DISCLAIMER: This post is just spilling over with spoilers. Really. If you haven’t seen Jurassic World yet, do not proceed.
I saw the long-anticipated (and by that I mean, since I saw the first trailer for this movie I have barely been able to contain my excitement whenever I think about it) Jurassic World this past Monday night in Lebanon. While it was everything I wanted it to be, I have to take a step back and realize that the reason it came through for me is because I had such low expectations in the first place.
I was just an awkward, gangly middle-schooler when the original Jurassic Park came out. Naturally, I grew up loving dinosaurs, and my parents took me to see the movie even though it was PG-13 and I wasn’t even 13. (This was a HUGE deal at the time.) I had read the Michael Crichton book, and I was mostly still very excited after seeing the movie. JP was, however, my first taste of parts of the story—parts that I thought were critical—not following from book to movie and that caused me quite a bit of dissonance.
As I grew up a little, and the subsequent JP2 (blah) and JP3 (hooray!) came out, the creative license taken through silver-screen adaptations gradually became less and less of a big deal for me. Even to the point of major biological flaws. BUT, because I DO notice them, and I want you all to know the truth (as I see it), I’m here to share those flaws with you.
1. Velociraptors DID have feathers—but I don’t really care.
The biggest beef that people seem to have with JW is that the raptors don’t have feathers. This is all I am going to say about that: Michael Crichton wrote Jurassic Park in 1990. The first movie came out in 1993. Although dromaeosaurs were long suspected to be feathered, it wasn’t until 2007—a good six years after JP3 came out—that fossil evidence was uncovered showing that Velociraptor mongoliensis, in particular, had quill knobs. (Incidentally, this discovery was made the year before Michael Crichton died. *sad face*) As a long-term fan of this franchise, I would have been more upset if they dropped the continuity of the raptors’ appearance for the sake of scientific accuracy.
Imagine my frustration when as a child I discovered that real Velociraptors were actually 6’ long and only knee height, instead of the intimidating 6’ tall killing machines portrayed in the movies. Although Utahraptor had not yet been discovered in 1993, the size and head shape of JP’s Velociraptor is much closer to this larger carnivore. Couple this with the “bigger is better” attitude of the new movie, and well, it’s just funny. I think the movie-makers are taking a jab at themselves, Spielberg, and the unwashed masses clamoring for entertainment as a whole.
I was also skeptical, during the raptor chase scene (prehistoric car chase, lol), that raptors had any decent kind of depth perception. The lateral placement of their eyes (as opposed to the forward-facing placement of ours and other advanced predators) indicates that they should not have had binocular vision. I looked it up when I got home, and whaddayaknow? They did!
2. Parasaurolophus could chew?!
Last semester, I took David Gilligan’s class on Vertebrate Natural History. In it, I learned that one of the key features of mammalian evolution was the ability to grind our jaws side to side to chew food. Of course, when I saw JW and the Parasaurolophus was actually chewing, a little alarm went off in my head. But then I got home and dug out my copy of Leonard B. Radinsky’s The Evolution of Vertebrate Design (1987) and found that, on p. 115, the author mentions hadrosaurs (duck-billed dinosaurs, of which Parasaurolophus was a part) as having “modification of the skull and dentition for grinding tough vegetation.” I guess the take-away from this is that sometimes adaptations crop up in vastly different animals, but they are not characteristic of the group as a whole. Most mammals can chew, and most dinosaurs could not.
3. Mosasaurs, and why I now love them.
I recently found out that mosasaurs were the long-lost marine cousins of modern-day monitor lizards. If you know anything at all about me, you know that I LOVE monitors. They are fascinating, incredibly intelligent, beautiful, and have such a wide variety of adaptations that I don’t think I will ever get tired of studying them. Mosasaurs evolved from aigialosaurs (large, shore-dwelling lizards). Compare that guy to a modern day water monitor. To me, the similarities are uncanny. A long, streamlined body, laterally compressed tail, and powerful jaws with tons of tiny, sharp teeth make for a fairly-effective aquatic predator.
However, this is where the “bigger is better” thing comes into play again. The largest mosasaur found to date was a 43’ Tylosaurus. As you can easily see here, this animal was more than capable of eating something the size of an adult human—but not whole. The mosasaur in the movie looks like she could swallow a great white shark whole, even though she tears it into two pieces. They just didn’t get that big, but I suppose we needed something to finish off the Indominus rex.
