Imagine you’re on a boat, zooming through a crystal-blue tomorrow, destined for a grand adventure like a Spielbergian hero: eager for the unimaginable. The Field Museum’s new Jurassic World exhibit—open now through January 2018—offers just that, planting visitors firmly in the shoes of the movie characters who were awed and horrified by a prehistoric past come to life.
The exhibit is a journey through an animatronic wonderland of dinosaurs and foliage, though the magic is perhaps less palpable for those old enough to have seen the original 1993 film in theaters. No, this one is for the kiddos who will gasp at a blue Velociraptor that gets a little too close, squeak with joy at a Chris Pratt cameo, and pay a little less attention to the circuitry that brings a full-sized T-rex to roaring life. It’s for the Jurassic World generation, not the Park loyalists.
Which is not to say Jurassic World: The Exhibition is anything less than a joy. This is, as its creators are quick to point out, the closest we might ever get to a real-life dinosaur. “This is the stuff of their dreams, the things they’ve seen in movies,” says Tom Skwerski, director of exhibition operations at the Field Museum.
(Science lovers may be disappointed: The exhibit recreates the films’ oversized, scaly depiction of the creatures, instead of the feather-covered beings they really were.)
The exhibit—in a massive, 16,000-square-foot tent on the Field Museum lawn—begins with a synthetic boat journey to Isla Nublar. Once docked, the doors open, you walk under that iconic “Jurassic World” sign and meet the good, plant-chomping dinosaurs (think brachiosaurus and stegosaurus). A sleek, white creation lab is next on the agenda, complete with hatching herbivores and activity stations where kids can customize their own dinosaur on a giant screen and email it to themselves.
Of course, this wouldn’t be Jurassic World without some horror and suspense, and that’s exactly what happens as the exhibit transitions from the gentle giants to the carnivorous beasts like the aforementioned raptor and Tyrannosaurus. The movie’s hybrid dinosaur, the Indominus rex, is the centerpiece of a mini action scene as she breaks out of her barracks and attempts to attack a stegosaurus.
The exhibit is produced by Universal Brand Development and Imagine Exhibitions, a company that provides science and spectacle-based exhibits in museums across the world. Tom Zaller, the president and CEO of Imagine, who saw record-breaking runs of the Jurassic World brainchild in Melbourne and Philadelphia, says the Field Museum is a logical home for the exhibit due to its impressive collection of dinosaur fossils, including Sue, the best-preserved and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex ever found.
“I kind of feel like there’s no better place in the world to be than the Field Museum in the summer,” Zaller says, noting the “amazing educational and scientific connection” between what the museum offers and what his exhibit provides.
“If you want to get deeper into dinosaurs, you go inside the Field Museum. If you want to be wowed by the most sophisticated animatronics anywhere in the world, and really the most lifelike dinosaurs you’ll ever see, this is the only place you’ll see that,” he adds.
Zaller, like Skwerski, also says that he hopes, above all, that kids will have fun. And if our preview experience was any indication, the kids jumping up and down, exploring stations, touching plastic faux-fossils, and squirming as red lights illuminated an escaped Indominous were experiencing just that: a swell of joy and a sensation of being in the middle of a cinematic experience. As Zaller put it simply, “Of course it’s not a real dinosaur, but if you’re five years old… it’s a real dinosaur.”