Therizinosaurus, Pyrosaurus, Giganotosaurus: 'Jurassic World Dominion' Dinosaurs : Short Wave Move over, T-Rex.

There are new, (mostly) more accurate dinosaurs to squeal over in 'Jurassic World: Dominion', the sixth and reportedly final film of the Jurassic film franchise. Join us to get to know them a little more with help from Riley Black, a paleontologist and author of the book The Last Days of the Dinosaurs.

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Dino-mite! Meet The Real Stars of 'Jurassic World: Dominion'

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EMILY KWONG, BYLINE: You're listening to SHORT WAVE...


KWONG: ...From NPR.



For going on 30 years, we've been dreaming about what it would be like if the dinosaurs of "Jurassic Park" were let loose on the world. Well, now we have an answer. The newest movie in the series, "Jurassic World: Dominion," takes place four years after dinosaurs escaped into America and started to spread.

RILEY BLACK: And our heroes are variously scattered in different places. Some are digging up more fossils. Some have changed career tracks entirely. Some are hiding out in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

SCOTT: Riley Black is a paleontologist and author of the book, "The Last Days of the Dinosaurs." She's written extensively about the scientific joys and shortcomings of the "Jurassic" franchise.

BLACK: And the big thing, I guess, that's trying to move this movie forward - right? - is the locust plot.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) They're multiplying like crazy, and they're not dying. What part of this don't you understand?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Well, I do understand.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) This is going to be a global famine.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Hey.

SCOTT: A company called Biosyn has been secretly modifying the DNA of locusts with dino DNA.

BLACK: And Biosyn is also managing all the world's dinosaurs, it seems, in their own private compounds.


MAMOUDOU ATHIE: (As Ramsay Cole) Biosyn bought this land for the amber deposits back in the '90s, but we've managed to turn it into a safe haven for about 20 displaced species.

BLACK: All our characters sort of converge on this area in, like, the dolomite mountains, where the Biosyn compound is, where they're trying to unravel this nefarious plot to destroy the world's food supply while there are also dinosaurs running around. And that's about as clean a throughline as I can find for this. This is the equivalent of, when you're a kid, and you get your first set of dinosaur toys, and you take them to the sandbox or amongst your, you know, Lego set or whatever, and you just have them fight each other. It's kind of a $100-million-plus version.


SCOTT: So today on the show, we face down some of the most spectacular new prehistoric stars of the final "Jurassic Park" movie, and we explore how studying dinosaurs will always require a hearty dose of imagination. I'm Aaron Scott, and you're listening to SHORT WAVE, the daily science therapod-cast (ph) from NPR.


SCOTT: OK, Riley. The best part of this film was for sure the new dinosaurs that we get to meet, and that reminds me a bit of an article you wrote in 2013, a couple years before the first "Jurassic World" movie came out, where you describe several dinosaurs that you wanted to see in the new films based on the latest science. It's almost like the filmmakers read your article because one of the most scene-stealing new dinos was your top pick from 2013. Would you please introduce us to therizinosaurus?

BLACK: Oh, my goodness. Therizinosaurus is just - it's such a wonderful dinosaur.

SCOTT: With a wonderful name.

BLACK: So - yeah. So this is, like, a T. rex-sized sloth dinosaur with claws that are more than three feet long on each of its hands, which seems incredibly, like, overkill. Like, it's a definite, like, Freddy Krueger kind of look, and we're still not entirely sure what it was doing with these things. We think that it's some kind of herbivore, but we don't really know. But that was one of my favorites because, like, how can you see this animal and not want to see it alive? It really instills the wonder of what dinosaurs were, the fascination with it, being like, OK, how does this animal work? It's kind of this mishmash of all these different anatomical points behaving in this strange way.

SCOTT: And I read that one idea is maybe they used the claws to, you know, like, claw through the underbrush or trees and, like, scoop up their food. But, I mean, these claws - they're, like, the size of baseball bats.

BLACK: Yeah.

SCOTT: Speaking of, I mean, the Jurassic Park movies have always been obsessed with the apex predators.


ATHIE: (As Ramsay Cole) It took Fish and Wildlife three years to catch the T. rex.

SAM NEILL: (As Alan Grant) The T. rex is here?

ATHIE: (As Ramsay Cole) Oh, yeah. Yeah.

SCOTT: This newest film has a new, big baddie...


