Yesterday I took a trip to the movies to see what was probably the best dinosaur movie ever made, Jurassic Park. I first saw it in theaters back when it came out in 1993, so seeing it again was somewhat like being 8 years old again. I had first seen it with my whole family, including my 4-year-old brother, who when he first heard the screams of the raptors in the 2nd act of the film buries his head into my mother for the rest of the movie. Of course I wasn’t scared, nor was I this time around, even with the advanced 3D effects.
In part, I wanted to see how they were making the movie adapted to 3D. When Avatar was made, they had to use special cameras to produce the film and give it that proper 3D effect. I figured that it would have been mostly the CG dinosaurs that would have been upgrades; the data may have been on old hard drives as 3D models, so a little work could make them updated. However, I was surprised and impressed on how they actually upgraded most scenes in the movie to make them 3D. And usually it felt right. Some parts they didn’t do that, such as when the helicopter was first coming into the park (I lifted the glasses every so often to find out). I’m betting the procedure of drawing around a bunch of trees and other green things would have been extremely time-consuming and would not have looked great. But one way or another, they made the 3D work rather well. I was impressed. The CG of the dinosaurs also holds up reasonably well 20 years after the fact.
Even though I have watched the film perhaps a dozen times in the past, I did catch a few things I had missed before. Some are the little mistakes made when filming, but you really have to go frame-by-frame to notice most of them. Others are the realization of how the T-Rex got into the visitor’s center at the final climax of the movie; I didn’t realize the construction side opening was so large, but in one establishing shot you can see behind the monster that it could actually enter. There is also the plausible reason for the T-Rex to come in: it was hunting the velociraptor who came in that same entrance. So that filled in a plot hole I had thought I noticed before.
Of course, since 20 years have gone by the science behind the dinosaurs has changed a significant amount. For one thing, we know that a lot of those dinos should have feathers, especially the raptors. It would have also been fascinating to see the film with the T-Rex roaring while displaying colorful plumage. Yet, according to news sources, the fourth JP movie will have new dinosaurs but they won’t be feathered (BOO!). (There were hints of feathers on the raptors in JP III, but as far as I’m concerned, that movie does not exist.) And while in 1993 the bird evolution hypothesis was being debated, now it seems to be a consensus that that is the case, while the impact extinction hypothesis is explaining less than it used to.
Then again, the science wasn’t exactly perfect. The velociraptors, for example, were not six-foot super killers, but instead stood about a half-meter (at most two feet), so if you want to fight such an animal, just kick it. The movie raptors were modeled after the deinonychus instead, but even those creatures were not that tall. Also, the biggest scientific gaffe to paleontologists was the early scene when the raptor skeleton was being dug up. Not only was it just a matter of brushing some dust off, but the tools used would have damaged the skeleton. The worst was the one digger putting his finger in the nose hole of the raptor to clean it out. In reality, the fossil would have been so fragile that that would have taken bits of “bone” with him after he picked at it. As for the genetics, unfortunately we haven’t had much luck in getting dino DNA, though there have been plenty of efforts to try. Even if we did, it would need repairs to fix in the holes. But then why would we use amphibian DNA given that, as the movie was itself saying, dinosaurs evolved into modern birds? Amphibians separated from the line that would go to become dinosaurs hundreds of millions of years earlier, so you would have had just as much common DNA between a modern frog and a dinosaur as you would a dog and a dinosaur (actually, the dog would be better since they and dinosaurs are both amniotes, so they are more closely related to dinos than frogs). Then again, without the frog DNA we wouldn’t have the female dinosaurs finding a way to reproduce, even though that is probably a bit of a deus ex machina.
But perhaps I should point out the most blatant gaffe: most all of the dinosaurs were from the Cretaceous period, not the Jurassic! Same for the novel, though it has some Triassic dinosaurs as well.
But what about the message of JP? I’ll talk about that later.