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
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little