Jurassic Park! What a wonderful movie for paleontology. This film helped the public to no longer see dinosaurs as lumbering giants waddling around in some volcano stricken primordial ooze. JP redefined an entire generations perception of dinosaurs, painting them as fast, intelligent, and masters of survival, not slow, dumb, and rightfully extinct. This movie helped the populace to move their thinking forward in their viewpoints of dinosaurs.
On the other hand…
Jurassic Park has become notorious for holding back the public perception of dinosaurs, so much to the point that it has become the butt of the jokes of many a paleontologist. Because of this movie, people can’t get past the fact that raptors (heck, now days, pretty much every dinosaur) had a covering of feathers. They got used to the super cool, sleek, reptilian monsters this movie portrayed, when they really looked like:
That doesn’t look very…oh wait, I already made that joke. Yet it seems more appropriate here.
So how can a dinosaur movie be both a giant leap forward yet a major leap back? Can someone answer me that?!
OK then, let’s take a look at the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park.
Now remember, I’m not reviewing the movie itself, I’m instead reviewing how the dinosaurs are portrayed in the film. My personal opinions of the movie will be put on the back burner for now. But if you must know how I feel about this movie, I’ll tell you.
Yeah, I’m biased. I grew up on this movie. This and the Land Before Time was what got me into dinosaurs in the first place. This movie put me in the same position that Grant and Ellie were in when they first saw the dinosaurs. Speaking of which, lets take a look at the first dinosaur we get a really good look at in this movie.
Ain’t she perty?
In the novel (something I may touch on later), the first dinosaurs Grant and Ellie see were a herd of Apatosaurus. In the film, it was changed to Brachiosaurus, which I think was a good choice. This dinosaur has such a distinctive presence and profile, something an apatosaur may have lacked (no offence, I love you Patty). Watching this movie on the big screen makes you feel like you’re also in the creatures presence, taking your breath away.
As far as accuracy goes, it’s pretty good. Watching the film again you can tell the filmmakers were trying to stay away from and pointing out the outdated tropes of yesteryear involving sauropods. Grant remarks that it carries the traits of a warm blooded creature (although we now think dinosaurs were neither warm or cold blooded, this was pretty revolutionary thinking at the time, as many people thought that since they were reptiles, dinosaurs had to be cold blooded. Even when people began to theorize that theropod dinosaurs were warm blooded, no one thought sauropods could be). Ellie remarks that the brachiosaur isn’t living in a swamp. An although we see a brachiosaur a little bit later passing through a lake (probably the same way an elephant or moose would, however), she was most certainly referring to the outdated idea that Brachiosaurus spent it’s entire life underwater with just it’s nose sticking out.
Yep, this was a thing.
There are a few mistakes, however. The neck position is a bit too upright (depending on who your asking, of course). For most of the late 90’s and early to late 2000’s, scientists adopted the idea that sauropods wouldn’t be able to hold their necks vertically without putting too much strain on their heart. Apatosaurs would hold their parallel with the rest of their body; while the brachiosaurs, with front legs longer than the back ones, would look something like this.
I must say, still a magnificent beast.
However, some scientists today are theorizing that most if not not all sauropods could lift their heads upright, leading to the classic giraffe look becoming popular again. Whether or not these theories get shot down with new evidence is just something we are going to have to wait for.
Another notable thing to mention is this ‘Brachiosaurus’ is actually based on the African sauropod Giraffatitan, which was considered a species of Brachiosaurus at the time. The real Brachiosaurus looked more like the picture above. I know, Giraffatitan doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Brachiosaurus, but we live in a world with no Brontosaurus, so deal with it.
A few minor nitpicks include the fact that the brachiosaur lifts itself up on two legs, which it was probably too heavy to accomplish; the loud, whale like songs, since scientist don’t think Brachiosaurus was very vocal (does add to the scene though), and the lack of any spines or quills (these have been discovered relatively recently on other sauropods, I’m not sure about Brachiosaurus, but many modern reconstructions use them). Other than that, this is a surprisingly accurate and beautiful depiction of this magnificent Jurassic sauropod, leading to one of the greatest scenes in movie history.