4. The never-ending pterosaur controversy.
I don’t think any prehistoric animal grouping has come under as much scrutiny as the pterosaurs. These were the winged reptiles (not dinosaurs) obliterated during the KT Extinction event. At differing times since the discovery of the first “flying” reptile, we have designed at least five different kinds of terrestrial locomotion and three different kinds of aerial locomotion. At one point, we didn’t believe they could fly—just glide from tree to tree. There has also been much debate about whether they could even take off from the ground, considering how weak their hind limbs were. One thing, I think, is fairly certain—pterosaurs could not carry things with their feet. With aforementioned weak hind limbs and non-prehensile toes, they couldn’t even land on a branch. Put to rest your fears of being carried off to a pterosaur nest Land of the Lost style. Or, as it were, carried into the jaws of a mega-mosasaur, Jurassic World style. A current theory is that many of these winged giants actually hunted terrestrially, walking around on all fours like really messed-up looking, carnivorous giraffes.
Speaking of which, the aviary seems to be near to the deserted, original park from JP. This makes me wonder if it has been abandoned, and if so, how are the pterosaurs still alive? Does someone brave the northern wilds of Isla Nublar every day to go out and feed them? Or did they just supply the closed system with a healthy population of rats and hope for the best?
5. And this is why we don’t play with fire.
From a behavioral ecology standpoint, the Indominus rex is arguably the most intriguing animal on that island. A chimera of Tyrannosaurus rex, Velociraptor, cuttlefish, and glassfrog (and probably some other things that they either didn’t mention in the film or I just missed in my excitement), this animal has been raised in captivity, completely alone, and without any human contact. Then she gets out.
At first, I was skeptical of her actions throughout most of the film. Then I realized that Chris Pratt is right to berate the park’s higher-ups about keeping a caged animal with no human contact. Look at it this way. Get a snake—any snake, most likely. Put it in a cage. Give it plenty of water and the right amount and kind of lighting. Clean the cage when it gets dirty, but only touch the snake with tongs, or better yet, devise a chute system so that you can coax the snake into a smaller box temporarily without touching it. Feed the snake regularly, but only with hemostats. Now you wonder why your snake is a fearful, aggressive, territorial menace. Well—animals need stimulation, both from their environment and from other creatures within it, and you have denied this snake ALL of that.
Size that scale up by about 18,000+ times. Release it on an island with 21,000 people and a few dozen other new species. It is likely that the time in solitary confinement has caused her to go mad—or at least, to be completely unable to relate to all of these new things. Imagining that such a creature would go on a killing rampage is, unfortunately, no longer such a stretch. It’s sad. (And it DOES happen to living, captive animals in our country, but that’s a tangent I’m not willing to explore at this time.)
6. Stupid human subplot.
In addition to being an ecologist, I am a big proponent of equal representation between the sexes—especially in the media. While Claire’s character walks a very fine line between damsel-in-distress and badass heroine, she displays a remarkable amount of growth in such a short time. She insists on traversing the tropical jungle in a white skirt-suit and heels, but she also takes initiative to protect others and puts herself in danger doing it. My biggest issue with the humans in this movie was the kiss between Owen and Claire—it just didn’t make sense. I will begrudgingly concede that their parting lines are acceptable.
Claire: “What do we do now?”
Owen: “Probably stick together. For survival.”
I only allow them this because people who have been through very traumatic events together will often form a very strong bond. It seems kind of forced in the movie, but it’s also a little hard to believe in real life, so I let it go.
There were plenty of things I loved about this film. The Easter eggs are fantastic (Mr. DNA, the banner “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” from the original visitor’s center), and they brought back the original Dr. Wu (played again by BD Wong). Lowery’s fanboying was fun and relatable, although I don’t understand why he bought the t-shirt from eBay instead of just stealing one from the old gift shop. I laughed my head off at the thought of Indominus rex using the “giant hamster ball” as a treat-dispensing puzzle ball. That was probably way more funny to me than it should have been. Oh well.
This is also nowhere near an all-inclusive list of the biological inaccuracies of the film—it’s just a list of the things that really stood out to me. With a little searching, you should easily be able to find websites explaining, in depth, the problems with each dinosaur species used. But I advise you not to—at least, not until you see it. Watch the movie without picking it apart first. It’s nicer that way.
One last thing, because I love Parasaurolophus and this is just so freaking cool.