POSTED: Friday, October 02, 2009

Like big, noisy relatives who take over the house when they're in town, dinosaurs are back in Honolulu.

At this point it's easy to forget which edition this is, but you can count on Bishop Museum to trot out a new dino display every three or four years. Since Hawaii is one of the few inhabited places on earth that never had real dinosaurs, their thunderous visitations are always welcome, and just different enough so that things are rarely repeated.

Visitors are welcomed by a Tyrannosaurus rex—can't have a dinosaur exhibit without T.rex!—the life-size, animatronic giant raptor guarding the entrance to Bishop Hall, flanked by a pair of cowed-looking Triceratops rolling their eyes. Out in the open like that, there's no cover for the rubbery skin to hide behind, and the big robots have no visible seams or joints.





        » Where: Bishop Museum, 1525 Bernice St.

» When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily through Jan. 4, 2010 (closed Tuesdays and Dec. 25)


» Cost: $15.95 general admission; $12.95 for seniors and children ages 4 to 12 years old; free for children under 4 (kamaaina and military discounts also available)


» Info: 847-3511 or




It's all very impressive, like doing a parlor trick in broad daylight.

The T.rex seems to suffer from Parkinson's in its vestigial starboard claw, as if it's trying to wave down a cab. Then suddenly the big robot swishes and roars satisfyingly. Like the Wizard in Oz, pay no attention to the stuff behind the curtain—the roar comes out of a speaker between the T.rex's toes.

It also sports horny scutes at the jawline, likely an artistic interpretation. Dinosaurs, are, after all, imagined out of scraps of bone and impressions in rock. Given recent revelations about how Triceratops may have sported quills along its back, the two ceratopsians—mama and baby—parked out on Bishop Museum's lawn seem like last year's model. Sometimes science advances faster than exhibit-building.

INSIDE THE hall, we're confronted immediately with an articulated Gasosaurus skeleton, which nails down the two primary themes of the exhibit—it's focused on the vicious, single-minded theropods (the Republicans of the primeval world) instead of the docile, herd-instinct sauropods (ancient Democrats!), and that, with the exception of some familiar golden-oldie dinosaurs, most of the exhibit showcases recent discoveries made in China, unseen since the days of Roy Chapman Andrews.

Gasosaurus is a theropod like a mini-T.rex, and even though he's pint-size, he's still bigger than you are. Turn the corner, and suddenly a very animated Yangchuanosaurus snaps at you, garishly lit with colored haunted-house illumination. Scattered around the room are fossil exhibits to put everything in perspective, although it's not clear whether these are actual fossils or castings.

The rest of the exhibit pretty much follows the same, delightful script: stolid bone displays interspersed with animated dinosaur models doing the hokey-pokey, most of which give us a reasonable update on the state of paleontological theory.

Signage for the Metriacanthosaurus, for example, talks about “;neural spines”; without really explaining or showing them, and the Tuojiangosaurus can be mistaken, at first glance, for our old friend Stegosaurus, except that he's smaller, pointier and, of course, Chinese.

The most interesting section takes a couple of well-known raptors—Deinonychus and a juvenile T.rex—and clothes them in downy fur and feathers, something recent research indicates was indeed possible.

A little annoying was a section featuring half-scale sauropods, their long necks only as high as a man (but more tempting to kids to pet) and a Protoceratops that was about twice as big as the real thing. Hey, dinosaurs are all about scale.

Bishop Museum probably doesn't intend for the temperatures in the exhibit to mimic the steamy Jurassic, but when there are a lot of people in there, it does. After the heat, the roaring dinosaurs and the shrieking children, patrons can cool off in the newly air-conditioned Hawaiian Hall.

And as usual, the best deal for families at Bishop Museum, if you go more than once, is an annual family membership. Between the dinos in Bishop Hall, the astounding renovation of Hawaiian Hall and the cool stuff in the science center, it's easy to spend a whole day there and still be hungry for more.