Behind the Magic of Jurassic Park

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

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The book and the movie, which stars Sam Neill and Laura Dern, are essentially theme-park rides -- say, EPCOT Center's Universe of Energy, the one with the Audio-Animatronic dinosaurs -- which Crichton has given a cunning tweak. The novel is also a dark musing on the hubris that can infect science and capitalism in the heady, dicey enterprise of cloning DNA. The biotechnologist thinks he is God; the businessman dreams he is Croesus.

Spielberg may have designs on both roles: he made the movie, and even donated $25,000 to the Dinosaur Society. (In return the society renamed the oldest known ankylosaur "Jurassosaurus nedegoapeferkimorum "; part of the second word is an acronym of the surnames of the film's cast.) Now he is marketing it. His outfit, Amblin Entertainment, and Universal Pictures, the film's distributor, have signed deals with more than 100 companies (including Kenner, Sega and Milton Bradley) to peddle more than 1,000 Jurassic Park products, from action figures and video games to calendars and candy. If your kids aren't dino-maniacs now, they will be, Spielberg hopes, by the time school's out.

Curators of natural history museums hope so too. They have long recognized that dinosaur watching is prime infotainment, and they are ready to exploit the want-see for Jurassic Park with ambitious exhibitions tied to the film in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, New Haven and other cities. Last month an educational poster on dinosaurs, produced by New York's American Museum of Natural History, was mailed free to 7 million schoolchildren, courtesy of McDonald's -- which will also be handing out Jurassic Park mugs at the local franchises.

But $100 million worth of marketing won't bring the movie, or the creatures, to life. That is the responsibility of the swamis of special effects -- the puppeteers, modelmakers and computer mavens -- working closely with enthusiastic experts. Phil Tippett, an animator and longtime dinosaur buff, would whisper admonitions after nearly every take: "The head would never move like that," or "The claw wouldn't extend that far." He was the chief enforcer of Spielberg's dictum: that the dinosaurs be animals, not monsters.

Also on hand was Jack Horner, curator of paleontology at Montana State University's Museum of the Rockies and Crichton's model for the book's hero -- though Horner wryly notes that Alan Grant is "better funded." He advised on every creature feature, from head (they often lost teeth) to foot (when they walked, the heel, not the toe, hit the ground first.) "They have detail inside the T. rex's mouth that no one has ever seen. It's a guess -- a best guess. And a lot of adults will be surprised that dinosaurs don't drag their tails," Horner says. "But the kids will know it's right."

This eminent dino digger was as awestruck as any Barney-balmy child when he saw modelmaker Winston's 9,000-lb. 40-ft.-long Tyrannosaurus rex model. "It was the closest I've ever been to a live dinosaur," he avers. He was standing a few feet from the resting T. rex when its head jerked up with startling speed and swung back and forth, alert and lifelike. "It came up real fast, its eyes dilated, its skin was twitching. When you see it, it doesn't take much imagination to get beyond the fantasy. I jumped about 10 feet backward!"

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