Spielberg epic loses sight of science

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Parents seeking an excuse not to take the children to the latest dinosaur blockbuster, Steven Spielberg's The Lost World, have been given one by the film's scientific adviser: it's all wrong, apart from the way the dinosaurs look.

According to Jack Horner, a dinosaur expert who worked closely with Spielberg on the film, which has its London premiere tonight, "there's nothing accurate, apart from the way that they look. They don't do anything that's natural".

It could have been worse: he had to prevent eager Hollywood executives from giving the dinosaurs snake-like forked tongues. "Dinosaurs were actually closer to birds", he says, and so have straight tongues. The worst misrepresentation, he adds, is in the behaviour of the animals.

"In the film, they don't chase prey, they chase people. Dinosaurs wouldn't do that, and they wouldn't try to eat through the sides of cars or a building to get them ... and they wouldn't chase you because you got their baby."

Dr Horner was the inspiration for the lead male character in the first Spielberg dinosaur film, Jurassic Park. But when science and the demands of the film plot conflicted, the plot won.

Dr Horner did have praise for one London opening, though: a simulated "Dinosaur Dig" at the Natural History Museum, where visitors can search for bones and dinosaur footprints in an 18-metre by 15-metre pit.

"It's a great place to come and learn about the real science of dinosaurs," he said.

Some say the last Hollywood film to depict science accurately was Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey - released in 1967. The film was surprising as much for the accuracy of its depiction of space travel as for its content. Its scientific adviser was Arthur C Clarke, author of the novel on which the film was based. Does Dr Horner feel that a film could be made as true to dinosaurs as 2001 was to space? "I don't know," he said. "Neither Jurassic Park nor The Lost World was made to show what dinosaurs were like."

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Film review, The Tabloid