Tag Archives: Dinosaurs

On Dreams Made Real

[SPOILER ALERT – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED]

When I was four years old a film was released that has since been a wonder for millions all over the globe, it had some of the most innovative special effects in film history, and did more to update the public perception of palaeontology than any museum or university field program could ever hope to achieve.

(if my memory serves me correctly) I first saw Jurassic Park in 1995, when I was six, when it first aired on the TV here in England. Besides knowing that I hid behind our family sofa from the T-Rex when it was gorging on lawyers and smashing up cars on that magically appearing concrete cliff, the one emotion that abides with me even now is one of childlike wonder and excitement at the creatures on the screen. They were so real, so present that I could not believe they were anything but extant, living beings. No longer extinct creatures confined to the rocks in Montana and the Isle of Wight.

My Old Dinosaur VHS tapes

My Old Dinosaur VHS tapes

I’d loved dinosaurs for as long as I could remember at that point, in no small part thanks to the VHS tapes that my parents bought for me (speaking of which, I must convert those to DVD soon). But as I grew older I learned about acting, CGI became so common in movies that you aren’t even sure the actors are real any more, and I watched as science enhanced our knowledge of the dinosauria beyond anything we could have dreamed of in 1993. We now have theropod dinosaurs – incuding some pretty big ones – with fillamentous integument (proto-feathers), we even know what colour archaeopteryx’ feathers would be. We’ve seen palaeoecology take off wildly, and study of the dinosaurs in relation to their environment as well as just their bones. And we’ve even managed to find out the colours of the insects that they shared their world with.

And over time, the magic dulled.

It’s never gone away  of course, I can still feel it whenever I watch the original film, and even to an extent when I watch Jurassic Park; The Lost World (I won’t speak much of JP3). But as I’m sure you may imagine, when I heard about Jurassic World I had some very high hopes… the question is, would it deliver.

Let’s just stop and talk about some of the inaccuracies though, before we get onto whether or not my expectations were met. Darren Naish published a very good (and frankly spot on) criticism of Jurassic World last week on the CNN website which captures my biggest problem with the backpeddalling from feathered raptors in JP3.

What John Hammond and InGen did at Jurassic Park is create genetically engineered theme park monsters – Dr. Alan Grant, JP3

Yes, Yes they did, they’re not “real” dinosaurs so we (presumably the palaeontological community) should shut up about it. This is the line that the film takes when it comes to the accuracy of Jurassic World’s creations, incidentally it’s also the line that TellTale’s Jurassic Park PC game took (don’t play it, the control scheme is awful) which is fair enough, the film-makers may be able to shut the scientists up but they can’t ignore them.

However, for a film series whose legacy to the world was bringing the public’s perceptions of dinosaur science out of the 18th century and into the 20th, it has, through a desire to make money/maintain continuity (or something like that) kept the public’s perception very much in the 1990’s as far as the look of the dinosaurs goes. I suppose we can all be thankful that the BBC’s excellent “Walking with” series’ picked up the baton and ran with it long before JP3 ever entered production, let alone Jurassic World.You might be able to say that they up-played the raptor’s intelligence, or that they got better at the herd behaviour. but that’s not what people will remember, they’ll remember trikes dragging their tails, pterosaurs flying off with people, and a mosasaur that is at least twice the size of any known mosasaur.

Add to all this the attempts the film makes to shoehorn in some “comedy gold” cliche – the cinema did erupt into laughter at it but it was terribly immersion breaking – and the at times strained nature of the militarisation of raptors story line, and it could have ruined the film completely.

So why didn’t it?

In a word; Magic.

I’m probably not going to be able to put this very well, but I spent the first half of the film trying to be cynical and watch the film objectively. But at some time around the half-way point Zach and Gray – this film’s Lex and Tim – are stumbling through the forest after escaping the Indominus rex and they come across an old, overgrown door; Instantly recognisable to anyone who saw the first film.

And suddenly it’s as if I am six years old again, I felt all the same emotions and feelings as I did watching Jurassic Park for the first time. The magic was back, If I hadn’t read somwhere that the original visitors centre from the first film was destroyed by a Hurricane after the first film’s release, I would swear the film crew had just walked in after the forests of Kauaʻi had reclaimed it. Anyway, the inaccuracies didn’t matter so much any more.

There were other redeeming features to this film as well, the eccentric CEO, Simon Masrani, brings many of the endearing characteristics of Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond to mind, while obviously having a similar vision for the park, and his own foibles… Who else would fly a helicopter into a combat situation without being able to autorotate? The fact that the man dies due to the actions of his creations was a lovely nod to the books and the people who actually read them as well (wherin Hammond is killed by the compsognathus’).

The character of Lowery also harkens back to characters from the previous movies, Ray Arnold and Ian Malcolm, and his workstation reminded me of the character Wash from Firefly… He’s probably my favourite of the film’s main characters, in no small part for the way he’s clearly a convert to Hammond’s initial vision.

So yes, the film has more than it’s fair share of errors in the science department, and it’s quite possible that my fanboy-ism and nostalgia are holding more sway than four years of a geology degree and three and a half as a “professional” palaeontologist. But you know what. I don’t care; nobody in palaeontology ever took me seriously anyway.

“What they did, it was real…” – Lowery, Jurassic World

If only it were.

