'WHAT SPECIES IS THIS?'
Yesterday evening, the first official photo from the set of J.A. Bayona's Jurassic World sequel debuted online. The breathtaking shot instantly sent the Jurassic community into overdrive, and rightly so — it's incredible.
Whilst reaction to the photo was overwhelmingly positive, however, it does raise some questions — well, one, in particular: to what species does the massive skull in the centre, arguably the star of the show, belong?
At first glance, it appears to be that of a Triceratops. Indeed, when I was putting together last night's article, that's exactly what I initially described it as. But then I looked closer, amended my description to 'ceratopsian', and decided to go off and do some digging.
You see, the skull can't be that of a Triceratops; the horns and frill give it away. Triceratops' frill wasn't quite as spiky as the one shown in the photo, and its horns — in adult specimens — curve forwards, jutting out above the eyes, whereas those of the skull in the photo very clearly curve upwards, towards the ceiling.
This gives rise to a few possibilities, so I thought I'd sit down and dig into them.
IT IS INDEED ANOTHER CERATOPSIAN
The first thing I did upon starting said digging was take myself to Google Images, and simply look up ceratopsians. Lo and behold, the very first result gave me exactly what I was looking for.
An examination of the above chart reveals two possible candidates for Jurassic World 2’s unidentifiedosaurus: #25, Agujaceratops mariscalensis, and #37, Judiceratops tigris — both identified for their upwards-curving upper horns and relatively stumpy lower one.
The massive size of the horns shown in Jurassic World 2’s photo, however, allows us, I think, to focus on just one of these beasts: Agujaceratops. Comparing the above image with the on-set skull, it certainly seems to be the most likely candidate.
Intrigued by this, I took to Google Images once again, this time narrowing my search to — you guessed it! — Agujaceratops. This is where the identification became a little shaky. In the various restorations my search provided me with, both the upper horns — the length of which varies from image to image — and the lower are A-OK; the frill, however, isn't — presented, more often than not, as being very different to the one seen in Jurassic World 2.
Further research revealed that Agujaceratops — orginally considered a Chasmosaurus, before being established as a separate genus in 2006 — is known from nothing more than a single partial skull. Single. Partial.
And so a cartoon anvil fell upon that theory.
Now, there is, of course, every chance that Jurassic World 2’s skull — almost certainly a prop — is a recreation of what the complete skull might look like, but if the film is pulling from the existing fossil record, there's no way it can belong to an Agujacertaops.
Which brings us back to the original question: what is it? This being a Jurassic World film, there are some other possibilities worth considering…
GENETIC MODIFICATION: UPPING THE WOW FACTOR
Technically speaking, Jurassic's dinosaurs — of both Park and World — have always been products of genetic modification. Jurassic World, however, seriously upped the ante with its introduction of the Indominus rex. For good or ill, hybrids are part of Jurassic now, and it's unlikely that they'll be completely absent from Bayona's sequel.
With this in mind, it's possible that the skull belonged to one of Dr. Wu's more exotic creations — whether a hybrid proper, or an attempt to make a Triceratops (or some similar species, of course) look 'cooler' by giving it more visually striking horns.
Possible? Well, anything is, I suppose. The problem with this particular theory, though, is the condition of the skull. It's a fossil; old, cracked, and thoroughly ancient-looking. Surely — unless deliberately aged, of course — the remains of one of Wu's creations would be in much better shape. This also rules out the possibility of it being an InGen-cloned Agujaceratops, I might add.
No, I reckon this particular beast has been dead for quite a bit longer than any of Wu's beasties, which brings me swiftly to…
'YOU JUST WENT AND MADE A NEW DINOSAUR?'
… what I consider to be least likely of my possible explanations: the skull belongs to a previously unknown species.
In the version of Jurassic World that existed before Colin Trevorrow came along and reworked the script — written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver — the Indominus rex was A) known as a Malusaurus, and B) not a hybrid. Instead, it was a previously undiscovered species, the remains of which had been found in China before being used to recreate the animal at Jurassic World.
It would seem, then, perfectly possible that the skull in the photo might belong to an entirely new species, unknown to us unfortunate folk doomed to exist in the real world rather than the Jurassic one.
I won't totally discount this one, but, as I mentioned above, I find it to be very, very unlikely.
One of the foremost reasons why Trevorrow opted to rewrite Jaffa and Silver's script was that he felt he couldn't direct a Jurassic film that deliberately fictionalised the fossil record. Unless he's had a significant change of heart, I don't reckon this will have changed now that he's left the director's chair.
If the skull does prove to belong to a new animal, then I'll hold my hands up and admit I was wrong. For now, though, I'll go on record as saying that I don't think that'll be the case.
STEGOSAURUS 2.0: IT'S A MISTAKE
And so we come to the last of my possibilities, and by the far the most concerning: that the skull does indeed belong to a Triceratops, but its designers simply got the anatomy wrong.
This might seem a bonkers notion — I'd consider it utterly ridiculous, too, if it weren't for the fact that there's precedent for Jurassic's designers simply having 'gotten it wrong.'
Jurassic World’s Stegosaurus is a sad, pathetically inaccurate creature, its design reminiscent of archaic, outdated depictions of the animal rather than its more scientifically accurate — if a tad big — counterparts seen in 1997's (!) The Lost World.
Ironically, though, the goofy depiction is a result of the artists having based their work on early concept art for The Lost World, rather than the version that actually made it into the film. When they realised their mistake, it was too late to fix it.
This is straight from artists mouths who worked on it- they were surprised by the backlash, but it was too late to change when they realized https://t.co/VgKBjK4WTb
— Chris Pugh (@ChrisLikesDinos) 14 January 2017
The fact that they've admitted this was a mistake gives me hope that care will be taken to avoid a repeat situation in Jurassic World 2, but, unfortunately, the fact that it happened at all leaves the door open for it to do so again.
I have my fingers firmly crossed that it won't, though. There are a lot of things I hope to see from Jurassic, but high amongst them is a return to showcasing the most scientifically accurate depictions of dinosaurs it can.
Needless to say, an inaccurate Triceratops in the very first official image wouldn't be too encouraging…
CLOSING THOUGHTS: MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
Just under two months ago, Jurassic fans — myself included — went perfectly nuts over a picture of some hardhats, analysing the crap out of them when, really, they told us very little about the upcoming film.
As I sit here typing these words, having spent a fair amount of time on those above, I can't help but smile at the thought of sitting in a darkened cinema in 2018, and discovering that the skull in the centre of that picture is utterly inconsequential, window dressing. Epic window dressing, but window dressing all the same.
I don't think it is, though. Massive, imposing, that skull immediately draws the eye, eclipsing — even if only for a second — everything else in the room. We're supposed to look at it, and I'd put money on there being a reason why.
Whether it ends up having two seconds of screen-time, or two minutes, though, I regret nothing. I've said it before, and undoubtedly will again: teases and speculation are the best part of the process. Last night reminded me why.
Here's to the next one!
2011. Yes, you read that right: 2011. That’s the last time there was a Jurassic game of any real significance. Whilst an enjoyable treat, LEGO Jurassic World wasn’t at all what the majority of fans have been waiting for, and with the commercial success of Jurassic World, it should have been but an appetiser for bigger, better things to come. Well… fire the waiter, and send some raptors into the kitchen to see what’s up, because we’re still waiting for the main course.
Jurassic is a franchise that lends itself to any number of genres, and there's certainly no shortage of ideas for possible games. It really is about time one came along. Yes, there are rights involved, deals to be made and permissions to be gotten, but, let's be honest: it's going to happen.
Life will find a way, and someone will make one. Why not you?