After 30 years and two separate trilogies, the jurassic park franchise is the standard bearer for dinosaur movies. From 1993, the series has been praised for its stunning depiction of dinosaurs and their interactions with humans. Over the years, jurassic park shifted from its initial sci-fi source material to a sci-fi/action hybrid with the jurassic world series. But after Jurassic World Dominion was released in Sumer 2022, it’s safe to say that the Jurassic franchise is going to hibernate for a while.
With years of success behind the franchise, it’s clear audiences love dinosaurs, but there’s a problem with that. Dinosaurs never interacted with humans, so it’s hard to build a narrative to carry that. Of course, there are well-known films like those of Disney Dinosaur, but films accurately depicting dinosaurs are quite rare. So how can a film tell a story of dinosaurs and humans while being fresh and realistic? Well, it may tell the real story of the Bone Wars between paleontologists Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh.
The Bone Wars was a long-running feud between two highly respected paleontologists on the brink of one of the most significant paleontological booms of all time. Cope and Marsh were once friends and even named dinosaurs after each other. But their feud began when Marsh humiliated Cope when he pointed out that Cope had put the Elasmosaurus’s head on the wrong side of the body. After this incident, the two became very hostile and their rivalry became public.
For several years, Marsh and Cope traded barbs before bitter paleontologists moved west to fossil sites, including the Morrison Formation near Como Bluff, Wyoming. During a 15-year fossil excursion, the pair would try to outdo each other by stealing bones, sabotaging dig sites, and even destroying bones in an attempt to discredit or destroy their opponent. However, even with devious tactics, the two dug up over 130 species of dinosaurs, including Allosaurus, Triceratops, Diplodocus, and Apatosaurus. But how would this story fit together as a jurassic park successor? Well, it would use a setup similar to that Pan’s Labyrinth.
Pan’s Labyrinth used active imagination and imagery as a way to explore universal themes. A film depicting the Bone Wars would use this conflict as a framing device, where the feud undermines the beauty of their findings and the significance of the event. Marsh and Cope’s sheer pettiness over world-changing discoveries would be an interesting theme as their rivalry has survived the period. The reprehensible behavior of the two men opens the discussion on pride. Instead of portraying one as good and the other as evil, the movie could show both in an antiheroic light and let the audience decide if what they did was worth the destruction and venom.
As with any dinosaur movie, the most important thing is the dinosaurs. In a Pan’s Labyrinth-movie style, dinosaurs could be presented in recreation in their ecosystems. As each of the paleontologists investigates their respective discoveries, the excavated bones can be imagined in their natural environment. It could also influence something that started their feud: the things they imagined and described as wrong.
Drawings and depictions of dinosaurs in the late 1800s were correct for their time, but as paleontologists learned more, they discovered they were wrong. At certain points in the film, Marsh or Cope might draw descriptions or imagine descriptions and show a realistic dinosaur wandering nearby for comparison. The idea of dinosaurs will not be like monsters but like natural beings moving and behaving normally. As each dinosaur is metaphorically brought back to life, the image would provide an exclamation point about the significance of the find.
Marsh and Cope provide an interesting dichotomy in that they are bitter enemies who together created the future of paleontology. In a film adaptation, a passage of time would show paleontologists such as Robert Bakker, Jack Horner, J. Keith Rigby and others marveling at the two and their work before setting out to find their own. Like with Jurassic Park, the Bone Wars began a major boom period for paleontology. Let the movie lean into the spectacle of dinosaurs like jurassic park did. With a bitter dispute came a hopeful future for paleontology, which led to the restoration of great fossils. Marsh and Cope both had their downsides, but in a film about them, the future they created is just as important.