The Return of Jurassic Park

Ian Malcolm painting by John Larriva
Dinosaurs weren’t the only part of Jurassic Park to ignite the imagination – an art gallery in LA recently had an exhibition of art inspired only by the human characters. Painting by John Larriva

I saw Jurassic Park for the first time when I was seven years old, right after it came out.  It was just the perfect amount of terrifying.  Unbelievably realistic, while at the same time separate from reality, the dinosaurs came to life and invaded my imagination. The distant past suddenly became populated with these fantastical creatures, ranging from the vicious Tyrannosaurus Rex to the gentle Brachiosaurus, from the alarmingly intelligent velociraptors, to the adorable and deadly Dilophosaurus. The past came alive and entered the present, and I loved every second of it.

And that’s how I imagined dinosaurs for ten years – every bit as real and awesome as they were that first time I watched Jurassic Park.

Facing Reality

Ten years later I was hit with a hard dose of reality.  I suddenly realized (and from what I can recall, with absolutely no provocation) that everything I thought about dinosaurs might not be real.  Somehow I hadn’t noticed that pretty much my entire understanding of dinosaurs was based off of a science fiction movie.  And for ten years, I had accepted Jurassic Park as reality, even while understanding that it was completely fictitious.

How did this happen? I honestly have no idea. I knew, clearly, that no rich man had discovered dinosaur DNA, resurrected the dinosaurs and built an exotic theme park on his own personal island.  That was preposterous.  It was clearly a work of fiction, and I understood that.  And yet, I believed that velociraptors were large, creepily intelligent, extremely deadly, hunted in packs, and if I ever came across one they would kill me and there was pretty much nothing I could do about it.  (Why would I ever come across a raptor?? I DON’T KNOW.) I believed that the Dilophosaurus spat poison and was the coolest dinosaur of all time.  (Let’s be clear, the Dilophosaurus was the coolest dinosaur in the movie.) 

I believed everything Jurassic Park told me about dinosaurs. I just knew that they weren’t actually real. 

So there I was, seventeen years old, and finally realizing that I had accepted a science fiction movie as fact.  And I was devastated.  It was as if my whole world had been shaken and everything I ever knew was wrong. (Which, frankly, was not a terrible assumption to make given that I was apparently unable to separate fantasy from reality.) What were these dinosaurs? Were they anything like I (and Jurassic Park) had imagined?

I’d tell you the answers, but I don’t want to spoil it. :)

The Saint Louis Science Center’s March First Friday event – Jurassic Park: Fact or Fiction? 

  • Learn about the real dinosaurs of Jurassic Park from Dr. Michael Morales, Geology Museum Director at Emporia State University.
  • Explore what it’s like to excavate and study dinosaur fossils in our interactive dig site and fossil prep lab.
  • Channel your inner Ian Malcolm and debate chaos theory.

See a free screening of the original Jurassic Park (1993) in the OMNIMAX® Theater.

Written by Betsy, Research & Evaluation

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