Episode 23 – Jurassic Park

You can find Episode 23 on PodBean, iTunes, or Stitcher!

Hold onto your butts … in this episode, paleontology meets popular culture as we discuss perhaps the biggest dinosaur movie of all time (and a personal favorite of your humble hosts): Jurassic Park.

In the news
An Unusual Ancient Glider
The fossil of this Jurassic mammal clearly shows its gliding membranes and bushy tail. It’s one of only a few known gliders from the Mesozoic, and the only known mammal with five inner ear bones! [Link]
Living Stromatolites in Tasmania!
The most ancient signs of life on Earth are stromatolites, but these structures are still formed by microbes today. A new study finds some in an unexpected habitat in Tasmania. [Link]
The World’s Longest Sauropod Walkway
In the Jura Mountains of France, a series of sauropod dinosaur footprints, over 500 feet long, has a lot to tell us about the size and locomotion of the animal that left them. [Link]
The Chemical Fingerprints of Fossils
A team of paleontologists has created a portable scanner that can read chemical signatures on rocks and fossils, a technology that might be able to connect lost fossils with their home formations! [Link]

Dinosaurs in the Movies

Dinosaurs have been in film for about as long as there has been film. Many early movies featured the most popular dinosaurs of museum displays at the time, such as “Brontosaurus,” Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus, Allosaurus, or Triceratops, and the films’ depictions of dinosaurs followed the style of museum displays and artwork: swamp-dwelling sauropods and erect-posture theropods, for example.

Knight Brontosaurus
This famous illustration by Charles R. Knight, from 1897, depicts a classic (and inaccurate) swamp-dwelling Brontosaurus with a tail-dragging Diplodocus in the background.

Some of the most famous early dinosaur movies included Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), which featured the first popular animated character in film, and The Lost World (1925) and King Kong (1933), both of which featured pioneering stop-motion animation by Willis O’Brien.

Lost_World
“Old school” dinosaurs of The Lost World (1925): Triceratops to the left, and Tyrannosaurus to the right. Image in the Public Domain.
Gertie
Gertie the Dinosaur is a cartoonish sauropod, and the first animated dinosaur.

Some of these movies are so old that they’re in the public domain! You can watch Gertie and The Lost World online.

Starting in the 1960s, paleontology experienced the Dinosaur Renaissance: our vision of dinosaurs changed rapidly with renewed understanding of their behavior, activity, physiology, and evolutionary relationships. But dinosaurs in the movies remained mostly very “old school.”

Until…

Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park (1993) was among the first movies to embrace the updated dinosaurs of the Dinosaur Renaissance. The dinosaurs in this film held their tails above the ground, they were active, social, and intelligent, and they were very much like birds (something that Dr. Grant, the main character, is more than happy to point out over and over again).

Of course, the movie science isn’t perfect – far from it, in fact! The “raptors” are way too big; the theropod dinosaurs’ wrists are positioned incorrectly; that whole thing about T. rex vision being based on movement is decidedly incorrect. Not to mention the very premise of the movie – resurrecting dinosaurs form ancient DNA – is impossible in real life.

“This is a warm-blooded creature!”
“This thing doesn’t live in a swamp!”
“They do move in herds.”

Jurassic Park was a huge hit. It won several awards and became the highest-grossing movie of all time for several years. And maybe because of just how successful it was, it burned this new image of dinosaurs into the public consciousness – the good and the bad.

Since 1993, most dinosaurs in movies, TV, and video games are very much styled after the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, “Velociraptor” has become a house-hold name, and educators in museums and classrooms are correcting the mistakes of the movie on a regular basis still today. The film even had an impact on the kind of research that was being funded in the 90s. More than 20 years later, this movie is still the go-to pop culture example of dinosaurs, and no movie has had such an impact since, not even its three sequels.

Science in the Movies

Jurassic Park is an iconic example of the intersection between science and popular culture, and in this episode, we briefly discussed the big question:

Does it matter if movies get their science wrong?

For the short version of our thoughts, you can listen to the episode, but we’d love to hear your thoughts too. Let us know what you think!

But, regardless of how we – or you – feel about the question of science in the movies, there are two things we, your podcast hosts, unabashedly love:
1. Using movie science as an excuse for education.
2. Jurassic Park (1993)

 

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