There’s really no preparing to be up close and personal with a 42-foot-long, fully animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex, especially if you’re sitting only a few feet away and staring up, up, up to its realistic snout, preparing to feel the quake from its iconic roar.
And that’s exactly what Chris Nobels wants when the "Jurassic World LIVE" touring production arrives in Tampa this Friday.
Nobels, the senior director of production for Feld Entertainment, who also has worked on Feld’s “Disney on Ice” and “Marvel Universe LIVE,” spent the better part of three years building this all-new show, and to say he’s as much of a fan as he is the associate producer would be an understatement.
“We started on the project from a blank piece of paper,” he said. “It starts on the day that “Jurassic World” falls, when Indominus Rex gets loose, and ends three months before “Fallen Kingdom” begins. It’s right in the middle between both films.”
In case you hate fun and have no idea what an Indominus Rex is, let’s recap: Way back in 1990, author Michael Crichton published “Jurassic Park,” a science-fiction thriller that imagined what might happen if scientists and entrepreneurs figured out how to clone dinosaurs from fossil DNA. Three years later, Steven Spielberg released his film adaptation, which remains one of the cinematic touchstones of near-perfect CGI ever produced. That was quickly followed by two sequels in 1997 and 2001. Fourteen years later, in 2015, writer-director Colin Trevorrow released “Jurassic World,” which was followed in 2018 by “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” In all, the five films have made nearly $5 billion in worldwide box office receipts alone.
To maintain continuity and not stray from established canon, Nobels said he met with NBC Universal executives, Trevorrow and even Spielberg himself to pitch ideas and review dinosaur designs to make sure his team got it right.
“It was just as important to me as we felt it would be important to fans that we kept the canon and accuracy true,” Nobels said.
To that end, he said, because "Jurassic World LIVE" takes place after the climatic fight between the T-Rex and Indominus Rex, his team even labored over the wounds and scars “to make sure they look how they would have looked after that fight.”
No one seemed to appreciate that dedication more than when they met with Spielberg, the legendary director.
“He was just as excited as we were looking at that level of detail because that’s what fans expect,” Nobels said. “It was fantastic. He laughed at all the jokes we had written. He was impressed. He bought into the story and he understood what we were doing and why we were doing it.”
"Jurassic World LIVE" features a collection of 21 different dinosaurs, including fan-favorites like the T-Rex and Blue the Velociraptor, as well as a brand-new dino, Jeanie, a Troodon, a species that Nobels said is believed to have represented the smartest dinosaurs that ever lived.
“We chose her to play with the emotional connection with humans, but also how smart and clever they are,” he said.
Some of the dinosaurs, like the T-Rex, Stegosaurus and Triceratops, are fully animatronic with on-board puppeteers controlling facial expressions and specific movements. Jeanie the Troodon and the raptors like Blue have performers inside them. And others, like the Pteranodon, are fully remote-controlled.
The show has dedicated 48 special seats on the arena floor for four dozen attendees who will find themselves as close as two feet from the action, and Nobels said they and everyone else at Amalie Arena should prepare to be immersed in the world of Isla Nubar.
“We take the audience on the journey and transport them from location to location in detail that hasn’t been seen before,” Nobels said.
His team, including production designer Josh Zangen, worked with Fireplay, a Brooklyn, New York-based design and production studio, to create realistic scenery and visual content to accompany the live-action thrills.
For parents wondering just how intense the new show might be, Nobels said not to worry.
“In the films, there’s a lot of implied action,” he said. “We feel this is a family-friendly show, but if you’re not comfortable with your kids watching the movies, you need to think about taking them to the show.”
And, just to be clear, he said, none of the live-action actors on stage gets eaten or killed by any of the animatronic dinosaurs.
“The dinosaurs play to the audience as well,” he added, “and understand the fear factor as well to make sure not one gets too scared.”
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at Blood Violence and Babes.com, on Facebook @BloodViolenceBabes or on Twitter @BVB_reviews.