Categories
Documentary reviews

Dino Docs: Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park is far and away the most famous dinosaur movie made. But does its groundbreaking effects and storytelling hold up to the critique of science?

Jurassic Park. The quintessential dinosaur movie. A brilliant ethics lesson about how we shouldn’t meddle with nature and the consequences of playing God. A beloved movie amongst amateur paleontologists the world over. And, for the purposes of this article, the perfect film to review. With that in mind, let’s dive teeth-first into the third edition of Dino Docs, focused on the iconic Jurassic Park.

What’s it about?

An eccentric billionaire (John Hammond) brings dinosaurs back to life and does what any sane individual would do: He opens a theme park. Before John can open the park, he invites a few paleontologists and Jeff Goldblum to come and check it out. All is going swimmingly well until a disgruntled employee sets the dinosaurs free, resulting in chaos for the rest of the film.

JP tyrannosaurus.jpg

So Much for Hating it.

Before I re-watched Jurassic Park to complete this article, I had written a fairly large paragraph explaining my relative distaste for the film. I never outright hated it, I just never enjoyed it as much as I did some other documentaries. Yet after watching it, I must admit that Jurassic Park defied my previous opinions of it. The combination of realistic appearances and behaviours amongst the featured dinosaurs make it an amazing and ground-breaking film that I would recommend to both serious and casual dinosaur lovers.

Is it Scientifically Accurate?

Surprisingly yes, for its 1993 release at least. Most of the dinosaurs shown are accurate in comparison with their real counterparts, with their appearance in particular looking spot-on. The Velociraptors are agile and intelligent, key traits in their biology that were often overlooked prior to their portrayal in Jurassic Park. Despite their lack of feathers, Jurassic Park is the first film to directly say that dinosaurs were close relatives to birds 3 years prior to the discovery of the first feathered dinosaurs in China. Additionally, the film states that dinosaurs were warm-blooded and that they practised herding and pack hunting behaviours; in these aspects, Jurassic Park was ahead of its time. This might be due to the presence of Jack Horner, noted paleontologist and consultant on the film. The active behaviours demonstrated by the dinosaurs on screen is amazing, as its portrayal is a large part of the reason that the image of the dinosaurs has adapted from that of slow-moving lizards, to that of active and intelligent animals.

JP brachiosaurus.jpg

Having said this, there are a few glaring inaccuracies in Jurassic Park, mainly its portrayal of Dilophosaurus. While in the film Dilophosaurus is a small predator that has a large neck frill and is capable of shooting poison, the real-life version wasn’t so….toxic. In addition to being a fair bit bigger than its film counterpart, the real Dilophosaurus wasn’t venomous and had two frills atop its skull instead of the encompassing neck frill. Further, the idea that Tyrannosaurus could only respond to movement is incorrect. Research has shown that Tyrannosaurus had excellent vision and sense of smell, meaning that it would know what was in front of it regardless of motion. While there are a few other small inaccuracies, none of them takes away from the overall enjoyment of the film.  

Can We Clone a Dinosaur?

Unfortunately, we cannot clone dinosaurs based on the methods presented in the film. First, DNA fully decays after 6.8 million years, meaning that the dinosaur DNA couldn’t possibly last to the present. Second, there wouldn’t be nearly enough DNA inside a mosquito to fully clone a dinosaur and the blood would be contaminated by that of the mosquito. Lastly, using frog DNA to replace missing gaps in an extinct animal’s genome wouldn’t exactly produce a Tyrannosaurus, or at least not a recognizable one. These facts confirm that it would be impossible to clone a dinosaur using traces of blood found in amber using the techniques presented in the film.

JP hatchling.png

It should however be noted that cloning dinosaurs may be possible through a more unconventional method. Instead of cloning dinosaurs using their DNA, scientists have theorized that we can bring them back by altering the DNA of their closest living relatives: the chicken. In this theory, the DNA of embryonic chickens would be altered to allow chickens to demonstrate the traits of dinosaurs, most notably teeth and a tail. While “chickenosaurus” would still be a chicken, its appearance would be more akin to that of its prehistoric cousins. This research has been ongoing for quite some time and could yield results in the very near future. If you are interested in learning more, I would recommend Jack Horner’s book, “How to Build a Dinosaur” (2009).

Spark of a Revolution

In the decades since the release of Jurassic Park, paleontology has undergone a massive period of growth. Every year, dozens of new dinosaur species are discovered across the globe, with each one providing new insight into the world of the dinosaurs. New specimens belonging to lesser-known dinosaurs have revealed strange and unorthodox animals unlike anything previously thought possible. Research using new technology has revolutionized the way we look at dinosaurs, with previously unknown elements such as the colour and brain size of dinosaurs now becoming better known amongst paleontologists. This massive influx of research is a result of thousands of new paleontologists emerging across the globe, each of whom approach their work with great interest and dedication. In many cases, their interest is a result of watching Jurassic Park during their childhood and gaining interest in paleontology as a result. While other factors did contribute to the start of the dinosaur revolution, I can say with certainty that the impact Jurassic Park had on its viewers was a leading factor to its beginning.

Jurassic Park is the most popular and critically acclaimed dinosaur film for good reason. Its status as a film that helped to revolutionize the way we see dinosaurs makes it the essential film for anyone who loves dinosaurs. While some elements of the film don’t hold up too well, it is still an enjoyable film that I would recommend.

Sources:

I do not take credit for any images found within this article.

All images courtesy of Jurassic Park and Universal studios 

Tyrannosaurus can be found here

Brachiosaurus can be found here

The poster of Jurassic Park can be found here

Velociraptor hatchling can be found here

Carter, Nicholas. “The Real Dilophosaurus.” Philip J. Currie Dinosaur Museum, 23 Apr. 2019, dinomuseum.ca/2019/04/23/the-real-dilophosaurus/.

Coletti, Amanda. “Decoding Dinosaur Genetics in Jurassic Park:The Science Behind Science Fiction.” Connecticut Science Center, 10 July 2019, ctsciencecenter.org/blog/decoding-dinosaur-genetics-in-jurassic-parkthe-science-behind-science-fiction/.

Gannon, Megan. “’Jurassic Park’ May Be Impossible, But Dino DNA Lasts Longer Than Thought.” LiveScience, Purch, 10 Oct. 2012, http://www.livescience.com/23861-fossil-dna-half-life.html.

Horner, John R., and James Gorman. How to Build a Dinosaur: Extinction Doesn’t Have to Be Forever. Dutton, 2009.

One reply on “Dino Docs: Jurassic Park”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s