May 27, 2010
It is, apparently, lonely at the top of the list of the world's most intact Tyrannosaurus rex skeletons.
So for the 10th anniversary of Sue's exhibit debut at the Field Museum, the museum has procured some company for her: four life-size, interactive robot dinosaurs and a 3-D movie telling her life story went on exhibit Wednesday.
And although the movie isn't "Avatar" and the robots won't make anyone worry that the takeover is imminent, they are, nonetheless, impressive additions to the Field experience.
But be forewarned: They are still more new museum exhibits that demand an upcharge atop already hefty admission fees. Chicagoans can visit the "normal" parts of the Field for $8 to $13, depending on age and student status. An "All-access Pass," which gets you into the new "RoboSUE: The T. rex Experience" and the 3D movie "Waking the T. rex: The Story of SUE," plus the "Mammoths and Mastodons: Titans of the Ice Age" and "Underground Adventure" exhibits, costs $16 to $25. (You could also buy a "Discovery Pass," good for general admission plus any one special exhibit, for $13 to $20.) Prices are slightly higher for non-Chicagoans.
The film, 23 tidy minutes in a third-floor theater, puts the Sue skeleton find in context, balancing re-creations of what her life might have been like with a look at how Field's paleontologists work and the story of the actual Sue discovery.
Some of the re-creations are grisly. A triceratops goes down, then dies slowly after a vicious neck bite, for instance, and the Sue character tears out and gulps down animal viscera, complete with sound effects.
If you can handle the moments of gore, glimpsing Sue's imagined life is engaging, and there's enough science in the fossil-discovery moments to make this feel meaty, if not full-on scholarly.
As for the 3-D, I'm not a particular fan of the form; I had enough of ugly glasses in the 1980s, thank you very much, and am not eager to don these communal pairs.
But it's not an over-the-top use of the technology, and having the extra dimension pays off during the shots in which the Sue skeleton, in its center-of-museum pose, suddenly gains flesh, comes to life and lunges at the camera lens.
The mechanical dinosaurs in "RoboSUE: The T. rex Experience" do less lunging.
On display through Labor Day right on the main floor, they are Japanese-made animatronic figures enhanced with interactive software by Dallas-based KumoTek, in consultation with the museum's specialists.
Perched on land-mass display areas, none of the creatures moves its feet. But the head, neck and tail movements, along with a lot of vocal posturing, should satisfy anybody who isn't hoping to see Godzilla tear up the exhibit hall.
What's really nifty is how they react to the visitors in front of them. Put four people too close to the triceratops' eggs, and it'll see them with cameras mounted in its eyes and give a warning roar. Approach the Tyrannosaurus rex, the aforementioned "RoboSUE," and it will take a big whiff to try to capture your scent, maybe let out a warning roar.
"They're so good at animatronics, these people" said Patrick Reinhofer, a third-grader from Park Ridge who attended a preview of the exhibits Tuesday. "It's even better than I expected."
In the end, endorsements like that may be the most important ones the new displays can earn.
Copyright © 2015 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC