Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Prehistoric Beast of the Week Visits Jurassic World: The Exhibition

I have been living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for almost seven months now.  When I first moved here I caught wind of the Franklin Institute opening a seasonal exhibit that simulates visiting Jurassic World with life-sized animatronic dinosaurs.  I knew I had to go see it.  After being open to the public since November, I finally had a chance to go check it out in person.

If you are not familiar with it, simply put, the Franklin Institute is a museum dedicated to science education, especially towards young visitors.  Every exhibit in there has some sort of hands on aspect for everyone to try, all the while pelting you mercilessly with information to fill your brain with for days...if you actually bother to read.  (I will never understand people who just walk through museums and zoos without actually reading things.)  That being said, I was very interested to find out how a place that prides itself on science education would handle an exhibit from a franchise that honestly... kind of hindered science education.  I know that sounds harsh, but it's true, at least when it came to Jurassic Park 3 and the latest Jurassic World.  Too many people have had their image of dinosaurs warped because the Jurassic Park franchise is their only real exposure to the subject.  Too many people don't understand that many dinosaurs, let alone Velociraptor, were just as feathered as modern birds.  Too many people still think Dilophosaurus could spit venom and had a retractable frill.  Too many people still think Tyrannosaurus had vision based on movement....I could go on.  THAT BEING SAID I don't think the Jurassic Park franchise has a responsibility to uphold scientific accuracy.  I will never be one of those nerds blasting on the internet all the inaccuracies of the Jurassic Park movies and how they could have been "better".  There are enough of those folks out there.  I understand the franchise's purpose is to entertain, which it succeeds in doing, and I'm fine with that!  Would I like it if it was scientifically accurate?  Of course.  But I don't expect it to be.  I would much rather attack Discovery Channel, History Channel, and Animal Planet when they mess up paleontology programs because they actually advertise as being educational.  I was simply curious to see how Franklin Institute handled this exhibit.  Will they submit and have something in there that is just for thrills?  Or will they find a way to make it actually educational, even though the dinosaurs would not be?  Let's find out.

First thing I noticed was how long the line to get into the exhibit was.  The line starts on one floor, goes around a few zigzags, goes up a gradual ramp, then up to a different floor...and then you are waiting in a room that is supposed to be the inside of the ferry boat from the movies for a while until everyone fills it.  Then you watch a short introduction movie.  Very reminiscent of something I'd expect to wait on at Universal Studios or Disney World.  Finally the door opens, you push some kids out of the way to get in first, and you see your first dinosaur...

Despite the fact that it's Jurassic World: the Exhibition, this exhibit incorporated elements from all the movies to a certain degree.  A good example of this was Brachiosaurus, which was featured in the first film, but not Jurassic World.  Since Brachiosaurus was so large, and a robot of its whole body couldn't fit inside the exhibit, they cleverly only showed this dinosaur from the shoulders up, and portrayed it as if it were bathing in a lake.  The neck still towers over you and the head comes just low enough so a average-sized adult could be a few inches shy of poking it with an outstretched finger. (not like I tried or anything.)  In front of the dinosaur, were screens, and plaques, with information...good information!  The short movie on loop explained how sauropods likely weren't using their nostrils as snorkels underwater like previously thought, and could probably only wade in water up to a certain point.  They also discussed how sauropod bones were filled with air sacks, making their bodies lighter, which was the key to them evolving so large.

Sorry my photo is blurry.  She wouldn't stop moving.

A few steps further you meet Parasaurolophus, also in the form of shoulders, neck, and head, this time peering out from thick foliage.  This duck-billed dinosaur was in Jurassic World, but it was also in the first movie, seen from a distance with Brachiosaurus, and was most prominent in the second movie, The Lost World: Jurassic Park.  The Parasaurolophus animatronic for this exhibit has a short crest, leading me to wonder if it was based on the Parasaurolopus cyrtocristatus species.  It is also possible it was meant to represent a female of one of the two long-crested species, which some have suggested had shorter crests than males, but this hasn't been proven.

A Parasaurolophus and a fiance pose for a photo. 

The next room showcases beautiful animatronic models of an adult and baby Pachyrhinosaurus.  I'm not sure why they didn't opt for Triceratops, the ceratopsian that was actually featured in all the Jurassic Park movies, but I'm not complaining.  I'm all for lesser-known genera getting public attention.  Pachyrhinosaurus was also the only dinosaur showcased in this exhibit that was not in any of the Jurassic Park movies.  (although it is in the mobile game and was made into an action figure in 2014)  Despite this, I think these were the most well done models in the exhibit.  They were very close to scientifically accurate.  My only nitpicks would be their size was a bit too large, and the fact that their front limbs had claws on all five digits (should be the first three only).  I would have personally changed the skin texture to match that of what we know from mummified remains of other ceratospians, but Pachyrhinosaurus, itself, has never had skin preserved on the fossil record. (that I know of)  Beyond that they were awesome models.  The baby Pachyrhinosaurus was impressive because the horn ornamentation matched what is known from actual fossilized baby Pachyrhinosaurus that have been found, possessing a much smaller nose boss and horns.  To go with this, there was an interactive plaque with light up buttons where you can match the baby ceratopsian skull shape with its adult counterpart.  This was my favorite part of the exhibit from an educational standpoint.  (I'm also biased towards ceratopsians.)

The Pachyrhinosaurus were arguably the best models in this exhibit.

