Over several years of visiting the National Geographic Museum with my kids, I’ve gotten used to the changing exhibits feeling like an indoor play space with learning tucked inside. The latest exhibit, Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology, while not aimed primarily at kids, is a departure from the other exhibits I’ve visited. My sons (5 and 9) and I all enjoyed the exhibit but would have liked even just a few things to get our hands on. I mean, it’s archaeology – can’t we dig something up?
Before entering the exhibit, visitors are handed a mini-tablet and pair of headphones. The devices allow visitors to type in a number displayed next to each exhibit item and hear and/or watch more about it. Each audio/video is around 3 minutes. Sometimes you are looking at a film clip on a wall-mounted TV while hearing the audio on your tablet (the clips replay continuously so if you come into it partway through the clip, not to worry). Sometimes you are looking at an object, such as a movie prop or costume, and the tablet is showing a behind-the-scenes clip of the movie being made or some film footage that includes the object. Items – whether they were made for the movie or dug up from ancient civilizations – are all in glass cases.
As I see it, the pros to this setup include being able to go at your own pace; being able to hear audio for movie clips without the exhibit being noisy; and being able to see a larger amount of footage than a classic exhibit would allow. Also, my 5-year-old felt very grown up carrying a tablet and being able to punch in numbers when something interested in him. The cons include the solitary nature of digital devices, which means there’s less interaction among visitors (whether that’s someone who came with you, a stranger, or a museum staffer); the aforementioned lack of hands-on items; and the feeling that if you’re not going to see/hear every single thing in the exhibit, it’s harder to decide what to focus on (you can stop playing the audio/video on your tablet at any time but there’s a different feel than if you were just browsing an exhibit). Also, my 5-year-old kept asking me questions and I’d have to yank his headphones away from one ear while I tried to give him answers.
Who will be most likely to enjoy this exhibit? Definitely fans of the three 1980s movies (and the 2008 movie, if it has fans). I think if you are not somewhat familiar with the movies, the exhibit will be harder to follow. There are certainly sections on archaeology that could appeal to some, but much of the information is woven into or stacked alongside movie clips and props. There’s a blurring of real and fake as actual artifacts and those created for the movie are a bit hard to distinguish.
While the first two movies were rated PG, the last two were PG-13. Of the clips included in the exhibit, some of the action, violence, and romance were a bit mature for my 5-year-old. Most of the clips, though, seemed appropriate for my 9-year-old. I would recommend the exhibit for anyone who has seen the movies or for ages 8 and older (but honestly I think adults will love it the most).
The exhibit exit leads you right into the gift shop. We turned in our tablets and I quickly steered my kids away from the tempting souvenirs and over to the life-size wax figure of Indiana Jones for a free memento – a picture taken with my own device.
- Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology is on display through Jan. 3, 2016.
- Also on view through Oct. 12, 2015, is the kid-friendly exhibit Monster Fish: In Search of the Last River Giants. Read the Our Kids review.
- Museum hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Admission is $15; $10 for children 5 to 12; free for children under 5; $12 for members, seniors, students, and military. If you subscribe to any National Geographic publication (including kids’ magazines), you get the member rate if you mention that at the ticket counter.
- Bring your own headphones for comfort (or if the idea of sharing headphone germs bothers you). When first putting on the headphones, my 5-year-old mentioned he found them uncomfortable. The museum staffer said he could take them off and listen to the audio without them if need be (but it seems like that could have been disruptive to others’ experiences and it turned out the headphones didn’t continue to bother him).
- Cameras can be hard to manage with the tablet taking up one hand, so don’t expect to get a lot of good photos. There’s no flash photography allowed and the windowless exhibit’s walls and ceilings are all black so it’s quite dark.
- On weekends, 3D movies are also shown at the museum.
- Two-hour metered street parking surrounds the museum, and some garages are also nearby.
- There are several dining options within a short walk, including Potbelly, Quiznos, Melt Shop, Sweetgreen, and Red Robin.
Photos one and three courtesy of Kathleen Seiler Neary. Photo two Courtesy Lucasfilm.