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Hollywood’s Dinosaur Dig: Jurassic Park, Yields More Fact Than Fiction

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“This is not a science-fiction movie by any stretch of the imagination.  This is just science eventuality.” –Steven Spielberg, 1993

Those are strong words, but it turns out the Jurassic Park director knew what he was talking about:  What was considered pure fiction at the time is now backed by scientific evidence.  When creating this special effects blockbuster, every effort was made by Spielberg to deliver dinosaurs that looked awesome but were also scientifically accurate. “We were trying to be credible,” co-producer Kathleen Kennedy said.  “But we were also making a movie.”  So, some artistic liberties were taken. And to fill in some of the details, the paleontologist advising Spielberg’s team, Jack Horner, admitted, “It’s a guess — a best guess.”

One of the most far fetched ideas in the film was that dinosaurs could be cloned from DNA that has been extracted from blood found in mosquitoes preserved in amber.  In 1993, when the film was released, the scientific community made it clear that this is not possible.  Yet just a year later scientists extracted some dinosaur DNA from bones and this month a new documentary Dinosaurs: Return to Life discusses cloning the creatures with newfound optimism.  The producer Dan Levitt says, “Advances in genetic engineering are moving so fast that famed paleontologist Jack Horner believes that within our lifetime years it will be possible to retro-engineer a dinosaur-like creature from a bird.”

Another point of contention with the film was the size of the villainous Velociraptors. (They were significantly larger than any specimens found to date.)  Utah paleontologists later found bones of a real raptor that were as large as the ones in the movie, causing the films chief modelmaker, Stan Winston to say, “After we created it, they discovered it.”

Another thing created by the filmmakers was the idea that the animals worked together, hunting in groups and that each had a weapon-like claw on one toe of each foot that it lifted to keep it from wearing on the ground. Sure enough, in October of 2007, scientists in China proved Jurassic Park was right again.  They found six sets of raptor tracks at the same location and Martin Lockley of the Dinosaur Tracks Museum says the evidence “strongly indicates that the track makers were there at the same time — moving as a group.”  And, you guessed it, each track shows two long toes, but only a stub of the toe bearing the long claw, indicated the animal held the claw of the ground.

Take another look at the Oscar winning special effects and see what else the future holds.  Jurassic Park is showing on AMC tonight, Friday, February 8 @ 8PM | 7CClick here for the complete showing schedule.

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