T. rex: The Ultimate Predator

Review

of an Exhibition

by William Ambler

Published on June 03, 2019

  • Description:

    Yesterday I visited T. rex: The Ultimate Predator at the American Museum of Natural History with my daughters, aged 4 and 7. As the website advertises, it introduced us “to the entire tyrannosaur superfamily and reveal[ed] the amazing story of the most iconic dinosaur in the world through stunning life-sized models, fossils and casts, and engaging interactives.”

    The exhibition engages visitors of different ages remarkably well. It opens with a model of a one-year-old Tyrannosaurus rex which is downright cute, like a small kangaroo with big eyes and covered in something between feathers and fur. It certainly grabbed my daughters’ attention, until they noticed the looming shadow projected behind it which conveys the difference in scale between a child and an adult T. rex. My four-year-old initially shrank in fear from the animated shadow, but ten minutes later insisted we return to the entrance vestibule so that she could watch the shadow again and touch it. The exhibition designers deserve great credit for their sense of theater and judgment in gauging children’s reactions.

    Beyond this introductory vestibule lies a vast rectangular room dominated by a reconstructed skeleton in the center, a huge and highly convincing model of a T. rex in the back-left corner, and a projection of a T. rex and friends covering the entire back wall. Most children, my daughters included, paid scant attention to most of the highly informative displays along the walls and scampered straight to the back wall where they could chase after nearly life sized, vividly hued projections of juvenile and adult T. rexes, a triceratops, and other charismatic fauna of the Cretaceous period. While cavorting at the projection wall, my daughters were learning the relative scale of various dinosaurs, their colors, and how they moved and interacted (or at least the latest scientific thinking thereon). No bad thing in itself, this also affords adult minders a welcome opportunity to peruse those other highly informative displays with their children in sight and engaged but not tugging at their sleeves. I emerged far better informed about the lifecycle of Tyrannosaurus rex and its extended family of other tyrannosaurs.

    Eventually my daughters began exploring other parts of the exhibition as well. The interactive elements kept them engaged and actually conveyed useful information, which most parents can attest is difficult to manage. A zoetrope of a young and adult T. rex moving lets kids spin something fun and in the process they learn that the young ones could run while the adults couldn’t. Another station lets them approximate the sound of a T. rex’s roar by combining various modern animal sounds, adjusted to account for body size; fun and also thought provoking.

    Most text appears at a height viewable by even the youngest readers and also by visitors in wheelchairs. At the same time, the font is large enough, and a bright enough white against a stark black, with spotlights bright enough, that texts remain easily legible by those of us over six feet without having to double over. Again, kudos to the designers who made textual information universally accessible while remaining attractive and not overly intrusive.

    Doubtless serious paleontologists will cringe at some of the more theatrical elements of this exhibition, and even I as a complete amateur came away wishing for more information about the history of Tyrannosaurus rex research. Having visited the museum as a child myself, I know that the American Museum of Natural History’s staff found some of the earliest fossils and even named T. rex, but that does not feature in the exhibit. But the exhibition developers know their audience, and this show beautifully engages and informs an extraordinarily wide range of visitors.

Latest Comments (1)

Well done!

by Kathleen Mclean - June 04, 2019

Good description of the exhibition. And your comments about wanting more information were important to include. Don’t let the exhibit creators off the hook. Even though their main audience might be kids, that doesn’t preclude them from providing enough information to go deeper—particularly for a family audience. And there are many kids who would want this info as well.

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