comscore Giants of the past | Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Giants of the past

    Mike Shanahan, Bishop Museum’s director of education, exhibits and planetarium, poses with a life-size, moving model of an allosaurus, part of the museum’s new exhibit, “Dinosaurs Unearthed: Feathered Discoveries.” The exhibit runs through Sept. 5.
    Jill Radke, left, Bishop Museum's Director of Communications and Corporate Relations has some fun with the 12-foot- tall Triceratops replica at the entrance to the museum. Mike Shanahan, Director of Education, Exhibits and Planetarium) shows its true scale by posing against it.

The big boys are back in town. Bishop Museum has tried mightily with past traveling exhibits, some successful, some not, but nothing really compares with dinosaur shows. That’s just the way it is.

The new show is a real cracker, featuring uku-plenty moving, bellowing, life-size prehistoric creatures. There are more dinosaurs afoot than any Bishop Museum dinosaur show in memory, and we’ve covered them all.


Bishop Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Tuesdays. Admission is $17.95, with discounts for youth, seniors, Hawaii residents and military, and free for members. For information, visit or call 847-3511.

The twist with this show is recently discovered creatures from China that were so well preserved that traces of downy feathers were discovered in the fossils, and so the theme is "Dinosaurs and Birds: The Connection." The new theory is that dinosaurs didn’t so much suddenly go extinct out as they evolved into more efficient creatures, which we now call birds.

Bishop Museum is a real science museum, so you won’t see any creationist alternatives, such as Jesus riding a brontosaur to work. And, like most dinosaur exhibits, the era is firmly stuck in the Cretaceous Period, when the most familiar dinosaurs stomped the earth. The Triassic and Jurassic antediluvian periods get a creature or two in as well.

Maybe it’s financially impossible to create a dinosaur show without a Tyrannosaurus rex, and this one plays it safe by trotting out two T-rexs, one a great, grunting toothsome apparition right in front of the Castle Memorial Building, and the other an "adolescent" T-rex covered in downy feathers, which looks like a shaggy suit. Both roar and swish their tails and waggle their tiny forelimbs and open their maws wide at you, and their picket-fence rows of hooked teeth are fearsome indeed.

Tail-swishing is the order of the day, as that’s fairly easy to animate. Some of the creatures don’t do much more than that; others have a full range of motion that includes lungs that expand and contract. All are triggered by sensors, and it takes a minute or so for each dinosaur to build up enough hydraulic pressure to repeat a "performance."

The dinosaurs all look pretty good, and seams and hydraulic lines are well-hidden. They benefit also from very dramatic lighting, as well as a minimum of secondary exhibits, mostly cast copies of skulls.

Don’t miss the brontosaur/apatosaurus parked in the corner of the museum parking lot, far from the main exhibit, and yes, it’s movable too. The sensor is in front, so passing traffic doesn’t set it off. Also outside is a lean, muscular triceratops, not the plodding bulldozer you usually see depicted, although — like the apatosaurus — it’s flat-footed, like an elephant.

The interior exhibits include an arched skeleton reproduction of long-necked omeisaurus, under which you walk into the main gallery. Everything is full-sized, except the velociraptor, described as turkey-sized, is much bigger than that, and appears to actually be deinonychus, whom you may remember as the "raptors" from "Jurassic Park."

The coolest creature is one of the newest, gigantoraptor, discovered only a few years ago, a towering, shaggy emu-like monster with a ten-gallon snapping beak. Next to it is dromaeosaurid microraptor, chicken-sized and bearing tiny teeth. Rarer than hen’s teeth? Not during the Cretaceous.

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