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Dino Divergence

Newest “Jurassic” Sequel Heads Farther Into Fantasyland, Researcher Says

By Chris Carroll


Photo by Universal Studios

Photo by Universal Studios

If you’re just looking for entertainment, the galloping, oversized, lava-impervious dinosaurs of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” should do the trick when the new film opens in theaters on Friday.

If you want to learn about dinosaurs AND be entertained, you might need to dust off the VCR.

“Jurassic Park” turned 25 this month, and as the original recedes in time, each new sequel carries us further from that movie’s ambitious stabs at conveying state-of-the art science, says Thomas Holtz, a vertebrate paleontologist and senior geology lecturer at the University of Maryland.

He wishes today’s filmmakers were as interested in recent discoveries in paleontology as Steven Spielberg and his collaborators were keen on depicting then-current findings of the 1980s.

“Of course I’m going to go see it, and given the movie makers involved, I’m sure it’s going to be fun,” Holtz says. “It’s just kind of a shame, the way the movies started off portraying these things as real animals that existed, rather than just movie monsters.”

“Jurassic Park” itself took liberties to keep the plot humming along, he says. The setup—scientists find 100-million-year-old genetic material and use it to recreate extinct dinosaurs—is almost surely impossible, he says (but adds that resurrecting far-more-recent Ice Age mammals like mammoths might be doable).

But even the errors had a silver lining.

“That movie was a wonderful example of science communication, because even when they got stuff wrong, it still provided a talking point where we could say, ‘See, here’s what they got wrong, and here’s what’s real,” he says. “But they got a lot of things right.”

Holtz watched the available trailers for the new film and gave Terp a rundown of the good, the bad and the improbable.

Lava Monster
A Baryonyx, a smaller relative of the Spinosaurus that terrorized the characters in 2001’s “Jurassic Park III,” emerges from a tunnel flowing with lava and advances menacingly toward some of the film’s main characters. The scene really burned Holtz up.

“It looks like lava may be dripping on [the dinosaur,]” he says. “Now you know, lava is hundreds of degree centigrade—the lava in Hawaii is over 1,000 degrees. They may have tweaked the genetics of these things somewhat, but you can’t make them lavaproof. In that situation, they would have other concerns than going after humans. I guess you can build your own Freddy Krueger version of a dinosaur, but the real things were so much more glorious.”

Accurate Impression
Although Holtz doesn’t give many props to the film’s scientific accuracy, the Carnotaurus was a nice surprise.

“The proportions generally are good. They have the hind limbs right, and lots of artists screw up on that,” he says. “They’ve got the skin appearance right. It’s actually a dinosaur for which we have skin impressions. So we know what the scales look like. And in a sort of a rare case, they didn’t make it grossly oversized.”

One of the biggest gripes about “Jurassic Park” movies in general is the unlikely size of the great lizards. There’s a scene where a Mososaur, a giant marine reptile, appears about twice its actual size as it stalks surfers riding a big wave.
“They make it about the size of blue whale, and they definitely were big—but nowhere near that big,” he says.

Gait Crashers
A scene where the dinosaurs and hero Chris Pratt sprint away from a volcano eruption contains some kinesiologically unlikely movement.

“We see galloping armored dinosaurs and galloping horned dinosaurs, and I don’t mean just moving fast, but with a specific galloping gait,” he says. “It may be that no dinosaur ever galloped, and those two have such a discrepancy between the length of their front and back legs that it would be pretty hard to get them into that sort of pace.”

Rescue Mission
The movie’s plot—based on rescuing dinosaurs from volcanic destruction for nefarious purposes (or humane purposes, if you’re talking about Pratt’s character)—doesn’t make sense in a world of modern genetics. They could all die, and you could still make more dinos, Holtz says.

“This is the 21st century,” he says. “If you’ve got all your ATCs and ATGs in order, you can have the dinosaurs on a thumb drive.”



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