Archive for the ‘jurassic world’ Category

I’ve contributed an article to Let Your Geek Sideshow, a blog from Sideshow Collectibles. This article is about the science behind the fiction in the Jurassic World franchise. Check it out! There’s all kinds of cool stuff on this blog – podcasts, lists, features about your favorite monsters and superheroes, and much more. And if you’re a collector, you’re in luck – Sideshow produces the most quality fan memorabilia on the market.

imageI have heard it said before that 1993’s “Jurassic Park” is to the nineties generation what Star Wars was to the 70s generation, introducing kids to the magic of TRUE filmmaking by TRUE directors(not the new releases of CGI celebrities explosions and bullshit that plays weekly at the theaters of today). Yes, Jurassic Park(and Star Wars for that matter) features A list stars and plenty of reliance on computers and action sequences, but there are two differences. One is that despite all the groundbreaking computerized special effects(which still look amazing 22 years later), much of the dinosaur Classic was about practical effects. REAL robotic dinosaurs, REAL SETS, and REAL stunts, which in my opinion haven’t been used very much, or as much as they should be used, on the films of today. The other difference is that despite the massively exciting moments of the jurassic park movies(especially the first one), the action was well paced and seemed to happen magically at just the right points in the film. We can thank the Jaws and ET mastermind Steven Spielberg for this. So, despite all it’s scientific inaccuracies(which can be forgiven because no one knew at the time that Deinonychus, the true name for the movie raptors, had feathers and no one can know for sure whether they were as smart as chimps or not) and it’s fun but lackluster first two sequels, the franchise beginning in 93 had the power of captivating audiences everywhere and generating a true introduction to the public’s interest in dinosaurs(and scifi in general). In my opinion, every movie tries to capture the same essence of wonder portrayed in jurassic park. I’ll leave the question of whether they succeed or not open to all of you kids born in the nineties. So how does this year’s Jurassic World fare in comparison? Well, it has become the third highest grossing motion picture of all time, has gotten great reviews, and has been seen by me in the theater three times(about ten times at home). This article is intended to simply be about how good jurassic world is as a movie, but I will mention really quick that I LOVED seeing the film in theaters with my two year old daughter, who absolutely loves it and still begs to watch it with me. It’s amazing how this movie will be as special to her as the original jurassic park was to me. Anyway, what makes this flick so great? The CGI dinosaurs(which were overused in my opinion with only one robotic dinosaur) look better than they ever have before. The colors and the movement of the velociraptors, which are portrayed with motion capture actors, are literally beautiful. And yet, despite the upgrades, they are completely faithful to the original 93 designs. I think this about all of the film’s creatures, but especially the raptors. In a sort of paradox, the special effects are to me both a good point and a bad point of the movie. Good because CGI has never looked better, but bad because of the lack of robotic creatures actually moving around in the frame. The robots in Jurassic Park still look better than the CGI in Jurassic World, albeit with less color and detail. Practical, real effects will always top digital effects, even 200 years(or 65,000,000) years from now. The next good point is the actors themselves. While not as memorable as Dr Grant, Dr Malcolm, or even Lex and Tim, Chris Pratt’s and Bryce Dallas Howard’s characters are portrayed in a very fun and convincing way. I’ve read that some people thought that their romance was bland and lacked depth, but I disagree. The actors and makers of this film never try to make this movie more than what it’s supposed to be. It’s not meant to be an Oscar winning drama or even a tear jerker(aside from the heartbreaking and ROBOTIC apatosaurus scene). It is meant to be a FUN movie about dinosaurs chasing people. However, that being said, there is actually quite a bit of depth to this picture, such as sticking close to Crichton’s nearly prophetic apprehension of the dangers involved with genetic engineering, the plot point that alludes to how audiences today aren’t “wowed” so much anymore(we have been spoiled by CGI), and the ability of Chris Pratt’s relationship with the raptors to actually convey genuine emotion to the viewer. Also, the pacing of the film is very well done, coming very close to the pacing and the tension of the original. This film is better than both of the prior jurassic sequels put together, and is an honorable homage and testament to Steven Spielberg’s original 1993 masterpiece. My mother actually cried when I saw it in theaters with