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A paleontologist at the movies, my take on Jurassic World

06/22/2015 Josh Bonde, PhD

This past weekend my wife and I went and saw the new Jurassic World movie on the IMAX 3D. Both of us are paleontologists, so we didn’t go in with high hopes. We were both childhood fans of the original Jurassic Park and just wanted a fun movie. I would say both of us came out thoroughly entertained. It was a great monster movie! Lots of action, a couple of good jump out of your seat moments, and some old favorite dinosaur characters make their return to the screen.

Anyone who has gone and seen this movie has their own opinion, just like mine above, so why am I taking the time to write a short little blog about the movie? Well glad you asked, cause I’m gonna tell you. When I got home from the movie I went online to read the news and saw several stories about the records the movie was breaking and other stories about disgruntled “paleontologists” complaining that “an educational moment” was missed. I don’t see it that way, I recall the original Jurassic Park book and movie were based upon the most cutting edge interpretations of our understanding of the fossil record of the time and those also got lambasted as being inaccurate. The museum had the great fortune of having the science advisor for the Jurassic Park franchise, Jack Horner, here in town last month before the release of the movie. He had some fun insight into the movies. One of his most telling insights is that he told the directors and producers the correct info, as we understand it, but some decisions were based solely on making a more entertaining movie. One major item I have heard some of my colleagues complaining about is the naked dinosaurs. It’s true; we have found feathers or feather-like structures in about every single group of dinosaurs. So in real life they should have had some sort of plumage, but Steven Spielberg’s production group made the decision of continuity between the movies. We also know that pterosaurs had some sort of fur-like structure which covered their bodies.

So why am I not complaining about the scientific inaccuracies of Jurassic World? Because it is not Steven Spielberg’s job to tell a scientifically accurate story, his job is to make an entertaining movie and to get butts in the movie theater! And I also don’t see this as an educational moment missed. The fact that Jurassic World has broken a world box office record for a movie opening is exciting to me, and no I do not have stock in the studio. It is exciting because it shows how many people in the world are still interested in dinosaurs! People are still excited about them, people still want to see them, to know more about them, to learn about them. Now this is the educational moment. There is peaked interest in dinosaurs, generated by a piece of entertaining fiction. Kids, and kids at heart, now are asking “Is that what a dinosaur really looked like?”, “Where dinosaurs really mean?”, “Dinosaurs are extinct?” Again this is the educational moment and where educators, such as myself and the hard working staff of the museum, have to step up and use this rejuvenated excitement to dole out the facts. It’s Spielberg’s job to entertain, it’s our job to educate, and I think as the Nevada dinosaur museum we do a pretty dang good job of it! I would invite any questions you might have, or your kiddos might have, post them below and I will personally respond to as many as I can. If there is interest enough perhaps the museum can even schedule a Q&A for the public.

Go to the movie! Enjoy it! Come to the museum and dig a little deeper!