This new movie, Jurassic World, is stirring up a fascinating love/hate reaction from paleontologists. We all love to imagine dinosaurs resurrected, and the movies give us an image of what they’d be like, so everyone is happy to see that…and it also inspires new enthusiasm for fossils, so it helps lead to better support for good science. But at the same time, couldn’t they at least get the science right?
Kirkland, the state paleontologist at the Utah Geological Survey who has been involved in the discovery of 20 dinosaurs including the Utahraptor, admits such Hollywood blockbusters could inspire a whole new generation of fossil lovers. Yet, he frets that this movie – much like its three predecessors – will be filled with so many factual errors as to spread misinformation.
It’s a shame, too, because there’s been a kind of dinosaur renaissance lately, and there’s a possibility that some of it is linked to the popularity of dinosaur movies.
If you drive a direct connection between places putting value in dinosaurs and hiring dinosaur scientists, and then dinosaur science finding new dinosaurs, there’s almost something like a direct cause and effect between something like “Jurassic Park” and this incredible number of new dinosaurs.
But even the article that included that praise is packed with concerns about misinformation. There are also worries that the core of the series is Michael Crichton’s ignorant distrust of science — his books and movies are all about foolish or malevolent scientists discovering unintended consequences and destroying people, the old Frankenstein trope. But the major annoyance seems to be that it’s inaccurate, and it didn’t need to be.
“I like a fun movie,” Holtz says. “But fun, interesting, and accurate is even better.”
And this was a real shame, because it’s not as if scientific accuracy would somehow compromise the thrills of the movie — the modern picture of dinosaurs is way cool.
When the trailer for Jurassic World was released, it was obvious to us that this was not the film we were looking for. The dinosaurs are actually a retrograde step from the original Jurassic Park. Far from showing us the current understanding of dinosaur appearance, Jurassic World has decided to stick to what people expect – always a bold artistic move.
In related news, another article about David Peters has been published. Peters, in case you’ve never heard of him, is an extremely talented graphic artist and obsessive autodidact on the subject of dinosaurs and pterosaurs, and he’s also very good at self-promotion — he has two sites, Reptile Evolution and Pterosaur Heresies, and they often turn up in google searches. In particular, if you’re looking for an image of a relatively obscure Mesozoic animal, it’ll be there, and it will look damned good.
It will also be wrong.
Wrong in just about every detail. He’s got a procedure that he claims brings up all kinds of details hidden in photographs of fossils (kind of like how Bible Codes reveal new stuff in some people’s favorite source), and he treats these as real and creates elaborate recreations of the animals with all kinds of frills and spikes and peculiar bony structures, and pretends they are diagnostic. Then he uses his imaginary structures to scramble phylogenies.
If you want to know all that’s bogus about Peters’ reptile evolution, Darren Naish has the definitive summary. It’s just bad science.
And that’s the problem with Jurassic World, too. There are going to be a lot of excited kids babbling to their families and peers about these cool facts about dinos — I remember being 12 and reading and reciting names and sizes and behaviors — and unfortunately, they’re not going to be ‘facts’. They’re going to be 40 years out of date.
Yeah, let’s invent a time machine and bring 12 year old me to the present to explain dinosaurs to everyone.
By the way, I will be seeing the movie next week, with a group of our HHMI students. I’ll probably enjoy it, just like I enjoyed Pacific Rim and the original Godzilla. Who doesn’t like big monstrous reptiles? But I should probably let them know that we’re not going to get up-to-date hypotheses about dinosaur appearance and behavior.
Nah, they’re smart, they probably already know.