In print and on film, Jurassic Park was brimming with classic dinosaurs. That’s actually really strange. Of all the prehistoric dinosaurs that ever existed, what are the chances that inGen scientists would just so happen to find the viable DNA of Mesozoic celebrities such as Tyrannosaurus, Brachiosaurus, Velociraptor, and Triceratops?
Consider this: In 2006 paleontologists Steve Wang and Peter Dodson estimated the total number of dinosaur genera that existed during the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous (not counting the one surviving dinosaur lineage—birds). While 527 genera had been named up until that point, the researchers concluded, there probably existed around 1,850 genera of dinosaurs between 245 and 66 million years ago. So when Jurassic Park’s fictional scientists pulled tattered genes from prehistoric blood (overlooking the fact that such a procedure would be impossible given the rate at which DNA decays after an organism’s death), they probably would have recovered the makings of dinosaurs never before seen.
Not that I can blame Michael Crichton or Steven Spielberg for sticking to famous creatures. What’s a blockbuster dinosaur movie without a Tyrannosaurus rex? And much like Jurassic Park, I focused on classic dinosaurs in My Beloved Brontosaurus—my ode to the dinosaurs that have ripped apart the slow, sluggish, stupid reptiles I grew up with. That’s because fossil celebrities such as Apatosaurus, Allosaurus, Parasaurolophus, and, of course, T. rex have been more extensively studied, and there’s been a longer history of debate about their biology than dinosaurs we’re only just becoming acquainted with.
Yet, there are other dinosaurs that are as awesome as they are mysterious. With Jurassic Park 4 due out next year—quite soon!—I think the film would be the perfect opportunity to introduce dinosaurs that moviegoers have never set eyes upon. Barring the invention of totally new species, these are some of the creatures I’d like to see:
There’s no question about my top choice. I really want to watch a Therizinosaurus on screen. No single dinosaur so deeply grates against classic images of prehistoric icons. While the entire dinosaur has yet to be uncovered, the smattering of collected bones and clues from closely related genera have shown that Therizinosaurus was a giant, tubby, bipedal, long-necked, beaked theropod dinosaur with massive arms tipped with insane Freddy Krueger claws. Oh, and the 35-foot-long dinosaurian weirdo was probably covered with feathers, too. What would be more visually arresting than one of these creatures waddling through the forest, perhaps using those long claws to pull down and strip vegetation from trees or make shish kebab of smaller animals?
Some sort of alvarezsaur would be another welcome addition. No one knows exactly how these small, fluff-covered dinosaurs made a living, but, based on short and stout arms tipped with a huge claw bigger than all the rest, paleontologists suspect that these were the dinosaurian equivalents of anteaters. The turkey-sized alvarezsaur Mononykus would do quite nicely. Granted, these dinosaurs wouldn’t be much of a threat to the movie’s protagonists, but they could make a cute cameo to help highlight dinosaurian oddities.
Strange herbivores could also enliven the Jurassic Park roster. Nigersaurus would certainly confound viewers. One of the long-necked, heavy-bodied sauropod dinosaurs, this 30-foot-long grazer had a head shaped like a Hoover vacuum. Brachiosaurus might be the epitome of a classic giant, but Nigersaurus has more style. The same can be said of the variety of horned dinosaurs paleontologists are rapidly describing. Triceratops looks downright conservative next to cousins such as Kosmoceratops—a ceratopsid with an emo comb-over of frill spikes, sideways-pointing brow horns, and a blade-like nasal horn (see image above)—and Einiosaurus, with spikes jutting backward out of its frill and a forward-pointed nasal hook.
Of course, I realize that none of these dinosaurs make for especially charismatic villains. Ornery herbivores can be quite dangerous, but they don’t inspire the same kind of bone-chilling dread as a knife-toothed carnivore. On that score, paleontologists have continued to uncover a variety of frightening prehistoric killers both large and small. While a bit more diminutive than the film’s Velociraptor, for example, the seven-foot-long Balaur earns some extra points for having a double set of retractable sickle claws on each foot. And the similarly sized, more distantly-related Masiakasaurus had a mouth full of curved teeth that pointed forward at the front—certainly capable of delivering a nasty bite.
There’s no substitute for a giant, unstoppable brute of a carnivore, though. T. rex and the sail-backed, croc-snouted Spinosaurus have already taken up that role in the JP series, but I think it’s about time that a carcharodontosaurid gets a moment in the spotlight. These “shark-toothed” dinosaurs were bulkier, deeper-skulled cousins of the familiar Allosaurus and ruled in South America, Africa, and a few other spots around the world. The biggest of these dinosaurs—such as Giganotosaurus—grew to about 40 feet in length, but some of the slightly smaller carcharodontosaurs had a bit more visual flair. For instance, the giant Acrocanthosaurus from North America had a long, low sail along its back, while the 20-foot-long Concavenator had a sharkfin sail just before the hips. These dinosaurs must have been among the most stunning flesh-rippers of all time.
Whether any of the striking creatures on my dinosaur wish list make it into Jurassic Park 4, I’ll just have to wait and see. But two decades after the first film debuted, the franchise’s star monsters certainly need an update. Dinosaurs were far more colorful, dynamic, and powerful than movies even imagined. Not only are paleontologists discovering an array of astonishing dinosaurs, but they’re gaining ever more refined views of what they looked like and how they lived. If nothing else, I hope that the fourth installment of the series does what made the first movie so spectacular—combine the best of fossil clues with the special effects that so believably resurrect dinosaurs.
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