Science in Fiction: Jurassic Engineering
I’ve been watching the Jurassic Park series today, so my pet peeves have resurfaced. Of course, there are the obvious things like how Dr. Grant could possibly know that the T. rex’s vision is based on movement or why such a massive automation project would only have a single programmer, but today I will go into explaining away your artistic licenses.
Often, a writer doesn’t know everything there is to know on a subject they’re writing on. I’m not an expert in nanotechnology or physics, but I can write stories that incorporate them without making scientists cry. With Jurassic Park and the subsequent movies, they repeatedly use artistic license in the creation of their animals, which I am sort of okay with, but they also do things I’m not okay with.
Okay: Make recreated Velociraptors spliced with frog DNA 5 feet tall.
Not Okay: Have Dr. Grant digging up a 5 foot tall Velociraptor in Montana when Velociraptors were only about 3 feet tall in real life, and based in Asia. They were about the size of a turkey.
The story could have been resolved by having Grant digging up a 3 foot tall velociraptor in Asia, but explaining away the larger size as an artifact in the creation of the modified creatures. Factually accurate, and it has the added benefit of speaking to the inherent chaos involved in trying to recreate creatures extinct some 65 million years.
Okay: A Mosasaur large enough to eat a Great White shark.
Not Okay: Dimorphodons flying seemingly miles to attempt to steal away with humans many times their body weight when there was likely other, easier prey in between.
Also, what the heck was with the Dimorphodon’s head in Jurassic World? It looks like a T. rex head. And it doesn’t even attach at the right portion of the head. Sorry, that’s been bugging me all day. They just look like flying T. rexs in the movie…
The Mosasaur can be explained away a wide variety of ways. It could be an immature shark (Great Whites average 15 feet, which is about 1/4 the size of the largest species of Mosasaur). It could be that the specific insertions to the DNA affected its size (maybe they used blue whale DNA? I don’t know…). Or maybe they specifically designed the creature to be bigger (not exactly a stretch, is it?).
But the Dimorphodons don’t make any sense. Well, both flying species did the same thing, which doesn’t make any sense. In Jurassic Park III, it at least made sense that the pterodactyls would attack. After all, that was their territory. It made perfect sense that they would attack, and they certainly appeared big enough to fly away with a human. Also, there’s a certain suspense with the Jurassic Park III scene because the group has to navigate a deadly arena to survive.
Also, I can’t fathom actually breeding flying dinosaurs. I mean, not exactly easy to contain and you’re talking ecological disaster if they escape. My mind always imagines them flying off to the mainland and causing havoc everywhere…
The point being you should always anchor your details with a little dash of verifiable fact. You can get as crazy as you want with the factoids as long as you don’t embellish on items that can be verified, and the embellishments make sense in relation to one another. Since no one has ever attempted to make dinosaurs, who’s to know how it would change them, but there are certain things we do know about them, and by keeping those constant, you anchor your made up details to the reader’s world, making them more believable and preventing them from being pulled out of the story. Further, anchoring the dinosaurs’ behaviors to known human and animal behaviors allows us to more directly relate to the story. Embellish the right details, and you not only won’t make scientists cry, you just might have them love you. After all, science fiction has allowed us to dream of what could be, and it can help lead us in directions we might not have thought to go scientifically.
Okay: Training Velociraptors to follow commands.
Yeah, I loved that bit. God, I could watch that all day. That one makes me want to dance, because it’s clear to me that they thought that one out a bit. After all, any animal that operates in packs can learn in this way. Of course, if pack dynamics are controlled by physical prowess, well… We won’t go there.
Not Okay: Seemingly everyone being able to outrun creatures with probably ten times their gait in length.
And that will be my parting shot. I never could outrun my greyhound. Why would I ever hope to outrun a T. rex or Indominus rex…