I’m pretty sure I speak for every dinosaur fan over forty that JURASSIC PARK (1993) was a game changer. I was twenty-two years old when it premiered and remember being totally blown away at the site of realistic looking dinosaurs on the silver screen. I had no trouble whatsoever relating to Dr. Alan Grant as he fell to his knees, all teary from seeing his lifelong obsessions come to life. True, the character was seeing them in person and not in a theater like we were, but it was pure magic nonetheless. Nearly twenty-five years later, I was finally able to get a taste of what it would have been like to be Dr. Grant thanks to an official JURASSIC WORLD Universal Studios exhibition that made its way to the Field Museum of Natural History last month and is running through January 8, 2018.
The tickets were sold in time increments and I bought mine in advance online for a 5:00 pm showing on a Sunday evening. They weren’t cheap and just to do the exhibit costs $25 for adults, $20 for children, and $22 for seniors. So, contrary to what the ill-fated lawyer suggested in the first movie, there ain’t no “coupon day!” I believe, however, that if you’re going during normal museum normal hours, there’s probably a cheaper bundle option.
We showed up an hour early and parked in the main garage across the street ($22.00) before heading to the museum on foot. Incidentally, from a dinosaur lover perspective, I do highly recommend this museum. Not only is it home to the famed T-Rex, SUE, but also has an amazing “Evolving Planet” section that takes you on fossil journey five billion years in the making. I’m fortunate to live and have grown up about twenty minutes south and this has always been one of my favorite Chicago attractions. Having now visited many other natural history museums, I still consider this to be one of the greatest and, yes, I’ll cover it more in depth at a later date.
During normal Museum hours the exhibit can be accessed through the main building but, since we were there after closing, we had to walk around to a side entrance (if you’re facing the museum, go to your left where the big Brachiosaurus skeleton is displayed).
Please note that if you buy your tickets online it will say to just bring a valid ID to pick them up at will call but that’s not as easy as it sounds. Just to be on the safe side I printed my receipt anyway and it was a good thing I did because when I handed my ID to the guy running the register he gave me a weird look and informed me they “don’t give discounts to Illinois residents” (???) After I explained that I purchased my tickets in advance, he asked for the receipt so, bottom line, print em!
With our tickets in hand, we waited for our scheduled time before finally being directed down a walkway that advertised the animals living in the fictional park. This would eventually lead us to our “boat” that was to take us to the island, Isla Nublar. Personally, I thought this was a clever touch as it totally made me feel like I was participating in the movie. Before boarding, we had to pose for a souvenir photo in front of a green screen which would be available to us after the experience was over.
The boat had windows which showed a virtual sea (too bad they couldn’t have had the room rock a bit for added realism) and while we sailed we were treated to a video discussing the cloning process of the dinosaurs.
After the boat “stopped,” we eagerly entered the “theme park” (sorry for all the “quotations” but we are in the land of make believe here). The way they set it up was ingenious; like we were getting a special behind the scenes tour at a zoo. Having done my fair share of those at several different accredited zoos, I thought they were spot on. It was a great way to see the “animals” without needing an actual island to do so; they were simply “off exhibit.” It was a brilliant touch so far as keeping the whole experience as real as possible. We walked past the iconic gate with the torches and just as I was trying to take in everything, there was the neck of a Brachiosaurus swaying like in the films. My mind was effectively blown!
I’m not going to lie, as soon as I saw it I squealed like a giddy schoolgirl and noticed my two teenagers slowly start distancing themselves from me. I’d already watched several YouTube clips prior to forking out the cash for these tickets but, trust me, seeing it in person is so much better and photos and video just can’t capture the feeling of being in their presence.
We passed by the head of a Parasaurolophus as we entered the second room. Actually, my kids had to practically drag me since these were timed tickets and the group behind us had already caught up during the time I was panting in front of the Brachiosaurus.
In keeping with the films, the next section dealt with the creation of the dinosaurs via their DNA extraction from prehistoric mosquitoes trapped in amber. It sounds perfectly scientific though there ain’t a snowball’s chance in Hell of this ever happening. No matter, I was in a Universal movie now and decided to pretend that it already had.
The best touch was the incubators; one with eggs and the other with newly hatched Parasaurolophus. What was cool was staring at the babies and seeing them gently breathe as if alive.
This was the one room where it was my turn to rush the kids. I didn’t come here to see fake science, I came to here see fake dinosaurs (that I could pretend were real) and was eager to see the next one. In this case a couple of “Gentle Giants,” Pachyrhinosaurus! I was pleasantly surprised by their choice of ceratopsian and their not going with the more obvious and traditional Triceratops. It was a mother and her calf (do we call baby ceratopsids calves?) and the juvenile stood close to mom which was neat but, at the same time, seemed a bit more rhino than reptile. Shouldn’t she have had a clutch?
Flash photography wasn’t allowed when viewing the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor (identified as being “Blue” from the movie) so the photos I took look terrible. At the end of this post, however, you can see them in my video footage if you choose to do so. I’ll say this…BOTH of those dinosaurs were stunning and moved just like they did in the films. My cheeks glistened from the streams of dino-geek tears!
The last dinosaurs featured in our tour were Stegosaurus and then, their Grand Finale, Indominus Rex.
Indominus Rex, of course, is a Hollywood creation which, to be honest, I was never a fan of. I do understand that it was engineered to make JURASSIC WORLD stand out from its predecessors but would have preferred they used a lesser known, real one, instead. I always saw the JURASSIC films as an opportunity to bring fame to obscure dinosaurs, just like the first film did for Velociraptor and the third for Spinosaurus.
Of course we had to “exit through the gift shop:” which, in this case, was loaded with officially licensed Universal goodies. There was some great merchandise but pricey even by gift shop standards. I really wanted to get one of their plush T-Rex’s but the kids discouraged my frivolity. Ugh, let me tell you how much fun it is after your kids outgrow you!
We located our souvenir photo and saw that we were being attacked by Indominus Rex, thus explaining why were told to look terrified while they were taking the picture. I insisted that we buy this to commemorate our incredible evening but, after the cashier rang me up. I’m pretty sure my face matched the way it looked in the photo…nearly $30 for one damn picture!!!
If you’re on a budget you can obviously forgo all the bells and whistles though I do believe the exhibit itself is worth shelling out the cash for. It was an experience I will never forget and would love to do again. As we returned to our car I was reminded of a quote from the Henry Wu character in JURASSIC WORLD, “You didn’t ask for reality, you asked for more teeth.”
This exhibit, my friends, gives you a fair share of both!