SAM NEILL AND CHRIS PRATT: (As Alan Grant and Owen Grady) Don't move.

SCOTT: ...Giganotosaurus or giganotosaurus. Introduce us to this big, terrifying meat-eater.


BLACK: Right. Well, I mean, T. rex has always been the dinosaur to beat, right? Since 1905, it's always been heralded as the biggest and the most ferocious. But particularly in the 1990s, we started finding fossils, particularly in South America, of these large carnivorous dinosaurs called carcharodinosaurs (ph), and the biggest of them is giganotosaurus. And we don't know exactly how big it's going to be. We don't have complete fossils of this particular dinosaur. It's kind of like, well, we have this bit of jaw, and this bit of jaw is really huge.

So if we scale that up, you know, with the body proportions that we expected it had, it was as big, if not slightly larger, than Tyrannosaurus rex. So it certainly, like, would have been able to go toe-to-toe with T. rex if they ever met, which they wouldn't have because they lived on different continents millions of years apart. But it was a different kind of predator, really, where, when you look at T. rex, you can see how big and bulky that skull is. That's all about bite force - really being able to crush bone. Giganotosaurus and its relatives - its mouth isn't really as powerful. It doesn't have as powerful a bite. It's more about shearing flesh.

SCOTT: And, to your earlier point, it is very much like kids in a sandbox, being like, my dinosaur can beat up your dinosaur. I mean, it's just always throwing somebody against T. rex.

BLACK: I feel like there's that aspect as well. You have the kids who just want to smash the dinosaurs together, and then there's the kids like me, who's like, well, actually, they never would have met. And, you know, that's why I got kicked out of the sandbox.


SCOTT: Oh, man. I would be over with you. While we're talking about the biggies...


BRYCE DALLAS HOWARD: (As Claire Dearing) Is that a...

DEWANDA WISE: (As Kayla Watts) Quetzalcoatlus - late Cretaceous - should have stayed there.

SCOTT: ...Who we're introduced to when it rips apart our heroes' airplane.


BLACK: Yeah. So that was a great moment, as in, like, it was just absolutely absurd because quetzalcoatlus is this pterosaur, right? So it's not a dinosaur. It's a relative of dinosaurs - one of the biggest ones we know of.

SCOTT: And they're the flying creatures, like pterodactyls and whatnot, right?

BLACK: That's right, yeah. So like the pteranodon that we've been seeing since, you know, "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," it's, like, basically a larger version of that - like the size of a giraffe, but it could fly. In order to do that, they had to be incredibly light. Their bones are almost, like, paper thin. You know, I weigh about as much as a quetzalcoatlus would have. So to see it just kind of shredding a plane, like it was made out of aluminum foil or something, it's like, OK, I don't know how they supercharged this animal. But, yeah, it's this amazing sort of terrestrial stalker. They kind of folded their wings, and they could shuffle around, and they got most of their food by plucking up little dinosaurs or prey smaller than themselves. And pterosaurs have been such a threat through all these movies that that one was also on my wish list. Like, if you want a scary pterosaur, think about being on the ground and seeing something that's at giraffe height, looking down at you, knowing that it could probably swallow you if it wanted to. And that's a pretty frightening animal.

SCOTT: And giraffe height, but with a head that seems almost as big as the body.

BLACK: That's right.

SCOTT: The first "Jurassic Park" movie came out in 1993. And as you've talked about, since then, there has been just an explosion in what we know about dinosaurs, especially how they looked. Of course, the movies have been criticized because they've mostly stuck with the drab, scaly, naked reptiles that Steven Spielberg first dreamed up. That really finally changed with this movie and its portrayal of the pyroraptor. Tell us a little bit about this critter.

BLACK: Well, you know, dinosaurs have great names, and sometimes the name precedes what we actually know about the animal.

SCOTT: (Laughter).

BLACK: You could hold the known remains of pyroraptor in one hand.

SCOTT: Oh, wow.

BLACK: And in the film, they're about the size of the movie's velociraptor. Like, they're about human size and covered in red feathers. And this is the one that dives beneath the ice and is swimming around, when, really, like, we know very little about what this animal was actually like. And that's the case for many dinosaurs. Like, even though we're naming a new dinosaur species about every two weeks or so from the fossil record, the fact of the matter is, most of those are partial skeletons. There's a species of velociraptor, for example, that's only known from one bone in the upper jaw, and we can compare them to their relatives and get some idea. But if you were to put, like, the real-life version of pyroraptor, which was a little bit larger than, like, a raven...

