The creatures are back, and are more dangerous
In a scene from the movie Jurassic Park, two children sit in a car during a power outage inside the eponymous park that has dinosaurs. There is some faint background thudding. What could go wrong? Then, the camera focuses on two glasses, as the water in them ripples in time with the thudding. And the tension begins to mount. Without even showing us the dinosaur, Steven Spielberg managed to awe us and convince us of the power of the beast. For 25 years after the world first saw that scene, Jurassic Park has been the cornerstone of the world’s interest in dinosaurs. Just like Indiana Jones made archaeology seem like an adventurous, swashbuckling profession, it took Jurassic Park to make palaeontology exciting, daring, and bold.
The film released in 1993, when computer graphics in film were not all that common. It was this film that made them common, inspiring everything from the Star Wars prequels to Lord Of The Rings. Using life-sized animatronic dinosaurs, pathbreaking computer graphics, and convincing acting, Spielberg gave us a whole new sub-genre of ‘creature films’ that continue to awe us. Experts have quibbled for years about scientific accuracy in the film – velociraptors would have had feathers; the brachiosaurus standing up on hind legs to reach a higher branch is all wrong; it is impossible to recreate so many dinosaurs from one drop of fossilised blood in a mosquito caught in amber; and even if they could, how did they manage to recreate the plants from the cretaceous period? But none of that has dented its popularity even a smidgen. If anything, it has inspired more people to study dinosaurs and become palaeontologists. The popularity of Jurassic Park could be a reason why one of the main characters in the famous sitcom Friends (1994) was a palaeontologist. One of the ‘Ross jokes’ on the show was that he believed that he had come up with the idea for Jurassic Park.
The film, which celebrates its silver jubilee today was the highest grossing film ever in its initial run, earning more than $914 million worldwide, until it was surpassed in 1997 by Titanic. A film that made the study of extinct species ‘cool’, Jurassic Park is a testament to the power of art to influence science. In portraying knowledgeable academics as action heroes, art – especially mainstream cinema – can play a large role in creating interest around a profession. It is also an important acknowledgement of the role of academics in furthering human knowledge. Just like it would need an archaeology professor to dig up relics of civilisations past, a palaeontologist and a biotechnologist would be the obvious source of understanding what dinosaurs could have been like.