Where: Los Angeles, USA

November 4, 2000: The “dino” passion that the 1993 film ‘Jurassic Park’ ignited among children and adults does not show any signs of abating even in today’s world of ever-shortening attention spans.

In the few years since Hollywood director Steven Spielberg made his blockbuster film, an industry has sprung up around the dinosaur theme, with dino caps, bags, theme parks, books and of course, films, milking to their heart’s content, the public’s never-ending fascination for the gigantic creatures that roamed the earth in prehistoric times.

All About Dinosaurs [Illustrations by Sudheer Nath]
All About Dinosaurs [Illustrations by Sudheer Nath]

‘The most authentic dino film ever made’

And now Disney, the world’s leading movie company in children’s films, has made its own animated dino movie, called simply ‘Dinosaur’. Announced as Disney’s most expensive and complex animated venture till date (it cost $200 million to make), the film is said to have used every trick available in the latest computer graphics.

So, what have they done?

Instead of portraying dinosaurs as monsters (as ‘Jurassic Park’ has done), ‘Dinosaur’ shows them as thinking and feeling creatures that protect one another, say the filmmakers.

While the creatures have been totally created on computer, exotic locations in Hawaii and Florida in the United States, and in the wilds of Venezuela and Australia, have been added to give a touch of “reality”.

The film’s “hero” is an iguanadon, a kindly horse-like dinosaur, one of roughly 30 types of dinosaurs, says a report in ‘The Hindu’ newspaper.

“This movie is special in all kinds of ways because it continues the legacy of dinosaur movies….that have always had an important place in film history,” says the producer Pam Marsden. “It has all the elements of reptiles and action that people love – but it takes advantage of all this great new technology….the camera can look right in the eye and you can see a realistic face with muscles and blinking eyes”.

“Jurassic Park was certainly spectacular, but it wasn’t an accurate portrayal of dinosaur life,” says the series producer of “Walking with Dinosaurs”, a six-part documentary serial made by Discovery Channel and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

To achieve realism and scientific accuracy, the makers placed the dinosaurs in actual locations, and sifted through many conflicting theories about them.

The Mother of all Dinosaur Films

What was ‘Jurassic Park’ all about? Written by best-selling American writer, Michael Crichton, ‘Jurassic Park’ has a straightforward plot. A scientific breakthrough (in which dinosaurs are recreated from DNA fragments encased in amber), brings dinosaurs back to life after 65 million years.

A businessman John Hammond, the man behind the experiment, starts a company which places the genetically engineered dinosaurs in a theme park on an island in Costa Rica. But the park systems break down shortly before it can open, the dinosaurs get free, wreak complete havoc, and have to be destroyed and the island closed to the public.

Recognising the potential of the dinosaur-craze, Spielberg made a sequel ‘The Lost World’, which brought back the dinos to life yet again, and showed them making more mayhem before being destroyed once more.

Other Dino Films

‘Jurassic Park’ wasn’t the first movie about dinosaurs, however. ‘One Million Years BC’, made as early as 1940 in Hollywood, showed papier mache dinosaurs! Similarly, ‘Dinosaurs’ is not Disney’s first film about the creatures. Its ‘Baby…Secret of the Lost Legend’, was a film made in 1985 about the discovery of a baby dinosaur. Spielberg reworked the theme and made the dinosaur theme a big hit.

They don’t know what they are talking about.

Do these films really depict dinosaurs authentically? No, says Australian botanist Roger Seymour, who adds that even school textbook illustrations have got it all wrong. They (and the films) show dinosaurs craning long necks to nibble leaves on treetops. The only way dinosaurs could have survived, he explains, is by keeping their heads down. A report on his findings came in The Indian Express.

Films spreading false notions, says scientist

Dr Seymour, who, for the past 24 years, has been collecting data on heart and blood pressure patterns in reptiles, birds and mammals, has found that the size of the heart depended on the vertical distance of the head above the heart and whether the creature was cold-blooded or warm-blooded.

In a warm-blooded barosaurus (another kind of dinosaur) the left ventricle would need to weigh 2,000 kg to pump blood to its brain, which, Seymour adds, is impossible for three reasons.

“First, it would be difficult to fit such a heart in the available space. Second, the heart would use more energy than the entire remainder of the body. And third, the neck walls would be mechanically so inefficient that they would expend more energy deforming themselves than in actually pumping the blood,” explains Seymour.

The only way out for long-necked dinosaurs, was to hold their necks down or to be cold-blooded with low blood flow rates. This was the only way to ensure effective blood-circulation to the head.

So, what were dinosaurs?

Dinosaurs were one of several kinds of prehistoric reptiles that evolved from other reptiles (socket-toothed archosaurs ), over 230 million years ago. Dinosaurs lived during the Mesozoic era, the ‘Age of Reptiles’. Most dinosaurs hatched from eggs. No dinosaur could fly and none lived in water.

The largest dinosaurs were over 100 feet (30 m) long and up to 50 feet (15 m) tall ( they included Argentinosaurus, Seismosaurus, Ultrasauros, Brachiosaurus and Supersaurus). The smallest dinosaurs, like Compsognathus, were about the size of a chicken.

Most dinosaurs were medium-sized and herbivores or plant-eaters. Only a few, like T. Rex (the ones shown in Spielberg’s films) were carnivores.

Dinosaurs dominated the Earth for over 165 million years during the Mesozoic era, but mysteriously went extinct 65 million years ago. Paleontologists (scientists who study the forms of life that existed at various time periods, chiefly by studying fossils), have been studying their fossil remains to learn about their amazing prehistoric world, though very little is known about them even now.

They went extinct about 65 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period, which was a time of high volcanic and tectonic activity.

There are a lot of theories about how and why the dinosaurs became extinct. The most widely accepted theory is that an asteroid impact caused major climactic changes to which the dinosaurs couldn’t adapt.

And while scientists like Roger Seymour keep cautioning against foolhardy portrayals of dinosaurs, filmmakers in future may not just show dinosaurs munching leaves form trees, but also feeling love on Valentine’s day. After all, who knows what they did?

1101 words | 11 minutes
Readability: Grade 10 (15-16 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: world news
Tags: #heart, #movies, #films, #dinosaurs, #reptiles, #steven spielberg

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