“Jurassic Park” Changed Paleontology Forever

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By Kevin Barton

The hit film “Jurassic Park” has influenced more people than ever to take an active interest in paleontology, and even change their careers for it.

Dr. Thomas Adams, the Curator of Paleontology and Geology, hosted a panel on June 24, 2015 along with Dr. Dora Fitzgerald, an associate professor at the University of the Incarnate Word and an M.F.A. graduate of Columbia University’s film program, and Francisco “Kiko” Martinez, a San Antonio film critic and editor-in-chief of CineSnob.net, over the impact of Steven Spielberg’s 1993 hit classic “Jurassic Park” and its franchise. The panel was sparked when the latest installment to the film, “Jurassic World”, was released in June 2015. The panel covered how the franchise has inspired so many people to pursue careers in paleontology, including Dr. Adams himself.

Dr. Adams admits, he saw “Jurassic Park” when it was first released (admittedly in his 30s), and decided to change his career path on the spot. He went back to school and worked his way back to receiving his Ph. D. in geology from the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Currently he is the Curator of Paleontology and Geology at the Wittie Museum in San Anthony, Texas.

The panel started off with a small video compilation of the many different films featuring dinosaurs. Dinosaurs have been featured in cinema since 1914, but were made to be more like monster films rather than actual science-fiction. “Jurassic Park” is the first time dinosaurs were represented in an actual science-fiction format. “The dinosaurs were not represented as monsters; they were shown as animals,” said Dr. Adams. Dr. Adams also touched on the accuracy of the franchise, most notably the physical features of the dinosaurs themselves. According to Dr. Adams, paleontologists have proven that dinosaurs did, in fact, have feathers. Modern birds are direct descendants of carnivorous dinosaurs, therefore some of the DNA that made a dinosaur (sharp teeth, snout, arms) can be found in bird DNA, but much more interesting than that, it can be turned back on, but even more interesting than that, it has been done before. If one were to “Google” a chicken with a dinosaur snout, the closest representation to what a dinosaur would be, which is interesting because “Jurassic Park” could not actually happen for multiple reasons, but the most convincing reason is that the DNA found in the films to recreate the dinosaurs has never actually been found in reality.

Dr. Fitzgerald spoke about how the dinosaurs in the films were what made people want to see them. She spoke about how scary they were, while at the same time mesmerizing. The very size of the dinosaurs seemed to put humans in perspective and remind people just how small they really are. Dr. Fitzgerald brought up a particular point that the teeth of the dinosaurs is what really made these dinosaurs the beasts everyone loves to fear. The sheer size of the teeth is the first thing everyone notices about these creatures and is the one thing people want to see being used against not just other people, but other dinosaurs. She also spoke on how the special effects have improved in the films since the original’s release in 1993. The graphics have been become so uncanny to realistic that people are becoming more involved in what they are seeing.

Kiko Martinez spoke on how the film has impacted modern cinema. When the film was initially released, it was a major success for the time, and with adjustments for inflation, it would be a success today. He also spoke on the fact that “Jurassic World” made history on more than one account. Currently, “Jurassic World” hold the record for biggest opening weekend, but it also hold the title for being the film that caused Pixar their big opening weekend. The weekend after the release of “Jurassic World”, Pixar released their latest film, “Inside Out”. Pixar has a reputation for dominating box offices, but “Jurassic World” stole that away this time around for the first time in cinematic history. It was also mentioned that audiences can look forward to two more “Jurassic Park” films due to the success of “Jurassic World”.

The panel concluded with questions from the audience, and, finally, Dr. Adams asked the audience the question of “why do you like dinosaurs?”, to which no one person could give a solid answer. Enjoying dinosaurs, it was explained, is just something people have, there is no way to really describe why people enjoy watching dinosaurs on their screens. It is because of this love for the pre-historic beasts that, by popular demand, the Wittie Museum has begun renovations to make their dinosaur section larger. Dr. Adams himself is overseeing the project and he introduced some images of what is planned for the new Dinosaur Hall. The Wittie Museum is not the only one to renovate because of “Jurassic Park”, museums all over the nation, including the Smithsonian, have changed their floorplans to dedicate more space to dinosaurs, whereas prior to the film, many museums were considering doing away with the sections altogether.

The panel was informative to the realistic world of paleontology, but also informed us of how big of an impact the film has had on the industry. The number of paleontologists has grown since 1993 to a number so overwhelming that there are not enough jobs for each one. A new dinosaur is found almost every day, whereas before it took quite some time to find one. Dr. Adams pointed out during the seminar that the only other film franchise to inspire people to choose a career in the subject field is “Indiana Jones”, and the only film franchise to rival “Jurassic Park” is “Star Wars”, but “Star Wars” has had nowhere near the same cultural impact. “Jurassic Park” is a prime example of a film that has changed the world, and the number of people that are inspired by the franchise grows every day.

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