Diggin’ up Dino’s

Poster for the talk: 400 Million Years in 30 MinutesOnce again it’s been a while since I last posted, the talk that was the subject of my last post went very well, even if the staff only talk only had one attendee – the Chief Executive of the Craven District Council. The public talk fared much better with most of the volunteers turning up and one or two members of the public as well. Everyone seemed to enjoy the talk and the handling session held afterwards, though I don’t know that for certain!

I haven’t yet uploaded any video of the talk, mainly because the video is awful and I haven’t had time or a good enough computer recently (sadly my top spec’ laptop died a death out of warranty). However just as soon as I can I’ll get it on YouTube.

Moving on however, the three months I spent at Craven Museum were fantastic, I learned (and re-learned) a great deal and even got to handle some Geological enquiries. Museum Curation is definitely a career path for me to head down and I know I’ll enjoy it.

The Museum of the Rockies, Boozeman, Montana

The Museum of the Rockies, Boozeman, Montana. (c) Wayne Hsieh, 2010

Before I chase down a new job and the start of a new career, I’m heading stateside for three weeks. I’ve been lucky enough to be offered the chance to join the Museum of the Rockies field crew digging up Hadrosaur remains from the Cretaceous rocks near Rudyard, Montana! Which is what I’ll be doing for the first three weeks of June!

This should be an awesome experience, I’ll get to take part in a full-on palaeontological excavation (think the opening scenes of Jurassic Park – for all the errors it’ll still give you the idea). I’ll also have the chance to see part of the USA properly – albeit a very limited part – and meet some very clever people who’ll no doubt be far more awesome than me… shouldn’t be that hard to be fair.

I’ll also be taking my cameras and will be writing a diary while I’m out there, so I’ll be able to give you all a lovely looooong post about it all when I return at the end of June – possibly even while I’m out there?!

Ben D. Brooks

24.05.2012

Dig scene at "Snakewater, Montana" from Jurassic Park

Dig scene at “Snakewater, Montana” from Jurassic Park (c) Universal Studios, 1993

Scientific consensus reached on End-Mesozoic Mass Extinction

On the 1st to the 5th of this month, the Lunar and Planetary Institute held their annual conference, and published at the event and in the Journal Science was an article confirming and bolstering the consensus on the asteroid-kills-dinosaurs paradigm (Schulte et al. 2010).

I know what you’re thinking… “we already knew that!”

Well if your only access to science is independent TV, “common” sense and a secondary level education then you’d be right, but actually whilst the asteroid camp is in the majority, there are people out there including some of my lecturers at university who champion the idea that Flood Volcanism caused massive climatic perturbations which in turn killed off the dinosaurs, Such as Glasby and Kunzendorf (1996).

Now to be fair to the Flood Basalt proponents, their case is an interesting one, and one might expect a series of eruptions that emanate over one million cubic kilometres of lava would have a massive impact on the planet, and indeed the new paper admits that there are some shorter term effects from each eruptive event.

The Chicxulub impactor however would have ejected 5000 times more sulphur in a matter of minutes than erupted from the Deccan Traps in a whole year according to current models and measurements. Thus ensuring a major climatic spanner was well and truly thrown into the works which even anthropogenic global warming and its few but outspoken sceptics would swoon over.

Hopefully I’ve peaked your interest… which will make you want to go and read the paper; go on you know you want to!

Any way… The Dinosauria (Aves Excepted), Pterosaurs and Marine Reptiles, Coccolithophores etcetera met their demise at the hands of an Asteroid… until the next paper comes out with some new but contrary evidence!

IN OTHER NEWS:

There’s a new paper out in Science about the Snowball Earth Hypothesis (Kerr, 2010)… I haven’t read it, but you might find it interesting.

Here is the reason why your university lecturers insist on you using scientific journals and search engines such as Scopus or GeoRef…

If you want to see this for yourself, just go to http://scholar.google.com and search for "Deccan Traps KT Extinction".

When searching for articles for this post, AnswersinGenesis came up as the "Best" link according to Google Scholar! - yes that load of creationist crackpots who reckon the earth to be ~6000 years old.

Anywho, I’m now off for dinner and a kip.

Ben Brooks

Short-link for this post: http://wp.me/pFUij-1o

REFERENCES

Glasby, G.P. and Kunzendorf, H. (1996), Multiple factors in the origin of the Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary: the role of environmental stress and Deccan Trap volcanism in Geologische Rundschau Vol. 85, issue 2, pp.191-210. [DOI: 10.1007/BF02422228] [ONLINE] Available: http://www.springerlink.com/content/v335477328613407 (Accessed 10/03/2010)

Kerr, R.A (2010), Snowball Earth Has Melted Back To a Profound Wintry Mix in Science vol. 327, issue. 5970, pp.1186, [DOI: 10.1126/science.327.5970.1186] [ONLINE] Available: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/327/5970/1186 (Accessed: 10/03/2010)

Schulte. P, et al. (2010), The Chicxulub Asteroid Impact and Mass Extinction at the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary, in Science 327 (5970), 1214. [DOI: 10.1126/science.1177265] [ONLINE] Available: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/citmgr?gca=sci;327/5970/1214 (Accessed 10/03/10)

BBC Article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/8550504.stm