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The Jurassic Park movies brought dinosaurs to life, but bringing them to live theater is a different sort of beast entirely. Jurassic World Live Tour, an upcoming arena show that will tell an original tale set between the two Jurassic World movies, faces the challenge of resurrecting dinosaurs in a way that the movies never quite had to deal with. It’s also an opportunity, for as realistic as all the CGI dinosaurs are, they’re still just projections on a screen. The live tour’s T. rex is actually walking around an arena, a three-dimensional, life-size predator.
“The live tour is going to take us places. I mean, the films can take us there, but we’re taking you there in a different way, because we’re having the dinosaurs really reacting and we’re seeing them in the flesh,” director Dan Shipton tells SYFY WIRE during a press preview event in New York. “You aren’t just watching something through a flat window, you’re in the room and your eyes are the close-up. You can choose where to look, we are no-holds-barred, there’s nothing to hide.”
The show, which will premiere in Ohio this fall before touring around the U.S. through 2020, features several dinosaurs, including classics like the T. rex, Velociraptor, Stegosaurus, and Triceratops. Rather than DNA harvested from ancient amber samples, or even state-of-the-art computer graphics, the live tour brings dinosaurs to life through a combination of robotics and puppetry, furthered by novel acting techniques and an immersive narrative.
“It really was taking the action, agility, fluid motion of the dinosaurs that are in the films which are all CGI, and translating that into an original story so it wasn’t just dinosaurs just walking around,” associate producer Chris Nobels explains. “We wanted to weave the dinosaurs into a good solid story plot, very much like the movies do. The dinosaurs are characters in the movies just as much as the people are. The T. rex doesn’t come out just to come out, she comes out with purpose, and same thing in our show. She comes out with purpose.”
The show’s T. rex, a towering creature that will be brought to life via a complex, remote-controlled animatronic, isn’t at the press preview. It’s unclear if the 43-foot dinosaur would even fit in the event space, which doesn’t boast an especially high ceiling. However, two other dinosaurs are present: Blue the Velociraptor and Jeanie, a Cretaceous-era dinosaur known as a Troodon, a new addition to the Jurassic franchise.
Both dinosaurs are complex animatronic puppets that are operated by “dinoteers,” though all you can see of the humans are their black spandex-clad legs. The dinoteer’s torso is packed within the body of the dinosaur, and from inside the 120-pound costume, the dinoteer sees the world through a small video screen as they control the dinosaur’s movement and expression.
Even at the press event, which had the general aesthetic of a high school science fair, the two dinosaurs seem real — or at least, real enough. You’re not quite convinced that the Velociraptor in front of you is a real Velociraptor and not a man in a suit, you’re also not paying any attention to those two human legs. It’s a willing, and effective suspension of disbelief, one that will only grow stronger in the actual show, when the dinosaurs aren’t just hanging around a mostly-empty basement posing for selfies with journalists.
“As soon as we put them in our world, it becomes a whole other experience. So, I think we’re taking, we’re giving a different thrill to the audience that you can’t get from the films,” Shipton says. “I don’t really see any of the dinoteering now, I just see the amazing real dinosaurs.”
Seeing “real” dinosaurs is the wish-fulfilling magic that makes the entire Jurassic franchise work. Sure, it’s great when the T. rex eats the lawyer on the toilet, but the most important scene in the first movie comes earlier, when Alan Grant first lays eyes on a massive, living Brachiosaurus next to his Jeep. The audience feels that sense of awe with him, because we’ve all wondered what it would be like to really see a dinosaur. Pretty much every kid ever has.
Jurassic World Live Tour has to work within the confines of a live theatrical performance rather than the unbridled possibility of movie CGI, but there’s something that’s (fittingly) more primal about seeing a “real” dinosaur, even if it’s not quite as realistic as a movie special effect would be.
“It brings a level of excitement,” explains Corey McCourt, the project manager who helped design and build the show’s dinosaurs. “Being able to be in a room with Blue, with the T. rex, with the Stegosaurus, if you’re sitting down by the floor you can come within sniffing distance of these dinosaurs. Whereas with a movie, it’s great, you love that experience, but this is more interactive, less passive.”
Jurassic World Live Tour kicks off in Columbus, Ohio, this September and will travel along the East Coast and part of the Midwest into the spring of 2020. For a full schedule of the tour, click here.