her the first time. It really does bring you back to your childhood, and brings parents back to their now grown children’s youth(which will happen with me and my daughter in the future as well). So is there anything about this movie that I don’t like? Well, two things keep it from being quite as good as the original: the lack of robotic effects and the music. Yes, John Williams’ original score is still used to great effect, but the new music by Michael Giacchino doesn’t quite get to your heart like John Williams always can(jurassic park, Star Wars). Still well done music though. I guess that probably no one can ever capture the magic of John Williams’ original themes. Jurassic world is a movie that will, just like Jurassic Park, stand the test of time for decades to come. I rate it ten out of ten(MAYBE 9.5 because of my two problems with it). I guess that wraps up this grown up kid’s opinion, but if you want a HUGE spoiler, read on. If you don’t want the movie to be spoiled, you can stop right here with me saying that the last twenty minutes of the movie are pure cinema gold. Thanks for reading!(if you want the spoiler then scroll down)

Attempting to increase tourist attendance, the park’s geneticists combine the DNA of several different dinosaurs as well as a few modern animals together to create the Indominus Rex, an attraction guaranteed to “give the PARENTS nightmares”. It’s appearance, movement, and behavior truly make it like a devil out of hell. What’s amazing about it besides the fact that it looks cool and escaped from it’s enclosure is that in spite of being the film’a antagonist, it is still a character with which you can feel sympathy towards. It was raised in captivity all alone(although it did kill it’s sibling, so maybe the DNA combination just made it evil to begin with), so when it escapes it can only respond to it’s environment by killing everything that moves. After it kills a few helpless apatosaurus for sport, Hoskins and his INGEN military group come up with a plan to use Owen Grady’s(Chris Pratt) “trained” but still quite ferocious velociraptors(THEY ARE REALLY DEINONYCHUS!!!!!!) to track down and kill the abomination. Well, the thing is actually part raptor, so it communicates with the raptor posse and gets them to be on it’s own side against the humans. The three remaining raptors and indominus chase down Grady, Claire, zach, and Gray until they reach the park’s visitor center. The raptors decide that their real loyalties lie with their Alpha human, Owen Grady, and they proceed to trying to fight off the Indominus Rex, which is so reminiscent of the raptors jumping on the T. rex in the first Jurassic Park that it almost seems spiritual. As the brave raptors are being defeated, Gray tells Claire that they “need more teeth”. So she runs to the Tyrannosaur paddock, has fanboy Lowery open it from the control room, and leads the T. Rex to the indominus. There’s a great nod to Jurassic Park 3 here as the T. Rex crashes through a mounted Spinosaurus skeleton and charges the Indominus(T Rex RULES, not that sail backed fish eater). Unfortunately the long arms and thick hide of the Indominus give it the ability to outfight our kingly childhood hero. But not for long. For the last fifteen minutes or so the film has been able to put a huge grin on all the nineties kids’ faces. But from here on out, the audience can quite possibly laugh out loud for pleasure. In a sequence that really tugs on your heart and your memories, Blue, the last surviving raptor, comes to the tyrannosaur’s aid by pouncing on the Indominus. The down but certainly not out T. Rex then gets up and assists the raptor into driving the Indominus towards the water. Then something happens that I don’t think anyone expected, especially myself. The aquatic lizard Mosasaurus leaps out of the water, crashing on the Indominus where an electric fence once stood, and drags the monster down to a watery grave. Now comes the greatest moment in the whole movie. The t. Rex and the raptor stare each other down. Could another fight be brewing? No, for it seems that the two dinosaurs have made their peace that was so maligned in the first movie, and the animals now have a mutual respect for one another. The Rex walks away, king of the island. exactly how we all wanted it. image

