Monday, April 15, 2024

A Stroll Through Science Fiction Style

Now and for the next few months, the largest exhibition space in the Norton Museum of Art is transformed into Nerd Central – a name I give it that with pride and kinship, not derogation. The show is called “Out of This World: Extraordinary Costumes From Film and Television,” and if it doesn’t bring the highly sought-after youth demographic to the museum, I can’t imagine what will.

Besting the Boca Raton Museum of Art’s earlier seasonal costume show, which focused on pretty but stolid historical raiment, “Out of This World” instead gazes into the future, culling its material from science fiction staples. “Star Wars” earns two rooms – or portals, as I prefer to call them – and includes some of the exhibition’s most impressive material, from Luke Skywalker’s signature orange suit to the costumes of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader flanking the doors in the entry room like sentinels to an incredibly lifelike mold of Mark Hamill’s hand.

Patrons then wind their way through a smaller room, which boasts instantly recognizable apparel from “Ghostbusters,” “Blade Runner,” and one of the most endearing pieces in the exhibit, the original “Tron,” in all its primitive affectation. Then there’s the inevitable “Star Trek” room, a veritable wet dream for Trekkies that I, having never seen a “Star Trek” episode, found a bit unrelatable.

Finally, the last portal of the show is my favorite of the bunch – part superhero iconography, part essential cinema catch-all that includes everything from Batman to Highlander to the Terminator and Indiana Jones. Scratchy video clips play on loops on giant screens throughout the show, acting as both reminders and introductions to the main attraction.

A touring exhibition, “Out of This World” originated at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle and is drawn from the collection of Microsoft cofounder and philanthropist Paul Allen, an unrepentant sci-fi nut. Curator Jacob McMurray, who led the press through an early tour of the exhibit, shares Allen’s passion while bringing an intellectual bent to these mass-marketed uniforms. Finding broader, philosophical strains in the costumes, McMurray speaks of them as a way of “distilling the complexity of life into good and evil” and calls attention to the promotion of the colors red, white and blue in many of the superhero costumes of the mid-20th century, as a way to remind fans about America’s postwar hope for the future.

Perhaps more importantly, McMurray says, “every aspect [of the costume] is designed to amplify the attributes of the character.” We tend to overlook the fact that, in science fiction especially, the costume designs are our conduit into the character’s mindset. They tend to be overlooked — taken for granted even — in a film-critic establishment that puts all of its eggs in the baskets of acting proficiency, directorial innovation and depth of meaning. By focusing on the fascinating minutiae that went into creating these unforgettable costumes – like Vader’s iconic suit, which combined influences from medieval, motorcycle, military and monk wear – the show isolates their greatness. What is often glossed over as one cog in Hollywood’s dream factory becomes the star itself, and it leaves an unforgettable impression.

“Out of This World: Extraordinary Costumes From Film and Television” is at the Norton Museum of Art, 1451 S. Olive Ave., through Sept. 4. Call 561/832-5196 or visit

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