They’re moving in herds. They do move in herds.
Yet another theory that we take for granted now yet was revolutionary at the time.
P.S, I would comment on the Parasaurolophus in the scene, but we never get that good a look at them. I’ll wait until The Lost World. On that note, let’s take a look at the next dinosaur we get a good look at.
Even though it doesn’t do much in the movie, it being stationary does allow us to get a good look at her. For a 90’s interpretation, it’s pretty spot on. Based on the spikes on the frill, it seems to be a subadult, as scientist today believe they lost those horns as they got older (although this is modern interpretation, doesn’t really affect this depiction).
Most people assume the Triceratops in this movie is naturally brown, but if you look at the video at this address:
…you will see that the animatronic was actually painted greenish grey, as seen in this picture.
The brown came from an idea to smear the Triceratops in mud, since many modern ‘pachyderm’ type animals like rhinos would often be covered in soil, as they like to roll in it to get rid of ticks. I think this was a clever idea, even if it did mean we didn’t get to appreciate the amazing paint job the puppet had.
For a 90’s restoration, the Triceratops is about as good as it gets. Although many modern restorations portray ceratopsians with quills, thanks to Psittacosaurus (a restoration I happen to like and endorse), there isn’t any direct evidence of this for Triceratops, and they certainly didn’t know this in 1993. So this guy gets a pass from me. Now, lets take a look at the star of this movie, the greatest dinosaur of all time.
Now we’re talking.
Everyone remembers the first time they saw this beast. Not only because it looked so realistic, or that it’s roar shook us all in our seats (heck ,even the footsteps sent shivers down our spines), but also because it looked so different than any other depiction before that. In most films and art before this, T.rex looked like this.
Upright, slow, and awkward. No wonders scientist thought this guy was too big to hunt on its own. But now we get this streamline version, vertical to the ground. We can now imagine this guy as a fast moving hunter. Maybe not as fast as the movie claims (45 miles per hour?), but quick enough.
We do however get an unfortunate misconception about this dinosaur because of this film, the idea that the T. Rex’s vision is based on movement. This idea actually originated from the novel, as a side effect of the amphibian DNA (frogs have this feature, only attacking things that move). Rexy wasn’t even the only dinosaur that had this problem in the book! Yet in the movie, it’s treated as outright fact, even by Dr. Grant BEFORE HE EVEN KNOWS ABOUT THE ISLAND!!! So, many people took this as actual information, and this made both scientists and Rexy himself very sad.
Oh yeah, there’s one other thing. Since the discovery of Yutyrannus, we now have direct evidence that large carnivorous dinosaurs were covered in feathers.
What a kill joy.
Yeah, so chances are Tyrannosaurus was very fluffy. Now, you may tell me of those scaly tyrannosaur skin impression, but all that says is that not all of Tyrannosaurus was covered in feathers. Chances are it still had some covering. Now many people say the feathers ruin the look of T. rex, and that because it’s fluffy it no longer looks scary. Well, I say this to you: you know what else is fluffy?
Your argument is invalid.
Despite looking inaccurate thanks to modern science, at the time this was a very revolutionary depiction of this incredibly popular dinosaur, a depiction people will remember for years to come, for better or worse.
Wait, hold on one second….
Now, let’s take a look at the first dinosaur in this movie to make paleontologists cry even 20 years ago.
Oh, what a mess.
What can I say that a million other dino-fanboys haven’t said already. Just look at it. Sure, it’s awesome, but still. Ok, let’s just start at the most obvious: the frill.
