''Jurassic Park'' science explained
Reality is never as good as fantasy: There is no evidence in the prehistoric era, alas, of spitting dinosaurs with fabulously fanning neck fins, and velociraptors were dinky creatures the size of German shepherds. But creative liberties aside, some things in Jurassic Park just don’t make sense. Here are a few that bothered us and the experts’ explanations.
Q: Were raptors really that intelligent?
”They weren’t the smartest dinosaur,” says Don Lessem, author of Dinosaurs Rediscovered and founder of the Dinosaur Society. The troodon, a keen-eyed, two-legged, six-foot-long predator, was the Einstein of the dinosaur crowd — and, adds Lessem, ”even the smartest dinosaur was only as smart as an ostrich.” And we have yet to see an ostrich open a door.
Q: What’s this chaos theory that Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) keeps babbling about?
”Chaos is pretty sexy these days,” says James Gleick, who popularized the subject in his 1987 best-seller, Chaos: Making a New Science. The theory ”shows that even the tiniest changes in nature can have vast consequences, like the butterfly flapping his wings in New York today (as Malcolm explains) and changing the weather halfway around the globe in a month.”
Q: If you’re a skinny little kid hanging from an electrical fence that has 10,000 volts running through it, would you be dining on cake only a short time after being zapped?
”You’d be fried,” Peter Maloney, associate editor of Electric Utility Week, an industry newsletter, says unequivocally.
Q: Mr. DNA’s educational film shows a scientist drilling a hole in a piece of fossilized tree sap and drawing out liquid blood. Is this remotely possible?
Dr. Ward Wheeler, who as assistant curator at the American Museum of Natural History spends lots of time with insects and amber, says the scientist could have shot liquid into the amber, then drawn it out hoping to take ”dried-up gunk” with it. ”I’ve gotten insect DNA that way,” he says. But complete or useful dinosaur DNA? Never.
Q: And we suppose that the extinct-plant DNA that produced the leaf Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) fondles was found in the mosquito gunk, too?
Nope. According to horticulturalist Arthur Sheppard, a spore could have been stuck to the infamous mosquito’s leg, requiring only planting.
Q: What was wrong with the ailing triceratops to which Sattler was ministering? Did the beast die?
Lessem has this diagnosis: ”Since Sattler didn’t find any of those poisonous berries in the animal’s poop, she must have been eating a poisonous plant that flowered every six weeks.” She always recovers from her intestinal bouts; this triceratops only died on the cutting- room floor.
Q: Lex (Ariana Richards) gets sneezed on by a brachiosaur. What are the boogers made of?
According to a spokeswoman for Stan Winston, creator of the film’s dinosaur models (see story on page 20), a yummy combo of K-Y jelly, yellow and green food colorings, and a food thickener.
Q: Why do the computer-animated dinosaurs all look kinda misty?
”When the picture is crisp, it looks unrealistic,” says a spokeswoman for Industrial Light & Magic, which did the blurring honors.
Q: Why does Jurassic Park’s owner, John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough), say that Disneyland opened in 1956, when in fact it opened in 1955?
”Typo,” guesses Gerald Molen, one of Jurassic Park‘s producers.
Q: We were bright enough to figure out that the park’s employees all escaped on the last boat, but did they all quit, too? Why didn’t they come back the next day?
”Must have been Friday night,” rationalizes Molen.
Q: When Sattler is being chased by raptors, why does she scream “Run!” to Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), then jump up and embrace him as if there’s no danger?”]
”In the overwhelming joy of seeing another human being,” says Molen, ”she kinda forgot.”
Q: When villainous Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) steals the dino embryos, who’s he trying to sell them to?
”Must have been Disneyland,” speculates Molen.
Q: If the dilophosaur’s spit is blinding, how come Nedry could still see after being gooped? ”He closed his eyes,” Molen points out.
Q: Did real computer hackers program the screens in the control-room scenes? Yes indeedy. The team was led by Michael Backes, who cowrote Michael Crichton’s other summer movie, Rising Sun.
Q: Is there a child in America who hasn’t seen the film at least twice?
Sure is. Amy Irving, Spielberg’s ex and mother of their 8-year-old son, Max, says, ”I’d never let him see Jurassic Park. I went home nauseous after seeing it, it’s so scary. It depends on the kid, but Max is a boy who’s very sensitive. Max said, ‘Daddy said I could see it if I’m in a theater with him and I could walk out.’ I asked Steven if this was true and he said, ‘Years later! I’m talking about years later! When he’s a teenager!”’
Q: When’s the sequel?
”What sounds right?” asks Molen. ”Let’s say two years.” — With additional reporting by Lisa Karlin