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Jurassic World explains its featherless dinos while poking fun at blockbusters

Susana Polo is an entertainment editor at Polygon, specializing in pop culture and genre fare, with a primary expertise in comic books. Previously, she founded The Mary Sue.

For months, Jurassic World has been getting flack from paleontologists and dinosaur fans alike for returning to the 20-year old franchise without updating its toothy stars to fit with modern paleontological discoveries. Whether you consider those concerns to be somewhat pedantic, or a wholly legitimate criticism of the biggest dinosaur-science-based media franchise known to man, let's give some credit to Jurassic World, now that it's out, for having the good grace to admit that its dinosaurs are inaccurate, and then establish why.


1993's Jurassic Park did its best to introduce its audience to concepts in modern paleontology, such as the idea (widely accepted by the start of the 1990s) that bird species are the new modern descendants of some species of dinosaurs. On the other hand, it also heavily featured what were clearly super-sized deinonychus (the larger Utahraptor had not been discovered when Jurassic Park's stars were being designed) under the more easily pronounceable name of velociraptor (a species of turkey-sized, long-snouted theropods).

Many paleontologists and dinosaur lovers were hoping that the production of Jurassic World would similarly update its dinosaurs for the modern age, in the face of the now accepted fact that many species of dinosaur, especially those similar to the film's velociraptors and possibly even Tyrannosaurus rex itself, sported feathers or feather-like features. With the release of early production photos, they were disappointed to find the movie's velociraptor pack as naked as they were twenty years ago. In some cases, very vocally disappointed.

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It's in the nature of the Hollywood blockbuster to move along despite criticism of accuracy or inaccuracy, much like a sauropod dinosaur ignoring the scurrying proto-mammals on the forest floor. Which is why it's kind of refreshing that Jurassic World admits that its dinosaurs aren't accurate and explains why. It accomplishes this in a way that genuinely feels like the production that made a choice to go with outdated designs but committed to creating an in-universe reason for that choice, and weaving that reason throughout the film.

The clearest example in Jurassic World (the rest of this post will contain minor spoilers) comes when Dr. Wu (BD Wong) is taken to task by park owner Mr. Masrani (Irrfan Khan) for designing and engineering the incredibly dangerous Indominus Rex. Masrani and other corporate interests wanted a new, frightening dinosaur for the park, and they wanted it quickly and secretly, stipulations that have unintentionally given the animal unexpectedly advantageous physical abilities, a violent temperament and the dinosaur equivalent of social maladjustment. Masrani tells Dr. Wong that genetic tampering with the Indominus was a mistake to begin with.

Dinosaurs that look like what the public expects dinosaurs to look like.

To which Wong snaps back: What do you think I have been doing for my entire career? None of the dinosaurs in Jurassic World — or its ill-fated incarnation as Jurassic Park — are made of 100 percent pure dino DNA, he points out, none of them are what they were 65 million or more years ago. What they are, he's implying, is what he was asked to produce: Dinosaurs that look like what the public expects dinosaurs to look like. Scary. Scaly. Wild.

Unsurprisingly, given the origins of its "monster," the literal manufacture of dinosaurs for human consumption — and the way in which that manufacture distorts the way characters consider the true nature of those animals — is one of the themes that Jurassic World takes time to examine. And in examining that theme, the movie can even be considered to have lampshaded the biggest inaccuracy of Jurassic Park: the misnaming of velociraptors.

Jurassic World Pack

Because Jurassic World frames the park through the eyes of its hard working administrators, we see the manufacture of dinosaurs both as a dangerous act when done without proper forethought, and as the very thing that has allowed them to come back from extinction in the first place. The expense of creating and maintaining dinosaurs is too great to sustain without deliberately, cannily commercializing them.

Even as characters go on about purity of vision, the movie reminds us that "spared no expense" is a great policy for billionaires — but the rest of the cast depend on the continued solubility of Jurassic World for their livelihoods and even their homes. When Owen (Chris Pratt) scoffs at the bombastic name of the Indominus Rex, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) pushes back, pointing out that the investors vital to the park's continued existence wanted a name that was scary and easily pronounceable. "Deinonychus" wouldn't have cut it.

Jurassic World pokes narrative needles at the idea of marketing style over philosophical substance, even as it gives us a bigger, louder action movie sequel to one of the modern era's more substantive and philosophical sci-fi thrillers. Or, in the the words of reviewer Bob Chipman:

There's a sly (and subtle, considering the material) sense of of self-awareness underpinning the proceedings, as scene after scene staged as bigger, flashier, tackier versions of "majestic" staple-sequences from the original film(s) play out amid a story that's entirely about the ugly business of turning miracles of science and technology into marketing opportunities...

And if there's any doubt about that intention, well, there's a certain character who waxes despondent about the purity of intention that guided the (disastrous) first incarnation of the park, compared to the branded, corporate thing that Jurassic World has become, complete with a Margaritaville location. And though the film never goes so far as to bite the hand that feeds it — unlike some of its stars — it's impossible not to see the parallels between what he's saying and the public chatter that accompanies the news of any sequel, reboot or revitalization of an old classic.

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