How to win arguments about Jurassic World: Featherless Kingdom

jw2posterThree years ago, on the former iteration of this blog, I speculated that the then-coming release of Jurassic World probably wouldn’t lead to the explosion of dinosaur merchandise we witnessed with the first Jurassic Park film back in 1993. I was right on that count, but I admit I was taken aback with how successful the movie went on to become.

Jurassic World grossed $1.67 billion at the box office. That is more than either Avengers movie or any of the Harry Potter films. Jurassic World is fourth highest-grossing film of all time when not adjusted for inflation, so naturally we’re getting a sequel.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is set a few years after Jurassic World and follows the survivors of the previous film as they mount an expedition to save the dinosaurs from an erupting volcano. Volcanoes have menaced movie dinosaurs since the first film adaptation of The Lost World in 1925, so I’m actually surprised it took this long for the Jurassic Park series to give us one. Funny enough, not long after The Lost World: Jurassic Park was released in 1997, I wrote a fan-fiction story with a similar plot to the upcoming film. I’m pretty sure I stole the idea from somewhere online and I’ve long since lost the story, so no royalty checks for me.

And did I mention Ian Malcolm is back?

Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom is dividing dinosaur lovers, judging by the reactions I’ve seen online. Some are happy to get any big-budget movie about dinosaurs. Others are disappointed the movie’s dinosaurs are woefully out-of-date with current scientific knowledge, with the raptors in particular still scaly instead of feathered. As you may have guessed given the headline, I’m mainly in the latter camp. The movie is bound to inspire more online fights between now and its June 22 release date, so here are some common arguments I’ve seen along with responses guaranteed to silence any critics.

Okay, I may be exaggerating on that last part.

Why would an amusement park be built on an active volcano?

“(W)e’re getting early details on just what Fallen Kingdom is about… and it apparently revolves around the people behind Jurassic World being dumb enough to build a park on top of an active volcano,” reads this plot summary from i09.

Here’s the thing: That’s canon.

Ever wonder where Jurassic Park got the power to electrify its fences, operate amusement rides, run supercomputers, and maintain a state-of-the-art genetics lab? You can’t run power lines out to the island and solar power alone wouldn’t do the job. The park was powered by geothermal energy. It was intentionally built on a geologically active seamount. As John Hammond explained in the original novel:

“Its volcanic origins can be seen all over the island. There are steam vents in many places, and the ground is often hot underfoot. Because of this, and also because of prevailing currents, Isla Nublar lies in a foggy area.”

You could argue that Jurassic Park’s planners would have done their due diligence to ensure the island wouldn’t erupt in the near future, but no one can predict such things with certainty. And you would be hard-pressed to find another way to power the park, given nuclear power would not be infeasible. So, believe it or not, an erupting volcano isn’t totally crazy in this situation.

The dinosaurs are scaly because they are not really dinosaurs

Fans of the film series have come up with several excuses to explain why Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs have not kept up with current science about their appearance. This particular argument was summarized by the geneticist Henry Wu in Jurassic World:

“Nothing in Jurassic World is natural. We have always filled gaps in the genome with the DNA of other animals. And, if their genetic code was pure, many of them would look quite different.”

See, in the original novel the same character explained that dinosaur DNA was never found complete, so the park’s scientists had to fill in the holes with DNA from living species. (Frog DNA in particular.) Author Michael Crichton introduced this genetic tinkering to allow some dinosaurs to change sex from female to male. There also is a passage in the book in which Wu explains to Hammond that the park’s dinosaurs are not dinosaurs in the truest since, but rather “reconstructions” of dinosaurs.

However, Crichton never intended to imply that Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs were genetic freaks bearing only a passing resemblance to the real thing. The author did his best to portray the animals as they were currently understood by science, only taking creative liberties when it better served the plot. In fact, Wu’s point in the book was that the park’s dinosaurs were too much like the real thing. He was trying to convince Hammond to scrap all the living dinosaurs and instead breed slower, more docile dinosaurs that more closely aligned to public expectations about the animals:

“Why not push ahead to make exactly the kind of dinosaur that we’d like to see? One that is more acceptable to visitors, and one that is easier for us to handle? A slower, more docile version for our park?”

The reason this particular argument irks me is the first Jurassic Park film revolutionized how dinosaurs were portrayed in media. Before the movie was released, dinosaurs had been depicted as slow, tail-dragging behemoths. Jurassic Park was the first film where the producers used current science to depict the animals. Yes, they took liberties. The raptors were too big. The Dilphosaurus was too small. But they got the most important details right, and for the first time most people learned dinosaurs did not resemble the stop-motion beasts of One Million Years B.C. It’s a shame a series that started by largely embracing science has since seen fit to abandon it.

The dinosaurs need to look the same for continuity

If the dinosaurs needed to resemble their counterparts in the original Jurassic Park movies, then which movie?

Velociraptors from the first three Jurassic Park films. From left, Jurassic Park, The Lost World Jurassic Park, and Jurassic Park III.

The appearance of the dinosaurs changed in each film of the original trilogy. Why couldn’t they change for Jurassic World? And why would it be a stretch to add feathers? The park’s geneticists were able to create a T.rex-sized chameleon dinosaur from scratch, yet they can’t make a raptor that grows feathers?

Feathered dinosaurs are not scary

In my more cynical moments, I suspect this argument is put forward by “city kids” who have never seen a hawk, eagle, or even a mean rooster. I grew up in the country and can attest all these birds can be plenty scary.

Also, have you seen The Birds?

Large birds such as cassowaries and ostriches can seriously maim and even kill humans. There’s the harpy eagle, whose claws would make Freddy Krueger jealous. Then there is the nightmare fuel that is the African shoebill. So, tell me again, why can’t feathered dinosaurs be scary? This argument stems more from a lack of imagination than anything else.

It’s just a movie

Give them the stink eye. This lazy argument doesn’t merit a serious reply.


Arguments aside, will Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom be any good? Probably not. The previous film was seriously flawed and painfully stupid at times. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t plan to see the movie on opening weekend. I’m too much of a dinosaur nerd to miss out.

One thought on “How to win arguments about Jurassic World: Featherless Kingdom

  1. It’s true that three of the dinosaur species featured in the Jurassic franchise (e.g. Velociraptor, Gallimimus, and Compsognathus) would most probably have possessed feathery or proto-feathery integument in real life, although all the rest would have been at least predominantly scaled. But keep in mind that if Jurassic World were to retcon the Velociraptors completely to match modern scientific understanding, they would be completely different characters from their JP incarnations. They wouldn’t be the human-sized, cheetah-swift, and hyper-intelligent pack-hunters portrayed in Jurassic Park. Instead, they would essentially be dinosaurian analogs to jackals. That’s a much more severe change, both on a physical and behavioral level, than similar recoloring the creatures. If you really insist on accuracy for these movies, you might as well insist on replacing the Velociraptors with something like Utahraptor or Deinonychus.


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