‘Jurassic World’ at Chicago museum prehistorically cool
Chicago -- Let’s be honest,” Bryce Dallas Howard’s anxious park manager character says in the movie “Jurassic World.” “Nobody is impressed by a dinosaur anymore.”
That is true, at least, in the fictional world of the 2015 film, where scientists have developed an island vacation resort stocked with so many laboratory-grown modern dinosaurs that guests are becoming blase — until things, of course, take a turn for the worse.
In the real world of 2017, though, Chicago’s Field Museum is counting on the giant bird ancestors remaining mightily impressive, although not to the point where, spoiler alert, they start chewing on goats, pigs and the paying guests.
For “Jurassic World: The Exhibition,” the lakefront natural history museum has erected a giant, plastic-walled perma-tent on its front lawn and filled it with all manner of animatronic dinos, hat tips to the film and nods to actual science of the variety you can find in a more rigorous rendering inside the big wedding cake of a building over the exhibit’s shoulder.
This parade of sauruses and rexes, this temple to a once dominant animal category, will attempt to prove that pop culture isn’t only about superheroes, and people can still get turned on by powerful figures from prehistory, as well as from the pages of comic books. In an advance look at the exhibit, even with some of the lighting and set dressing still unfinished, the exhibition showed its considerable promise.
“Jurassic World,” which has been highly successful in its first two museum stops in Melbourne, Australia, and Philadelphia, presents itself as a journey to Isla Nublar, the in-film destination for eco-tourists. You walk through a variety of settings borrowed from the film, even see some footage and a few props from it along the way. But, really, it’s all about walking with, or amidst, the dinos.
Love the idea of seeing a realistic seeming T. rex or stegosaurus at full 40-plus-foot length — incidentally, the same length as the bona fide T. rex skeleton known as Sue inside the Field — and you’ll be awestruck. These aren’t the stiff, plasticky, herky-jerky animatronics you might remember from the likes of Country Bear Jamboree or previous attempts to render dinosaurs in 3D. Their flesh, which looks aptly leathery and reptilian, wrinkles as they move. Their eyes seem to notice you, and then track you. Their muscles ripple.
Put one of these creatures in the Hall of Presidents, and you’ve got a profoundly unfair fight on both brute-force and aesthetic levels.
Is there a visit from Indominus rex, the protagonist of the film, a creature cooked up in the theme park laboratory to satisfy consumer demand for “bigger, louder, more teeth”? We don’t want to give too much away, but, as Tribune critic Michael Phillips said in the money line in his (less than glowing) review of the film, “I mean, of course. Of course you know what you’re getting.”
Is there a recreation of that lab, and a visit with the so-called velociraptor, star of 1993’s franchise foundational “Jurassic Park” and, now again, of “Jurassic World?” Of course to that, as well.
The exhibit scene in the “Raptor Paddock,” artfully staged by two human actors, one of them prowling inside a raptor suit, mimics the early one in “Jurassic World” in which Chris Pratt’s character attempts to train the nimble, ferocious dinosaurs.
But if you’re a bit blase yourself — determined to hang onto, rather than suspend, your disbelief; insistent that a “Jurassic World” exhibition needs to deliver the same level of terror to guests as the story in the movie — then there may be better choices for you: that other dinosaur museum show currently running on Navy Pier, for instance, the one featuring Rolling Stones artifacts called “Exhibitionism.”
The Field will mount “Jurassic World” for 229 days, through Jan. 7, and it will be open for special evening visits, from 5-9 p.m., on at least 174 of them, said Tom Skwerski, exhibitions operations director.
“It’s the first time not only putting a tent outside,” he said, “but the first time we are staying open late like this.”
“Jurassic World” wouldn’t be on Chicago’s Museum Campus now if it weren’t for the 40-foot-tall temporary building, said Tom Zaller, CEO of Atlanta-based Imagine Exhibitions, which developed the show and is partnering with the museum in running it. (The Creature Technology Company, of Australia, did the dinos.)
Finding it a home at the Field wasn’t looking logistically possible, he said, until “I called back and said, ‘What if we put a tent outside?’ ”
Museum officials say they have made their peace with the idea that this isn’t science, but a paleontology-mass entertainment hybrid. They can accept an exhibition based on a movie franchise — and on Michael Crichton’s 1990 source novel “Jurassic Park” — premised on the scientifically unsound idea that dinosaurs can be regenerated from DNA found in mosquitoes trapped in amber. What matters, they said, is getting people excited about visiting a natural history museum.
“We’re hoping ‘Jurassic World’ is going to bring them in,” Bill Simpson, the Field’s head of geological collections and a paleontologist by training, said earlier this spring, when the show was announced for Chicago. “And then they can see some real dinosaurs within the Field Museum proper.”
The ‘they’ in question are potentially legion. According to officials at both the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, a popular science museum similar to the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Melbourne Museum, hosting “Jurassic World” delivered their largest audiences since King Tut exhibits, which speaks volumes in the modern museum game.
Daytime entry will cost $10 for children and $15 for adults over regular Field admission fees, and will be a timed entry ticket: You enter the exhibit within a half-hour window you select at the time of purchase. Throughout the summer, “Jurassic World” will also be open beyond museum hours, from 5 to 9 p.m. daily, with exhibition-only tickets during those hours costing $20 and $25. Later in the year, evening hours are scheduled for Thursday through Saturday.
Touring the exhibition is expected to take about 45 minutes, although people can linger longer if they wish. Like most modern museum design, the information is presented on multiple levels: You can dig deeper by working the various touch screens, by reading the blue signs in stops on the exhibition trail for information about the fictional theme park you are in, orange signs for more of a scientific grounding.
There are nice touches filling many nooks and crannies along the route. A real sauropod femur is there for visitors to touch. In the lab setting, you can design your own dinosaur and send it to your email as a digital image file. You can also call up what purports to be closed-circuit footage from elsewhere in the park; it’s actually crowd shots from the film.
And, driving home the conceit that you are on Isla Nublar, there is a video narrator who appears on TV monitors, guiding you through the experience. She says worrying things such as “you’ll be perfectly safe” and, in a bit of foreshadowing for your experience (and a restatement of the movie’s plot), talks about an “asset” being “out of containment.”
At 16,500 square feet, this show is about double the size of a typical large traveling exhibition. Even in preview mode, the verve and imagination in the presentation are apparent. Working with the “Jurassic World” movie studio — Universal, which has a sequel to its revival-of-a-franchise blockbuster due out next year — Imagine Exhibitions has crafted a show aimed at pleasing the many who delighted in “Jurassic World.”
But the star here isn’t the movie. The film is merely the pedestal, and up on that metaphorical perch are the dinosaurs themselves. “Jurassic World: The Exhibition” delivers, over and over again, up close and personal moments with what have to be the best simulations of dinosaurs yet crafted.
And the good news is that in this version of Isla Nublar, you’ll exit through the gift shop rather than in a pine box.
If you go
‘Jurassic World: The Exhibition’
1400 S. Lake Shore Drive
Chicago, IL 60605-2496
Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Jurassic World exhibit open until 9 p.m.
$10 for children, $15 for adults over regular Field admission fees, and will be a timed entry ticket. You enter the exhibit within a half-hour window you select at the time of purchase. Exhibition-only tickets fromo 5-9 p.m. are $20 and $25.
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