Dinosaur scientists somehow disappointed by Hollywood's disregard for dinosaur scientific facts

Upcoming Jurassic Park 4 won't feature dinosaurs with feathers, to dismay of paleonthologists

Credit: Image credit: Flickr/LOREN JAVIER

You could understand a paleontologist being upset over a textbook getting a major fact about dinosaurs wrong, or maybe even a PBS documentary. But to get outraged, or "pissed off," over Hollywood's slovenly way with the facts strikes me as futile exercise in blood-pressure elevation, perhaps dangerous to one's well-being. Nonetheless, some paleontologists tell New Scientist that Jurassic Park 4, slated to be released in June, is ignoring emerging scientific consensus regarding these prehistoric giants: Namely, that dinosaurs could drive cars! Sorry, that's a script treatment I'm working on. Actually, what has the paleontologists irate is that the upcoming movie will portray the dinosaurs without feathers. Of course, dinosaurs were all leathery and bald in the first three installments of the Jurassic Park series (1993, 1997, 2001). But as New Scientist explains:

Since the early 1990s, when the first Jurassic Park came out, evidence has mounted that many of its lizard-skinned stars in fact wore feathery bling. The turkey-sized Velociraptor and at least some of the gigantic tyrannosaurs had feathers. A few dinosaurs even had iridescent ones, perhaps for display.

And some drove cars, as scientists soon will discover -- at least in a soon-to-be-optioned feature film script! Anyway, here's what Darren Nash, a paleontologist at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom, tells New Scientist (NSFW!): "I'm pissed off by a disregard for knowledge. It helps perpetuate the notion that dinosaurs were all scaly dragons, alien and unlike modern animals." Two points: First, while Mr. Nash's anger is understandable -- he devotes his life to studying dinosaurs, after all -- I'm not sure he understands that disregarding knowledge isn't just a Hollywood thing, it's a national policy. Second, while I totally respect his professional standing, I suspect that even with feathers, dinosaurs would be "unlike modern animals." Mark Witton, another palaeontologist who also is a movie consultant, writes in his blog that the decision to go without feathers:

...seems like an overlooked opportunity to bring the dinosaur-bird themes of the first movie full circle, jars with overwhelming evidence that some JP dinosaur stars were feathered, and misses an terrific chance to affirm modern concepts of dinosaur palaeobiology with a wide audience.

And while Witton doesn't go all sailor like Nash, he gets personal:

The JP franchise would also probably benefit more from featuring feathery species than it will from maintaining its flimsy creature design continuity (see Laelaps for more on this) as the series clearly needs some fresh ideas and content. It hasn't really delivered much else than people being chased by dinosaurs since the one hour mark of the first film, and a certain amount of repetition has set in ("Oh, look, they're running away from a large predatory dinosaur. Oh, look, they're running away from smaller predatory dinosaurs. Oh, look, one dinosaur is fighting another dinosaur. Oh, look, it's a sweeping shot of peaceful dinosaurs", etc.).

Witton has a good point. I recently saw the first two movies on DVD with my 8-year-old son. Leaks in plot and leaps of faith abounded. BTW, here's the Laelaps blog post Witton references:

[S]peaking as an unabashed dinosaur fan myself, a dinosaur bearing fuzz, feathers, or quills is so much stranger and more wonderful than yet another olive green, scaly monstrosity. Hollywood, let paleontologists help you push the boundaries of fantastic dinosaurs.

I wouldn't hold my breath on that one. Now read this:

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