Into the unknown, at the London Barbican. A review.

Ray Harryhausen Dinosaurs

Yesterday I visited “Into the Unknown“, a Science Fiction exhibition which is currently on at the Barbican, London, and will tour later apparently. This is my review of what I saw there.

The space within the centre they have chosen to use is a bit odd, to say the least. They call it “The Curve”, and it’s not really good for this kind of thing. It’s fairly narow and tall, and feels cramped. Many of the exhibits are a long way up, making it difficult to see them properly.

A dome habitat from "Silent Running"
A dome habitat from “Silent Running”

And they have gone for the cliched lighting approach of making the area really dark, with spotlights – this makes it really difficult to appreciate what is on show, and a seriously bad idea. Still, at least it’s not as badly lit as the space section of the London Science Museum, I suppose.

But it’s definitely not all bad. By far the most impressive aspect is the sheer number of items they have managed to gather here. from a huge range of sources.

Stop motion miniatures by Ray Harryhausen
Stop motion miniatures by Ray Harryhausen

I was pleasantly surprised to some good serious space art here – there a panel with a collection of works by Alexey Leonov and Andrei Sokolov for example. And a collection of serious illustrated adverts from aerospace companies of the 1960’s. And even a couple of large originals from Collier’s “Man will conquer space soon!”

Man will conquer space soon!"
“Man will conquer space soon!”

Large screens with loops of famous SF films are everywhere.

The collected SF space suits are particulaly impressive, with examples from “Moon”, “Star Trek”, “Sunshine”, “Alien”, and “Destination Moon”.

Space Suit from "Alien"
Space Suit from “Alien”. Note the cricket pads.

 Those with an interest in the models used in SF films will also find much to interest them, though here another major probelm is apparent.

The craft from Fantastic Voyage
The craft from Fantastic Voyage

Whilst there is plenty of good stuff, there’s also a load of things where you really wonder why they bothered. Is anyone still interested in “Land of the Giants”? Or the lycra kitch version of Buck Rogers? Or glass cases full of worn SF paperbacks? 

But you get the irritation little “tweaky” robot, right next to the much more iconic robot from “Lost in Space”.

The robot from "Lost in Space"
The robot from “Lost in Space”

Much better are items like the original “Luna” miniature from “Destination Moon”, And a chair and Alien Head by H R Giger.

The "Luna" from "Destinatioin Moon"
The “Luna” from “Destinatioin Moon”
H R Giger, Alien Head.
H R Giger, Alien Head.

Overall impression

The overal impression I get is that they grabbed prettty much anything they could get their hands on , and jammed it into a space which was not really suitable. This is a shame, as some of the items on exhibit here are very impressive indeed.

But if you enjoy your visual SF, from TV or film, it’s worth going to see. And it’s cool that they let you take photos. Just try and avoid the busier times.

Masks from Stargate
Masks from Stargate

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