After this you are funneled into a room that is meant to look like a laboratory.  Here, if you bother to read, they actually go into the science of fossilized amber, and how insects get caught in them.  (Nevermind the fact that you almost certainly can't get dinosaur DNA from them.)  There are a number of other fun, interactive, touchscreen activities.  My favorite was one where you can apply your own color scheme to one of several 3D dinosaur models.  Throughout this process, the program explains to you why dinosaurs may or may not have had certain colors and patterns.  In the middle of the room was an incubation chamber with three animatronic sleeping baby Parasaurolophus.  All of them had breathing animatronics and every few minutes the middle one would groggily lift its little noggin, blink, open its mouth, then put its head down to go back to sleep.  As cute as they were, the nerd inside me was disappointed that their crests were too long!  Paleontologists have actually unearthed an real baby Parasaurolophus skeleton, and we now can confirm that the crest started out almost nonexistent (barely a nub on the top of the skull) and would become the shape that the adults had as the individual reached sexual maturity.

Look at those pleepin babies! (I spelled "pleepin" correctly.  This is baby talk.  Learn it.)

Then smaller groups of people are put into a space with a large cage on one side of the room.  This is where you get to come face to face with Blue, the Velociraptor!  Blue comes out in the form of an actor wearing one of those increasingly popular dinosaur puppet-costumes, which are actually really life-like if the actor inside knows what he/she is doing.  Blue will pace around in the cage a few times, sniff/snap at some kids in the front, then go back through a door in the back of the cage, all the while audio of Chris Pratt is being played sating things like "Easy!" and "Back up, Blue!".  During this show, a woman on the monitor (the "head keeper") is saying information about Velociraptor in general.  She uses the term dromaeosaur, to reference the group it belonged to, which is good.  It's mildly annoying hearing people call it the "raptor" group so much.  (I know some professionals who use the term "raptor" to refer to dromaeosaurs, but I personally detest it mainly because of the fact that modern birds of prey were called "raptors" first.  She also mentions that the second toe claw was the its "key to success" and allowed it to slash open prey.  This is possible, but not the only hypothesis for how dromaeosaurs used their toe claws.  Sadly I could not get a decent photo of this.  The room was dark and there were way too many people's heads in the way.

After the Velociraptor encounter you meet Tyrannosaurus.  The huge Tyrannosaurus animatronic (close to life size as far as I could tell...the head was a little large.) looms over the audience off to the side in a dark room, meant to look like her holding pen at night.  Then light affects simulate lightning and audio plays the sounds of thunder and dinosaur stomping as the dinosaur slowly marches out from her hiding spot.  She roars a few times and then appears to bump a parked jeep, which had a set of hydraulics set up under it so when the animatronic bends over and moves its head, the car will shake.  This whole section was definitely a recreation of the famous scene from the first Jurassic Park movie.

Sometime between the Velociraptor and T. rex, we get an "emergency" message on one of the monitors that something went down and nobody should worry. I wouldn't be Jurassic Park World without a dinosaur escape!

Then we get to meet Stegosaurus.  This is probably the most photogenic opportunity in the exhibit because the Stegosaurus model is the closest to you as the guest.  The Stegosaurus is pretty accurate to the movie Stegosaurus, and therefore has the same flaws when looking at it from a scientific standpoint, but it was still very cool and impressive for what it was.

The Stegosaurus is trying not to barf because she's single and bitter about it.

Finally you meed Indominus rex, the main antagonist from the Jurassic World movie.  If you don't know, this large carnivore, was supposed to be a hybrid between a Tyrannosaurus, VelociraptorMajungasaurus, a tree frog, a cuttlefish... and I think a few more.  Anyway, the animatronic for this beast pops up across the path from the Stegosaurus, the lighting in the whole room turns more red (dramatic) and both animatronics begin to thrash around and roar to imply that they are fighting without actually making contact with each other. The Stegosaurus' tail is strategically facing the Indominus from the start, so it really does look like it's warding off the predator with those spikes. Despite the fact that Stegosaurus was in the Jurassic World film, I am surprised they chose not to make a model of Ankylosaurus, instead, since in the movie, that is what Indominus actually had a battle with.  After a few minutes, there are sound effects of gun fire and the Indominous model stops moving, thus ending the walkthrough of animatronic dinosaurs.

Close up photo of Indominus rex after being gunned down.  Poor gal.

The last room before the gift shop was the most educational part, filled with maps and infographs of many different kinds of dinosaurs. (some of which had feathers in the illustrations!)  Ther were also more bone casts from real dinosaurs on display, including those of Plateosaurus, interestingly enough, having not been featured in any Jurassic Park movies, but again I'm not complaining.  Sadly, this is also the room where most of the visitors rushed through the most, having seen all the exciting action-packed parts.

Not the best picture but IT HAS FEATHERS so it's something.

In conclusion I think the Franklin Institute did the absolute best job they possibly could to implement as much educational value into a Jurassic World attraction as possible.  Sadly, most people don't stop to read infographs and plaques when there is a thirty-foot animatronic dinosaur a few feet away.  Nobody's fault!  One thing that I was mildly disappointed at was the fact that there was no love in the exhibit for mosasaur, or any pterosaurs, which had pretty big roles in the Jurassic World movie.  They even had flags and signs with them on it outside the exhibit!  I wasn't expecting them at first, but those stupid flags gave me a glimmer of false hope!

There was also a bin with what were almost certainly 3D printed dinosaur body parts that could be put together and taken apart for the kids to make their own hybrid monstrosities.  I wonder if there is a way to download these and print them, myself.  I'd love to have the Pachyrhinosaurus.

Sadly, at the time of me publishing this, the Jurassic World Exhibition will be finished at the Franklin Institute, but will open at the Chicago Field Museum in May!  If you get the opportunity to check it out, I highly recommend it for a fun, and educational (if you know where to look) experience!

Good thing I gave Indominus my fiance's purse otherwise we'd all be dead.  Not every day you get mugged by a dinosaur.

No comments:

Post a Comment