Dinosaur purists might have points regarding scientific errors in Jurassic Park, but they better target Michael Crichton’s book instead.
Released in 1993, to critical acclaim, jurassic park is not without its detractors. Admittedly, much of the problem with the original trilogy now compares the dinosaurs of then with the knowledge known today, with recent discoveries and clearer concepts. Criticizing Steven Spielberg’s film for portraying inaccurate dinosaurs cannot be an argument when the portrayal they are compared to comes thirty years after the facts and from Michael Crichton’s book.
In reality, jurassic park was the most accurate depiction of dinosaurs at the time. Spielberg had hired several paleontologists for the express purpose of making dinosaurs as accurate as possible, wanting to bring public perception up to date with scientific perception. He succeeded and jurassic park remains an indelible image in the public perception of dinosaurs, even spurring an entire generation to turn to paleontology as a career. However, that doesn’t mean it’s flawless.
Yet, this is not specifically the fault of the film but rather the fault of its source material – the book written by Michael Crichton. Although they were written as hard science fiction, some issues escaped and entered the book and later in the movie. Part of this can be attributed to the orientation of the book. Unlike the movie, which is careful to portray dinosaurs as living animals, the book uses dinosaurs as monsters to convey the message that mankind’s pride in playing God will be its downfall.
That said, some errors in both media stem from public misconceptions about animal behavior. Doctor Grant’s advice to Lex in the movie stems from real predator-facing advice: Predators chase moving objects because that’s what they’re programmed to do. In the Jurassic to park movie, Dr. Grant explains this to Lex in the simplest way possible, saying, “Don’t move. He can’t see you if you don’t move,” because circumstances demand it. In the book, the account explains this and gets bogged down with the misconception that the T. Rex actually has poor eyesight, which the sequel then tries to erase by claiming that the Rex just wasn’t hungry at all. the time – goat cheese and avocado are quite filling, after all.
Other errors are apparent to those familiar with paleontology. The Dilophosaurus from the movie is often criticized for being far too small compared to the fossil record, with the most common attempt to explain this being that it may have been a juvenile. Granted, one of the reasons given by the designers was to avoid confusion with the Velociraptors, but the book also doesn’t describe the dilophosaurus as being very large. It could have been affected by the DNA substituted to complete the sequences and bring them back to life. Frogs are much smaller, after all, and there’s no guarantee they haven’t been affected beyond their ability to reproduce. One of Dr Wu’s arguments in Jurassic World is that dinosaurs are not really precise to be genetically modified.
But that explanation crumbles with the mislabeled Velociraptor, perhaps the biggest criticism leveled at the franchise. The velociraptors were about the size of a turkey, which means that the specimens jurassic park would be more accurately described as one of their larger cousins, such as Deinonychus or Utahraptor. This cannot be ruled out by genetic alteration, as the fossil at the start of the film is depicted as a velociraptor. However, it could be the film trying to maintain consistency with the book, where the mislabelling initially occurred, apparently due to a stylistic choice. At least the movie also offers a nod to Velociraptor’s actual size with the kid’s commentary on the six-foot turkey. Not to mention the discovery of the Utahraptor shortly after production began, gave some credibility to the design choice.
But perhaps the biggest scientific error – and one that is rarely mentioned compared to these others – is the contingency of lysine. Mentioned in both the book and the movie as a fail-safe in case the dinosaurs escape, the Lysine Contingency stops the dinosaurs from making the amino acid Lysine; if they are not fed Lysine, they “slip into a coma and die”. In reality, no animal produces lysine alone – it must be ingested. As Dr Harding explains in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, herbivores have to eat plants which produce lysine, while carnivores then eat herbivores and thus obtain lysine. Again, this is a mistake that stems from the book rather than the movie.
The good news is, these mistakes don’t impact the enjoyment of the movie. Unlike the novel, the jurassic park film is a tight film with a story to tell, characters to love and dinosaurs to admire. Of course, they’re not feathered, but given that this is a recent discovery, that’s less of a concern. Dinosaurs are so well made that even the greatest purist must marvel at the technical feats required to bring them to life.
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