Friday 12 February 2010

Dinosaurs Unleashed, Oxford Street, central London

Inside a massive marquee on a building site opposite Selfridges grandiose department store, a tyrannosaurus rex raises his head and swings his tail, roaring every couple of minutes. Nearby, other, less intimidating, dinosaurs twitch and tremble, while excited kids and parents swarm around them. Outside, an enormous diplodocus, longer than a London bendy bus, pivots its endless tail and neck, watched by a stegosaurus, a meglosaurus and a group of kangaroo-sized raptors. All together, Dinosaurs Unleashed showcases an impressive collection of about 20 animated model dinosaurs. But unleashed isn't quite the right word - they are generally glued to the spot and there aren't that many moving parts on each dinosaur. In some cases, the only sign of life is a beating heart.

The Jurassic jungle
Close up, the dinosaurs appear quite rubbery and fake, but from a distance they look the part, especially when you first venture outside the marquee into the Jurassic jungle. Unfortunately, there is nowhere near as much foliage or atmosphere as is implied by the posters and web site. The "jungle" is pretty spartan - there are some conifers, ferns and other plants, but there is also a lot of bare ground and a big pool of dirty water. Moreover, the incongruous office blocks overlooking the site make it difficult to suspend your disbelief.

Jostle for elbow room
The computer-generated videos in the "aquarium" are underwhelming and can be undermined by software crashes. Some of the other interactive screens elsewhere in the exhibit can also go on the blink from time to time, but there are plenty of staff hovering around to fix them quickly and help out with the computer-generated quizzes, which kids can activate using their own swipe card.  There is also a green screen where your child can be superimposed on to pictures of dinosaurs and lasers they can use to illuminate dinosaur models in different colours. Or they might prefer the more low-tech experience of digging up replica fossils buried in sand with a trowel. On a Sunday afternoon, most of these activities can be overrun and you have to jostle for elbow room. Dinosaurs Unleashed certainly has impact and kids under twelve will love it, but it is expensive (£15.50 for an adult and £11 for a child), given you can probably do it all in an hour and a half. 7/10