In June of 2013, Darkraptor was lucky enough to secure 10 questions from forum members to world-famous paleontologist Jack Horner, the advisor for all things “dinosaur science” to all of the Jurassic Park films, and was even the inspiration for the Alan Grant character in Michael Crichton’s original novel. Here is what he had to say in response to us.
What was it like working with the production teams on the Jurassic Park movies?
It was fun!! Steven explained what he was looking for, and everyone was very friendly and explained their parts of production. I spent most of my time with the set designer, Rick Carter, and the producer Kathleen Kennedy on all three movies. And Steven for JP1&2 and Joe Johnston (JP3) when we were actually on set shooting. Joe allowed me to be much more involved in 3 than I had been in 1&2, so I got to have more input on the script and the animals, as well as watching and advising on editing. I also got to spend quite a bit of time with the actors on all three movies, and of course with the ILM and Stan Winston crews.
Has there ever been one bit of scientific detail you wanted to have in the Jurassic Park films (including the upcoming fourth film) that filmmakers, for their own reasons, did NOT want to include? If so, what were the reasons for them not being included?
Not really, you know virtually everything we “know” about dinosaurs is based on theory, so nothing is concrete and therefore certainly open to interpretation, particularly in a fictional movie. I would certainly have liked to see more color on the animals but Steven thought they would be more frightening if they were drab colors. I would also have liked to see more feathers, particularly in JP3, but again it was decided they would be scarier without. And also more consistent with the previous movies.
Have you read either of the Jurassic Park novels by Michael Crichton? If so were there any scenes or aspects you wish had been carried over into the films – including the fourth?
Nope, I don’t (can’t) read. Extremely dyslexic….
Have there been any new findings to support your theory of shape-shifting dinosaurs?
My teams continue to get more specimens, and together with the bone histology studies we are doing, have yet to falsify any of the shape-shifting hypotheses.
Are there anymore species that may have been wrongly identified as new?
Yes, but we haven’t published them yet, so I can’t tell you which ones are about to be sunk!
Your TED talk on bringing back dinosaurs through birds by enabling specific genes with atavism was interesting. Do you see this trans-genesis/atavism activation potentially leading to a Jurassic Park or similar unique zoo?
Nope, but I do see it as a fun way of doing really boring genetic research, and demonstrating how evolution works. The animals we will create will be genetic modifications of chickens just like funny little dogs are genetic modifications of the wolf. I suspect one day in the future we will certainly be able to make new species, and when we do we will have to care for them since they will not have evolved to survive in nature. But then, it seems that is eventually the fate of all creatures on our earth.
Why did you choose a chicken for your reverse engineering project rather than a Hoatzin, which exhibits far more basal characteristics than most aves.
Because chicken eggs are a “dime a dozen” as they say. Chickens are simply easier to come by and we have the chicken genome. All birds are related so once we can create a genetically modified chicken we can use the same procedures to modify any other bird.
What is your opinion on the way science and/or scientists are portrayed in the franchise – both in the books and in the movies?
Dr. Frankenstein, who makes a monster, sells better than Dr. So’n So, who studies dung beetles. Real scientists are meticulous because their reputations are at stake. Fictional scientists have no such concerns!!
As a man of science, if you found such a place like Jurassic Park existed and were invited to view the Park and study the living animals which has been ‘recreated’ in the means described in the book/film, would you be as quick as Alan Grant to dismiss the animals as ”theme park monsters?”
Not exactly, but the response of Alan grant needed to be consistent with the premise of the book and movie. Had someone actually found DNA and brought back a dinosaur or any other extinct species I would be most interested in the process of procedures. As you probably know, when animals are cloned these days living cells are used, but we lack living cells of extinct animals, and have no idea how to actually “turn on” DNA to produce an organism. That is what I would want to know, certainly long before actually considering the animal itself. By knowing the process I could then deduce whether or not they were theme park monsters or actual reconstituted extinct species.
Jurassic Park 4 has been through many development changes. Many potential scripts/story pitches have been developed over the years and the film has likely seen many different directions. Can you talk about how involved you were with these numerous attempts, and how many ways it has changed from inception until present time?
I have our original JP4 script from 2004, and it was actually a pretty good story, but then a series of unrelated events took place that put the whole process on hold. More recently new writers were brought in to create a different story, but it simply didn’t pass muster with Steven (or, quite frankly, anyone else) so it has once again been tabled as far as I know. In both instances, the first and second scripts, I worked with the writers giving them information about our new ideas, and also worked with the artists who were to make the new animals.