Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The 'no feathers' Jurassic Park tweet: statement of intent, or simply ruffling feathers?


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.

21 comments:

  1. Maybe JP4 will not feature dinos at all, maybe the baddie monsters will be marine reptiles and the whole movie set around the ocean. Oh no, not Waterworld meets Jurassic Park!!
    But it may explain the no feathers.

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    1. Yes, I wondered if 'no feathers' was a way of saying 'no feathered taxa'. And I'd happily watch Jaws meets Jurassic Park (Jawrassic Park? I'll get my coat). That would also require the film to focus on its characters, which the franchise would certainly benefit from. At least the credentials of the writing team and director hint at a slightly more cerebral film than the last entry in the series.

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  2. "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."

    Well, it certainly isn't their main concern but they weren't opposed to include little educational details here and there if they can. That's why I believe they're going into mutations route, otherwise there is no justification to at least not get something like the "Slasher" from Terra Nova.

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  3. I'm betting that the frog DNA takes over and the beasts all revert to slimy swamp croakers.

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    1. Basically you're proposing that the bad guys in JP IV will be Beelzebufo? We've already had them up the ante for III by having a dino that beats T. rex, so I guess a frog that eats T. rex is the next logical* step.

      Stay tuned for Repenomamus in JP V.

      *Logical for Hollywood, I mean.

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    2. Believe it or don't, I have an irrational phobia of frogs (Google suggests this would make me a 'ranidaphobe'). A frog filled JP movie would give me the heebie-jeebies like nothing else.

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    3. David Marjanović21 August 2013 at 07:43

      Batrachophobia if you want to keep it all Greek, you hellenophobe. ;-)

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  4. Jurassic Park aside, that's another amazing black and white drawing, mr. Witton.
    Fantastic

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    1. Thanks Elijah. Plenty more where that came from.

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  5. I think that they don't know what is going on yet, frankly. The rumor was that they were looking at the Chaos plot where all the genetics go haywire and you are getting not real dinos but some mutations. If that is the case, the paleonerds (myself included) can't have much to really whine about... except maybe that there were no true dinos at all.

    I think anything is possible at this point, and the "That was Then, This is Now" rule of Hollywood applies here. Stories change, and pre-production is a place where stories are written, changed, and stomped by the studio. Plus, the public really isn't used to seeing dinos as feathered. To most of them, a veloceraptor is a deinonychus and a t-rex can't see you if you don't move. Whatever.

    For me, I am looking forward to a monster movie. It will be silly, it will probably be worthy of a couple eye-rolls, but that's ok by me. It will be a shot in the arm for dino merchandise, art and culture and THAT is what I am looking forward to the most!

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    1. "I think that they don't know what is going on yet, frankly."

      Yes, I'm sure there's still a lot to be decided on at this stage. That said, I think the script has been in work now for some time, being scribed by the same chaps who gave us Rise of the Planet of the Apes screenwriters. Feathered dinosaurs or not, I do hope there's something more of a plot to this instalment, and that they have the script finished before they started shooting. Both the JP sequels suffered from not knowing where their films would end up (stop me if you've heard this one before, but JP II was meant to end with a Pteranodon attack on the rescue helicopters, not with the tyrannosaur visiting San Diego, and I think the third movie was originally meant to have some army vs. Spinosaurus action).

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  6. no dinosaurs were feather if you call dinosaurs had feathers then call shark and dolphin a bird both were found fake protofeathers which is dead skin. it will turn the movie into joke .maniraptoran ornithominus therizinosaurus is a bird not a dinosaurs.modern science say there is no dinosaurs you are lieing.its just a prehistoric crocodilian a prehistoric gator spinosauridae is the real transition animal.do your homework like sheildcroc, crocodilian has 3 finger claws and lots more.and stop defame the great animal. its myth that dinosaurs died because of misidentified dinosaurs as new reptile group by some. and the silly ankle hype and mistery hype. they are very much alive and make great handbags

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    1. I think it's trying to communicate, but I can't determine if it is.

      May need to study the specimen further to see if it's intelligent.

