FILM / They're back. And this time it's personal: Dinosaurs once again rule the earth. And, says Marek Kohn, they have more than Steven Spielberg to thank for their monstrous rise in popularity

EASTER is coming twice this year. The key motif amid the dinosaurabilia that the Natural History Museum has piled high, but is not selling cheap, is the plastic dinosaur hatching out of its egg. In Jurassic Park, the British premiere of which takes place next Fridav, Sam Neill is entranced bv the sight of a velociraptor emerging sharp-toothed and bloody from its shell, shining under laboratory lights. Science, as anyone but a dewy-eyed movie palaeontologist can tell, has Given Birth to a Monster.

While much of the subsequent adventure in Steven Spielberg's film adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel turns on the traditional dinosaurian activities of roaring and stomping around tearing other creatures limb from limb, the egg is the symbolic

centre of the story. Eggs have played a similar role throughout the current phase, crowned but not initiated by Jurassic Park, in which dinosaurs have been translated from a perennial theme in popular culture to an all-out mania. The dynamics are oddly assorted; new scientific ideas, marketing, and the collective imagination of children. It would be nice to think that the first and last of these, rather than the second, were what was needed to bring the craze to critical mass.

Even the Creationists have reached for the dinosaur egg to resolve a theological problem. In Claws, Jaws and Dinosaurs, an exploration of the appeal of the dinosaur which forms part of Channel 4's 'Dinomania' weekend, the secretary of the Biblical Creationist Society explains how Noah got dinosaurs on to the Ark.

Obviously, the patriarch couldn't have herded fully-grown brontosauruses and tyrannosauruses up the gangplank, two by two. That would be ridiculous. But hatchling dinosaurs would have been of a quite feasible size and would not have grown too big bythe time the waters receded.

There is a curious harmony between the pat exiguousies of the Creationists and the way scientists talk about dinosaurs. It used to be a mere jigsaw puzzle, albeit a devilishly complicated one, in the days when Cary Grant spent his time overlooking the great skeleton in Bringing Up Baby, wondering where the leftover bone should go.

Progress has not been straightforward: on the evidence of Claws and The Real Jurassic Park - Equinox's 'Dinomania' dinomentary - palaeontologists today tend to look as though they are on secondment from the Grateful Dead's road crew. But they now think about their dinosaurs in multiple dimensions - as living, breeding, nurturing, socially interacting members of an ecosystem. They can tell you how big a dinosaur would have grown after 40 days and 40 nights by looking at fossil blood vessels under a microscope. A maiasaura would have reached three-and-a-half feet in as many weeks, well within the capacity of a 300-cubit Ark.

The maiasaura, discovered in 1982 by Dr Jack Horner (the prototype, we are assured, for Sam Neill's character in Jurassic Park), is a pivotal figure in modern dinosaur culture.

Nineteenth-century palaeontologists called their fossils 'terrible lizards' or 'thunder lizards'. Maiasaura means 'good mother lizard'. The caring lizard and the relatosaurus cannot be far behind.

The new spirit of generosity in science - also evident in contemporary scientific attitudes to humans, both extinct varieties and living indigenous ones - has certainly helped stoke the fires of dinomania over the past few years. But the lovable saurian has been around since 1909, when Gertio the Dinosaur starred in an animated film. She evolved into the cartoon brontosaurs domesticated by caveman Alley Oop in the 1930s, and later the Flintstones, who are set to make a movie comeback.

Perhaps the key to the popularity of dinosaurs lies in the emergence of these opposites: big and fiercer, small and cuddly. While children may enjoy being frightened, they need that sensation to be followed by one of safety. After the sight of the museum tyrannosaurus, the awed child can be reassured by the sight of the little green furry tyrannosaurus that seems to have a smile on its face. Anything can be tamed, it implies, and anything can be reduced to a safe size; everything has a little

nucleus of niceness hidden away inside it. The image of the hatching dinosaur offers an alternative to the acrylicosaurus with a nod to realism.

Even before reincarnation in velour, dinosaurs were inherently reassuring creatures. Not one of them ever hurt a single hair on a human head, after all. They were huge and dumb, and now they're gone; we're small and smart, and now we're in charge. There is also the question of guilt. Dinosaurs are one group of animals for whose extinction we cannot be blamed - except by the Creationists, who consider that despite Noah's rescue efforts, man's sinfulness led to the demise of the dinosaurs in the times that followed the Flood.

Dinosaurs are the giants that walked the earth in legendary times. Their bones, re-erected in the great cathedrals of science, are massive mementos mori. One of the most interesting contributions to Claws, Jaws and Dinosaurs comes from the American sculptor Allan McCollum, who covered a museum floor in replica dinosaur bones as a 'monument to grief'. McCollum saw in palaeontology a parallel to the work of mourning that he had undertaken after his father's death. Mourning, he felt, was essentially the compulsive and exhaustive examination of memory; like the labours of palaeontologists, painstakingly reconstructing the traces of things that were once alive.

For McCollum, the point is that a reconstruction can never recreate the original, and therefore entails loss. Michael Crichton wrote Jurassic Park around the same idea. In the book, the entrepreneur John Hammond cannot grasp what his chief scientist

tells him, that the park dinosaurs are not real. As with memory, the gaps in the information have been filled from other sources, which are then forgotten (a subtlety dropped in the film). The use of frog DNA as genetic filler allows the animals to

breed, undoing the park's principal safety precaution.

Although Jurassic Park is a tale cautioning against the dangers of genetic engineering, it cannot help but stir up excitement about the very thing it is warning against. The centrepiece of Channel 4's weekend is the Equinox documentary devoted to the question of whether Jurassic Park could really be built. Crichton warns that the implications of the genetic revolution have not been grasped. The real danger is that when they are, they may be too seductive to resist.

Perhaps the most extraordinary achievement of Jurassic Park is the way in which it has created a vision of reincarnation around a prime cultural symbol of extinction. No matter how catastrophic the outcome, there is a profound attraction in the idea

that, just at the point where its activities are wiping out other species in swathes, humanity may be about to acquire the power to bring them back again. Like John Hammond, we're inclined to overlook the point that what is gone can never really be brought back.

Hammond's team recreates forms of life, but it is a series of unpredictable interactions - or to put it another way, forces of nature - that give the dinosaurs the power to lay their own eggs. It's the eggs as much as the excellence of the special effects that invest the dinosaurs with life. Up to now, fictional dinosaurs have always seemed inorganic; merely animated rock and clay.

Now they are convincing organisms, albeit in an unsympathetic, scientific fashion. Even if they really were warm-blooded, as some scientists argue, they still come across as reptiles. But dinosaur romantics need not be disheartened. In the velociraptors' wake, great herds of lovable cinesauruses will undoubtedly follow.

Channel 4's 'Dinomania' weekend runs from 16-28 July. 'Claws, Jaws and Dinosaurs' will be shown on Saturday between 8.30pm and 9.30pm; 'The Real Jurassic Park - An Equinox Special' on Sunday between 7pm and 8pm.

Arts and Entertainment
'Banksy Does New York' Film - 2014

Art Somebody is going around telling people he's Banksy - but it isn't the street artist

Arts and Entertainment
Woody Allen and Placido Domingo will work together on Puccini's Schicchi


Arts and Entertainment
The sixteen celebrities taking part in The Jump 2015


Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose' in memoir of a grief-stricken daughter who became obsessed with training a goshawk
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge has announced his departure from Blink-182

Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups


An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment


Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original


Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'


Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel: