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.

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