Author: Christina (Jurassic Propositions)
As the consultant for the makers of Jurassic Park IV, I would like to suggest a few changes Mr. Spielberg could make in order to portray dinosaurs more accurately in the film. I also have some exciting ideas for new dinosaurs the filmmakers could incorporate in the film, and even a few scene ideas.
In some ways, the first Jurassic Park film was relatively accurate. Most of the herbivores were portrayed with relative accuracy, especially with what scientists knew in 1993. For instance, Brachiosaurus is shown as a facultative biped that could stand on its hind limbs to eat leaves from trees. Although most of the sauropods likely did not do this, Brachiosaurus probably did, so it was nice to see this in the film (Fastovsky and Weishampel, 2009). The film also showed Parasaurolophus moving in herds. Although there is no direct evidence of gregariousness, their large crests suggest that they may have been social, as they could be used to create resonating noises (Fastovsky and Weishampel, 2009). As these two examples show, most of the herbivores portrayed in the film were represented fairly accurately.
However, many details about the carnivores in the film were not as accurate. This is somewhat understandable as carnivores are some of the flashier animals in the film and as such, have significantly more screen time. Nonetheless, in order to make the upcoming film as fun and educational as possible, I would suggest fixing some of these inaccuracies. Scientists in the film note that the Tyrannosaurus rex has been clocked at speeds up to thirty-two miles per hour (Spielberg, 1993). Later in the film, the Tyrannosaurus chases three of the main characters riding in a car; the animal comes quite close to catching them. Although this scene captured the audience, this would never have happened in reality. Larger animals like tyrannosaurids simply do not have the muscular structure to move very quickly (Hutchinson and Garcia, 2001). Scientists estimate that larger theropods may have been limited to walking speeds of less than 4 km/h, much less than the film’s estimated speed (Fastovsky and Weishampel, 2009). It would have been impossible for this genus of dinosaur to run quickly enough to chase a car, making this scene very unlikely.
Other issues also exist with the portrayal of the Tyrannosaurus. In another scene, the children avoid being located by the Tyrannosaurus by standing completely still because, as the characters note, the dinosaur can only see movement (Spielberg, 1993). However, this fact from the paleontologists has no substantial evidence in reality. There is no evidence to show that tyrannosaurid vision was based purely on movement. Studies show that tyrannosaurids, in particular, had great visual acuity and may have had significantly better vision than humans (Stevens, 2006). Moreover, even if they could not see their prey, they also had a keen sense of smell (Fastovsky and Weishampel, 2009). This suggests that Tyrannosaurus would have had little difficulty catching Timmy and his friends. Both of these scenes include factual inaccuracies about the tyrannosaurids that should be remedied in upcoming work.
While Spielberg’s film spreads some myths about Tyrannosaurus, its portrayal of Dilophosaurus lacks factual value almost entirely. Dilophosaurus was an early predator, as the film suggests. However, the dinosaur’s size was significantly larger than Spielberg showed it in the film. Dilophosaurus was actually about 5.5 meters long, about the same size as a Velociraptor (Shaojin, 1993). Spielberg actually admits that he made Dilophosaurus smaller in order to prevent viewers from confusing it with Velociraptor (Shay and Duncan, 1993). Further, the film portrayed the morphology and behavior of Dilophosaurus without any evidence from the fossil record. In the film, the Dilophosaurus has an expandable frill and spits poison into the eyes of its prey (Spielberg, 1993). Many dinosaurs do possess frills in reality, and some theropods do have elaborate cranial crests. However, there is no evidence that such a frill existed in Dilophosaurus. Also, with the available evidence, we have no indication that this dinosaur spat or that it had the ability to poison other individuals; Spielberg again admits to taking creative license with these attributes (Shay and Duncan, 1993). None of the available evidence remotely suggests that Dilophosaurus spat poison or that it looked anything like the dinosaur in the film.
I find it disturbing that the film contains such inaccuracies because many dinosaurs that actually existed would make interesting subjects for a film. One newly discovered dinosaur, Argentinosaurus, would make a particularly excellent character for Jurassic Park IV. Argentinosaurus was discovered by Guillermo Heredia in Argentina. Although paleontologists have only uncovered a few bones of this animal, the evidence suggests that Argentinosaurus was the largest animal that has ever existed on the face of the Earth (Smith et al., 2001). Scientists approximate that this dinosaur may have weighed 90 tons and approached 30m in length (Smith et al., 2001). As one BBC program suggests, “when this animal walked, the Earth trembled” (2000). This dinosaur may not act as aggressively as a Tyrannosaurus rex, but it would likely be extremely intimidating and would make a dramatic scene in the film.
The film might center around a remote colony of these sauropods. I can imagine characters in the film finding the exposed bones, perhaps vertebrae, of Argentinosaurus and wondering what they were. The vertebrae were 1.5 meters long, over 4 feet—they would certainly present a mystery if found out of context (Bonaparte, 1993). While looking at the bones, the characters might begin to feel the ground start to shake. Concerned about the possibility of an earthquake, the characters might run for cover, only to realize that the vibrations have stopped and started again. This mysterious phenomenon would cause the characters a great deal of concern; however, they would eventually trace its cause to Argentinosaurus.
I would also like to see more done with members of Paraves or Aves. In the first Jurassic Park film, Velociraptor was not very bird-like, despite its relatively close relation to modern birds. I would like to see dinosaurs like this actually shown with feathers. It might also be interesting to feature a new dinosaur, like Microraptor. Microraptor was discovered by Xu in 2000 in China (Xu, 2000). This small dinosaur—hence the name “Microraptor”—was one of the first dinosaurs to develop true wings. This dinosaur also would have been covered with feathers. Due to its wings, small size, and feathered appearance, Microraptor might be initially look like a bird to an untutored viewer. However, viewers would quickly realize they were dealing with something entirely different from they expected.
I would like to see characters in Jurassic Park IV walking through a dark forest, from which they can hear many strange noises. At this point, the characters may not have realized the presence of dinosaurs around them. However, they would be intimidated by the forest, and wary of any movement around them. Microraptor might fly past, close enough for the characters to catch a glimpse of it. One of the characters might wonder what just happened. However, another would dismiss his concern, saying, “Oh, it’s just a bird. Don’t worry.” A few minutes later, they would see another Microraptor at closer range. After having a closer look, they would realize that this dinosaur, while related to birds and able to fly, is not actually a bird. This revelation might lead to the discovery of a more threatening genus, like Deinonychus, adding even more drama to the film.
Dinosaurs like Argentinasaurus and Microraptor might not frighten the audience as much as the traditional characters, Tyrannosaurus rex and (the film’s version of) Velociraptor. However, these specimens show the extreme range of dinosaurs that existed, from one of the smallest examples to the largest creature that ever walked the Earth. Including such a variety of creatures, especially such new discoveries, would showcase the diverse of reptiles that lived in the Mesozoic. This would add certain richness to the film that did not exist in the first film, which only included a few different dinosaurs. Finally, it would instill an even greater appreciation in the audience for the wide range of dinosaur types. Including these dinosaurs would certainly prove a more successful tactic than some of the desperate moves seen in Jurassic Park III, like giving the dinosaurs cell phones.
Jurassic Propositions features short essays by students from the University of Chicago’s Dinosaur Science class, which is taught by paleontologist Dr. Paul Sereno. Sereno’s Teaching Assistant, Sara ElShafie, asked the students to act as scientific consultants to the Jurassic Park filmmakers, addressing inaccuracies in the previous films and suggesting ideas or improvements for the next sequel.