We *love* the Field Museum. Its massive corridors contain millions of priceless artifacts and a staff of amazing scientists that are passionate about what they do. On any given day these men and women could be finding the key to solve problems that range from global warming to a cure for cancer. What’s even better is that they’re constantly sharing their finds with people of all ages, either on YouTube with Brain Scoop, at Member’s Nights, or during amazing kids events like Dozin’ with the Dinos. Their exhibits are always exciting and they’re not afraid to push boundaries or make waves. For Tattoo, the museum went so far as to pull permits to have their very own fully functional tattoo shop, and the Tattoo exhibit remains one of our favorite exhibits anywhere in the last few years.
The most recent addition to the Field’s “Cave of Wonders” involved something so big, they couldn’t fit it in Stanley Hall. And so, for the second time in recent Museum Campus history, a giant tent was erected, this time to house Jurassic World, a travelling exhibit which already made stops in Melbourne, Australia and Philadelphia and has landed just outside the storied halls of the Field, with the goal of “blending real world science and education with the very best in high quality entertainment.”
We got a first look at this walk through the land of the dinosaurs just a few days ago for the press opening, and while we definitely didn’t know what to expect going in, we also weren’t exactly sure how we felt coming out. Jurassic World is something totally different for the Field Museum. It’s more attraction than exhibit and more movie than museum, and while it’s not without wow factor, it’s also a bit of a system shock for us.
To be sure, it’s something to see. As soon as you make your way into the first section of the “park,” you’re greated by giant moving, breathing creatures. There are brachiosaurs, stegosaurus, velociraptors, and of course a T-Rex (though in my opinion Sue is still more impressive.) While not quite to snuff with a Universal Studios experience, it’s impressive in scale, and clear a lot of work went into it. Universal Brand Development did in fact have a hand in its production, in conjunction with Imagine Exhibitions, MagicSpace and The Creature Technology company. You progress through different corridors which hold everything from gentle giants to things sure to get out of containment quickly (and predictably.)
You might have noticed we hadn’t touched on any science facts just yet. There’s not a lack of them, necessarily. Each room features different interactive portions which involve fossils, dna and the “real science” on creatures like the velociraptor, but they sometimes get lost in the spectacle. This is especially true in the “lab” portion of Jurassic World. The lab is an eye-catching replica of the movie’s own lab, with a wall of amber specimens and dinosaur eggs and embryos throughout, but the actual DNA facts were set in smaller pillars while the “process” by which Jurassic World creates dinosaur embryos from recombining DNA from, say, mosquitos trapped in amber, are featured in large splashy detail behind the set pieces. In another setting, like a theme park, for example, this isn’t even notable, but at the Field, it’s a bit disconcerting. As a museum that’s so built around how amazing real science is, real science seems to take a back seat.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with pop culture as a means to draw people in, and pop culture has a place in museums in its own right, a point we’ve argued here. Pop culture is in this case, a means to draw people in. As Bill Simpson, a paleontologist for the Field, told the Tribune, “We’re hoping Jurassic World is going to bring them in…and then they can see some real dinosaurs in the museum proper.” The Field Museum has one of the most impressive fossil collections in the world, a fact pointed out by Richard Lariviere, the president of the museum. The question, then, is was all this necessary? Jurassic World, though amusing in its way, is cotton candy – sugar and air with very little in the way of substance. Light on science and at times even somewhat obfuscating what is fact or fiction (as in the lab), to us it just simply didn’t seem like a great fit. Does the Field Museum need the filler? Sue the T. Rex is a celebrity in her own right, with adoring fans, merch galore and even her own craft brews, and while the dinosaur exhibits already in place may not be “new,” they’re still popular enough to garner a higher nightly rate for Dozin’ with the Dinos.
The Field Museum consistently creates incredible, engaging and exciting exhibits with high quality builds such that every time I’m at a new opening, even if the subject matter isn’t something I’m particularly intrigued by, I’m prepared for something truly unique and exciting. On top of that, each exhibit the Field Museum creates teaches me new things in exciting ways. And while some of that survives in Jurassic World, it certainly isn’t as center stage as I’m used to it being. On top of that, though the press opening was prior to the official one, for all the show of the thing, it’s still not quite on the level of what you’d expect at a theme park, and finds itself in a weird middle ground, where it’s not quite what you want from a museum exhibit and not quite what you’d expect at a park.
In the end, I can honestly say it’s not my favorite. It seems unnecessary and more fluff than education, which is a little bit disappointing from an institution so groundbreaking and dedicated to producing the next generation of scientists. If it draws more people through the doors to witness the wonders of the institution itself, then I suppose it’s served its purpose, and I won’t begrudge it that, and it is fun to walk through the animatronic wonderland and imagine what it’d be like, but for my money, more amazement lies inside than under this tent.
Jurassic World will be in residence at the Field Museum from its recent May 26th opening to January 7th, 2018. Tickets are $10 for children and $15 for adults (plus general museum admission if you so choose) during daytime entry hours (9 am to 5 pm) but increase to $20 and $25 for the exhibit’s for evening entries, which will run 5-9 pm from Labor Day through Fall, with specifics to be announced later. You can purchase tickets for Jurassic World by clicking here.