31 October 2009

What Big Teeth You Have

The Boston Museum of Science has just opened “Harry Potter: The Exhibition,” which offers “more than 200 authentic props and costumes from the Harry Potter films, all displayed in settings inspired by the film sets.” This brings up two thoughts for me.

(Shorter) What the hell does this have to do with science?

(Longer) Back in 1995-96, the same museum hosted an exhibit inspired by the Jurassic Park movie, which at least was science fiction. I volunteered as a docent on weekends, showing off small fossils and casts in the midst of the big models of Velociraptors, Triceratops, and the legs of a mechanical Tyrannosaur. (The rest of that character had been created through models and CGI, like Sam Neill.)

I remember several television monitors played endless loops of short clips from the movie and from “behind the scenes” and “the science behind the story” interviews of the sort that now show up on DVDs. In fact, I can’t help but remember those loops. Their sounds have been grooved into my brain.

Most of the items I had to show visitors were resin casts—of different dino-teeth, of a smooshed ’raptor skull, and so on. There was one real fossil, heavy as the rock it had been turned into, which I let kids hold before telling them what a coprolite was. Hee hee.

More specific memories:

  • Only one visitor asked why, if real Velociraptors stood only knee high, but paleontologists have found similar species as big as the monsters in the movie (e.g., Utahraptors), why didn’t the filmmakers use the larger species? I had to explain that I hadn’t actually made the movie.
  • One boy came to me in tears because he’d lost track of his mother in the crowd. I struggled to explain that there was only one way out of the room he’d seen her go in, and we were standing in that archway, so he was bound to see her again. Before I could finish, the boy did indeed spot his mother and flung himself against the back of her knees. She seemed as baffled as I was.
  • One wall of the exhibit was made to look like the electrified fence in Jurassic Park, with a big DANGER sign hanging from one of the horizontal wires. If you shuffled your feet on the carpet and touched a wire, about half the time you’d produce a tiny static pop. Since lots of teenagers don’t lift their feet when they walk, more than a few ended up sparking against that fence, which was always good for a few squeals.
When the exhibit closed, I heard that it was one of the most popular and lucrative the museum had ever hosted. Which explains why, thirteen years later, the Museum of Science is trying to find science lessons in Harry Potter.

1 comment:

Nathan said...

You mean there's no science to flying on broomsticks? So NOW you tell me!