As cool as it is, there was no such feature on this dinosaur. None, end of story. It was put on to make the dinosaur look distinct from the raptors, which I guess was a good choice (I mean, nobody forgot THAT). In doing so, however, it gave many people a false image of the dinosaur, an image that continues to be replicated in various forms of media.
Now lets talk about the venom. This originated from the novel, but the dilo wasn’t the only venomous dinosaur in the book (Procompsognathus was venomous as well). It was an interesting idea, but sadly one we have no evidence of. Unfortunately, some took this idea as fact too, as I see it far too many times with this creature (even in MUSEUMS!!!!!).
On the nitpicky side, the animals size and the shape of it’s skull are all wrong, but I can accept this if the creature presented was meant to be juvenile (many animals had rounder faces when young, P.S. an adult Dilophosaurus grew up to 20 FEET LONG). But sadly, the frill just keeps many dinosaur fans from loving this depiction, unless, it was a FEATHER FRILL!!!
Deviantart, I love you when you don’t scare me.
OK, let’s move on to our next dinosaur: Galli…Galla…..
A modern scientist would look at this depiction and scoff, but for the time it was very revolutionary. These dino’s were added to further show the similarity dinosaurs had to birds, and idea that was very new at the time. Heck, look at a modern depiction of these guys, and there would be no mistake.
Hmm, looks like you’ve token the name ‘chicken mimic’ a bit literally.
But for the 90’s, these guys are depicted incredibly. It also depicts them in a birdlike flocking behavior, the idea of dinosaurs moving in herds together was pretty new at the time.
They’re moving in flocks, they do move in flocks.
And we’re flockin’ this way, sucka!
OK, now for the big one. The most popular JP dinosaur and the one to gather the most controversy. I present to you…
First off, here’s a picture of a real velociraptor.
Ain’t he cute?
The real velociraptor was the size of a poodle and covered in feathers. However, the raptors in JP were actually meant to be Deinonychus, a larger genus, because in the late eighties one scientist decided they were the same dinosaur, and Michael Crichton got caught up in the pseudo-science. Want to see a Deinonychus?
OK, here’s a cooler pic.
Gotta keep the feathers, though.
But in the 80’s/early 90’s it looked like this.
OK, now it makes sense.
Before discoveries in Asia that showed dinosaurs like raptors were covered in feathers, we kept getting depictions like these. So, I can’t really fault JP for portraying the raptors the way they did, they didn’t know better. In all honesty, it’s a pretty standard portrayal of a Deinonychus for the time, just given a wrong name. What wasn’t standard, however, was the intelligence shown.
The raptors are shown to be very smart, even smart enough to open doors (even though we now know that since raptor hands were basically glorified wings, that kind of hand movement would be impossible). The later films even insinuate that raptors had comparable intelligence to modern day mammals, even primates. Yet, since they were basically birds, we know know that even the smartest dino’s (e.g. the raptors) were only about as smart as a modern day ostrich. And how smart are ostriches?
GAAAHH! I was trying to open a door1
So, in the end, how does this movie fare as far as dinosaur depictions? It got a lot of things wrong, but it also did a lot of things right. This movie set out to break the stereotype that dinosaurs were slow, dumb and barely able to survive. And it certainly did. Sure, it changed a few things for the sake of an exciting film experience, but really, is that so wrong? Really, their first priority wasn’t to make accurate depictions of animals, it was to make memorable movie characters. And each one of these dinosaurs were memorable.
You know, despite this.
But like I said, I’m going to rate this movie in terms of the accuracy of the time, not by today’s standards. Even though it should have really known better in some instances, it was still groundbreaking for the time. So I’m going to give this film a good:
7.5 out of 10 stars.
It gets a C for trying to paint dinosaurs in a light the movie going public never saw before, but sadly still delves into some false information. Remember, the rating isn’t for the film, it’s for the depiction of the dinosaurs, the movie is still a classic.
Next time, we return to Jurassic Park with even more dinosaurs. How will it hold up? We will see in the Lost World: Jurassic Park.