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Friday, April 29, 2005

Shooting for stars
Starfest 2005 to feature William Shatner, Claudia Christian and Klingons galore

Valerie Singleton
The Daily Times-Call


Brian Toohey holds a Klingon battle blade amongst about a third of his memorabilia collection at his family’s business, Tables to Teacups in Longmont. Toohey has attended 32 sci-fi conventions in the past 12 years, and has collected about 2,000 autographs. Toohey plans to add Shatner’s signature to his collection at this weekend’s festival.
Times-Call/Erin McCracken

LONGMONT — Put Brian Toohey down for three Shatners.

For $40 apiece, he will get his hands on the much-coveted signature of the man behind “Star Trek’s” Capt. Kirk — William Shatner — who will appear at Denver’s premier science fiction fest this Sunday.

The autograph will make a nice addition to Toohey’s massive collection of roughly 2,000 celebrity signatures, many of which he picked up while attending science fiction conventions — 32 in 12 years, to be exact — across the country.

If that’s not impressive, consider Toohey’s other science fiction collection: valuable dolls and figurines; vintage “Star Wars” jeans; “Star Trek” Christmas ornaments; late-1980s Russian Babushka dolls bearing the images of Mr. Spock, Capt. Kirk and others; video games; old TV Guide magazines featuring sci-fi stars; a Klingon battle blade; and the centerpieces, two props used in the TV series “Deep Space 9.”

“Some people buy houses,” Toohey says. “I do this. I’m one of the insane many.”

Consider “many” an understatement in this instance. The attendance at any event that caters to Trekkies, Klingon wannabes and sci-fi groupies can be more appropriately defined as “hordes.”

The faithful have been stigmatized by unflattering monikers: geeks, dweebs, losers. But with the dawn of technological savvy on the tube and screen — eliciting high ratings and mass appeal — that perception has wavered slightly.

“I personally believe that all kinds of people go to these conventions,” Longmont resident Bret Smith says.

He should know, too. He’s been attending Denver sci-fi conventions since 1986. He’s met a lot of people since then, folks no different than your average reality TV junkie.

Granted, there are people in costume who appear to be perpetually in character at these functions.

“It does have that really bad ‘Saturday Night Live’ feeling,” admits KathE Walker, a founder and coordinator of Denver’s Starfest. “I don’t know that they’re any stranger than any of the people who go to the Avalanche games.”

Instead of Peter Forsberg, think Shatner, the lovely Claudia Christian (“Babylon 5”) and the hypnotic Julian McMahon (“Charmed,” “Nip/Tuck,” “The Fantastic Four”).

In its 28th year, Starfest is an impressive outgrowth of its humble beginnings. What started as a “Star Trek” convention and a promo for the first “Star Wars” movie has evolved into a weekend extravaganza.

Some of the most highly anticipated events include special presentations on upcoming blockbusters (“The Fantastic Four” and possibly “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith”); a film festival; and meet-and-greet sessions with authors, actors/actresses and other major sci-fi players.

Klingon clubs are organizing a treasure hunt. There will be panels to help children distinguish between science fact and fiction, airbrush courses and Japanese anime presentations.

Yet for all Starfest’s pomp and glory, true sci-fi fans seem to appreciate it for its social and educational benefits, Walker says. There, you can discuss the resurgence of the ’80s cartoon “Transformers,” sit in a crowded room and pick the brain of a sci-fi production icon (coordinators are hoping to have “Star Wars” special effects guru Dennis Muren on hand) or defend your favorite superhero sidekick.

Starfest has come a long way since 1977, when it wasn’t unusual to snag a celebrity guest’s autograph free of charge.

In spring ’77 — just 11 years after a 16-year-old Walker first caught “Star Trek” fever while watching it on television — Starfest was slowly blossoming.

The inspiration behind Walker’s decision to start a “Trek”-focused convention came from bigger gatherings across the country, the interest expressed by Denverites and “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry himself.

Roddenberry had recently visited Denver for another “Trek”-related event and caught wind of the enthusiasm in the area, Walker recalls.

“I said, ‘There’s got to be people out there who want to get together and talk about it,’” he says.

They wanted to do more than talk; “Star Trek” fans wanted to compare notes, emulate their icons by donning costumes and learn about other happenings in a sci-fi community that was largely underground, according to Walker.

“Fans were starved for science fiction,” Walker says, adding that the original “Star Trek” series had ended its run eight years earlier. “There really wasn’t a lot going on with science fiction. People wanted to get together and talk about it and relive the whole thing.”

So when Paramount studios contacted Walker and asked if the convention would be interested in promoting a new science fiction film by showing a movie trailer of its upcoming release, “Star Wars,” she hopped at the chance.

“It had all these really cool special effects,” she says. “It was like something we’d never seen before, and it was absolutely amazing. It was very well received.”

Almost 30 years later, the convention has broadened its focus, including comic books, cartoons, popular TV series — ranging from the various Star Trek spin-offs to Buffy the Vampire Slayer — and big-screen blockbusters.

And what was once broken into two yearly events — Starfest was held in the spring, while coordinators hosted a separate fall event, StarCon — has been combined into one elaborate celebration. Since its inception, Starfest has laid out the red carpet for Tom Cruise, Jeff Goldblum and Francis Ford Coppola.

Aside from meeting the familiar faces of Hollywood, Toohey says he looks forward to seeing convention regulars from as far away as England. In fact, he enjoys the realm of Starfest for the very reasons he embraces his beloved “Star Trek.”

“I think it’s the characters and the positive outlook for humanity,” Toohey says. “Earth is at peace, all cultures get along, there’s no hunger ...”

Valerie Singleton can be reached at 303-684-5319, or by e-mail at vsingleton<