Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Rise of the Robosaurs at Marwell

Marwell Zoo is a marvellous (Marwell-vellous?) wildlife park located in Hampshire, in the south of England. Its vast, open acres are home to perhaps the widest variety of (very happy-looking) exotic ungulates in the UK (and much more besides, of course). For me, at least one visit per year is a must, but this summer the park has also installed sundry robo-saurians about the grounds as part of what it's calling 'Rise of the Dinosaurs'. To quote a famous delivery boy: "Just shut up and take my money!"

Photos mostly by Niroot (marked NP)


Given my recent experiences of robo-dino exhibitions, I must admit that I wasn't expecting a great deal from this one. Unfortunately, you'll find some of the worst stereotypes of cartoonish rubberiness, reading comprehension failure, and outdated, monsterised anatomical atrocities on show at Marwell. Nonetheless, there are a few pleasant surprises thrown in, and the quality of the models does vary considerably (many, if not all, are based on recycled Dinamation moulds).

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Marwell's robosaurs are scattered around the park, and guests are issued with 'adventure trail' guides that point to their various locations. Many of the models are smaller than life size, and this is nowhere more obvious than with the sole sauropod of the bunch, which is labelled "Brachiosaurus" for whatever reason. Arguably, it more closely resembles a mamenchisaur of some sort, although that rather nondescript blob of a head ain't helping.

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Other shrunken versions of staple herbivores include a no-neck Stegosaurus and a group of juvenile Triceratops, the largest of which is definitely an old Dinamation mould; its peculiar 'look', with exposed guminess and misplaced earhole, is very distinctive. The babiest babies are depicted rolling around a nest, which helps ramp up levels of cute beyond what might otherwise have been expected for a bunch of horned, scaly things.

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There's a Parasaurolophus, too, which is again an old Dinamation mould. Its judicious placement in front of the park's stately home centrepiece allows for some excellent, and rather unusual, photo opportunities. It's not so bad, for a model from the late 1980s/early 1990s...which, of course, is exactly what it is. It also emits a surreal, echoing honk that sounds like the earliest warning of an extraterrestrial invasion. The odds of anything coming from the Cretaceous are a million to one...and yet still, they come!



The park's herbivorous dinosaur collection is completed by a surprisingly-not-that-bad Edmontonia, which also benefits from not being drastically undersized. While I'm not familiar with this one from the, er, Dinamation literature, the cheekless mouth certainly hints at a shared ancestry. In direct violation of the law on dinosaur sound effects (i.e. they must sound roughly like their perceived modern-day mammalian equivalents), this brightly-coloured ankylosaur growls like a cougar. It's all rather disconcerting, which I happen to really like - because after all, dinosaurs should seem unfamiliar, and heavily-built quadrupeds studded with stabby osteoderms should have a slightly frightening presence. Damn it.


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Then there are the theropods. As I mentioned previously in my post on Blackgang Chine's new robo-menagerie, carnivorous dinosaurs have a certain reputation to live up to, and therefore tend to suffer more than the herbivores when it comes to monsterising. Fortunately, the star attraction of the exhibition - a life-sized Tyrannosaurus-o-matic - is considerably better than Blackgang's, although that's probably because - you guessed it - it's an old Dinamation model. It even benefits from a particularly snazzy and fetching colour scheme. Unfortunately, certain changes to its anatomical proportions - the result, I can only imagine, of the inherent need for the thing to balance well - result in a rather dumpy, pot-belled, stumpy-legged appearance.





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At least they crushed a golf cart. I'm sure we can all appreciate that. Bloody golf.

Elsewhere, the old Dinamation Dilophosaurus - it of the unexplained water jet - has received an unconvincing head (perhaps even torso?) transplant, and now masquerades as Baryonyx. That's right - a Baryonyx that sprays copious amounts of water. Whatever, it's fun - and they didn't stick two crests on it. Bonus points for that.


Given the, shall we say, vintage nature of these creations, you may well be expecting a naked, zombie-handed dromaeosaur to show up. And you'd be right. What you might not correctly guess is exactly how naked. Marwell's Deinonychus has been stripped not only of feathers, but also of skin, revealing that dinosaurs are really just black metal armatures and pneumatics underneath. Those lying palaeontologist gits.



