No surprise about what this post will cover: the announcement by Jurassic Park IV director Colin Trevorrow that his new JP instalment will not feature feathered dinosaurs (unlike the new image, above, which features a fully feathered Dromaeosaurus raiding a giant azhdarchid nest). Like many folks in the palaeoblogsphere, my reaction to this hasn't been particularly positive. It seems like an overlooked opportunity to bring the dinosaur-bird themes of the first movie full circle, jars with overwhelming evidence that some JP dinosaur stars were feathered, and misses a terrific chance to affirm modern concepts of dinosaur palaeobiology with a wide audience. The JP franchise would also probably benefit more from featuring feathery species than it will from maintaining its flimsy creature design continuity (see Laelaps for more on this) as the series clearly needs some fresh ideas and content. It hasn't really delivered much else than people being chased by dinosaurs since the one hour mark of the first film, and a certain amount of repetition has set in ("Oh, look, they're running away from a large predatory dinosaur. Oh, look, they're running away from smaller predatory dinosaurs. Oh, look, one dinosaur is fighting another dinosaur. Oh, look, it's a sweeping shot of peaceful dinosaurs", etc.). The introduction of feathers could provide some nuances to the JP story and provide a new edge for its overly familiar creatures. Beyond this, as someone with an interest in science education, I find broader concepts to be upset about as well here. Feathering dinosaurs in JP IV would demonstrate the incremental processes through which science works, highlighting the way in which the dromaeosaurs of the series became progressively more feathered as the dinosaur bird link was cemented by mounting evidence*. There's obvious utility with this movie being a basis for teaching concepts of evolution, too. And yes yes yes, I know this movie isn't being made to educate people, but I genuinely think featuring feathered designs would be of advantage to many.
*Before anyone mentions it, I know the JP franchise didn't leap on the feather bandwagon quick enough, but it's one of the few major areas of common knowledge of dinosaurs, and provides a good focal point for educating laymen or children about these topics.
There's a truckload of things we could talk about concerning the lack of feathers in JP IV, but I don't want to focus on that here. Instead, I want to highlight one point that troubles me with all this discussion and outrage. This whole episode was started by Colin Trevorrow tweeting only two words: "no feathers" (well, three, if you include the '#JP4' bit). As others have noted, that doesn't really tell us much about the plot, the species under discussion or anything else. This has got me wondering how much of the film has actually been set into place yet. To my knowledge, Trevorrow has only been at the helm of JP IV for a couple of weeks, and the movie is still in pre-production. No casting details have been announced, no shooting schedule, no sneak-peaks of the plot. So are Universal Studios, the JP franchise wranglers, playing their cards close to their chest, or is much about the movie may still up in the air? If the latter is true (and it may not be: I'm not claiming any insider knowledge, just that I pay attention to movie news), I'm wondering if the glib 'no feathers' tweet was simply put out there to test the waters. See what the reaction was from JP fanboys and other demographics to see if they should keep their dinosaurs canonical or give them a much needed update. The movie isn't destined for release until June 2014 - perhaps that's enough time to design and implement feathery integuments to their dinosaurs? Note that I don't know much about VFX in movies, so I could be talking out of my bottom on this. That said, movie release dates change all the time, so the projected release may not mean much at this early stage.
If the feathers comment is a cheeky PR exercise for this franchise, it's in good company. Universal Studios have made repeated attempts to reignite interest in the JP franchise over the last few years. We had the core of the franchise, the first movie, back in cinemas in 2011 to coincide with the JP Blu-ray launch. The same film is returning to the big screen again this year, this time in 3D. We saw the first licensed Jurassic Park video game for 8 years in 2011. Concept art for the aborted JP IV dinosaur-man movie was revealed late last year. That in itself seems pretty unusual to me. There must be piles of discarded movie concept art in Hollywood which never sees public eyes, and creature design imagery is typically owned by movie studios. Heck of a coincidence if that just happened to slip onto the internet as rumours of a new JP film are circulating. Even if the latter was coincidental, we've had a lot of JP events in a short space of time, and only one of them coincides with a sensible franchise anniversary (this year's 3D Jurassic Park release, for the 20th anniversary of the original movie). Seems to me that Universal really, really want to remind us that Jurassic Park exists, perhaps because well over a decade has passed since the last chapter of the story. Generating discussion about whether the next instalment should feature feathered dinosaurs is an excellent way to get some free PR for the upcoming movie as well as, possibly, testing reaction to realistically feathered dinosaur species.
Of course, this may all be the wailing, cynical conspiracy theory of a madman. Time will tell, I suppose. In the mean time, I'd best get back to other things.