Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic
Recently, I was lucky enough to attend the opening of the Experience Music Project/Sci-Fi Museum’s (EMP/SFM) latest major exhibit, Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic, showcasing materials from fantasy worlds such as Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter. In honor of the opening of the exhibit, the museum put together a massive party that featured events such as swordfighting presentations, talks from noteworthy figures such as Karen Falk (the head archivist for The Jim Henson Company), and the opportunity to learn to play card games such as Magic: The Gathering.
The exhibit continued the EMP/SFM’s tradition of going beyond traditional design and creating a unique atmosphere specifically created with the theme of the exhibit in mind. Sure, there are plexiglass exhibit cases with materials in them, but they happen to be set in the middle of a small fantasy village like one you might see in one of the highlighted projects—including huts, needles on the ground, a dragon trapped in a cage, and a tree made out of metal plates. The exhibit is mainly compromised of two large rooms (with small off-shoots), so while it is looks good, it won’t take you that long to make your way through it (yet it’s still larger than most of the other exhibits at the EMP/SFM).
As cool as the environment was, that was just gravy, as everyone was there to see the objects on display. These materials are partly predictable and partly very pleasant surprises. It wasn’t necessarily a surprise to see a few costumes from Snow White and the Huntsman, given its recent success, but I was very pleasantly surprised to see a lot of materials from The Princess Bride (a movie beloved by everyone on this site). Certainly one of the most popular parts was the opportunity for attendees to get their picture taken in the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones. If this hadn’t been making its way around the US so much lately (I saw it at SXSW just two months ago), I would’ve been more excited, but it is still very cool to see in person. Other crowd-pleasers included materials from The Wizard of Oz, Labyrinth, and Xena: Warrior Princess. But, despite all the positives, I couldn’t help but walk away slightly disappointed.
The biggest problem the exhibit has nothing to do with the exhibit itself, but rather the EMP/SFM’s recent record of success. Their horror exhibit, Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film, is both a visually stunning and engaging experience. Likewise, recent exhibits highlighting Battlestar Galactica and Avatar have done excellent jobs of giving the fans what they want. Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic reaches for this level, but never really hits it. For example, some of the major selling points, as I had previously mentioned, are Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter—in contrast, the percentage of the actual exhibit made up from these projects is very low…a costume, a couple pages from a book, and the Iron Throne are pretty much it. There is no question we’ve been spoiled in the past in Seattle by the EMP/SFM, and that makes us tougher critics. Anywhere else, this exhibit would be raising the bar.
I realize a portion of my frustration lies with me and my high expectations of EMP/SFM given their past successes, but I also do feel like the advertising oversold some of the projects included in the exhibit. The saving grace, though, is that even if the exhibit doesn’t live up to expectations, when you purchase a ticket to the museum you are also able to see Can’t Look Away: The Lure of Horror Film. Tickets are a bit pricey, but if you are into fantasy at all, this is one opportunity you can’t miss. It won’t be around forever.