domenica 8 marzo 2015

Jurassic World, won't somebody PLEASE think of the children?!

The beauty of nature lies in detail (Stephen Jay Gould)

As a first post, I had in mind something introductory on my research activity, a way to sum up my primary interests and earliest scientific goals. Nonetheless, I decided to break the ice with something more radical and profound, dealing with one of the pillar of palaeontology as a whole, one of the basic concepts of this science, recently so widely debated, becoming one of the most hard-fought topic in the subject between the main experts: Jurassic Park...or at least, to be more precise, the last cinematrographic version of the franchise, Jurassic World.
I'll leave discussion on CGI, tralers, scripts etc. to people more prone to such discussions.
Others have wiritten extensively on similar subjects elsewhere. On the other hand I feel the need to express my personal opinion on the movie in general.
First, I want to emphasize that, when the movie will come out next summer, I'll probably have the front ticket to watch it, and that I really hope that the film will reach success, if not greater, at least comparable to the on of 1993 blockbuster.
What I am about to write is the outcome of some of my personal reflections.
I was born at the end of the 80's, living during my infancy the very outburst of "dino-mania", that particular interest that started arousing in modern society for dinosaurs and prehistoric animals in general, ignited by the first Jurassic Park movie (and following sequels).
The influence that these movies had on my own psyche is obvious.
Watching in retrospective, several aspects of that movement that orbited around the promotion of the movie, from gadgets to posters, from toys to VHS that were easily found in many faimily houses around the world, I started noted something peculiar.
As the very same staff involved in the movie claimed, director included, the idea of bringing dinosaurs back to life on the big screen was not only an enterprise of pure entertainment, but was also a mean to educate the big audience to scientific topics usually too distant or complicated of non-lay people.
The same goal was explicitly expressed by the author of the original novel himself, the late Michael Crichton, one of the pioneer of that "scientific thriller" genre which, by mixing science and novel, promoted a widespread interest in science.
Dealing with many of these subjects will probably take too much time and effort, and frankly, would probably be far out of my competence.
Checking some of the promotional material of that time, it is pretty common to find annotation which express the concept that Jurassic Park was a mean to making people aware of scientific themes like dinosaurs, fossils and DNA. In other words, the "Jurassic Park movement" strived in doing scientific divulgation.
Well, maybe the reconstructions portrayed in the movie weren't 100% precise, maybe Velociraptors had "zombie-bunny hands" (even the 2015 JW version  dind't make any progress on that direction), but the struggle in trying to look as much as scientifically accurate was evident and authentic at that time.
This spirit, in 2015, is missing. And what I complain most is that that same spirit is even lacking in one of the most important aspect of the frinchise promotion: toys!
In a few months, children from any part of the world will buy those toys and some of them, more prone to suggestion than others, will fall in love with dinosaurs and the prehistoric world. Unfortunately, what I see know from the promotional pictures going around the web, are imperfect and amorphous figures, made with the solely purpose of look like "fighting monsters", to be sold and collected by unaware kids which will not be able to grasp the beauty and sophistication of these animals, and this is what, as a palaeontologist, hurts more.
The (in-)famous Indominous rex, the genetic hybrid that should play the role of antagonist in the movie, doesn't look like a real dinosaur at all (!!!)
Look at that screenshot from the trailer:

Indominous rex, from the Jurassic World trailer

Spotted anything weird?
The CGI reconstruction shows four-clawed hand, with an evident opposable thumb that I'd just ignore...
My "comparative dinosaur anatomy feels" are severely injuried by another detail. As you can see in the picture above, as I've already said, the animal shows 4 claws in each of the fingers.
Before calling any doctors, let me explain something on the comparative anatomy of the reptilian hand.
If you look at an Iguana forelimb, you can see 5 clawed fingers.
Each of these fingers bear, as a terminal phalanx, a sickled bone, overlayed by a horney sheeth (the same stuff that makes up your nails and your hairs), called ungual phalanx.
Even dinosaurs have these ungual phalanges. Crocodiles, close relatives of the dinosaurs (they are grouped together in a group called Archosauria), possess unguals too. But not in all five fingers.
Crocodiles and some of the most primitive dinosaurs had claws on the first three fingers of the hand (in comparative anatomy, we refer numbers to digits with the thumb being the first and the pinky being the fifth finger).
The lack of claws in the outer fingers happens because during evolution, most reptile lineages went on a process of reduction of the terminal phalanges of the fingers and started losing the most lateral digits (V and IV first).
This phenomenon reaches its extreme in two of the best known dinosaurs, Tyrannosaurus rex and the common chicken. No archosaur nor any dinosaur ever beared 4 claws on its fingers. One of the main characters in the supposed "dinosaur movie", which surelly is gonna sell lots and lots of action figures, is not even a dinosaur.
I'm aware that my opinion on the paleontological fidelity in the reconstruction of some toy's hand will seem frivoulus and ridiculous to most, but from my prospective, a discussion on the lack of scientific precision in recostructing these subjects, implies a deficiency in the spirit of Jurassic World, which as opposite to the original movie, doesn't seem to be willing to amaze, popularizing these marvels from a far too long vanished world.

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