Taxonomy for Fictional Dinosaurs, why it’s so gosh darn fun!

As promised part two of my educational process behind the Jurassic Park Encyclopedia and why it is so much fun. Jurassic Park is probably one of the best mainstream media outlets for getting people interested in dinosaurs, but there’s a lot of scientific inaccuracies in them. My whole thing with Jurassic Park is that I liked it since I saw an advertisement in a book store for it. Being at least four to five years old at the time back in 90 I was told that was a “Big Kids Book”. My mother didn’t really discourage getting it for me, but she said that “When you can read books without pictures I’ll get it for you.” and sure enough she did. I have always had an appreciation for dinosaurs and all things relatively prehistoric (except mammals as I look at them every day) from the age of three on up. Dinosaurs to me wasn’t just a phase and it’s generally not going anywhere with me. Sure the sands of time haven’t been kind to me, but I do what I can to stay in the loop. Unfortunately with JPL it leaves me often feeling like I’m either:

A.)  Dinosaur Groupie
B.) I’m dressing up and playing researcher.

Ech, I know my facts and if I don’t know something I’m willing to learn and I actually trying to find ways to be involved in paleontology and the actual study of the science as it’s important to me. So why am I discussing this here? It relates, give me a moment. The problem with the Jurassic Park dinosaurs is that they are stylized and/or not correct as a result with the current views of either PaleoArt or Vertebrate Paleontology (Dinosaur study) as a whole.

Public Conceptions of Dinosaurs and The Impact on the Films.

So what warrants changes into the taxonomy of the Dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park franchise? How can you reconcile the issues with the rotated ulna with the pronated hands of the theropods, and lack of bontiful amounts of beautiful feathery fluff on said theropod dinosaurs? The necks of the Brachiosaurs, etc, etc, etc. Lastly: Why do you care to do this?

All valid questions indeed! So let’s answer the last first and work our way to the other two. Why I care: Jurassic Park has a rich story that i isn’t elaborated too much in the films and like in the films with the cloning process you’re required to use your brain to fill in the gaps making inferences – based on evidence to make your conclusions. Essentially, you know the structure, you know the direction it’s going, but something is missing. A lot of this can be left up to viewer/reader interpretation of the story, but a lot of it can be supported. Sadly I find it a lot like the actual science behind the film here. The thing with Jurassic Park is it’s meant to be for adults who like dinosaurs and want to feel nostalgia. To me it’s much more than that I care because Jurassic Park is probably the single most popular property out there, but it gets treated like the estranged black sheep uncle (Insert blank name here) that you have and people don’t associate with often. Why is it that way? Good question! I don’t know, but maybe if enough people ask Universal maybe Jurassic Park will make a proper come back.

Point is that a lot of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and the discrepencies with modern paleontology and the view points established within the last two decades (1990 to 2010) can clearly be blamed on “public consciousness/view of dinosaurs”. There’s a scene in the novels in the chapter of Version 4.4 that Wu is remarking how the animals need to be changed to make the public perception of the dinosaurs more real. Here’s the scene for those interested:

“I really think you should consider my recommendations for phase two. We should go to Version 4.4″
“You want to replace all the curren stock of animals?” Hammond said.
“Yes, I do.”
“Why? What’s wrong with them?”
“Nothing,” Wu said, “except that they’re real dinosaurs.”
“That’s what I asked for, Henry,” Hammond said, smiling. “And that’s what you gave me.”
“I know,” Wu said. “But you see…” He paused. How could he explain this to Hammond? Hammond hardly ever visited the island. And it was a peculiar situation that Wu was trying to convey. “Right now, as we stand here, almost no one in the world has ever seen an actual dinosaur. Nobody knows what they’re really like.”  (Crichton p. 122)

So the conception basically is inGen would alter their dinosaurs to suit the public opinion of it if they had to in the novels, but seeing how in the films they’re different from what we know in reality (dinosaurs of the time) the chances are they took this step in the film universe prior to bringing the park together. We can say this because of the constant and ever changing view on dinosaurs as a whole. So essentially this explains some of the anatomical differences, lack of feathers, and such on the actual animals we see being different than what’s in the film. So with that clearly pointed out to those who say that the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park are incorrect – by today’s standards…Yes, yes they are! Back to the public of then and somewhat now? No. They weren’t. Yes Jurassic Park is to blame for such school yard retorts of “T.rex’s vision was based on movement.” which is a carry over not accurately elaborated on from the novels to the films. Stupid, stupid, stupid! It doesn’t make Jurassic Park bad, it in fact makes it a classic. The other issue that’s seen with Jurassic Park is that Dr. Grant apparently has the luck of finding wonderfully preserved and complete fossils on his digs. I can’t explain that for you. It’s a movie for crying out loud though. Maybe Grant is just lucky? :)

Issues with Velociraptor and why Gregory Paul, among other Paleo-Figures impacted the Jurassic Park franchise forever.

In 1988 Gregory Paul, the reason why I started making attempts at PaleoArt came out with a book on dinosaurs. Gregory Paul is known for lumping a lot of genera together. Depending on your view point on taxonomic lumps and splits this can be a bad thing. Anyways the book paired Deinonychus up with Velociraptor and thus where all thus fuss of inaccurate Velociraptors came from. The book was “Predatory dinosaurs of the world : a complete illustrated guide” and like the newer “Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs” it deals with a lot of lumping. Both books are good, and I really enjoy reading them. The idea made it into the novel and then from the Novel Spielberg pumped up the Raptors using the “new” taxonomy of the time and boom. You have Velociraptor “antirrhopus” in the film. Utahraptor made the icing on the cake sweeter essentially though and justified the “Big One” for the film and the large size when it was discovered. The thing with Utahraptor is a lot of documentaries on the Discovery Channel point this to being the “True Raptor” of Jurassic Park – needless to say they’re wrong. This fact for the Deinonychus was pointed out in the “Jurassic Park Institute: Dinosaur Field Guide” on page 63 as well among other Paleontology books out there.

Dilophosaurus also got hit in the mix-bag as well. The thing I liked about the “Jurassic Park Institute: Dinosaur Field Guide” is it makes the attempts we do in the Encyclopedia to reconcile fiction with cold solid and beautiful fact.  It’s placed in the field guide that Dilophosaurus suffered under the gene splicer more or less. (Holtz & Brett-Surman 65) I personally find this acceptable, but there’s some issues with people who say the Dilophosaurs is too small. First off, yes they’re right, but the fact was attempted to be reconciled in The Lost World Jurassic Park due to this image/screen capture:

Yes, this screen can be seen in the movie during when Malcolm and Sarah are talking in the mobile RV lab trailers when they discovered Kelly stowaway’d with them. Another thing pointed out in the “Jurassic Park Institute: Dinosaur Field Guide” is that Metriacanthosaurus may actually be Yangchuanosaurus as well. I do recommend getting the book if you can find it. Despite it being out of print it’s what really inspired me to work harder on the updated classifications for the Jurassic Park dinosaurs to try to show there’s people out there serious or nuts (depending on your view point) about these films. Check for citation at the end of this blog post in regards to the books and sources mentioned. The book, done by my personal hero, Dr. Holtz and Dr. Brett-Surman is truly great for the reasons mentioned. To me they help shaped Jurassic Park along with Dr. Bakker, Dr. Horner, and so many others as well.

Pteranodons with teeth! This one goes without much explanation. The genetic manipulation is subtly applied with a power drill. The Pteranodons in The Lost World: Jurassic Park are fairly correct, but the ones in JP3 are downright appalling. What’s interesting is the fact in the JP3 Aviary you can see charts and what not behind Grant and his group of weathered travelers that the Pteranodons were possibly under heavy observation and study. Again this goes back to a possible goof in the cloning process or alteration to try to make the dinosaurs compatible with a theme park setting. This adds more argument to the fact that the dinosaurs are constantly under refinement as can be seen with the Velociraptors and the differences in behavior between the two breeds in all three films.

That takes care of most of the basics of what’s considered and why the taxonomy is usually changed. Usually if the animal is different enough from the real animal it warrants that. Soon a lot of the theropod dinosaurs are going to be given this change in classification because of the hands and lack of feathers on some due to the ever changing environment of science. Essentially, some day soon the entire classification system for the Jurassic Park dinosaurs is probably going to be need to be re-defined because of the incorrect restorations. Thanks for reading folks!

Recommended Reading:

  • Dr. Holtz Jr, Thomas R.; Dr. Brett-Surman, Michael: “Jurassic Park Institute: Dinosaur Field Guide” Copyright 2001. Random House. New York
  • Paul, G.S. (1988). Predatory Dinosaurs of the World. New York: Simon and Schuster.
  • Paul, G.S. (2010). Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
  • Crichton, Michael. “Jurassic Park”. Copyright 1990. Published by Ballentine Books.

What’s canon? What’s not? Is it a matter of opinion?

Recently, a lot of questions in a research project regarding the timeline of the franchise came up in the upper-echelons of the staff portion of the board in regards to what’s considered canon and what’s not in the Encyclopedia. One of the greatest things about Jurassic Park is that it actually brings the world from long ago to a more modernized now. True, Jurassic Park doesn’t accurately reflect actual Paleontology. Example, you’d be lucky to find a Deinonychus or other fossil that well preserved in the field. Either Dr. Grant just is psychic or he’s secretly Merlin (see another film that Sam Neill is in known as “Merlin”). The biggest confusing portion of Jurassic Park is honestly the continuity and the common fallacy is the “hybrid it with other variations to make a complete canon” logic. Sometimes this can be done, but other times it hurts the continuity a lot in the end.

