With the release of Jurassic World there were a plethora of reviews about the scientific accuracy of the dinosaurs. Palaeontologists on Twitter and Facebook wrote blog posts about how none of the dinosaurs had feathers, and how the big screen movie folk are ignoring the cool science. Rightly so too. Wonderful dinosaur fossils have been found with feathers and fuzz beautifully preserved. And more are turning up each year. The dinosaurs were truly a magnificent group of animals. And still are: you can see avian dinosaurs eating on your bird table.
However, I don’t read reviews before seeing a film because I like to know as little as possible before seeing it to keep the excitement, suspense and thrill that a film is supposed to be for. I don’t like spoilers – if I inadvertently see one, I end up watching the film waiting to spot the spoiler, and that spoils the film for me. And as a person who doesn’t feel too comfortable sat in a cinema jam packed with other people, I waited a little bit to see Jurassic World.
And it was bloody awesome.
We all know that the ‘Velociraptors’ are not real Velociraptors and are most likely Deinonychus (Velociraptor is an easier name to pronounce, and shortening it to ‘raptors’ sounds pretty cool). We know that the majority of the dinosaurs in all four films are actually from the Cretaceous Period (145-66 million years ago) and not from the Jurassic Period (200-145 million years ago). (Cretaceous Park doesn’t have the same ring to it.) From the very first Jurassic Park film way back in 1993, we know mosquitoes preserved in amber do not preserve dinosaur DNA (let alone Mosasaur DNA!). And, yes, we all know that many avian dinosaurs, and even some non-avian, such as Sinosauropterxy, sported fuzzy downs and colourful feathers.
Do these factual inaccuracies actually matter?
I don’t think so.
Jurassic World is not a documentary. It is a film. And actually it is probably best described as a monster movie, with some dinosaur-like monsters. (Actually, the Stegosaurus, Triceratops, Ankylosaurus, and the Apatosaurus were pretty cool dinosaurs, and very realistic). I don’t think it really matters that the Velociraptors’ didn’t have feathers, or they made up a completely new dinosaur. And here’s why, with a little help from a recent visit to a local theme park.
A few weeks ago I went on a ride called Dino Jeeps. Here, in a blatant rip off from Jurassic Park (even down to their logos), the visitors would sit in a jeep that automatically drove round through ‘jungles’ and model dinosaurs for around 67 seconds before ending at the beginning again. A very quick ride into the past.
Should it matter that there were two Smilodon skulls on this trip, or that there was an ammonite just laying around in the middle of the forest? I guess it should, but in reality, my little 4 and a half year old loved the dinosaur models (which must have been made in the 1960s). We wrode the Dino Jeep three times. When we got home, full of excitement, we sat down and read one of his many dinosaur encyclopaedias, which had feathered dinosaurs and more realistic poses. We spent a good hour going through the book and talking about the dinosaurs, where they lived and what they ate.
The point being that it really doesn’t matter that the dinosaurs on Dino Jeeps (or in Jurassic World) were not exactly accurate. Children (and adults) having watched any Jurassic Park film and wanting to know more about dinosaurs will look up more information when they get home. They will do an internet search on Velociraptor and learn that they were about the size of chickens covered with feathers. They will find out that Tyrannosaurus rex was from the Cretaceous, not the Jurassic. The truth is, these films inspire the audience to find out more, and in some cases may inspire future palaeontologists.
I always envy reading Stephen Jay Gould reminiscing about how that trip to the museum to see the dinosaur fossil inspired him to work in palaeontology. Or the great Brian Seitek who spent his childhood visiting museums many, many times, feeding his love for these ancient reptiles, inspiring him to write extremely successfully about them for a living (not to mention his fabulous book My Beloved Brontosaurus).
For little old me, there were no trips to museums. But there were monster movies. I remember vividly the first monster movie I ever saw, The Land That Time Forgot. I was 8 years old and transfixed. Everything else faded away as dinosaurs, pterosaurs and Neanderthals took me to another world. What an incredible film, and this one film inspired my love of prehistoric animals. The dinosaurs were awful. You could see the string on the pterosaur. But it didn’t matter. After watching that film, I sought out books about dinosaurs, books aabout ancient humans and animals around their time and collected toys. I was hooked. A new and incredible world was opened up to me. I watched more; King Kong, One Million Years BC, The Valley of Gwangi and more … each one adding to my fascination with these incredible creatures. And now I work in a museum. Not with dinosaurs, alas. But with Woolly Mammoths, Woolly Rhinoceros, Cave Bears, Hyenas and other cool Pleistocene beasts worthy of their own Hollywood Blockbuster.
Jurassic World had excitment, some suspense, a small amount of wit, a very cool baddy creature, even cooler goody creatures and a few nods to the very first Jurassic Park film. As a documentary, it was rubbish. As a film it was brilliant! And no doubt it will inspire many to buy toys, and do a little extra reading when they get home. The film may not be scientificlly true, but it will get people talking about dinosaurs. Not only dinosaurs, but pterosaurs, marine reptiles, genetics, ethics, and the possibilities of science.
I saw Jurassic World. And it really was awesome!