Jack Horner on Jurassic Park and generally being more awesome than me

Jack Horner, professor and paleontologist, knows the lasting power of science in science fiction. It's been 15 years since Jurassic Park first brought dinosaurs back to life and "Most of the graduate students I have right now got interested in dinosaurs as a result," he says. Dr. Horner took time to reminisce with amctv.com about his work on the film and he explained why the world would be a better place if we were as smart as the film's target demographic -- kids.

Q: What exactly did you do on Jurassic Park?

A: As a technical adviser, my job was to make sure the dinosaurs looked as real as possible. Basically, [Steven Spielberg] wanted to make sure that sixth graders didn't send him nasty letters saying "this wasn't right." So my job really was to make sure we didn't have things that dinosaurs couldn't do. They were going to create a scene where the Velociraptors would come in and stick forked tongues out to sniff the air, and only lizards do that. So, I told him, "You can't do that." But if it was my hypothesis that T-Rex was a scavenger rather than a predator, then he'd just assume since other people thought they were predators, he could make it a predator.

Q: Were you on the set?

A: The dinosaurs come in two forms: Computer graphics and animatronics. When the animatronics were on, I would be there. And I talked a lot with Sam Neill and the actors so they would know what a paleontologist actually looked like -- they could see we're normal people, even though we're kinda geeks.

Q: What was it like to attend the premiere?

A: Steven assigned seating and put me next to this nice, really old lady. She started talking and I realized it was Fay Wray -- didn't make that connection right away. He didn't introduce her, he just said, "You're gonna like her." So we talked about big monsters. The premiere in London was just incredible because Princess Di came and Steven and I escorted her. She came to the movie with us.

Q: Did you get any angry letters from sixth graders?

A: I got a lot of kids writing saying things were not accurate, and I always write back and say it's not supposed to be: It is a fictional movie. I want everybody to realize that we weren't trying to make a documentary, but we were trying to get people to suspend belief and get them to think imaginatively. And we did, otherwise it wouldn't have been so popular. Even kids that wrote a whole bunch of letters saying something was out of whack still went to see it five times.

Q: If the kids are taking time to write, it must be really important to them.

A: I get letters like Santa Claus does. Right now I'm getting a lot of mail from the Discovery documentary about making dinosaurs. They let me know what their concerns are and that's good. I like that. It's hard to talk to a 40 or 50-year-old person who doesn't like science. But an 11 and 12-year-old, they're charged up by science. I think everybody is smartest when they are in the sixth grade.

Jack Horner is working on a new scifi film in which he's going to show how dinosaurs of a feather flock together.

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I was about seven when I saw the first Jurassic Park at the drive-in. I was scarred-for-life/in-awe-of-a-new-god when Newman Nedry got blinded but good by the dilophosaur's awesome juice.