I had the chance to visit the Franklin Institute for the North American premiere of Jurassic World: The Exhibition this past Friday, the 25th of November, and it was exactly as amazing as you'd expect it to be! To be able to witness Jurassic World come to life, with towering animatronic dinosaurs and intricate atmospheres was surely a special treat.
Honestly, from the moment I walked up to the museum, I knew I was in for something magical. I've been waiting for my whole life for a trip to Isla Nublar. Seeing the gigantic banners float in the wind between the pillars of the Franklin Institute was incredible. I knew just beyond the enormous staircase, there'd be the thrills I've been waiting for.
After scanning the ticket, you walk down a series of walkways filled with Jurassic World themed banners, signaling the approach to the vessel that will take you to Isla Nublar. It's really incredible how they transform a single room into a ferry filled with portholes peering over the water on the expedition to the island... it feels real. After all the guests have filed in, the tour program begins as it fills you with the awe and wonder of experiencing dinosaurs up close and personal. You also get introduced to Allison, Jurassic World's Lead Ranger, who pops up throughout the exhibition to give you more details about the experience. She finishes off her spiel with the all familiar... Welcome to Jurassic World!
Throughout the exhibition you get glimpses at some amazingly gentle creatures with the Brachiosaurus, Parasaurolophus, Stegosaurus and the massively impressive Pachyrhinosaurus. There's almost no sense of disbelief as you are standing in front of each of these creatures, as Creature Technology has created some of the most fluid dinosaur animatronics I have ever seen. With the towering Brachiosaurus, I felt just as much awe as you'd expect to get from the Brachiosaurus scene in Jurassic Park. I really didn't want to leave that first dinosaur I encountered, but knew there were plenty more beyond the horizon.
The Pachyrhinosaurus was one of my favorite stops along the walking tour. I expected to see her standing there, but I did not expect the sheer size of the herbivore. At that moment, all I could muster was "wow", over and over again. I could sense the same comfort and care behind the eyes of this creature as I did the sick Triceratops in Jurassic Park. This was the first full creature from head to toe featured in the exhibition, and you could see it grabbing the attention of everyone who entered the area. I really loved the look and texture of her skin and the addition of scars to the body, giving that "real life" sense about her.
One of the newest editions to the Exhibition is the Raptor Encounter with Blue, the very same trained Velociraptor you know and love from Jurassic World. Blue doesn't come alone either, we get a treat as a hologram Chris Pratt reprises his role as Owen Grady, the expert raptor trainer. I wasn't fully aware of the visual treat at first, as it was hidden up in the top right corner of the caged-in experience; to be fully honest, the projection wasn't fully visible and took a ton of squinting to actually see the image of Owen training Blue from above. I did have a prime location up against the enclosure, but that didn't really help see the projection very well.
The Raptor Encounter itself was a bit of a letdown, as Universal Studios Parks puts on a similar experience, but with a ton more thrills and laughs. I will say there was a mystique about Blue in this encounter, as she haunched around the enclosure with the ominous score playing underneath and series of flashes in the dark from exhibition-goer's cameras. I think a majority of the crowd couldn't help but giggle at the set of human legs and buttocks under raptor suit as it attempted to eerily wander around the cage. It's a tough stunt to pull off, having a raptor walk out in front of a crowd and hide the fact that a human is operating the costume, especially in such close quarters. I think the addition of some tall grass inside the enclosure could help to hide the operator from the laughter of the viewers. Overall the raptor suit looked authentic and certainly one of the most film accurate versions of a Velociraptor I have seen yet, so that is certainly a plus! While there are certainly flaws to this particular stop in the experience, I would still deem this a worthwhile extension of the exhibition.
To really sell you on the fact that you are on the island, the production has recreated several aspects of the park inside the exhibition, with the Hammond Creation Lab and the Innovation Center. It's almost as if you are walking around smaller versions of the sets from the film, as the details pull you in and immerse you in the environments. You can watch a few baby Parasaurolophus sleep, peruse countless chunks of amber, and design your own dinosaurs to set free in the park, all within the Hammond Creation Lab. You can almost sense Dr. Henry Wu behind you, intent to lecture you on the creation of Dino DNA. Within the Innovation Center, you can imprint records on paper, brush away dirt from fossils, and learn all about the supercontinent where dinosaurs used to live. This section, as it was at the end of the tour, was packed with people, making it a bit difficult to interact with all of the aspects of the finale.
Of course this review would not be complete without mentioning the biggest highlights of the exhibition, the Tyrannosaurus Rex Kingdom and the Indominus Rex. Getting the chance to get up close to two of the biggest monsters on the island is truly a memorable experience! Inside the Tyrannosaurus Rex Kingdom, we see the glorious Rex walk from far end of the room, to the truck at the end, where you know it will wreak havoc. You haven't truly felt until you see that beast in front of you lumbering across the room, hearing each thunder-inducing step and feeling her mighty roar. While it doesn't replicate the same Rex we know from the films, it's still astonishing how such a big creation can feel so real. I will say there were times when I could almost catch a glimpse of our familiar rex. I had to stick around for two viewing because it was so awesome.
Further down to the exhibition, you get a surprising encounter with the Indominus Rex. You can almost miss her as she hides next to a giant log tunnel, but you certainly can't afford to miss her in action. This animatronic is a film level quality creation that surely gives off that creepy and terrifying vibe you get straight from the film's Indominus. Watching her slowly pull up and reveal herself to the scary tones of Michael Giacchino is a wondrous moment. The sounds and movements really sell this beast and make her the focal point of the entire exhibition. The roar and growls created by the film's sound designers have become nearly as iconic as any other dinosaur in the film franchise, so it's great to hear them come to life with this encounter. I will say the timing didn't seem to be 100% as you could see the Indominus open it's mouth to roar, only with the roar about a second behind (something that will surely be synced better with future viewings). I highly suggest sticking around to watch this encounter a few times, from the different angles they offer outside and inside the log tunnel. Listen closely and you'll hear interactions from the film with the Indominus attack; it's a great addition to the already intense hybrid dinosaur appearance.
Lastly, you visit the Gift Shop before you exit the Exhibition, and while I was certainly excited to see the offerings, I was severely disappointed by the price points. The shop has a ton to offer, from typical Hasbro toys, to new Exhibition only attire and third party dinosaur gag gifts. It's absolutely inexcusable to sell the Indominus Rex Hasbro toy for $99.99 when it's offered for $39.00 or less in typical department stores. I was in absolute shock at that price. Programs ran you $20.00, posters $7.99, shirts $34.99 and other trinkets were just as pricey. Unfortunately for me, I bought nothing. I just couldn't justify the prices to take home something for my shelves. Hopefully they review those prices in the coming week and adjust them accordingly.
Don't think twice about traveling to Philadelphia to see Jurassic World: The Exhibition. If you've gotten this far and you're reading this review, you're a true fans that deserves to see this experience in person. Don't miss out!
Head to the Franklin Institute's website for more information and to purchase tickets! Stay tuned here for future Jurassic World: The Exhibition meet-up dates, ticket giveaways and more!