STAR TREK ADVENTURE: That Time My Dad Was A Klingon

Universal’s best worst attraction.

One of my earliest memories is of fearing that real-life Klingons were going to get me. 

Opening in June 1988, Star Trek Adventure was a filmed stage show that blended stock footage, visual effects, and live performances by visitors into an 8-minute “original” Star Trek story. You could attend as a spectator, but the real attraction came from signing up to be in the show. They’d put you in Klingon or Starfleet costumes, give you little tasks to do and tableaus to form, or - in the case of the Klingon captain - a line of dialogue to bellow on cue. Stock footage of the Original Series cast was spliced into the live footage, making it seem almost - but not quite - like a real Star Trek adventure. And naturally, participants could order a VHS tape of the finished short, so they could share “their” adventure with every family member foolhardy enough to watch.

We have one of those video tapes. It features my dad as a Klingon.

As you might expect, your average Star Trek Adventure show is tough to sit through unless you knew someone involved. Although the sets were accurate replicas of the Enterprise and a Klingon bird-of-prey, the volunteer actors were invariably either over-the-top hammy or self-consciously static. The directors tried to wring too much comedy out of “hilarious” child crewmembers and pratfalls, and the general amateurishness lent these otherwise authentic-looking shows the charming air of a primary school production. My dad was no different, flailing enthusiastically as best he could while apparently unable to contain his glee at simply being a Klingon.

The Klingon captain roared with gusto, though. Enough gusto that I cowered under my seat in the audience, terrified at how real it all seemed. My mother tried in vain to reassure me that they were just actors - one of them is your dad! - but the fact that my father was one of the beastly creatures roaring before me only made things worse. I think I always associated him with Worf, to some degree, and maybe this was part of the reason.

Irrespective of the knowingly cheesy amateur performances, Star Trek Adventure is actually a serviceable old-school Star Trek story, if a simplistic one. It sees the Enterprise and the Klingons both caught by a mysterious entity above an uncharted planet. Starfleet and Klingon away teams alike are attacked by this entity, and Enterprise crew members take it upon themselves to rescue the Klingons. Both crews return to their ships, and when the Enterprise itself is attacked by the entity, the Klingon captain - desperate to regain his honour - blows it away, saving everyone. At that point, the entity dissolves, replaced by telepathic Preceptors, who explain that they created the scenario in order to show both sides the error of their warring ways.

That’s Star Trek in a nutshell, isn’t it? Mystery, a little action, and a life lesson at the end of it. And all in less than ten minutes.

Growing up without today's media availability glut, I watched our recording of Star Trek Adventure many times. I watched it so much, apparently, that our tape is all but ruined, refusing to play on any of the VCRs I attempted to run it through for this story. Thanks to that shitty, unreliable video format, I can’t share the February 2nd, 1992 show featuring my dad (or ever watch it again), so you’ll have to make do with this one, featuring just some randos:

For a while, that crappy Universal attraction defined the Star Trek franchise for me. Thanks to Adventure, my idea of Star Trek began as one of weird, big ideas swathed in weird, cheap production value (despite the use of the movies’ Enterprise-refit production model for effects shots), which isn’t that far from what makes the original series so appealing. My dad's involvement would also continue, as he introduced me to the broader world of Star Trek. Going from that little stage show to the original series, the movies, and the then-airing The Next Generation was like watching a universe unfold before my eyes, with my dad as a guide.

Star Trek Adventure ran up to ten times a day from 1988 to 1994, making its Klingon, Preceptor, and Starfleet characters technically the most-recast roles in franchise history. A separate Star Trek Adventure attraction opened at Universal’s Orlando park a couple years later, but its reliance on blue-screen tech took away a lot of the silly charm of dropping people onto a stage, arming them with foam rocks, and making them wail on one another. 

My dad got to be a Klingon that day. He might not have been very good at it, but fuck you - he was a Klingon, and you (probably) weren’t. Happy 50th anniversary, Star Trek. Long may you reign.

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