Imagine the booming roar of the Tyrannosaurus rex as it bursts through the trees at a jeep filled with human morsels. Can you hear it? That classic roar helped to inspire a new generation of dinosaur lovers and transform the field of paleontology. The science fiction adventure film Jurassic Park hit the theaters in 1993 and grossed over $900 million worldwide during its original theatrical run, making it the highest grossing film at the time.
I loved Jurassic Park when I was a kid. It was action-packed, funny, and best of all, had freakin’ dinosaurs in it! I mean, what more can you ask!? But beyond being one of my all-time favorite childhood movies, I hadn’t given the film much thought. It wasn’t until recently that I realized the impact of the film on the general public and what it has done for paleontology.
I recently stumbled across an Ask-Me-Anything (AMA) on Reddit by Matthew Carrano, who is Curator of Dinosauria at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
One question he was asked was: “Did Jurassic Park have any impact on your life?”
Matthew’s response was great: “Jurassic Park had a huge impact on my life in a sort of indirect way. I was already in grad school when it came out (1993), so it wasn’t a factor in my decision to be a paleontologist. But that movie changed the public landscape for dinosaur paleontology. It made dinosaurs interesting to adults and not just children, and helped fuel a major change in museums as a side effect.
One result is that every major museum has now renovated their dinosaur exhibits (we’re up next!). Another is that they’ve all re-hired dinosaur paleontologists. For many decades, most US museums didn’t have any dinosaur paleontologists on staff, but now they all do. So I can, in part, thank Jurassic Park for the fact that I have a job.”
Randy Olson, author of Don’t be Such a Scientist, comments on the film as well. In his book, he notes that Jurassic park inspired its audience to join careers in paleontology, without even providing any statistics or logical arguments on why people should choose that career. The film provided motivation by telling a good story with plenty of humor, excitement, and emotion. Therein lies the magic of film as a motivational medium.
My obsession with the natural world can be traced back long ago, to the third-grade. When our teacher asked the class what we wanted to be when we grew up, I promptly wrote down: I want to be a herpetologist, a paleontologist, or an entomologist. Not your typical third-grade answer, but I’ve clearly stuck to my guns (for entomology at least). I’m certain that Jurassic Park played a role in my wonder and amazement about prehistoric creatures, nature, and science, as it did with so many others.
What we need now are more movies like Jurassic Park. In a time when scientific progress is constantly under attack, it’s important to utilize the power of film to inspire a general audience, so in turn, they will support the scientific community. So the next time you see a film (even a science fiction film), be aware that it could very well help to inspire the next generation of scientists!