It has been several years since the last time I’ve been to Starfest, so when the opportunity came up to attend this year’s sci-fi convention, I decided to jump on it. April has been an exceptionally busy month for me in terms of projects, activities, planning and organizing various tasks. I would have gladly taken Saturday off to unwind and relax. But then again, Starfest comes only once a year! So, I made the plunge and bought a pair of tickets for myself and Stephanie, who really didn’t need much convincing to come along. She was excited to attend her first sci-fi convention and was actually quite enthusiastic about the sheer awesome geekiness and grandeur of the event.
The most frustrating aspect of sci-fi conventions is also the same one which plagues all film festivals: it is simply impossible to see and experience everything in the program, because multiple events always overlap. You have to pick and choose your battles, but something cool is always bound to be missed. C’est la vie.
Stephanie and I got to the Mariott at DTC around 10am, walked to the registration desk and picked up our tickets and convention brochures. We looked at the schedule and made a tentative list of things we wanted to see. The crowds were already trickling in and we began to see many people in costumes, waving their magic wands and light sabers. Now, I am what you would call a passive science fiction fan. I love sci-fi, and I definitely geek out on many TV shows, books and films. When I was younger, I also used to love building scale models from kits and collect Star Wars toys on occasion. However, I’ve never really belonged to any fan clubs, or been the one to dress up in costumes, even though I get a huge kick out of seeing other people wearing them.
The first event we went to was Ed Kramer’s (ILM technical advisor on all three recent Star Wars films) presentation about the history of special effects and motion capture. We watched about 10 minutes of it before going upstairs to see a panel on the portrayal of the military in science fiction, led by authors Mario Acevedo and Dayton Ward, and moderated by David Boop. I’ve never heard of any of these guys, but according to the convention brochure, Mario Acevedo has written such books as The Undead Kama Sutra, X-Rated Bloodsuckers and The Nymphos of Rocky Flats. Awesome titles, what can I say. We were only able to catch the last half of the panel, but it was definitely a stimulating discussion, and also something I’m interested in. The military sci-fi subgenre has always been one of my favorites (especially in great works such as Ender’s Game, Starship Troopers, Aliens, and TV series like Space: Above and Beyond and Battlestar Galactica). Unfortunately, the small panel room was full, so Stephanie and I stood by the doorway, from where it was very difficult to hear what people were saying. There was some discussion about the Star Wars prequels vs. originals, the issues of deep-space communication and military chain-of-command, among a few other things.
A man standing next to us was leaving, so he handed me a little red ticket. “What’s this?” I asked him, and he replied that they were going to do a raffle at the end of the discussion, for a small prize. I thanked him. So, when it was time for the raffle, much to my surprise, the number of my little red ticket came up! Amused, I walked up to the panel table, where Mario Acevedo presented me with a small red rubber duck, autographed. He said it is known to bring luck, but the luck could be either good or bad, so I should be careful. Stephanie and I were much amused.
We walked downstairs to the autograph line to check out the Adam Baldwin autograph signing. I gotta say, I love Adam Baldwin. Most people probably know him from the great but short-lived TV show called Firefly (masterminded by the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon) and its follow-up film, Serenity. But, he also appeared in a vast heap of other cool things including The X-Files, Independence Day, Full Metal Jacket and much, much more. We were going to see Adam at the Q&A at 3pm, but I wanted to get a few photos of him up-close, which I probably wouldn’t have gotten the chance to do later.
We had a little bit of downtime before the next event (Warner Brothers’ Get Smart presentation and Q&A with actors Masi Oka and Nate Torrence at noon), so we strolled down to the Dealers Room and did a lap around the tents and tables filled with a myriad of cool/geeky sci-fi things – action figures, t-shirts, buttons, toys, books, DVDs, posters, autographed photos, swords, costumes, and god knows what else. By chance, we came across a clearance bin with some crappy plastic toys, but miraculously, we found a pretty kick-ass Alien figurine for only $2 bucks. I don’t really buy toys anymore, but damnit – it was $2 bucks, I couldn’t just pass that up! Along with the toy, the vendor gave me a matchbox from the original Star Trek motion picture. Once again, I admitted to myself that I am, in fact, a geek.
After the Dealers Room, we stopped by to check out the Art Show. As always, there were some mediocre works, but there were also quite a few amazing pieces. I especially enjoyed the set of photos by Carl Chopp that used Denver city landmarks as backdrops for scenes from famous Hollywood science fiction films. It was hilarious and incredibly imaginative.
