Jurassic Park it’s not

Hopp's feathered UtahraptorDinosaurs change over time. When Michael Crichton penned the novel, Jurassic Park, he brilliantly conceived a bevy of ancient beasts that stomped, chased, and munched on the human protagonists of the book and movie. However, Michael was hampered a bit in all this, given that the feathery, birdlike nature of dinosaurs hadn’t been worked out yet by the scientists of the real world.

That was fine, Crichton went ahead and put out a best-selling novel and a blockbuster movie with leathery skinned, scaly, lizard-like dinos. He didn’t know any better and I’m sure he didn’t care that much. Scaly giant lizards are doggone frightening beasts, excellent for thriller movies.

But look at my Utahraptor painting. Click it for a bigger image. It almost looks kinda cute, with all those bird feathers on it. Not so scaly. Not so scary, until you realize it’s about horse-sized and hungry enough to eat one. I made the image by pasting the feathers of several different species of hawks and falcons onto the framework of a dinosaur that I had adapted from older drawings of velociraptor (Remember him, the villain of the Jurassic Park movies and books?). That velociraptor image was naked and scaly, the way Crichton and others had imagined him, although even in Jurassic Park the evolution of thinking could be seen as velociraptors got less scaly and more feathery from one movie to the next.

And Crichton’s not the only one to come up a bit short. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic dino story, The Lost World, the big meat eating dinosaur was described as frog-like. Boy, that’s really off the mark, but Doyle had little to go on in the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds, when very little of what we now consider basic knowledge about dinosaurs had yet been unearthed.

In the mid twentieth century came several King Kong movies, in which dinos were a bit more active than frogs, although they still came across as big, lumbering lizards. Nowadays, with exquisite new fossils from China coming to light, they’ve gotten a whole lot more like birds, and in TV shows like Walking With Dinosaurs, they’ve tended to show up dressed in more and more feathers and fuzz. Regarding those shows, the plots seem to be the only elements that continue to plod. Maybe things would liven up a bit if they changed their concept to Running From Dinosaurs and put some people in the mix to make the struggle for survival seem more, er, personal.

Anyway, I’ve been tracking these developments over years, and the Utahraptor image is one I created long before the details were known from fossils. It was a speculation at the time, in 2001, but it’s pretty well born out by the new fossils. It’s still among very few images showing a dinosaur as a sleek, fully feathered, birdlike creature, so mark it well. Soon all the dinosaurs will be feathered or furry and fast and furious to boot. Did I mention that Utahraptor was as big as a horse and easily as fast on its feet? You wouldn’t want to meet one on the farm, which is what Kit Daniels, the heroine of Dinosaur Wars: Counterattack does. In fact, it was my need to portray the animal in fine detail for that story that led to the feathery concept I drew back in 2001 for the cover of the soon-to-be-published book.

Boy, I sure would like to see these big, bad, birdy beasties made into a movie. Hollywood, are you paying attention?

About Tom Hopp

Thomas P Hopp is a scientist and author living in Seattle. He writes Peyton McKean mystery stories and the Dinosaur Wars science fiction series.
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