SCOTT: (Laughter).

BLACK: ...Next to the film version, you might have a few questions about how they got from one to the other.

SCOTT: The one thing that it did do that reflects science, that I feel like people have been just waiting for, is they put feathers on it, which is something that "Jurassic Park" has so avoided for so long.

BLACK: Yeah, it was nice to see fluffy dinosaurs in this one. Like, we've known that there were many feathered dinosaurs, especially the therapods - the ones that are most closely related to birds - since about the time that "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" came out. But it was still good to see, between pyroraptor, therizinosaurus and a little tyrannosaur called moros, that things were much fuzzier than they've previously been.

SCOTT: I mean, it seems like, in many ways, that pop culture tends to treat science as if it's set in stone. And there's even a moment in this film where they're like, science is the truth. It's in the rocks.

BLACK: Oh, my goodness, yeah.

SCOTT: But something you write about in your new book, "The Last Days Of The Dinosaurs," and you've written about in essays really clicked with me as I watched the movie, and that is that dinosaurs and paleontology really exist at the intersection of science and imagination. What do you mean by that?

BLACK: Well, that we need to use our imaginations to bring dinosaurs to life again. And to be able to say anything more than this animal existed, we need to take some of those liberties, and we do this as well. Like, as much as we might critique the films, the fact is, I've read scientific papers - like, a new dinosaur will be named, and the researchers will say, it probably dug in the ground, and it probably ate insects. Well, based on what? And it's like, well, based upon how the skeleton looks. And it's like, OK, well, that's an idea, but that's not a conclusion.

And I think that's the important part for us to always keep in mind, is kind of - where does what we know stop, and where does our speculation start? Imagination doesn't have to be a dirty word in science. We are always sort of on the edge of the unknown. So I love the fact that, in film and in science, our dinosaurs continue to change, really, with us and what we think about them at any given time.

SCOTT: So we've been talking about dinosaurs 'cause, of course, that is the focus of "Jurassic Park" and "Jurassic World," but your new book argues it's time, maybe, that we start paying attention to what happened after the asteroid hit and the dinos all disappeared. So I'd love to end on an early mammal that makes a cameo in the movie. Will you tell us a little bit about it and why you think maybe we should start looking past the dinosaurs some?

BLACK: Yeah, that's the thing - right? - it's that we think about the Mesozoic world as being, like, the age of dinosaurs, and everything was dinosaurs. But, in fact, there were lots of other animals that were there. They had to be there because, if nothing else, dinosaurs often needed something to eat...

SCOTT: (Laughter).

BLACK: ...So there had to be other organisms, including mammals. Like, during the Mesozoic, you have the first mammals appear at about the same time as the first dinosaurs do, and they thrived alongside dinosaurs. And even prior to that, it was protomammals running the show, and there are a couple that show up in "Jurassic World: Dominion." There is a little one called lystrosaurus that makes a little cameo in the marketplace. This thing kind of looks like a pig, almost. It's got a beak, and it's got tusks. But the one that makes a larger appearance a little bit later is dimetrodon, and this is this classic one. It looks kind of like a supercharged monitor lizard with a big sail on its back, and that lived long before the earliest dinosaurs, but it's more closely related to us.

And when you look at the history of life, and you look at the way that, like, mass extinctions have affected sort of what species are around and which are most prominent in the landscape, our own relatives, like those protomammals that we see in the latest "Jurassic World" film, were also there, and they're a critical part of the story. They didn't just appear once dinosaurs went off the stage. Like, our story is very much intertwined with theirs.


SCOTT: Riley Black, thank you so much for dreaming about dinosaurs with us.

BLACK: Oh, it's always best to share dinosaur dreams. Thank you so much.


SCOTT: Today's episode was produced by Rebecca "T. rex" Ramirez, edited by our senior supervising editor, Gisele "supersaurus" Grayson, and fact-checked by Rachel "dreadnoughtus" Carlson. Our audio engineer was Tre "velociraptor" Watson, and our programming titanosaurs are senior director Beth Donovan and senior vice president Anya Grundmann. You know me, I'm just a little fluffy Moros intrepidus. Thanks for listening to SHORT WAVE from NPR.


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