You might expect watching "Jurassic Park" (or "Jurassic World," the latest installment of the franchise) with a bunch of dinosaur experts to be kind of a drag. We all realize that the dinosaurs onscreen are lifelike, but not realistic. They look the way movie watchers want dinosaurs to look, not the way scientists truly believe they looked.
But in reality, paleontologists seem to have a soft spot for the books and movies. Why? Because the love of dinosaurs they inspired back in the early '90s arguably changed the research field forever.
"There was a wonderful explosion in interest after that first movie," Matthew Mossbrucker, director and chief curator of the Morrison Natural History Museum, told The Post. "I really think it's partially responsible for giving me a career."
After screening "Jurassic World" with a Post reporter, two paleontologists from The Smithsonian had similar thoughts. Even if they think a lot of it is basically just dino porn.
Kirk Johnson: What's not to love about a great dinosaur film? They spend so much money on making the dinosaurs [pause] plausible.
In many ways, paleontologists are always thinking about what those things look like, how they function, what they do, and I think, in one of the "Jurassic Park" movies, I actually preferred the herbivores. Because they're actually kind of behind the scenes, before the mayhem starts.
The theropod stuff is all pretty much money shot. It's all porn, basically. It's all like raaaaaaaar, you know? It's all just so stereotyped.
Matthew Carrano: Dinosaurs are popular in other movies, but none of those movies have ever been any good. I mean, what's the second-best dinosaur movie set over the past 20 years? You quickly drop down to garbage, right?
KJ: It's totally true. And all the documentaries can't afford the decent CGI. They end up making these things that are obviously really bad CGI dinosaurs.
MC: You can go online now and there's like 50 paleontologists and paleontology fans nitpicking the trailers for little bits of whatever, but fundamentally, why would you feel bad about this series of movies?
If you're a young paleontologist, and you have a job, the movies have some part in that, frankly. It's the reason why grownups like dinosaurs now. Instead of just kids up to the age of 8. And one of the reasons I think museums have reinvested in dinosaurs is that adults and children come to see them. Therefore, I have a job. None of these museums had a dinosaur paleontologist in 1985. And now they all do.
Mossbrucker — who can't credit the original film with his love of dinosaurs, since he was lecturing middle school students on them by the time he was 6 — remembers taking his first volunteer position at a natural history museum just after the film's release.
"Visitors would ask, you know, would a T. Rex really not see you if you stood perfectly still? And other things pertaining to the movie," he said. "It was wonderful. These films bridge the gap between dusty fossils in a museum drawer and the public, who are hungry to know more."
Now 36, Mossbrucker has been in the museum game ever since. Popular culture icebreakers are priceless, he said. In fact, he recently participated in the staged "autopsy" of a man-made T. Rex carcass for a National Geographic special. But he still thinks "Jurassic Park" is one of the best cultural outreaches paleontology has.
"A lot of my colleagues would complain about the dinosaurs not being very accurate, but it was just really putting dinosaurs in the zeitgeist," he said.
Of course, knowing how good the franchise has been to their ilk doesn't stop paleontologists from casting a critical eye on the blockbusters. For the Smithsonian's Carrano and Johnson, the biggest issues came down to the beasts being noisy and featherless:
KJ: Another big pet peeve is when a dinosaur arrives and it's like "BOOOOOOOOM."
MC: They're all way too noisy. That's the other thing. The loudest animals in the world in these movies are the predators. In real life, they're usually the quietest animals. It's a good way to starve, running around screaming your head off.
KJ: Hey! I'm killing! Hey! Hey!
MC: They get there and they see their prey and the first thing they do is open their mouth and yell at it, and the thing turns around and runs. It's a terrible strategy!
KJ: But that's the money shot. Everybody who makes really big dinosaurs uses the standard pose: stop, look, roar, give you a chance to respond and get away. It's something that happens in the movies because it's something movies before it did.
MC: It's like a moment of drama. It's like the point in a musical where someone stops and has a solo. It won't happen in real life, but you sort of expect it's gonna happen, it means something in the context of the storytelling.
KJ: The theropod solo.
WP: So the "Jurassic Park" series is basically a musical.
MC: That's the next thing!
Washington Post: Will feathers on dinosaurs ever catch on?
KJ: Oh boy. They look so ugly. It's really ruined the whole dinosaur thing. They looked pretty cool but now it's like, "really, that's what dinosaurs look like? Some sort of weird punk rocker." It's pretty awful.
MC: There's a group of people for whom they've really caught on. But I would say that people at large, it's still a common question. Probably many dinosaurs were just fuzzy. In the way that big mammals kind of have hair, but you don't think of an elephant as hairy.
Big dinosaurs probably had that kind of stuff growing on it. I don't think that T-Rex looked like a giant eagle. Maybe as a baby.
Lots of dinosaurs — even things related to the Stegosaurus — had stuff, other stuff. Quill-looking kind of things and whatnot coming out of them. I mean, I don't know what to tell you. It's just weird. They're all weird.
And at the end of the day, paleontologists — at least the ones we've talked to — seem to understand that "weird" looking dinosaurs just don't pack the same cinematic punch. And if people hadn't been in awe of the things they saw on screen back in '93, museums probably wouldn't have gotten the boost they did.
"It's true that from what I've seen, the dinosaurs in 'Jurassic World' are not the most accurate," Mossbrucker said, "But these are opportunities to have people ask great questions and to educate them — not excuses to throw popcorn at the screen."