So what is essentially considered canon and what is not? It really depends on the universe you choose to meddle with really. Jurassic Park, from what I’ve found, is distinct in how each universe is more or less an alternate, but yet similar reality of one another with no clear intersect point for every universe. It looks like because it’s all different media it would really use different continuity for each “timeline”. Here’s a brief write out I did of how the JP continuity works:

C-Canon – Crichton Canon/Novel Canon. This is the novel canon only. The only reason this exists is due to the novels being the “starting” medium. Considered the Alpha universe as it’s the first one made and therefore the source material. The novels have really no “supplements” to canon is the interesting aspect. Suggestive reason for this is the fact the films are more popular.

S-Canon – Spielberg Canon/Film Canon. This encompasses the films, cast & crew interviews, official media such as Making of Books and other various “movie-oriented” sources. Spielberg Canon is where all the films and their supplements originate from. They are mostly their own beast as they have an entirely different continuity from what is read in the novel. What sources are considered to be film canon, S-Canon. or Spielberg Canon?
1.) The films themselves obviously. Spielberg had ties with all three.
2.) Cutscenes – What this is in regards to is scene remnants or scenes that were originally meant to be included but were cut due to run-time constraints and would have only furthered the story.
In order for a cutscene to be considered canon it must be true for the media to be present of this scene in various places including, but not limited to: Screen capture from cut scene, film clip showing the scene, and lastly audio file. Audio files are suspect and can be forged however, so it would pend review. Examples of this include: Ellie grabbing Leaf, Ellie and Muldoon walking to power shed, extended Grant and kids through park walking, the board room scene, meeting with Roland and Ajay, etc would all be considered within valid canon as reasons for their elimination were not due to continuity, but rather shortening of run-time. While this is disputed and debatable, it is still adhered to in our continuity timelines due to the reasons behind the elimination.
What precludes this clause and makes something uncanon that was cut? If said scene takes place in script, but is shortened or changed during filming then film canon takes priority. Examples of this include: Extended dialog between two or more characters where no screenshot is present, different endings, etc. The rule of thumb is the scripts are not canon for this reason as they attempt to overwrite established continuity and generally even the final revisions of the scripts fit into this category as they are changed at some point during filming.
3.) Supplemental Material this includes The Making of Books, featurettes in the films, making-of documentaries, Interviews from the cast/crew of the film, The props (If it’s seen in the film it’s canon and if it’s not in the film it’s not canon.). Mark ‘Crash’ McCreery art. (Similar to acceptance like the props – if it isn’t exact to the film it is not canon), the Jurassic Park Traveling Exhibits (they basically explain the science in the films, but bring the props to the forefront as well as the movie dinosaurs too), Official Souvenir Magazines (Official Movie Trading cards fall under here, where applicable and so long as this doesn’t override the film), The Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park/The Lost World Scrapbook (Published by Scholastic), The Jurassic Park Institute: Dinosaur Field Guide (Some information pertaining to animals referenced in the film) and cold hard paleontological fact (We’re talking dinosaurs here)!
4.) Jurassic Newsletters (Ambiguous canon at best, not very reliable and should be considered last. It is muddled with hybrid novel/film canon; however, the film events, workings, etc can be extracted so long as they do not contradict the finished product seen on screen.) and The Rides (Only events of course referencing the movies, events, animal behavior, or places from the film). The rides are a tricky subject as they are set into a metaverse like the newsletters where with bridging the gap in our world. What can be trusted exactly? The props from the film you see of course, the behavior of the movie dinosaurs, and some of the events from Isla Nublar that is discussed on the rides.
CB-Canon – Comic Book canon, functional continuity that alters the events of the films due to being made off of final script revisions differing enough to not match the film closely.
JN-Canon – Novelette Canon, functional continuity that alters the events of the films due to being made off of final script revisions differing enough to not match the film closely.
U-Canon – Noncanon elements such as games & toys with no functional continuity
That pretty much covers everything on what’s canon, how the universes are, and what’s considered. So how does anybody arrive to these determinations of what canon is when no otherwise “official word” is present other than a few loose words here and there from a few people in charge (e.g, Rick Carter and Michael Crichton specifically)? The fact is canon is never about your personal want nor can it be for personal opinion so much. The fact is that “I want” shouldn’t and doesn’t exist in this unless you have proof and it’s really not a justification point either. It’s almost as annoying as justifying something with “Because.” and nothing more. So what’s this say about us? What did we do? Whenever we say something isn’t canon it’s justified as we cite the reasons why and the specifics behind.
So say you are making a project and you are worried about criticism from us because you fear you don’t fit into canon. Relax! We’re not in the business here to criticize your work and scrutinize it with a harsh eye and a sharp tongue. I personally find fan projects that don’t readily consider continuity fun actually. Now if you decide to ask about how to make your project fit in the continuity, we’ll gladly explain how it would be violating continuity and we even suggest alternatives if you’re open to altering your story. Example, look at Live the Legend we take a lot of creative liberties with it to make it interesting, but we still try to keep the continuity grounded within the original source and at the same time making our own.
Look for part two of this soon when I bore you more on the science behind the dinosaur classifications and why taxonomy with fake dinosaurs can be fun too.