You will always have a soft spot for the films you loved when you were twelve. For me, 1993 was the golden era of film-making. The Fugitive, released that year, remains my favorite Harrison Ford movie—even besting my beloved Star Wars and Indiana Jones series. Similarly, I could watch Groundhog Day a thousand times and still laugh out loud.
But one 1993 film had a bigger impact on me than any other: Jurassic Park. Unlike most movies, I can remember seeing it in the theater with my older brother. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; how had they created such believable monsters? Afterwards, I bought (and nearly out-wore) the all-symphonic soundtrack on cassette tape. The newly-released sequel, Jurassic World, even intrigues me, though the reviews say it’s middling at best. I still day-dream about the “science” cited in Park—whether geneticists might clone dinosaurs within my lifetime.
Spoiler alert: they won’t. Not in my lifetime—not ever. DNA degrades too quickly to survive sixty-plus million years. And even if we could somehow sequence a species’ DNA, we have no way to bring that animal to term. A real-life Jurassic Park will never happen.
So… what about “un-real” life? The film may provide the blueprint for a convincing dinosaur experience—in virtual reality. As technology advances, VR’s limitations become more apparent. Moving our material bodies around a digital landscape is awkward. There’s no convincing, seamless way to interact physically with these virtual environments, no “Holodeck” tech that could convince us that a freely-explorable Mesozoic landscape is real.
But Jurassic Park’s marquee theme ride—the automated Jeep safari—provides the perfect constraints for a fully-engaging dinosaur experience in VR.
Of course, it wouldn’t be so much a game as a themed experience. Imagine climbing into the familiar jungle-painted SUV, then donning a set of VR goggles. Then you’d experience an on-the-rails ride through of Jurassic Park itself. You’d be locked inside the car—not for your safety, but to preserve the illusion. Within the constraints of the Jeep, you’d be free to customize your experience. You choose which window to gaze through. You could crane your head to gape up at a brachiosaur through the sunroof. You could peer through the rain to catch a glimpse of a feasting T-Rex. You could track a pterodactyl’s soaring flight across the sky through the windshield.
It’s a far cry from actual, living, roaring dinos. But it’s also the closest we’ll ever get to seeing them with our own eyes. If Steven Spielberg could create convincing dinosaurs on-screen twenty-two years ago, surely today’s visual effects wizards could do the same in VR.
One last bonus? Virtual dinosaurs always show up and perform on cue.
Is Mesozoic still a thing? ↩