For a number of years I taught preschool classes at the Science Museum of Minnesota, and one day after class I was approached by a parent.
”We like your teaching,” she said, “but I do have a suggestion for you. It would be really great if you could be just a little more like Bill Nye.”
Walking With Dinosaurs: The Live Experience, presented by Immersion Entertainment (in association with BBC Worldwide) through June 15 at the Xcel Energy Center, 199 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul. For tickets ($29.50-$74.50) and information, see xcelenergycenter.com.
I was tempted to remind her that Bill Nye has a studio, an editor, and a multi-thousand-dollar budget—but I bit my tongue, because I knew what she meant. She wanted me to evince more of that goosed gee-whiz that suggests that building a toothpick tetrahedron is as exciting as riding a go-kart across a field of bubble wrap.
But is the highly caffeinated Bill Nye the Science Guy really about science? Sure, and so is that Star Wars exhibit at the Science Museum, and so is squeezing all the toothpaste out of the tube to see how much is in there, and so is Walking With Dinosaurs: The Live Experience.
There’s really only one question a review of this show needs to answer: How do the dinosaurs look? The answer: They look pretty good.
Walking With Dinosaurs, playing for one more day at the Xcel Energy Center, is a showcase for life-size dinosaur models inspired by the 1999 BBC television series of that name—a series holding the record as, minute for minute, the most expensive documentary ever made. The live production is essentially a runway show for several imposing models, which lumber about the arena floor with the help of a little human power and a lot of sophisticated electronics. Narrating the show is a paleontologist character who jogs around in a leather vest pronouncing words like “Jurassic” and “Pangea” with such effortful sincerity that he seems apt to give himself a hernia.
There’s really only one question a review of this show needs to answer: How do the dinosaurs look? The answer: They look pretty good. In fact, I feel very safe saying that they look better than any other life-size moving dinosaur models you’ve ever seen in your entire life. The illusion that you’re actually watching live dinosaurs is quite credible, especially if you squint—but there’s a certain charm in the fact that the show’s producers don’t try all that hard to pull the curtain over the wizard. Human legs are visible under the little raptors, and the larger dinos are mounted on rolling bases. Whatever these mock reptiles lack in comparison to their computer-animated counterparts seen in movies like Jurassic Park is more than made up for by the thrill of knowing that the Walking With dinosaurs are actually there in front of you. That Tyrannosaur may not actually be able to eat you—but if she stepped on your toe, it would hurt.
Anyway, as the aging rock stars who play the X have learned, sound and lights can go a long way towards distracting an audience from a few wrinkles or visible seams. I brought a nine-year-old to the show, and when I asked him what I should write about it, his answer was quick and definitive.
“Say that it was loud.”
Jay Gabler is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.