow film had been attached to the plexi. These areas were illuminated from behind by small flasher bulbs, adding to the illusion that the Monitor was "working."

My Biobed Monitor – ready to be installed in Sickbay.
When a Monitor was plugged in, the large vital sign bars would light up with the aid of utility-sized fluorescent bulbs. A toggle switch in the back of the housing gave the option of turning the accompanying flashers on and off depending on how "active" one wanted the lighted display to appear. Portions of the main readout bars were some combination of green and red, the greater amount of red originally intended to reflect the increased severity of the patient's condition (as was the case with many of Khan’s victims). However, when used in a greater variety of clinical situations on TNG, the limitations of these static displays became more apparent. Portions of status bars occasionally appeared red even when Dr. Crusher's patients looked completely well or not even present!
Dr. Crusher using a Monitor in "Dark Page" – a perfect match for mine!
Even when out of focus, the vivid red WOK style shows through on TNG.
I had made certain assumptions about the surviving graphic panels, believing these must have been replaced since their use on TWOK. However, on-screen evidence convinced me this was not the case, at least with most of them. The Monitors’ style of graphics were clearly "Pre-TNG" – they lacked the visual continuity of the LCARS style established by Michael Okuda for TNG. However, while not technically in the LCARS style, their appearance was similar enough that they could be easily integrated into the look of Dr. Crusher’s sickbay. Reusing the monitors was visually workable, efficient, and cost effective. It's also safe to assume that the monitors remained in excellent condition given their light use in TWOK five years earlier. Aside from unscrewing a plexi for the occasional light bulb change or some paint touch-ups, it's likely the monitors would have done just fine without any significant modifications during TNG's entire seven-year run. 

Voyager Monitors were close cousins but not a match.
I also thought that the biobed monitors had been reused again when construction of Voyager's sickbay began in 1994. After all, the general shape of the Voyager monitors were the same, and Trek productions had become very adept at reuse and repurposing by the mid-1990s. However, Doug Drexler dispelled this theory when he told me that Voyager Production Designer Richard James wanted a brand new set of monitors built for Voyager's sickbay. In fact, Doug told me a great story about how he obtained my monitor. In 1994, filming wrapped on TNG's first big screen outing, Generations. As had been done with the refit Enterprise eight years earlier, portions of the Enterprise-D sets would be dismantled or modified in preparation for the new series, Voyager. Whatever props and set pieces were not incorporated into Voyager's design were stored in Paramount's warehouses, or simply thrown away (much of it had been destroyed or damaged during the filming of Generations).  Sadly enough, the latter would be the monitors’ fate. Doug spotted the monitor I eventually obtained from him in a dumpster outside the art department on the Paramount lot; he went dumpster diving and rescued it. Unfortunately, he suspects that most (if not all) of the remaining monitors were destroyed.  

My style of Monitor – mostly green – only shows up in a few episodes.
One of the advantages of having static displays is that the different colors make screen-matching possible. My screen is unusual in that it does not use the WOK style that most Monitors display. Mine is mostly green with a distinctive red button. I was recently watching TNG Season 1 on Blu-Ray, and during the episode “Home Soil,” spotted a monitor hanging from the ceiling of the Enterprise-D science lab. All of the readouts were colored green just like mine (all green or “all healthy” appears to have been the less common display variation). Not having looked at the back of my monitor in awhile, I reasoned that if it was the same prop, there should be some evidence that suggests it had once been mounted from the ceiling. Sure enough, there were four bolts and old paint that formed the outline of a rectangle in the center of the monitor housing. It was obvious that a piece not original to the monitor—like a bracket— had once occupied that space, presumably to mount it to the rod that hung from the science lab ceiling.

While admittedly arcane, it's these kinds of details that can help spot a favorite prop or costume, and enhance the enjoyment of episodes and movies some of us have loved for decades. Productions have come and gone, and dumpsters have been filled and emptied. Thankfully, a prop that helped our  fictional heroes survive through the years is a survivor itself. As a Trek fan, history buff, and medical professional, it’s a special treat to help preserve this bit of Trek history.


Friday, September 6, 2013


This week's Clapper shot is from one of the all-time great episodes (at least, in my opinion!), "The Trouble With Tribbles". This scene features Captain Kirk getting an update from Dr. McCoy on just what the heck these tribbles are. A plastic bin filled with the pulsating little beasties sits between them.

Clapper info: August 22, 1967 / Scene 33A / Take 2.