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  7. This entire "feathers versus scales" battle is pretty asinine and should be dropped. Why? Shouldn't it be clear that in this movie franchise the "no feathers" actually might have the best reason out of them all to be plusible in the real world when compared with say "Land Of The Lost or the countless other "time travel" movies(at least as plausible as it is to clone extinct animals)? Even though it isn't movie canon the book plainly states that the scientists who made the creatures intentionally wanted to tweak them so they'd best correspond with what the public expected BACK IN THE NINETIES! The park was an illusion of "reality" at best, a product made to satisfy popular bias. That popular bias has begun to move on so it is totally cool WHY people want feathers on the Raptors/other dinosaurs. But while you do please remember that the lack of "accuracy" in these movies could open possibilities that the approach of following the literal train track of science might pass by entirely.

    What I try to imply is the potential of the character driven story of Jurassic Park. Not all scientists are mad even in their admittedly mad experiments. Imagine this:

    "Holy cow, Dr.Wu was completely biased! They lack feathers!"
    "Jeez, you're right! Now what do we do with these outdated creatures?"

    Sounds like more content than this:

    *retconned with feathers*

    Sadly, from what people write in the internet this appears to be what they want. I don't know about the rest of you and I do like feathers(I draw them on my character designs even) but I'm not just going to ignore the past all because it is inaccurate to modern science nor do I dislike the scaly forms just because they do not correspond with current believes. All I'm saying is; Leave space for both. This is not the case of "the town being too small".

    Just a friendly(and hopefully unbiased) two cents from a fellow dino fan.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. You seem to think that people like myself are arguing for feathers to be dropped into this franchise with no explanation. I don't think anyone's said that. There's lots of ways they could be introduced depending on what the story of the movie is, and their sudden appearance would need some explaining. Even if they don't feather their dinosaurs however, we do need at least some discussion as to why they aren't there. Ignoring feathers isn't something anyone can get away with anymore.

      And yes, I'm well aware that the first JP book had a discussion about moulding the dinosaurs to suit expectations of park visitors, but recall that the existing dinosaurs in the park were not modified: they were meant to reflect true Mesozoic species. They weren't an 'illusion' at all. It's a moot point in any case: the films have not mentioned the ideas of manipulating dinosaur DNA aside from a throwaway comment about 'theme park monsters' in the third movie, which doesn't fit with the rest of the story anyway. If they were so different from the dinosaurs we're digging out of the ground, how come the characters in the third movie could 'talk' to the dromaeosaurs using the 'Velociraptor' sinus cast reconstructed from fossils? And how comes every animal looks - more or less - as we would expect them to? The JP dinosaurs are clearly meant to be the real deal.

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    2. Thanks for replying.

      Like said, I definitely do support the appearance of feathery creatures in future Jurassic Park movies, even for similar reasons that the scientists do. The trouble was that the other people who like feathers for what they are might not care about the continuity that so far has been loosely threaded mostly due to lack of attention. While I agree about there being an opposite stumbling block in the scaly party that the film-makers must equally avoid I want to treat it as a nod to the past and as a sort of "passing of the torch" to what the future of dinosaur based culture should be. Obviously none of this responsibility rests on our shoulders but the film-makers who may or may not have agendas that are entirely unique to them themselves.

      Obviously we still don't know anywhere near enough about the original real deal to assume what an "official recreation" would look like as we are simple human beings who are still trying to catch up with our environment in terms of understanding despite our perception of it so I'm sure that a work of fiction could still leave space of openness to the possibility of the Jurassic Park animals being anything from pure to mishmashed solely thanks to the impossibly complex(and mostly unexplained) gene splicing methods that the scientists depended on to get anywhere near a living creature of any sort. I like it that way because it adds further uniqueness to the concept and that way further distinguishes it from it's competition. In science there is always room to look at the impurities to build a constantly improving image of it's functions and flaws(which everything in life unquestionably has) without affecting the entertainment of the story. The fact that we so willingly suspend our disbelief with the journey is the same reason to how we could perceive Wu's creations as anything without making them accurate or inaccurate.

      Let us also remember that feathers originate from scale-like patterns thus are kind of related which means that scales do not have to go entirely in any of the new movies. I just wish that the story itself takes these moral questions for granted instead of going lazy yet again in favor of crutch padding that forgets what the film's other purpose could be. To me Jurassic Park is from it's essence a story about flawed human beings who try to learn what they are dealing with in order to survive their own creation. Without that it doesn't matter if the stars sport feathers or leather.

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  9. After I saw the production photos of ugly naked green bunny-handed mutant "raptors" I still do hope, that they are representing critters of site B or whatsoever and beside that they'll have feathered accurate ones too... But I can only hope.

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