imageConjecture. Speculation. Educated guesses. These words describe the plague (and also the fun) that befalls the science of vertebrate paleontology, the study of extinct life forms that possessed backbones. To me, and to many other children trapped inside the bodies of grown men and women, the most exciting and marvelous of these extinct groups is the Dinosauria. Watching films such as Jurassic world and documentaries such as Walking with dinosaurs, you would think that scientists knew a great deal about these giants that walked the earth(and still fly the earth in the form of birds) much longer than modern man has. But paleontologists have really only scratched the surface. The fact is, all we know about the extinct forms within the dinosaur class is what their bones tell us, and those bones can’t tell us what they sounded like, how they were colored(usually) or how intelligent they were as animals(the encephalation quotient – brain size to body size ratio – is a joke to me. Lots of animals show surprising intelligence with a low EQ, such as green anoles and monitor lizards). Furthermore, a lot of what scientists theorize about dinosaurs is in a state of constant change. Megalosaurus was once thought to walk on four legs. T. Rex was originally depicted with a dragging tail. Velociraptor wasn’t thought to have feathers. Oviraptor was thought to be an egg eater, when in fact the eggs discovered under it’s skeleton were proven to be it’s own offspring and not it’s meal. These are only a few theories and speculations that have changed over the years. And with new skeletons discovered practically weekly, the theories are sure to parallel evolution itself in terms of growth and change. One theory has pretty much stayed constant however: the idea of dinosaurs living and moving together in massive herds that outnumber the African buffalo and other animals. This theory in particular interests me, and it is the topic of this article. But which species were social and which were not? Just the herbivores like the sauropods? Or carnivores like the tyrannosaurs? Or could ALL dinosaurs have been social animals? Let’s review the evidence(admittedly mostly circumstantial and ambiguous, as usual with dinosaurs). When dinosaurs were first seriously studied in the 19th century, the original consensus put forth by Sir RichardOwen of fast moving, successful creatures was the common opinion regarding these majestic creatures. But, like the spikes on a business graph, this theory was dropped in the early 20th century in favor of the portrayal of dinosaurs as slow, dim witted, lethargic beasts that either sat all day under trees and in lakes like breathing carcasses, or nasty, putrid, vile monsters whose brains only permitted the function of instinct for killing prey. Of course, this spike on the graph dropped off too and was replaced by the original view when scientists like Bob Bakker and John Ostrom ushered in the Dinosaur Renaissance and proved that dinosaurs were not only warm blooded and quick, but were also attentive and possibly intelligent parents(John Horner’s Maiasaura discovery was a wonderful example of this). Dinosaurs like the sauropods and hadrosaurs were being discovered brooding their eggs like theirs modern day feathery descendants. Even some carnivores like Oviraptor and the troodonts were found nesting like attentive parents. For the herding animals, such as Maiasaura(name means “good mother lizard”), it seemed obvious that the babies were cared for by the mother and then remained in the herd as part of the family as they grew. Others, like the sauropods, were theorized to abandon their eggs like sea turtles. But that too is just a theory, unlike the obvious nesting and parenting behavior in Maiasaura. Dinosaurs were quickly catching the public’s eye as very complex animals akin to modern birds and mammals. One of the most important finds and also one of the earliest in the dinosaur renaissance was Deinonychus(the raptors of Jurassic World and Park are actually deinonychus. The name Velociraptor was based on a taxonomical error that placed deinonychus under the genus Velociraptor, which actually was much smaller and lived in Mongolia). This creature was a key factor to the dinosaur renaissance’s depiction of dinosaurs as active, endothermic creatures. Strong jaws with nasty teeth, meat hook claws on it’s hands and feet, long legs for sprinting, and a compact but powerfully built body made this dinosaur one of the most rapacious to ever live. Since it’s original discovery, other excavations have shown that they preyed upon tenontosaurus, a rather large ornithopod compared to the raptors themselves. The first, discovered in the Yale Quarry in the Cloverly of Montana, contained four adult raptors and one juvenile (which to me suggests family groups, but we will get to that later) clustered around one tenontosaurus, their apparent kill. The second discovery was in the Antlers Formation of Oklahoma, with six partial tenontosaurs and one partial raptor. These finds, coupled with the small size and build of deinonychus(reminiscent of wild wolves or hyenas), suggest pack hunting behavior, for one deinonychus certainly wasn’t strong enough to take down a multi ton herbivore on it’s own. For a long time, pack hunting among the raptors and even a social and predatory hierarchy(though if it existed, the structure cannot be known) was accepted as fact. Recently however, some scientists have suggested that deinonychus and other dromaeosaurs(all raptors) only gathered together around large dead animals to partake In a random, orderless feeding frenzy akin to Komodo dragons and crocodiles. Though the evidence for pack behavior is admittedly ambiguous, I disagree with the feeding frenzy theory. Dinosaurs