Behind the Magic of Jurassic Park

A team of Hollywood techno-wizards set out to bring 'em back alive

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All the books said dinosaurs had a poor sense of smell, but this one seemed to do just fine. Anyway, what did books know? Here was the real thing.

Coming toward him.

-- Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

At the boundary between science and science fiction -- in that twilight area where the imaginative sleuthing of paleontology meets the storytelling craft of filmmaking -- lies Jurassic Park. The technicians working with director Steven Spielberg on the film version of Michael Crichton's best seller spared no effort or expense to make the story's dinosaurs as accurate as current knowledge permitted. Dinosaur fans from youth, they cared about getting it right. But on a movie screen, footnotes are not allowed. "We were trying to be credible," co-producer Kathleen Kennedy says. "But we were also making a movie."

So they took a little artistic license. Velociraptor, as described in the literature and in Crichton's novel, was a creature no more than five or six feet tall. But because the speedy, ferocious raptors are the story's star villains, the Spielberg team decided to make them half again as large. The choice was scientifically defensible, since so few specimens had been found that generalizations were hard to come by. Anyway, what did books know? Then a surprising thing happened. In Utah, paleontologists found bones of a real raptor, and it was the size of the movie's beast. "We were cutting edge," says the film's chief modelmaker, Stan Winston, with a pathfinder's pride. "After we created it, they discovered it."

On June 11, when the movie opens, audiences should discover that Jurassic Park has the most sophisticated dinosaurs a think tank of techno-wizards can produce and $65 million can buy. "There's no way a museum could afford what we did," says Winston. "We created the most accurate dinosaurs ever." Top paleontologists who consulted on the film agree. In most cases, says Colorado paleontologist Robert Bakker, "Spielberg made the aesthetic choice that real dinosaurs are more exciting than made-up dinosaurs."

In Crichton's novel, eccentric zillionaire John Hammond funds a project to clone dinosaur DNA taken from bloodsucking insects that were trapped in ancient amber to "bring them back alive, so to speak." The experiment's success goads Hammond to exploit the made-from-concentrate behemoths for profit. He hatches the dinosaurs on a Central American island and builds a theme park around them. Before the scheduled opening, a few guests -- including craggy paleontologist Alan Grant, lissome paleobotanist Ellie Sattler and Hammond's two young grandchildren -- come to Jurassic Park for a sneak preview. Then things go spectacularly wrong. The novel's first half is a controlled tram trip through this high-tech zoo, the second half a terror- filled obstacle course strewn with dinosaurs amuck: swooping pterodactyls, dilophosaurs that spit venom, a famished tyrannosaurus and a Panzer division of velociraptors, the meanest and cagiest of the menagerie.

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