4 Myths About Dinosaurs Movies Want Us To Believe
Jurassic World: Dominion seems to have finally done dinosaurs right. Rather, what we mean is they finally gave raptors their colorful feathers. Okay, the raptors in these movies now have some color. It's basically a bronze tint, you guys.
It's an improvement, but still not the colorful rainbow-like display that these creatures are actually believed to have had. But, you know, filmmaking and "cinema palettes" and whatever. Listen, we're not going to decry Hollywood favoring spectacle over Dino Science. We just want to point out that, according to their movie-making choices, movie people really want us to believe that …
Size Doesn’t Matter
Turkey Boy from Jurassic Park was right: Raptors really are closer to the size of turkeys than they are to humans. Says Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh: "(They) were little poodle-sized things you could have as pets if they weren't liable to disembowel you."
So, no more dangerous than a vicious dog, really. Although we wouldn't want to trespass these dog-turkeys' territory if they really roamed the world because, as Brusatte noted, all signs point to them being clever animals, but again, terrible pets.
And while the movies accurately portray the gigantic size of everyone’s beloved Brachiosaurus …
… there is just no way it would be able to stand on its hind legs like that. According to paleontologist Heinrich Mallison, our boy Brachio’s body shape and limb lengths were so odd that it’d be extremely difficult and “energetically costly” for him to do a trick like that. But then, we would never have had this epic crescendo of a moment in a cinematic movie:
Magical. Then there are the huge pterosaurs we see in Jurassic Park III and the Jurassic World trilogy, and while these winged creatures were indeed ginormous — some were as big as fighter jets — that doesn't mean they had the strength to pick up a full-grown human. They didn’t even have the right feet because these flying reptiles didn’t have grasping feet like birds do; their feet actually looked more like ours.
Also, and a bit of a bummer, Mosasurus was actually a bit smaller. The epic sea creature was still pretty big — the largest one ever found was 56 feet (17 meters) long, so still longer than the longest anaconda ever found — but not as humongous as the one that ate Zara in Jurassic World and the pod divers in Fallen Kingdom.
When it comes to the movies, though, bigger really is better, as this scene so definitively illustrates:
Lastly, remember that cute little Dilophosaurus that ate Nedry after spitting venom all over him? Yeah, about that: They didn't spit toxic venom, and only a baby would've been able to fit into Nedry's car. It's probably the most fictionalized dino in the entire franchise. Said paleontologist Andy Marsh from the Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona: "I call Dilophosaurus the best worst-known dinosaur. It's a lot bigger than people would think from watching Jurassic Park." Yep, these dinos were half the size of a full-grown T-Rex … meaning it wouldn't need to spit venom on any of its prey. Not with that size.
Myth: Some Dinosaurs Could Fly
Quickly: Name us a dinosaur that could fly. You can't name Pterosaur because they were prehistoric flying reptiles, not dinosaurs. You can't say Pterodactyl or Pteranodon because those are all Pterosaurs. See, dinosaurs are non-avian animals — there's a special, exclusive category for prehistoric avian reptiles. Dinosaurs were (mostly) land animals, and by their technical definition, none of them roamed the skies.
Pterosaurs are dinosaurs' cousins, having split off from a common ancestor. This means that all the winged Zara-eaters we see in the movies are not, in fact, dinosaurs. The filmmakers simply decided to throw every prehistoric terror at the only British character anyone will actually remember from the franchise.
And speaking of, Mosasaurus was also not a dinosaur. Rather, our Leviathan Dino belonged to a group of aquatic squamate reptiles. "They are not dinosaurs, but close relatives of snakes and monitor lizards that lived in water during the latter part of the Cretaceous period," dino expert Brusatte told Wired. "They're much more closely related to Komodo Dragons."
Myth: All Dinosaurs Either Had Scales Or Feathers (And Dull Colors)
There's always been this uniform idea that all dinosaurs had scales or rough skins like elephants and rhinos and that they were either gray or some boring shade of brown. Scientists have deduced that we probably think they were all the same, dull color palette because when we look at our big animals today — that are all mammals — that's what we see.
But, as with the animal kingdom at large, dinosaurs were more diverse-looking than we apparently think (or really knew for a long time). According to Matthew Mossbrucker, director and chief curator of the Morrison Natural History Museum: “Probably many dinosaurs were just fuzzy. In the way that big mammals kind of have hair, but you don't think of an elephant as hairy. Big dinosaurs probably had that kind of stuff growing on them. I don't think that T-Rex looked like a giant eagle. Maybe as a baby.”
Some dinosaurs had other things attached to them — like porcupine quills, and those spikes of punk boy Stegosaurus. And, as has been mentioned earlier, research shows that dinos were way more colorful. Check out the Caihong, a small paravian theropod dinosaur from China that lived during the Late Jurassic period:
Some of these prehistoric animals also had gnarly patterns, like this paravian therapod called Anchiornis:
Whether dinosaurs had color or not can tell us an awful lot about them. Maria McNamara, professor at the University of Cork, explained that “animals use color for camouflage, for avoiding predators, for mating signals and also for signaling within their social group. So evidence of color in animals has the potential to tell us about this very enigmatic aspect of the biology of ancient organisms.”
Also, it makes them all look so pretty.
Myth: There Were Only Awesome Dinosaurs (And Not Absolutely Ridiculous Looking Ones)
Sure, it’s just like us humans to only feature and celebrate the “most” dinos, as in the most vicious (T-Rex), the most clever (Velociraptors), the gnarliest (Stegosaurus), biggest (Brachiosaurus), and prettiest (Triceratops, obviously).
That’s all good and fine, but what about those odd-looking dinos that also existed? Consider the Suzhousaurus — a large therizinosauroid dinosaur of the Early Cretaceous period that looks like Big Bird’s vulture cousin, who we’d probably try to domesticate immediately on account of how fluffy it is:
Or the Amargasaurus, a sauropod dinosaur also from the Early Cretaceous period who had not one but two rows of huge spines down its neck and back because who says dinos can't glam up?
Just look at the cool Concavenator, a dino that you can spot on a mural in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom — one that we’d probably try and ride sitting backward, like its some sort of carnivorous camel:
Honestly, they are all pretty awesome because they’re dinosaurs, and we will always geek out over dinosaurs, no matter how odd. It’s the reason why all these scientists and, specifically, paleontologists all say the same thing when being interviewed over all these dino discrepancies in the movies: The bad science can easily be forgiven because the films at least feature these once-forgotten, significant creatures. Many paleontologists today went into the field because of the Jurassic Park franchise. At the end of the day, they’re all just fans — just like us.
Now if you’ll excuse me. I'm off to write some fanfiction involving Dino racing in the desert, Star Wars-style.
Thumbnail: Universal Pictures