Onstage: Everybody Walk the Dinosaur

Vegetarians, carnivores and kids have a gigantosaurus time with Lost World Exhibit

Carol Rosegg

Dinosaurs walk the Earth (and sell merchandise) at the Cincinnati Museum Center's The Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park: The Lost World Exhibit.

Just beneath the jaws of a gigantosaurus, the biggest meat-eating dinosaur known to have roamed the earth, stands a round middle-aged woman in a floppy blue cotton hat and Bermuda shorts. Staring straight up, gaping in wonder, the woman asks of no one in particular, "How would you like to meet him late at night in a dark alley?"

Then, incredibly, as if re-animated by the sheer stupidity of the woman's question, the dinosaur springs to life, scoops the woman in its powerful jaws, shakes its head like a dog and gobbles her up. After a politely suppressed belch, the Gigantosaur gives me a wink and returns to its motionless crouch in the museum exhibit.

At least that's what I would have liked to happen. But unlike the Jurassic Park movies from which The Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park: The Lost World Exhibit takes its title, no tourists get eaten at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Which is a shame, really, because if dinosaurs aren't stomping on school buses, toppling skyscrapers or scaring Raquel Welch out of her furry caveman bikini, what good are they?

Of course, some people have deeper paleontological interests than do I, and for them The Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park offers an impressive, if small, collection of fossils, skeletal reconstructions and life-sized replicas of prehistoric creatures — most of which were featured in Jurassic Park and its sequel, The Lost World.

I suppose everyone has a favorite scene in Spielberg's blockbuster dino adventures. Mine, in both films, is the part where I'm firing up a smoke and driving out of the theater parking lot.

But other people seem to enjoy the T-Rex attack in The Lost World or the part in Jurassic Park where the dilophosaurus fans its neck, spits in the face of Newman from Seinfeld and then devours him. And I suppose those are pretty good scenes.

If you ask me, however, neither one of them holds a candle to Doug McClure fending off a flying pterodactyl in The Land That Time Forgot, a far more entertaining film than both the Jurassic Parks put together.

Fortunately, visitors to the Museum Center will get to see their Jurassic Park favorites up-close. A life-like (I guess) dilophosaurus is featured atop a jeep alongside a pair of speedy velociraptors in a multi-dino layout that looks as if it could be used to sell khaki pants at Sears, or maybe a new Jurassic line from Tommy Hilfiger.

The T-Rex, however, is featured in a less conceptual setting. Head mounted on the wall, the T-rex looks like nothing but the world's greatest hunting trophy. There are some bit players, too: a cute, baby stegosaurus and a pachycephalosaurus, which with its thick, bulbous head looks a little bit like Homer Simpson. Really, there's something for everyone, vegetarians and carnivores alike.

For whatever reason, kids are crazy about dinosaurs. And if you go to the Museum Center, you'll find them everywhere, running about, pointing at things and nattering on in their irritating, high-pitched baby voices. Eavesdropping on a couple of tykes at the Museum Center, it's amusing to hear the ease with which the little experts roll the complicated New Latin/Greek dinosaur terms off their blue, Sno-cone-stained tongues: "Mommy, the meglosaurus, iguanodon and hylaeosaurus were discovered in 1842 in the Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks of England ... waaaahhhh. I want a parasaurolophus!"

The Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park is a decidedly kid-friendly exhibit, with an archeological sandbox, rubber stamp table, stegosaurus slide and a gift shop full of expensive crap. Most entertaining, however, is the Dino Don's Dinosaur Jokes display: "Why didn't the Stegosaurus use a dishwasher? Because it has so many plates." And "Why do dinosaurs smell? Because they are x-stinked." Never mind that the "stink" joke doesn't make sense. The kids around me still seemed to get a kick out of it.

Mildly disappointing is the video presentation featuring Jeff Goldblum, who played Dr. Ian Malcom in the first two Jurassic Park films. The Museum Center's video display is impressive: Ten video screens fed from security cameras scan Jurassic Park monitoring the activities of the park's dinosaurs.

Unfortunately, the cameras don't find a whole lot going on. Occasionally a happy-looking dinosaur pops its head in front of the camera, but that's about the extent of it. The video feed runs continuously, and every 10 minutes or so Goldblum appears to present various theories of how dinosaurs became extinct — food poisoning, constipation — and then he explains that the dinosaurs were most probably wiped out by an asteroid colliding with earth.

As Goldblum finishes his brief talk, several of the video feeds reveal an asteroid hurtling toward earth. Goldblum notes that it's probably time to be on his way. Little does it matter.

The implication is that we're headed for the same fate as the dinosaurs. Ka-blooey!

Goldblum is a charming host, but a little more razzle-dazzle would have made the presentation more satisfying. At the end of the video, a little girl of about 4 asked incredulously, "Is that it?"

For the most part, though, the kids I saw seemed to enjoy the exhibit. And I did too, to a degree. Plus I learned a few interesting facts that might come in handy at some point.

Knowledge is power as they say, and after viewing The Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park I've been empowered with the knowledge that the stegosaurus had a brain the size of a ping pong ball, tyrannosaurus rex had a head more than 4.5 feet long and 99 percent of all species that have ever lived have become extinct.

It's a sobering thought. But I can't help but wonder if one day there will be a museum dedicated to the extinct human species. Perhaps families of super-intelligent ants will file through the Museum Center staring in wonder at our giant bones, our monstrous feet posed malevolently over defenseless anthills.

If so, I'd love to come back and visit the gift shop.

THE DINOSAURS OF JURASSIC PARK: THE LOST WORLD EXHIBIT is on view at the Cincinnati Museum Center through Sept. 3.

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