When Stephanie and I got to the Main Events stage, it was already packed. We couldn’t spot any empty seats, when a familiar face showed up in the crowd and gestured us to follow him. It was David Boop from the Military in Sci-Fi panel. He had two empty seats next to him, so Stephanie and I plopped ourselves down and thanked him. We introduced ourselves and David gave me his card. He was surprised to learn that my name was Vadim, because he happens to have a Russian character in one of his novels with the same name! But, he’s never actually met anyone named that, until now. Small world. Now, I’ll have to check out his book, as well! We talked for a couple of minutes, before the presentation started. They showed a clip with the airplane scene from Get Smart, which was hysterical. Steve Carell is awesome, and I definitely cannot wait to see this movie. When the video was over, Masi Oka and Nate Torrence came onto the stage for the Q&A. Besides having a part in Get Smart, Masi Oka, of course, plays Hiro Nakamura on Heroes. Both he and Nate Torrence were very animated and seemed happy to be there. They praised Steve Carell and talked about how much fun it was to work with him. Masi said that Steve was very down-to-earth and humble in real life. You’d think Steve would be funny and cracking jokes all the time, but it was strange to hear him talking about something mundane, like the real estate market. Masi also talked about his prior work at ILM before he got into acting. All in all, it was a fun presentation, but some of the questions asked by the audience members were downright idiotic. Unfortunately, this happens at many Q&As where fans finally get a chance to meet and interact with their celebrity heroes and all they can come up with is something like “So, uh, what’s your favorite color?”
The Speed Racer presentation followed, but Stephanie and I had to leave, since we wanted to check out the Zachary Quinto autograph signing. As we were leaving Main Events hall, David invited us to come to his Flying Pen Press Space Pirates discussion panel at 2pm and we said we’ll try. He seemed like a really nice guy.
We left Main Events hall walked down to the autograph line. Zachary Quinto showed up just as we got there. It was almost surreal to see Sylar (and future Spock!) up close, sitting just a few feet away, sporting a hipster hat and thick black-framed glasses. I snapped a few shots of him, before we moved on to the Atrium. I didn’t realize this, but now that I think about it – it’s kind of crazy how in the last several weeks I brushed shoulders with a large chunk of J.J. Abrams’ universe, first with Lost (Jeremy Davies and William Mapother), and now the new Star Trek film (Zachary Quinto). It definitely feels surreal.
After wandering around the Atrium and taking in all the sights and sounds (501st Storm Trooper battalion photo ops, Hollywood movie replica vehicles from Jurassic Park and Ghostbusters, various fan club tables and overall convention mayhem), hunger started to kick in and Stephanie and I decided to sit down at the café for some grub. The place was packed, and while we waited for our orders, I grabbed my camera and walked over to the other side of the Atrium to get some shots of the Intergalactic Belly Dancers performing in front of a dazzled crowd.
After lunch, we hit up the Model Room, where I was surprised to find the amazing talking B9 Robot. I would go as far as to say that this was the coolest thing I’ve seen so far at the convention (variations of this robot appeared in classics like Lost In Space and Forbidden Planet). You had to be there to appreciate it. Especially, his “impersonations” of other talking computers, like HAL 9000. The whole thing was just awesome.
I’ve always liked scale models of vehicles and creatures from famous sci-fi movies and TV shows, so checking out the Model Room was a lot of fun.
By then, it was almost 3 o’clock, and we started heading back to the Main Events hall for the Adam Baldwin Q&A. Unfortunately, as we got caught up in other Starfest activities, we never made it to David’s Space Pirates panel.
The Adam Baldwin Q&A was incredibly entertaining. He’s one funny and personable guy, and it was especially cool to find out that his brother lives in Boulder, and Adam has been there quite a few times and even climbed the third Flat Iron. He talked about his acting career, about Firefly and how it changed his life, about his bit in Independence Day, and how he would love to work with kids. Hopefully, we’ll see more of him in the future.
After the Baldwin Q&A, we wandered around the convention floor for a little while longer, got some freebie movie posters, took more photos and then walked back to the Main Events hall to see the last part of the Trailer Park and the following Q&A with Zachary Quinto. Zachary was very eloquent and seemed like a very intelligent actor. He talked in some detail about his career, the characters he plays, about Heroes and the much-anticipated J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film (coming in May 2009). Zachary also spoke about his early struggles as an unknown actor in LA and his perseverence that ultimately paid off. It was all very inspiring.
We finally left the convention around 7pm with a tentative plan to have some downtime and then come back in time for the Costume Contest and Federation Ball. However, we were both so tired from the overwhelmingly packed day of activities, that we finally decided to just head back home. By choosing to see some events, we missed others, including seeing Nichelle Nichols (Uhura in the original Star Trek series), Cliff Simon (Stargate SG-1), Nana Visitor and Anne Lockhart. Like I said – you have to choose your battles. All in all, we had a great time.
Apparently, Summer Glau has been invited to Starfest 2009. I’ll definitely have to plan on attending that one, if only for that reason. Hey, I said I was a geek, didn’t I?