The first Jurassic Park movie came out when I was 10 years old. That’s a crucial time for the development of a monster-loving, dinosaur book-reading, future wildlife biologist. It’s one of the watershed moments of my adolescent pop culture experiences. There was my first comic book (Fantastic Four). My first video game (NES Mario/Duck Hunt). There was the ’89 Batman and then Jurassic Park.
For all it’s flaws, the first few Jurassic Park movies were at a reasonable cutting edge spot in the knowledge of dinosaurs. Gone were the lumbering, stupid beasts of claymation films. Jurassic Park, through Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg, introduced us to real living and breathing animals. They even consulted actual paleontologists on how to recreate these extinct beasts.
Aside from a couple of, well, stupid or bizarre choices for the dinosaurs – like knowingly ignoring feathers and other known skin coverings and the whole T. rex seeing based on movement nonsense – the first Jurassic Park was a really decent introduction to scientifically accurate dinosaurs.
Then they proceeded to get stupider and stupider until the newest movies seemed to have forgotten that science is a thing that exists…
So, if InGen hires me, here’s how we start to fix the awful prehistoric monster designs and make things scientifically accurate again.
Tyranosaurus rex and it’s relatives are all theropod dinosaurs. The most familiar theropod dinosaurs today are the birds. Yes, birds are dinosaurs and more precisely theropod dinosaur like T. rex.
All the theropod dinosaurs are pretty much bipedal with hollow bones and, very likely, feathered to some extent. Birds also have excellent vision including better color vision than our own. They are also highly intelligent and active animals.
So, our beloved female T. rex from the Jurassic Park franchise would probably look roughly the same, but maybe covered in feathers or something like Kiwi downy feathers, and maybe some fun colors. And it would’ve just seen and immediately eaten Alan Grant… Unless it had bad night vision.
Basically, any of the classic long necked dinosaurs probably had reasonably similar life histories. Jurassic Park does a good job of really portraying their massive size, diet, and herding mentality. But recent discovers and ideas about their life appears kind of…. well, the Jurassic Park sauropods are lame.
All of the sauropods – the four-legged, long necked dinosaur dudes – seemed to be ecologically similar to the large land herbivores today. They were probably a little rounder and meatier than the Jurassic Park dinos, just like real cows, elephants, and other massive herbivores. And with noses where noses usually go on land animals: the front of the face.
Unlike our friend T. rex, they probably didn’t have feathers but looked more like big, scaled beasts. Think of big, squarish crocodile scales. Oh, and crazy spikes down their backs and probably garish, colorful necks and things. Not just big, brown or gray elephant-skinned blobs.
The first Jurassic Park dinosaur on our list that IS NOT NOW NOR HAS IT EVER BEEN A DINOSAUR. Blasphemy, I know! Pteranodon and the other “flying dinosaurs” were related to birds, extinct dinosaurs, crocodiles and so on but were not on the dinosaur branch of life. Classifications aside, the flying extinct reptiles really get royally screwed in Jurassic Park.
The entire franchise seems to think all pterosaurs (the group of the flying, extinct reptiles like Pteranodon and his fam) are skinny, terrifying dragon things with tan flesh stuck on bones. But, yeah, nope. Real ones were way more fascinating.
The group consisted of tiny, bat-like pterosaurs and massive, uber-predators like Quetzacoatlus. They likely all had some kind of feather-like covering on most of their bodies and, hey, see those huge crests? Huge crests tend to be ridiculous colors and patterns in real world animals.
Imagine massive flocks of intelligent, gigantic flying animals the size of giraffes screeching as they swallow you hole. That’s more fun than some weird, ugly thing attacking your margarita.
Not only were Mosasaurs NOT DINOSAURS EITHER, they weren’t even closely related to anything else on this list. Nope, Mosaurs were gigantic lizards, appearing morphological similar to monitors like komodo dragons and your pet savanna monitor.
Jurassic Park really screws Mosasaurs up. Like, completely and utterly ruins a fascinating group of extinct reptiles.
