August 17, 2004

MoS Trip and Lord of The Rings Exhibit

The Boston Museum of Science trip was a success. For those who might be interested in a Duck Boat tour or the Lord of the Rings exhibit, read on to find out what I thought of the whole thing.

Cutting to the chase, Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy: The Exhibition is almost a must-see for any halfway-serious fan of the movie trilogy with the means to get to Boston before it leaves.1 More about the exhibit later on.

The whole family went to Boston with my daughter’s Brownie troop. They’d planned a Boston Duck Tour as part of the visit. I’d never been on one and it was both novel and entertaining.

These boats are WWII amphibious landing vehicles, repurposed to giving tours of Boston. This tour begins at the Museum of Science and includes a drive around Boston Common and toward the Back Bay, then down a ramp into the Charles River, under the Longfellow Bridge to where the river widens out.

For those familiar with Boston, the following pictures may be of interest. I left my GPS device on during the tour. Here is the track superimposed on a topo map, and then the same track overlaid on satellite photos. If you squint you can see the start and end points of the trip labeled (starting around 11:05 and ending around 12:20) and the waypoints marking where the Museum is (MoS) and where the ramp is. There actually is no ramp in the satellite picture, because it was recently relocated and the satellite photos are old.

The driver/tour guide was very lighthearted, entertaining and full of interesting information about Boston. He vaguely resembled John Billingsley from TV’s “Enterprise.” A tour can hinge on the attitude of the guide, and his pleasant manner made for a relaxing experience. The kids (though there were many of them) each got a turn at steering the boat once we were in the river. The loop where we were turning around in the images above was where Mattie and Kit were at the helm. Again, it’s a credit to the guide to note that he kept 20 kids engaged in a tour for an hour and a quarter (while driving), and the kids deserve some kudos for their behavior. I wish I could do that when we go on long automobile trips.

The pedestrians of Boston are used to seeing these duck boats lumbering around town and “quack” at the tourists as the go by. It is proper and encouraged to respond in kind.

After the tour, we had lunch and then split up to view the exhibits. I have little new to report about the museum itself; most of the exhibits have not changed since our last visit. So I will tell you a little bit more about the LoTR Exhibition.

You buy admission timed by the 1/4 hour. In other words, there is a time on your ticket regarding when you will be allowed in. You can stay as long as you like, but they limit the people entering the exhibit by at any one time. It prevents a huge clump from rushing in and clogging the displays.

Within the exhibit you will see actual maquettes used in the filming of the trilogy, costumes ant props of major characters, armor, weapons, full-size reproductions of a troll, featurettes accompanying some of the displays, and a few gimmicks highlighting the special effects techniques.

The gimmicks required you to stand in line. It’s up to you to decide if you need to participate in them. What struck me the most, however, were the props and costumes. Once you’ve seen these things in person you are impressed with the films all over again. If you’ve ever seen movie props in person, or costumes, you have probably been slightly disappointed. Many props and outfits, which look amazingly realistic on screen, look silly in person. SPFX and the magic of film both have transformative effects.

Not so with Peter Jackson’s work. It becomes obvious why the movies look so detailed. It’s because everything is detailed. From orc armor to Sauron’s frightening physical manifestation, you see everything. A Nazgul, Orthanc, and even the one ring, encased in Lucite and eerily illuminated within its own room. You’ll see Aragorn’s ranger clothing which Viggo Mortensen insisted on wearing all the time so it would get beat up in convincing ways.

The gimmicks were cute. Sit on a horse cart with a friend and through the magic of SPFX you will be as large as Gandalf and she will be hobbit-sized. And then, you can reverse positions. Have your face scanned and then rendered in stone by a computer. Participate in a crude version of motion capture, the method used to animate Gollum. Have a computer tell you, by your height, whether you’re a wizard, dwarf, hobbit… or whatever.

All are included with the price of admission, but you must stand in a medium-sized line. My advice: everyone looks much the same scanned in. We skipped the face scan after watching a few kids do it. The live motion capture was fun. The horse cart image was very entertaining. For $5 extra, they will take your photo. No cameras are allowed within the exhibit, so this is your one shot if you want a picture of anything there. In my estimation, the pix weren’t great. But it was fun to watch.

My favorite costume was the imposing armor and helmet of Sauron. But one of t he most striking displays is the corpse of Boromir, in the burial boat, as you leave the exhibit. You’d swear it was Sean Bean lying there, more lifelike than an actual corpse.

There are museum employees who are in among the displays allowing visitors to interact more closely, like holding an actual sword, or feeling chain mail.

No cameras or large bags are allowed in. If you have a backpack, they make you carry it in front of you. We’d deposited our stuff in a locker, but that costs $1.00 in quarters. So I do not have any pictures of the displays.

However, out in the lobby they have the polyurethane foam maquettes that were used in the movie to represent the Argonath. Those are the photos you see in this post (click for larger).

They were still imposing and dramatic looking in person, since even the models are quite tall. I’m guessing 15 feet or so.

In conclusion, it was a very satisfying visit for us, and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the films or is interested in the details that go into making an elaborate fantasy film.

1 I know it’s going to other cities, Singapore and Sydney among them, but I have no idea where else in the US it may be going.

Posted by James at August 17, 2004 10:21 AM
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I have wondered whether to go the exhibit, but now that I've read your excellent review, I would like to go. I loved the books and used to reread first the Hobbit and then the trilogy in the summer, but I haven't had too much time in the past year or so...

If you like Tolkien's writings, you might be interested in these two collections of Norse mythology:

The Prose Edda
By Snorri Sturluson

The Saga of the Volsungs
By Byock, Jesse L.

I took a course on folklore and the professor was AWFUL, but his reading list was good. He referred to the Prose Edda over and over again, but we never read it. So, when I was in Grolier's one day (, I picked up both books. I read the Prose Edda last winter, and now that I'm nearly done with school (read: I have more time), I'm reading The Saga of the Volsungs. Good stuff!

Posted by: Patti M. at August 17, 2004 10:49 AM


I'll probably go in October. I actually have one Sunday in September without a wedding so I'm going to go to King Richard's Faire. But I'll definitely hit the LotR exhibit before it disappears.

Posted by: David Grenier at August 17, 2004 11:33 AM

Pretty cool idea, superimposing that GPS data on a satellite photo. I still haven't been on a duck boat in all these years I've been living near Boston. I'd like to do it.

Posted by: Mike at August 17, 2004 11:46 AM

Word on the duck tours. I went with a group from work, and I was underwhelmed. I've worked in the city for so many years, I know it very well, and I didn't hear much on the tour that I didn't already know.

I found myself leaning over to a friend to give her more info on a particular historical site the driver had pointed out.

That having been said, it was kind of fun. It might be more fun for someone who isn't intimately familiar with the area.

Posted by: Patti M. at August 17, 2004 11:52 AM

When I lived in Seattle a friend of mine would give "Radical Walking Tours" of downtown where he talked about some of the city's history. I've heard there is a similar thing in NYC where you can go by Emma Goldman's house, see where the Unemployed Marches took place, etc.

I'd love to do the same thing for Providence some day, although I think it requires an enormous amount of free time to do all of the research and plan a good tour.

Posted by: David Grenier at August 17, 2004 12:57 PM

Cool idea, David. Providence is a wonderful city.

Part of the reason I enjoyed the duck tour so much is that I really am not familiar with that part of Boston. There's just a lot of Boston I never visit. When I go it's usually near Northeastern (Children's Hospital and the MFA) or over near the Aquarium.

Posted by: James at August 17, 2004 2:24 PM

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