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At the MFAH and the HMNS, it's all about the bottom line

But what's really unsettling is how much of the show mimics the elements of a traditional natural history museum exhibition -- from a real freaking culture. Artifacts on view include hobbit clothing from hemp fibers, an Elven scepter, a Goblin quiver and arrows, Orc spoons and sundry battle helmets. A Middle-earth "death ritual" is re-created in a life-size wax cast of Sean Bean as Boromir, shown lying in state, Viking-style, in a longboat. But sadly, in a missed marketing opportunity, he isn't available at the gift shop. Guests will have to content themselves with a life-size Gollum or prosthetic hobbit feet.

Obviously, a tremendous amount of obsessive effort was put into the film to visualize and flesh out the races and cultures imagined by J.R.R. Tolkien. And in contrast to Houston's last sellout movie promotional exhibition, the hokey and lamentable "Star Wars: The Power of Myth" at the MFAH, this exhibition is spectacularly theatrical.

Whereas "Star Wars" lamely tried to justify itself by seeking to tie in Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth, "The Lord of the Rings" makes no such patronizing obfuscation. It is entertainment, pure and simple. There are audio effects, video screens that present behind-the-scenes interviews and information at the touch of a button, and dramatic lighting. [The dramatic lighting runs into trouble with the Cave Troll. Not only his face but also his tiny penis and singular (?) testicle are uplit. No wonder he looks so pissed. In another inadvertent effect, the wall mural of the "eye of Sauron" looks, as one visitor delicately put it, like "a giant flaming pussy."]

Unsettling: The "Lord of the Rings" show mimics a 
traditional natural history museum exhibit -- from a 
real freaking culture.
Copyright NLP, Inc
Unsettling: The "Lord of the Rings" show mimics a traditional natural history museum exhibit -- from a real freaking culture.

Details

"Baseball as America" Through August 14

"The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy, The Exhibition" Through August 28

"Baseball as America" Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 5601 Main, 713-639-7300

"The Lord of the Rings Motion Picture Trilogy, The Exhibition" Houston Museum of Natural Science, One Hermann Circle Drive, 713-639-4629

The exhibition's central problem is that the real world has plenty of real cultures, both ancient and modern, many of them rapidly disappearing. Clearly, revenue and attendance are the primary motivations behind this exhibition. But do we have to present a fabricated culture from a popular film series to get people to the museum? There has to be a way for museums to present actual information and authentic objects in a way that's both interesting and educational. Surely there is middle ground between dryly academic exhibitions and Disneyland.

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