A real mosasaur would be much smaller – thin as big or a little bigger than a really huge crocodile, not 60 feet long – and they’d look pretty much like a big monitor lizard with fins. What that means is they might have some interesting colors and patterns. Oh, and most definitely forked tongues. How do we know? All their close relatives did and their skull has the structures associated with forked tongues and the Jacobson’s organ in snakes and monitor lizards.
What’s scarier? A big, stupid lump of fakeness jumping out of the water to eat a shark… or a stealthy, intelligent gigantic lizard sneaking up on some unsuspecting beach goers. They feel a forked tongue. They turn around. BAM! Torn apart by a huge, marine lizard.
Here, again, we find another dinosaur that looks like, well, an elephant. Elephant feet. Elephant skin. The color of an elephant. In cinema, all dinosaurs have to be drab colors and look kind of like big elephants, I guess.
That’s now how nature works. That’s not how any of this works!
Triceratops comes from a group of extinct dinosaurs known as the ceratopsidae. This group consists of (mostly) four-legged, beaked animals that have hard frills on the back of their head/neck area. Those individuals related to Triceratops also sported those huge horned heads with crazy spikes. So, that’s sort of what the Jurassic Park dinos looked like…
Notice anything in that image? Well, they all have high backs with pointed tails above the ground. Oh, and the frills have color on them.
What paleontologists tell us is that triceratops and its relatives probably traveled in massive herds, had colorful frills, and probably didn’t go around eating poisonous stuff. Oh, and early ceratopsids were covered in crazy spines. Jurassic Park dropped the ball by not giving us herds of colorful hedgehog dinosaurs smashing horns over mates and food.
This is another amazing animal that Jurassic Park really, really screws up in the franchise.
In the real world an animal that looks like that isn’t going to be running around, chasing down Alan Grant. Mostly because Spinosaurus didn’t look like that in reality. It would’ve been more hunched, possibly with a fatty hump instead of a true sail, and, oh yeah, it ate fish.
Spinosaurus had a very specific jaw and dentition. One that screams, “I am a semi-aquatic fish eating predator”. Long, harrow jaws with sharp teeth are found in things that live in the water at least part of the time and eat fish. Certain crocodilians, marine mammals, other fish…
Spinosaurus was probably lounging around in swamps, eating everything and anything it could. Instead of T. rex 2.0 it should’ve been a terrifying monster stalking humans in a thick, humid jungle swamp, toppling a boat and snapping people in half.
And despite the fact that old movies always show almost every dinosaur running around in swamps, Spinosaurus was the only one we know of that was absolutely semi-aquatic.
Let’s start this by stating the obvious: The things called Raptors in Jurassic Park aren’t Velociraptors. Those were about the size of a small child. The massive, predatory beasts in Jurassic Park/World/Everything are Utahraptors.
What do we know about real Raptors? Regardless of Genera, they’d be feathered, smart, quick, and probably even more deadly.
One of the most effective predators we know of are the Harris’s hawks.
Harris’s hawks are a predatory raptorial bird from the Americas. They are intelligent enough that they are used in falconry and outreach at zoos. They also live in and hunt in packs, unlike most large predatory birds. Why is this important to our Raptors? Well, groups of these hawks have a nearly 100% successful hunting rate. Most animals have nowhere near that. Each individual hawk added to a hunting party increase the success rate.
If a pack of Raptors with bloody feathers hunting as an extremely intelligent, extremely deadly family doesn’t scare you more than Blue, then also know that if they are as easy to train as hawks, they’d certainly be used to hunt and kill people by nefarious folks.
Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, and all their associated works have been… well, meh if you are someone who truly loves dinosaurs and science. The original book and movie made a valiant attempt and, ignoring problems like how DNA would’ve degraded long before they tried to extract it, it was a lot of fun.
But somewhere Jurassic Park became Jurassic World, a monster movie for idiots instead of an intelligent monster movie staring actual animals that had actual animal-like behavior. The first movie was a discovery that dinosaurs were real. Instead of moving towards something amazing and terrifying with real animals hunting, protecting their young, and doing the other stuff real animals do, we got a fat, ugly mosasaur that ate a random woman for no reason. She wasn’t even a particular bad person!
Do better, Jurassic Whatever.
How do you feel about the science behind your favorite movies? Let Nerdbot know the comments!