are birds. They are the same thing. And raptors were among the closest in form and presumably behavior to the birds we have today. And what do birds do? Usually they travel in flocks(though I admit there are a few solitary species). Other dinosaurs, specifically herbivores like sauropods and hadrosaurine ornithopods, have pretty much been proven to live together and raise their young(perhaps so for sauropods, perhaps not, but the hadrosaurs were definitely present parents) in massive herds. Since all dinosaurs, including birds, evolved from a common ancestor, and since one of the earliest dinosaurs, coelophysis, have been found together in groups numbering well over a hundred, is it too bold to hazard a guess that ALL dinosaurs(or at least most) lived in herds/packs/families ALL of the time? Sure, scientists can say the coelophysis find was just like the raptor finds and that the animals were only together randomly searching for water or food before they died, but then why did the dinosaurs flourish after the Triassic period? During the Triassic, dinosaurs were the underdogs, just like our ancestors were the underdogs during the end of the Mesosoic Era. They were much smaller than all the animals around them, and they were far from the top of the food chain. But perhaps family hierarchy from coelophysis down millions of years to the Cretaceous raptors is the reason the Dinosauria flourished as the most successful animals to ever exist(face it:after insects and plants, no other form of life has been able to hold a candle to the success of the terrible lizards, not even man himself). Furthermore, if we use the efficiency required in evolution(survival of the fittest) as a frame of reference, raptors and other small meat eaters had bodies that would be most efficient for cooperative hunting(and even everyday living) behavior. In the words of world renown Dino-hunter Robert Bakker, “the life of dinosaurian hunters was hard. Most skeletons we excavate have clear marks of old wounds. To survive and raise their young, the predators needed more than sharp teeth and strong claws. They needed social bonds.” Further support for dinosaur social structure are footprints found in the Shandong province of China. The tracks are of another dromaeosaurid(raptor) dinosaur species, Dromaeopodus shandongensis, with six separate individuals walking together in the same direction at the same time. Pack hunters? Family groups? I believe so. What could be more terrifying than a troop of raptors poised to attack? Nothing, except a pack of perhaps even more efficient and much larger predators: the tyrant dinosaurs. With eyes facing forward for excellent binocular vision, long, powerful legs built for short sprints, a weight of seven tons, and the strongest jaws and teeth of any predator in earth’s history, Tyrannosaurs Rex and it’s relatives were the apex of dinosaur predators. One would be terrifying enough, but what about ten? It just might have been possible, as demonstrated by a recent find. Richard McCrea from the Peace Region Paleontology Research Center In British Columbia led a team that discovered a similar trackway to the Chinese dromaeosaurs, except that these were made by tyrannosaurs, three of them to be precise. Moving in the same direction, imprinted at the same time. Social, much? However, if all dinosaurs, including tyrannosaurids and raptors, lived together in groups, the predators were not above attacking and cannibalizing each other during “family squabbles” similar to modern day lions. There are many tyrannosaur skeletons with healed bite marks matching those of other tyrannosaurs. Velociraptor, the Mongolian cousin of Deinonychus(remember when you see Jurassic World that those raptors are actually Deinonychus, though the true velociraptors were probably just as fearsome, albeit smaller) also presumably attacked each other. One skeleton shows bite marks on the skull from another raptor, although I think that this unfortunate individual did not actually survive the fight. To quote Bakker again, “Top predators are the most quarrelsome, cannibalistic category in the ecosystem. It’s impossible that these tyrannosaurs would clump together in a common cause unless they were sharing genes.” So some wounds on these animals may have been from family squabbles, and more serious and even fatal ones may have been caused by members from another pack(this is perhaps too fantastic, but just imagine a bloody war between two groups of tyrannosaurs or two groups of raptors over territory or food. Part of me wants to be there, and part of me doesnt. The sane part.). In conclusion, I personally imagine that almost all of the dinosaur genera lived together in families and were never, if rarely, solitary. But of course, this is just a theory, held by many real paleontologists(and I hope they do not read this article, for this amateur Dino thinker would be laughed at), and theories will always be subject to change. Comments left for discussion will be greatly appreciated. Keep on thinking! -Shane