Dinosaur Summer

May 29, 1993

This will set back dinosaurs 70 million years.

Just as scientists are revising the long-held view that prehistoric creatures were pea-brained and anarchic, just when we have pre-schoolers marching like Pied Piperettes to the beat of a big purple tyrannosaur named Barney, just when dinosaurs have earned compassionate cover stories in the likes of Time magazine and National Geographic, along comes this summer's blockbuster-bound offering from Hollywood, "Jurassic Park," to make us horrified of terrible lizards again.

Director Steven Spielberg, who did public relations wonders for space aliens with his "E.T." and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," is about to hit America with his $65 million movie based on the best-selling novel by science fictionist Michael Crichton. The story is about scientists who discover a way to use the DNA of a tyrannosaur -- trapped within a fossilized mosquito that had bitten the beast -- to replicate the behemoth. They eventually create a bunch of real dinosaurs for a theme park that gets out of hand.

Weeks before the hush-hush work hits movie houses, stores were already being stocked with toys, dolls, clothing, books and dinosaur candy, poised to ride the impending media storm like surfers rushing to the beach to catch the next nor'easter. Marketers wonder if "Jurassic Park" can top the promotional vehicle that was last summer's "Batman Returns" (we doubt it) or the previous summer's "Dick Tracy" (it will).

But while Universal Pictures, MCA Inc. and its 100 licensees may make a killing, the mania might not advance the cause of dinosaurs. Anyone who's read a child's book about dinosaurs lately, much less been involved in more advanced study, knows how much has changed in recent decade in our attitudes toward dinosaurs. Due to paleontological finds -- not political correctness -- dinosaurs are considered more warm and cuddly than previously. They're seen as fairly intelligent, family-oriented and possibly still around -- in the form of birds, which scientists now surmise are direct descendants of prehistoric fliers.

The thought of scientists re-creating prehistoric species may sound far-fetched, but the idea that man might run amok trying to make a buck off dinosaurs -- that we can believe.

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