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Missing Movie Magic (Mostly)
London Film Museum (London)
Member Name: sharper_fin
London Film Museum (London)
Date: 27/07/13, updated on 27/07/13 (49 review reads)
Advantages: Quite cheap, central London location
Disadvantages: There just aren't many quality items
The London Film Museum is located near Westminster Bridge on the South Bank of London's River Thames. It sits in the shadow of the London Eye on the first floor of County Hall, which used to be the home of the Greater London Council. As such, it's a very ornate building and seems an unusual setting for a film museum. It struck me as a little strange to see horror and science fiction movie props set in miles of wood-panelled walls and sculpted high ceilings but I guess they're using the space available. That's to be applauded.
The museum opened in 2008 as The London Movium and changed its name to the London Film Museum in 2010. Having a museum dedicated to film props is a great idea and one that I've seen in several magnificent movie museums in America. Perhaps visiting those institutions had spoiled me or raised my expectations...
The seemingly endless corridors of the LFM cover a huge area and there are lots of small side rooms to explore. The problem is that much of it is empty or sparsely populated. And, sadly, much of what there is on show is distinctly second division. For example there's a huge dinosaur skeleton in a prominent position. Could it be from 'Jurassic Park' or a similar big epic movie? No, it's from 'Night at the Museum'. Sorry, it's worse than that. It's from 'Night at the Museum 2'. That sort of set the tone really. There's a life-size sci-fi submarine that turns out not to be from a Hollywood blockbuster but the legendary flop live-action version of 'Thunderbirds'. There's a beautiful set from 'Sherlock Holmes', but it's from the ITV television show, not the Robert Downey Junior movies. And there's a large exhibit about Charlie Chaplin showing some of his more famous costumes. Only they aren't his, they're from Robert Downey Junior's biopic of Chaplin. There's even a Dr Who TARDIS and a couple of Daleks on display. But they're not from the TV show, they're from the mostly forgotten films starring Peter Cushing.
Everything here is good, but much of it is not quite as good as it could be.
In most museums these days there's a big reliance on interactivity. Visitors must (apparently) always be able to do something with the exhibits, to become involved with them in some way. To become "engaged" (shudder). But not here. You can take as many photographs as you like but don't touch. It's very much an 'old-school' museum with exhibits surrounded by information boards. There are LOTS of information boards everywhere, telling you everything that you could ever want to know about the British film industry. Strangely though quite a few of the exhibits are unlabelled which is very frustrating. Or - as in the case of the over-eighteens-only "Horror" room for example - it's simply so dark that you can't read anything.
The best bit is without doubt the 'Star Wars' area. There are Stormtroopers, R2D2 and C3PO robots, original prop weapons and spaceships and a suitably scary Darth Vader suit. But here, as with many of the other exhibits throughout the museum, much of the information provided is very vague about the item that it's placed alongside. Now maybe it's just me being suspicious but that did make me question the validity and provenance of some of the items on display. For example a sign saying "Storm trooper costume used in 'Star Wars: A New Hope'" is pretty conclusive. You know instantly that it's the genuine item used in the movie. But one that just states "Han Solo was frozen in a block of carbonite" placed next to a black slab which may or may not have been the Harrison Ford statue used in the films is much more dubious. You can buy near-perfect replicas of this item quite cheaply online.
For older sci-fi fans there's a small collection of Ray Harryhausen models too. Best of these are miniature and large models of the "Talos" bronze statue that comes to life in 'Jason and the Argonauts'. He really did look as if he could come to life at any moment and I spent quite some time studying the intricacies of the model work. I could have taken as long as I wanted.
We went on a weekday morning in the school holidays. I'm not exaggerating when I say that the place was empty. Not just sparsely populated but totally empty. We were the only paying customers in there. Even the two or three staff that we saw looked surprised to see us. When I bought our tickets the man on the desk even said, "You know that this is for the London Film Museum?" as if he were shocked that we'd bothered to go. It was great for us having the entire place to ourselves but the lack of other visitors robbed it of any atmosphere, of any shared thrill with other like-minded film fans.
If you're not too good at walking I would suggest that accessibility might be a problem. There are quite a few steps to negotiate and many, many long, empty corridors to walk down between display rooms. To be fair though they say that they can provide step-free access if you let them know in advance and a free helper's ticket is provided for all disabled visitors.
After saying all this, the organisers have made a worthy effort and should be congratulated for it. At £13-50 for adults and £11-50 for children (as at July 2013) it's one of London's cheaper attractions too. And the eyes of all visitors of a certain age will light up when they see the original J Arthur Rank gong and hammer that was used to introduce all those old films. That alone has got to be worth the entrance fee.
But if you find yourself in London and you want to see lots of quality film props that you'll recognise , then honestly I'd suggest that you'll be better off going to the Planet Hollywood restaurant. It'll cost you around the same price, you'll be much happier with what you see and you'll get a meal thrown in too.
Summary: A bit of an independent b-movie, not a hollywood blockbuster
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