At one time or another, most major franchises showcase the best of what they have created to their fans. Not through television or film, but through public displays and major events. But despite its popularity there’s never been a major static or or touring Transformers exhibition. But why not, and is it something the Transformers brand could pull off?
Why Are We Drawn To Exhibitions?
As fans, sometimes just watching shows and collecting merchandise isn’t enough. The need to connect with a franchise is so great that we look for something else. For a lot of us, we crave socialising with other like minded fans at conventions. But exhibitions offer something more that conventions can’t. With most franchises they offer an incredible glimpse behind the scenes and ways to interact that we couldn’t possibly imagine.
Being up close to original props, replica sets and costumes makes you feel as if you’re a part of the show you enjoy watching. Seeing rarities that have been locked behind closed doors is a unique experience and is generally something you’ll never forget. Being mere feet away from something that you have only ever seen on screen before forms memories that will usually last a lifetime for most fans.
One of the most well known was the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas. Not only was this filled with the largest collection of props and models from decades of the show, but the interactive exhibition recreated vast areas of the Deep Space Nine sets for visitors to explore. Seeing props behind glass cases is one thing, but feeling as if you are in the show – even more for those attending in cosplay – was mind-blowing.
Being located in the heart of Las Vegas inside the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel, the exhibition was a hybrid of both a traditional exhibition of original props from the series, recreations of sets from the various shows, rides and an interactive actor-lead experience. It proved to be incredibly popular during its ten-year run and managed to deliver the perfect blend giving Trek fans everything they could ask for. And being located in the heart of Vegas gave people the chance to check out the incredible slots history at their disposal during their stay at the same time to round things off for the ultimate vacation.
Would It Work For Transformers Exhibition?
Now this is where things get interesting. If you ask most fans whether or not we would want an exhibition, the initial response might be a resounding “yes”. But on reflection, would one really work for the franchise and what could one contain?
The most obvious answer that would spring to mind would be toys. But let’s be realistic here. No-one is going to want to look at an expanded toy display, let alone pay to go and see it. Something like this needs to be special, especially as the target audience is already going to have their own sizeable collections at home.
The Doctor Who Experience
Those of you who grew up in the UK can’t have failed to have seen the various Doctor Who exhibitions that appeared over the years. From the vast Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff to the iconic Doctor Who exhibition in Blackpool and it’s counterpart in Longleat, they were the stuff of legend. What made each of these so special is that they were a true celebration of everything that made the series so special. Not only were we able to see original props and costumes from the show – something that many of us never thought possible – but the recreated sets made us feel as if we were really part of the show itself.
Merchandise and toy displays didn’t really play a part of these – it was all about connecting with the series itself. The only real time merchandise came into play was in the gift shop at the end. And as a young boy visiting the Blackpool exhibition for the first time in the 1970s I remember pestering my parents until I left with a couple of the latest Target novels…
Learning From Past Experience
It has to be said that there have been Transformers exhibitions run before. These have often run around fixed themes and been targeted at specific audiences and to be frank, this has been their key weakness. In Japan there was an exhibition celebrating the history of the Transformers franchise. However, much of this was centred around the toyline and animated shows and offered very little in the way of interaction and was mostly static displays. While this was great for the hardcore fans, it offered little to appeal to younger fans.
In contrast more global attempts to showcase the brand have been aimed directly at the younger market. By pushing the movie lines and offering interactive exhibits and replica vehicles they’re great to attract the casual fans or families wanting to entertain children for a few hours but the adult collectors will find themselves disappointed. Ultimately, these exhibitions are more driven by Hasbro as promotional tools to help market and sell toys more than anything else and aren’t driven by what the fans want. The Transformers Autobot Alliance exhibition in China was a prime(!) example of this and certainly didn’t seem to be something that would appeal to the more hardcore fan base.
A Happy Compromise?
The main problem is that Transformers fandom is incredibly diverse. There are fans whose main interest lie with the comics from Marvel or IDW. Others are predominantly fans of the toy lines. Then there are those who were drawn to the franchise through the various television shows, but may have preferences for some more than others. And that’s before we even look at the controversy surrounding the live action films.
And within each of these there is further division. As collectors some of us are completists, while others are more casual when it comes to purchases. We have different viewing habits and the comics again draw their own legion of fans, split over which publishing companies they prefer. Gather us all in the same place and you can almost guarantee that no two fans will be able to agree on liking the same things about Transformers.
What Would A New Transformers Exhibition Need?
To be honest, that’s not an easy question to answer. For it to be a success commercially and critically it would need to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, while still recognising just how diverse Transformers really is. A themed exhibition focusing on just a single aspect of the brand – while appealing in the short term or to a small audience – simply won’t have any long-lasting appeal. For something to have the durability of the Star Trek Experience or the Blackpool Doctor Who Exhibition, it needs to be more varied.
A simple toy display won’t work no matter how extensive it is – we all have these at home. But rarities, prototypes, unreleased toys and even the Japanese Lucky Draw toys would make for worthy displays. Something that the average fan won’t see every day. The same can apply to the cartoon shows. As well as episodes being played in a theatre area, behind the scenes photos, scripts and animation cels bring the shows to life in a new way for fans.
While the comics have a more limited mass market appeal, from an exhibition point of view there is an incredible amount that could be incorporated. From the history of the comics to thousands of pages of original artwork, it could make for a stunning display to rival that of any museum.
The movies open up the most potential for younger fans, offering a chance to “meet” the stars of the movies with replica vehicles or larger than life models of the characters. Interactive exhibitions could be introduced here including 4D experiences, rides and even making use of VR to bring characters to life.
With the scope of what a fully-fledged exhibition could offer, spanning the entire spectrum that the franchise covers it could quite easily be a permanent fixture in any location. It could certainly draw fans from around the world. The only question is whether or not any enterprising business is willing to take on the risk of acquiring the license or if Hasbro themselves would take up the challenge to make it happen.