Jurassic World's Dinosaur Expert Talks Facts vs. Fiction (INTERVIEW)

Paleontologist Jack Horner, who's been the dinosaur adviser to Steven Spielberg's 'Jurassic Park' and newest dino flick, 'Jurassic World,' admits that resurrecting dinosaurs today 'would be fun.'
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Paulette Cohn
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Paleontologist Jack Horner, who's been the dinosaur adviser to Steven Spielberg's 'Jurassic Park' and newest dino flick, 'Jurassic World,' admits that resurrecting dinosaurs today 'would be fun.'

Even scarier than coming face-to-face with lions, and tigers, and bears would be an encounter with T. Rex or a velociraptor. And that is just what happens to the visitors of Jurassic World, when Universal Pictures releases the fourth installment of the Steven Spielberg franchise on Friday, June 12th. Except something bigger and badder is out to get them!

It's 22 years after the initial attempt to open the dinosaur-themed Jurassic Park and the dream has become a reality. John Hammond's brainchild has been up and running for 10 years, but the bloom is off the rose and the number of visitors is declining. So word comes down from corporate that a new attraction, i.e. a new dinosaur, has to be created to spark interest, and the results — a man-made Indominus Rex — are disastrous.

"It's a hybrid made from genetic characteristics from lots of different dinosaurs, and all of them are scary," says the film's technical director Jack Horner, curator of Paleontology at the Museum of the Rockies and a Regent's Professor of Paleontology at Montana State University, who has worked on all four films and has a cameo in Jurassic World.

Jurassic World Photo

Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard star in 'Jurassic World.' (Photo: Universal Pictures)

Horner took a break from his many occupations to talk about dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, where Bio caught up with him to talk about how much of what happens in Jurassic World is real, how in danger humans would be in if dinosaurs actually roamed the world, what the Russians are up to, and more.

When Steven Spielberg first came to you, what did he want to know?

He called me and asked me if I wanted to work on a movie about dinosaurs and I said, "Yeah," so he said, "Here's what I want: I want you to make sure we don't get any nasty letters from third graders." Basically, what that meant is he wanted me to make sure that as much of the science as possible was accurate without ruining the movies.

He wanted to make actors out of the dinosaurs. My job was to make them look like an actor before they moved — to make sure they looked as accurate as they could, and then, he would make an actor out of them and make them chase things.

Jurassic World Photo

(Photo: Universal Pictures)

Did you ever have to tell him: Dinosaurs can't do that?

Absolutely. I told him "no" a lot of times. Sometimes he listened, sometimes he didn't.

Can you give an example?

In the kitchen scene of Jurassic Park, we have the raptors. The raptors were originally going to walk into the kitchen and wave their forked tongues around like reptiles do. And I said, "Dinosaurs didn't have forked tongues. You can't do that. We have to come up with something else."

What we came up with — we needed something for that time — so the dinosaurs come up to the window of the kitchen and they snort and they fog up the window. That means they are warm-blooded. So we took them from being reptile-like to being warm-blooded.

The Russians are building Pleistocene Park, which is their potential Jurassic Park. Is that a real possibility?

I have talked to some of the people working on it. It is in what we call the nastiest part of Siberia — northeastern Siberia. They are serious about it. They have a big chunk of land. They've moved in some animals from other parts of the world, like yaks. They are trying to gather all of the Pleistocene animals.

But so far, we haven't been able to find dinosaur DNA. DNA simply doesn't last that long. We occasionally find pieces of proteins. But birds are living dinosaurs, and, therefore, they are carrying some part of ancestral DNA. So, we started a project many years ago to see if we couldn't resurrect at least some of the characteristics of dinosaurs. In other words, take a bird and look for some ancestral genes that might be turned off that we could turn back on that would make characteristics that look more like a dinosaur.

Jurassic World Photo

(Photo: Universal Pictures)

Was Tyrannosaurus Rex the scariest dinosaur?

The scariest dinosaur is a personal preference. I think the velociraptor was the scariest. To me, they are the scariest animal that ever lived.

Because they were faster than T-Rex?

It has nothing to do with being faster. It has to do with their slashing claws, where they could literally rip you to pieces.

In the original Jurassic Park movie, T-Rex appeared not to be able to see well, but he could detect his prey by their movement. True?

They are like birds or any animal. If you stand perfectly still, there are very few animals who recognize you as a threat. T-Rex, on the other hand, could smell you so easily, it wouldn't matter how still you are.

Nobody living now lived during dinosaurs' time, so how did you know what sound to have the dinosaurs make in the movie?

Birds are dinosaurs. I know what birds sound like. All I have to do is lower the sound of birds.

Is the drab color presented in the film accurate?

That is inaccurate. They were colorful. We don't know specific color. We just know that they would have had color on them because they gave rise to birds, and birds are colorful.

Speaking of birds, recent studies indicate that many dinosaurs had feathers. Is there a reason feathers weren't added in Jurassic World?

Jurassic World tells one story. So whatever we cloned in the original movie, they still have to look the same. We couldn't have cloned them in 1993 and have them look one way, and then be cloning them now, from the same material, and have different kinds of dinosaurs. It is consistency across the one story. We can always make the excuse that we we didn't have complete DNA in Jurassic Park. Remember they added frog DNA? And frogs don't have feathers.

You personally, of course, would like to have dinosaurs back on earth since your life's work is dedicated to the subject. But why would we want to have dinosaurs back on earth?

I would like to have them back because they would be fun. In real life, dinosaurs wouldn't chase people, or open vehicles, or any of that stuff. They would be cool animals — just like we see in the Serengeti going to Africa on a Safari. They would just be fun to have.

How did you get interested in dinosaurs?

I have loved Paleontology my whole life. I didn't get interested, I was born this way.

Jurassic World opens in theaters on Friday, June 12th.