Spoilers For "Jurassic World" follow!
As much as they try to be accurate, movies often get science wrong in favor of telling a more thrilling story -- everyone knows these days, for example, that the dinosaurs in "Jurassic Park" didn't look or even act anything like they would have 65 million years ago. They definitely weren't as big, for example, and most of them had feathers.
So now that the franchise is back in business with "Jurassic World," have they gotten better at portraying dinosaurs the right way? Well, yes and no.
To get a handle on what's accurate in "Jurassic World" and what isn't, we spoke to Daniel Barta, a PhD student at the American Museum of Natural History's Richard Gilder Graduate School. Barta got his undergraduate and master’s degrees under the direction of dinosaur reproduction expert David Varricchio at Montana State University, also home to famed paleontologist Jack Horner, (AKA the scientific adviser for the entire "Jurassic Park" franchise). Anyway, he had some pretty interesting things to say about the movie:
RIGHT: Raptor eggs really look like that.
The movie opens on a close-up of a series of raptor eggs hatching, which Barta found to be surprisingly accurate.
"I think the egg part of the movie was pretty cool," Barta said. "Because the egg shape, it looked like a carnivorous dinosaur hatching out. It was actually shaped a lot like the real eggs with embryos that we’ve found carnivorous dinosaurs inside."
WRONG: Thermal sensing wasn't a thing for dinosaurs.
The Indominus Rex can detect heat signatures of other animals around her, but we have no way of knowing if real dinosaurs could ever do that.
"I would say the thermal sensing is something we more associate with snakes today – so that’s purely fiction on the part of the Indominous rex," Barta said. "But we can get a good idea of dinosaurs’ senses by studying their brains. There’s a lot of research going on at the American Museum of Natural History looking at their brains from the T-rex all the way up to birds, so by looking at relative sizes of different regions of the brain, we can get a rough idea of what dinosaurs senses were like. The t-rex most likely had a very good sense of smell, it has a fairly large olfactory region of the brain, which is the region that controls smells."
So should Owen have been able to cloak himself from I. Rex's by covering himself in gasoline while hiding under a car? "I suppose if he made himself cold enough, like the dinosaur wouldn’t have been able to see him – kind of the idea of Arnold Shwarzenegger covering himself in mud in 'Predator,'" Barta suggested. "But he also might have been covering up his scent as well. It might have served two purposes."
But still, "We don’t really know what to look for in the fossil record to know if something had thermal sensing or not. It’s not something that would be preserved."
RIGHT: Dino blood was actually red.
"Birds and crocodilians are the closest living analogs for what dinosaurs may have been like. So in terms of what those dinosaurs’ soft tissue may have been like, we let those living animals be our guides, we know they have red blood so safe bet is that dinosaurs had red blood."
WRONG: T-Rex and Velociraptors could never make a baby.
Yes, I. Rex was "not bred" but "designed," but it's pretty much impossible for such a weird concoction of animals to exist at all.
"We get things like hybrid zones in nature where species with close geographic ranges produce hybrid animals," Barta said. "But to the degree shown in the movie, where you’re getting tyrannosaurus DNA with velociraptor DNA, that’s just simply too great of a genetic distance for them to be able to cover and make a viable hybrid animal."
RIGHT: Dino-cannibalism definitely happened.
You know how Indominus Rex ate her sister? That's not really that weird. "There’s definitely some evidence of dinosaurs of the same species fighting with each other. There’s fossils of carnivorous dinosaurs that appear to show tooth marks in their face, so these animals may have been biting each other’s faces – for whatever reason they’re having the dispute we don’t know but we definitely know that modern animals definitely fight with members of their own species or cannibalize members of their own species."
WRONG: Pteradon feet can't grasp things.
"The one thing people probably don’t realize about pterosaurs is that they didn’t have grasping feet like birds, so they wouldn’t have been able to pick up people and carry them like they do in the movie. They’re feet are more like human feet in that they walked flat-footed more like us," Barta said. But he did point out that unlike "Jurassic World III," The pteradons didn't have teeth -- which is a much more accurate improvement.
RIGHT: Dinosaurs probably talked to each other.
"Birds are very vocal creatures... so it certainly wouldn’t surprise me if dinosaurs were doing that too," Barta said. "Now, are we ever going to find fossil evidence for that? That’s open for debate. We’re finding dinosaur’s new soft tissue structures all the time, so potentially we’ll learn more about that from the fossils -- but just based on the analogy with birds it’s very likely they were vocal communicators. So that’s one thing the movies do get right, I think."
WRONG: Dinosaurs don't actually enjoy fighting to the death.
So you know how we said that dinosaurs ate each other all the time earlier? They totally did -- but not unless they reaaaaally needed to. The big dino-fight at the end of the movie probably would never have happened.
"It's important to keep in mind when you’re seeing this 'Godzilla'-like battle at the end of the movie that animals are just like us. They try and avoid getting hurt as much as possible. I realize that wouldn’t have made a very exciting movie if the Indominous rex just turned its tail and ran but that may be more accurate. Things don’t just go battling each other all the time in nature."
RIGHT: Maybe we could have outrun dinosaurs?
Well, not ALL of them -- but Bryce Dallas Howard outrunning that T-rex wasn't that outside the realm of possibility, if she was really booking it.
"From doing biomechanical modeling studies, using techniques that are also applied to living animals, people have been able to figure out that the T-rex wasn’t super fast. It wasn’t running down jeeps like in the first movie," said Barta. "But there are some dinosaurs that we can get a rough idea of speed from footprint measurements by measuring stride lengths, and those show dinosaurs running as fast as any Olympic sprinter so they would have certainly caught the average person. It’s hard to know even through footprints what the behavior is typical of dinosaurs."
Now, could she do it in HEELS in real life? That, Barta couldn't comment on.
RIGHT: Dinosaur experts ARE working with genetics to learn more about these creatures.
Jack Horner was actually inspired by his work on "Jurassic Park" to create something called the Dino-Chicken project -- which, Barta explained, "is an attempt to modify a chicken during its embryonic development to exhibit some more dinosaur-like features like teeth and a long tail." Of course, the goal is not to create living dinosaurs but instead "to understand the genetic basis to these evolutionary transitions we see in the fossil record." But hey, if they end up making chickenosaurs in the process? Clearly there's a market for that.
WRONG: Dinosaurs aren't extinct.
"I think one of the biggest misconceptions about dinosaurs is that they are extinct. They’re not extinct at all, they’re actually birds. They are still with us today," Barta said.
"That being said, if you want to go see the really big, extinct dinosaurs, one of the best places to do that– and I hope the release of Jurassic World really inspires – is more people to visit museums. I hope people of all ages can not only learn about dinosaurs and cool facts about dinosaurs but also about how the process of science works."
"Jurassic World" is now in theaters.