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We Asked a Dinosaur Expert How Realistic the New 'Jurassic World' Really Is

Apparently, the T. rex wasn't always in such a terrible mood.

by Lisa Ludwig
Jun 20 2018, 2:45pm

Screenshot from "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom – Final Trailer" | All photos by Hakki Topcu

This article originally appeared on VICE Germany.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is not a particularly great film, but that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. After all, center five films around basically the same premise—a group of people discovering that it is (still) a very bad idea to breed highly-aggressive super dinosaurs—and you start to lose your edge a little.

Still, the dinosaurs in Jurassic World are fast, intelligent, and extremely deadly—which is at least entertaining to watch. But how accurate is it?

Dr. Daniela Schwarz runs the "World of Dinosaurs" exhibit at the Natural History Museum in Berlin. She likes the Jurassic Park films and credits the first in the series for getting most dinosaur-enthusiasts interested in the first place. I meet with Dr. Schwarz in the museum's dinosaur hall, overlooking the Brachiosaurus, which at 14 meters [45 feet] high is the world's largest mounted skeleton.

Dr. Daniela Schwarz.

Even when you stand within touching distance of the Brachio's huge vertebrae, it's still hard to wrap your head around the idea that dinosaurs ever actually existed. I need to see a running, breathing being in order to fully understand what they're about. So could modern science make that happen? No, says Dr. Schwarz bluntly, shattering my dreams before we've even started.

The main problem is that DNA degrades over time, so fossils that are at least 66 million years old cannot be used to clone dinosaurs. "With our current knowledge, it's almost impossible to add enough to the DNA to create a complete animal," Dr. Schwarz tells me. "Also, the dinosaurs in the film are very different animals, and all come from completely different time periods. Scientifically speaking, you couldn't get DNA samples from such a wide range of dinosaurs."

Then there's the problem of creating a suitable habitat for them to live in. The island off Costa Rica on which the dinosaurs in the film live only goes so far in trying to replicate the conditions needed for the creatures to survive. "The dinosaurs would really struggle in our current, more temperate climate," Schwarz says.

One of the dinosaurs that play a major role in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a female velociraptor called Blue, who understands human commands and has a close relationship with her human trainer, Owen.

The premise seems a little out there, but, according to Dr. Schwarz, it's not impossible if you consider that crocodiles—which are somewhat genetically similar to dinosaurs—can form bonds with their trainers. "Of course the bond wouldn't be the same as the one between a dog and its owner," she says, "but it's safe to assume that dinosaurs were able to develop complex social behaviors."

And what about Blue's super-intelligence? "We know the brains of carnivorous dinosaurs grew bigger and bigger over time. They weren't stupid," Dr. Schwarz explains. "Velociraptors, for example, were very good hunters with a highly-developed sense of smell, similar to the Tyrannosaurus Rex." Nevertheless, the claim in Jurassic World that they could smell a human from two miles away is a little exaggerated, as is the assertion that Velociraptors were one of the most intelligent species.

Dr. Schwarz adds that while filmmakers continue to depict dinosaurs as having scaly, reptilian skin, in reality, they looked very different. "The majority of predatory dinosaurs were feathered in some way. Some had just small tufts of hair on their skin, while others were covered in bright plumage across their heads and tails, which they used as part of courtship rituals," she explains. This means that even the legendary T. rex actually looked more like a prehistoric Angry Bird.

Over a thousand dinosaur species have been discovered so far. According to Dr. Schwarz, every year, around 40 new ones are added.

The Berlin Natural History Museum is home to a Tyrannosaurus called Tristan, who is four meters [13 feet] tall and 12 meters [39 feet] long, with teeth the size of bananas. "The T. rex was a very scary, completely unique type of predator," Dr. Schwarz explains as we walk around the skeleton.

In the film, the T. rex is not the most dangerous dinosaur but always insists on making its presence known by emitting a blood-curdling roar before making its entrance. "I don't think they screamed at their victims before eating them. Why would a dinosaur—or any predator, for that matter—want to signal to every creature in their vicinity that they've found something to eat?" she remarks. "A roar like that would only have occurred in fights or to communicate with others. The majority of dinosaurs had a very birdlike, effective lung system, so purely based on that, they should have been able to produce such a loud sound."

In the film, the T. rex's only goal in life seems to be: attack other creatures—which makes it seem more like a monster than a normal animal. That's particularly evident when, in the film, a volcano erupts and all the dinosaurs flee into the water—except the T. rex, who starts a fight with another dinosaur for no apparent reason. "In a situation like that, I think they'd behave just like any other animal," Dr. Schwarz says. "They'd just run away."

The Brachiosaurus.

Using fossils, experts can estimate the size and shape of dinosaurs and how they moved. Skin prints can give an impression of what they looked like. For social behaviors and hunting techniques, scientists often look at the closest remaining relatives of dinosaurs—crocodiles and birds. "I sometimes feel like a detective when we're reconstructing entire living creatures," Dr. Schwarz smiles. "But we can never decide on the color of dinosaurs; that's always a big mystery."

Whatever they're made to look and act like in CGI, in reality, we don't actually know much about dinosaurs, which makes it easy to establish them as the ultimate killing machines onscreen.

"I'm always impressed whenever I step into our dinosaur room," says Dr. Schwarz. "You can never get bored of them."

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