Friday, March 22, 2013

No Feathers

As many of you know by now, Jurassic Park 4 director Colin Trevorrow has (basically) announced via tweet that JP4 would not feature feathered dinosaurs but would stick to the 1980s designs of the original film.

Lots of opinions are flying around paleo blogs and they all raise good points. Andrea Cau has been one of the few to defend the decision by noting that changing the dinosaurs would upset the continuity of the films, such as it is (it's not like we're talking about Lord of the Rings style mythology here). Brian Switek has countered that each previous film has completely re-designed the "raptors" anyway with no in-universe explanation. This has even been jarring in the films themselves. At the beginning of the third film, Sam Neil's character Alan Grant has a dream about a raptor, but it's one of the new raptors (with a totally different skull featuring lachrymal horns, new color scheme, and those bizarre psittacosaur-like quills on the neck), not the raptors he or the audience should remember from JP1.

Anyway, it's obvious the producers don't give a hoot about continuity and are trying to appease the JP fans who love the classic dinosaur designs. That's understandable, but it should also be understandable why a significant portion of the fan base is upset. JP is what got many of us into paleontology in the first place, and the first film went out of its way to emphasize the latest science. Steven Spielberg could have gone with dinosaurs the audience expected in 1993: tripodal, tail-dragging, sluggish reptilian beasts. Instead, he made JP the coming out party for the Dinosaur Renaissance, introducing active, bird-like, Bakkerian dinosaurs to a mass audience for the first time in defiance of expectations (dialogue from the film quickly addresses the inaccuracy of the then-classic dinosaurs as well, like noting that the brachiosaur is warm-blooded and doesn't live in swamps).

So it's a bit sad that JP has eaten its own tail and become the self-perpetuating font of inaccurate science the original film was designed to destroy. The franchise is now a slave to its own cannon and the expectations of its audience, rather than having the guts to challenge those expectations. It will inevitably have to rely more and more on cheap built-in loopholes like frog DNA to briefly explain why the dinosaurs are monstrous relics of a bygone era of science less accurate than the CGI characters on a popular children's show.

As Cau noted in his comments, the only thing that could revitalize the series is a reboot. Here's hoping!


  1. “Brian Switek has countered that each previous film has completely re-designed the "raptors" anyway with no in-universe explanation.”

    While I don’t remember them being explained in the movies, I do remember hearing explanations for JP2′s new color schemes (Sexual dimorphism; Unlike JP, there were both male & female dinos on-screen) & JP3′s raptors (V.sornaensis; InGen originally created them, but they were too intelligent/aggresive for the park to handle, hence the creation of V.nublarensis).

    Anyway, based on what I’ve read, the late great Winston planned on fully feathered dinos in JP4, so I assume he had an explanation for them (E.g. Repressed genes in captive-bred dinos eventually being expressed in wild-bred dinos). Come to think of it, I’d love to see how Winston’s vision of fully feathered dinos would’ve turned out. For some reason, I imagined them as being very Kokoro-esque (E.g. See the young T.rex & Velociraptors in this link: ).


    1. "(Sexual dimorphism; Unlike JP, there were both male & female dinos on-screen)"

      I suppose the dimorphism is implicit in JP2, but I don't remember anything about the raptors in JP3 as a different species. Unless it was in some supplemental material to the movie, in which case it's not doing any good clarifying things for the audience (and the Grant dream sequence would makes even less sense).

    2. Those are explanations by fans. The only official word is that they "evolved" through breeding, which doesn't mean much, but the wild-bred individuals on the novels are also for some unexplained reason different than the captive-bred.

    3. @Matthew Martyniuk

      In reference to Grant's dream, I always figured 1 of 2 things: He imagined the JP3 raptor based on the raptor skull he had just CAT scanned (which seems to match the JP3 raptor while the raptor skull he dug up in JP seems to match the JP raptor); He was on drugs. ;)

      @Henrique Niza

      Fair enough.


  2. It's funny you mention "Dinosaur Train" since I was just thinking, whoever was in charge of the "Land Before Time" sequels didn't have any problems adding feathered theropods into the cast (though they never updated the main cast). Neither did "Dino Time". So thus far the writers of "Jurassic Park 4" care less about the intervening twenty years of new paleontological findings than things like "Dino Time" and "Land Before Time XII: Here's Another One, F*** You".

  3. Speaking of Dinosaur Train and its accuracy; I think that it's probably one of the best things, if not also the most surprising thing, that one of the most accurate scientific paleo shows is a cartoon aimed at preschoolers. It's better to educate children young as scientifically accurately as we can than to have great shows aimed at adults and allowing children to learn crappy science up until adulthood. That's one of those things I mention a lot in my own writing. At least as adults we can understand why things are wrong and discuss them; children don't have that frame of reference so starting them off inaccurately is a terrible thing to do. That said, I grew up on claymation dinosaurs and horribly inaccurate dinosaurs and I turned out mostly okay (I think).

  4. aw great!
    i would like to see a sequel of JP4 but with feathers!