It’s June, 1993 and I just graduated from Grade 5. My dad takes me to see Jurassic Park in the theatre as a sort of graduation reward. I’m awed and amazed by the realistic dinosaurs on screen—so much so that I spill my popcorn when the T. rex bursts through the electrified fence. I go home that evening and tell my mom that I’m going to be a palaeontologist when I grow up.
Fast forward 22 years later, and Jurassic World has just been released in theatres. But despite its record breaking debut, the movie isn’t being given an easy ride by many dinosaur enthusiasts. Instead, it’s being heavily criticized for its numerous inaccuracies: raptors without feathers, impossibly large mosasaurs, and galloping horned dinosaurs, among others. These criticisms aren’t unwarranted; we’ve learned a lot about dinosaurs since the original film, and those depicted in the latest offering look woefully out of date. Some have described Jurassic World as a missed opportunity for science outreach, and I think they’re right. Putting proper feathers on Velociraptor at this stage of the franchise could be easily accounted for by the in-universe discovery of more complete genomes. No need to sacrifice continuity for scientific accuracy.
But at the same time, the dino-mania that inevitably accompanies the “Jurassic” movies presents a great chance for science outreach; Jurassic World is only a missed opportunity if we let it get away. The original film was likewise panned by dinosaur purists for its spitting Dilophosaurus, giant Velociraptor, and earth shaking T. rex. Yet it inspired a generation of young palaeontologists, myself included, despite these inaccuracies. The wonder of seeing life-like dinosaurs on screen was enough to send us flocking to the libraries and museums (this was a time before the internet) to learn more about them. The new Jurassic World movie is surely compelling enough to do the same. Want to learn more about those cool raptors, mosasaurs, and horned dinos you just saw on the big screen? Come to the fossil gallery at the Canadian Museum of Nature and see the real things for yourself!
For what it’s worth, I quite enjoyed the new movie. The special effects were great, and the fan service really hit the spot. I thought there were some interesting moral issues raised concerning genetic engineering and animal rights that could’ve been probed a little deeper, but they’ll make for interesting water cooler talk all the same. I’m especially looking forward to chatting up the young palaeontologists-to-be about their favourite parts of the movie. See you kids this summer at the museum!
Follow Jordan and his fieldwork on Twitter @Jordan_Mallon.