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It is, of course, a nerd-rage inducing heresy for dromaeosaurs in 2014 to look like they've stepped straight out of the Normanpedia. Next to that, the bafflingly tyrannosaur-shaped silhouette used to illustrate Deinonychus on nearby informational signage is just surreal.


I'd like to end on a high note, and so I must interrupt the theropod parade in order to bring you...a pterosaur. Of all the models in the park, this one perhaps provides the cruellest tease to us palaeo-nerds. Its considerable height means that one is able to sight its head looming above the foliage from some distance away. Is that...could it be? Yes! It's an azhdarchid pterosaur! And hey, the head indicates that they've done at least a cursory amount of research! Maybe they've modelled it in terrestrial-stalking, quadrupedal mode? Yeah, right.

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 Good grief, what happened? Come on, you were on the right track with the head and torso! What the hell happened to the wings? Why is the pteroid bone pointing straight up? Why, why why?! And why does it resemble Rodan impersonating a Rolls Royce bonnet adornment from the side?

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I bet you can guess what they did on the informational sign for this one. (Never mind the silhouette - read the text.)


My thoughts are surmised eloquently in the following clip:


I blame Mark Witton for this, you know. He just had to go and popularise azdharchids, didn't he? And now look what's happened. I hope you're happy, Mark. Tch.

Once you've taken a quick break to relieve your blood pressure/neck a stiff drink, I feel I should finish with perhaps the most welcome surprise of the whole exhibition. Marwell's Deinonychus might be several shades of wrong, but they have another maniraptor on show - a Citipati. And it's feathered. And its hands are in the neutral position. And it's well-proportioned. It even has a wonderful speculative barbed tongue, as some extant dinosaurs do. Granted, it's missing its hand feathers, and its appearance is a little cartoony, but all things considered this is an excellent model. It even effectively provoked the appropriate level of puzzlement and fascination in park guests - this wasn't what they were expecting to see!


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Wonderful stuff. More of this sort of thing, please!

This model receives Niroot approval.
Rise of the Dinosaurs might be a mixed bag o' bots, but I still can't recommend visiting Marwell highly enough - it's a really fantastic zoo, and always a pleasant day out. Its expansive layout means there's always somewhere you can go to get away from the crowds, and you'll never run out of interesting (and often very rare) animals to see. If you're disappointed with the robosaurs, you can always check out the park's many real dinosaurs, both resident and visiting. Give it a go, if you can!

10 comments:

  1. Bonus picture for our readers: 'Horridus' and horridus. Marc with the Triceratops.

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  2. I knew that was Dinamations Constipated Rex. The gut gave it away. (But of course I have to Thank Niroot for clarifying it on Facebook)

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  3. It's probably a futile hope, but: Did anything say why the Deinonychus was stripped of its skin? To be replaced with something more accurate, maybe?
    I like the Stegosaurus' Schwarzenegger biceps.

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    Replies
    1. Oh, the 'Deinonychus' was the one that visitors could try their hands at controlling via a panel of buttons. It's presumably stripped down so its workings could be seen, though in our debriefing, Marc and I agreed that we would have preferred it 'halved', as it were, with only the front exposed, much like a cross-section illustration. That and feathers. Of course.

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  4. That's a rather decent Citipati

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  5. "Unfortunately, certain changes to its anatomical proportions - the result, I can only imagine, of the inherent need for the thing to balance well"

    If that's their excuse, it's lame (especially given Kokoro's T.rex).

    "and they didn't stick two crests on it. Bonus points for that."

    Why would they?

    -Hadiaz

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    Replies
    1. "Why would they?"
      The JP Spinosaurus, of course (see also: the spinosaurs in the Living Dinosaurs expo)

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    2. Oh yeah. I thought you meant Dilophosaurus-style crests.

      -Hadiaz

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    3. 'If that's their excuse, it's lame...'

      *Badum-tish!* What, you weren't making a leg joke? ;)

      Delete
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