June 30, 2011
Predatory dinosaurs keep getting stranger. Like many budding dinosaur fans, I was introduced first to the classic carnivores Ceratosaurus, Allosaurus and Tyrannosaurus, but since my early encounters with meat-eating dinosaurs in the mid-1980s a startling variety of bizarre predators have been discovered and popularized. The crocodile-snouted and sometimes sail-backed spinosaurs, snaggle-toothed predators like Masiakasaurus and Balaur, a dromaeosaur with double sickle-claws on each foot—among many others—have vastly expanded our understanding of the diversity and disparity among predatory dinosaurs. That’s why I’m pretty disappointed by a preview of an imaginary predatory dinosaur called the “Slasher” from the forthcoming sci-fi show Terra Nova.
Compared with actual predatory dinosaurs, the Slasher looks, well, pretty lame. I can almost imagine the design meeting that churned out the dinosaur: “OK, we all know Velociraptor is awesome, right? So just stick a crest on it and it will be even cooler!” But it isn’t. The Slasher looks like a generalized dromaeosaur with a Citipati-type crest glued onto its head and a few wispy feathers. For a menacing, imaginary dinosaur that will no doubt harry the time-traveling inhabitants of the upcoming show, I was expecting something a little more exceptional.
I’m also sad to see that the creators of the Slasher made two mistakes for which there is no excuse anymore. First, the Slasher holds its hands palms-down—a position predatory dinosaurs were not actually capable of. Yeah, everytime someone does a dinosaur impression they hold their hands out palms-down (“I’m a T. rex, RAWR!”), but the wrists of “raptors” and other predatory dinosaurs did not have the same range of motion as ours. When extended, their hands would have faced each other, as if holding a basketball, and all you have to do to see how a dinosaur wrist would have worked is look at the wrist of a bird. (And is it just me, or does the Slasher in the promotional image appear to have two right hands?)
The second problem is even more aggravating. It is now 2011. Paleontologists have been finding many, many feather-covered dinosaurs for 15 years now, and there is even solid evidence that the famous Velociraptor had feathers. Feathers were a widespread and common trait among the coelurosaurs—the large dinosaur group to which the sickle-clawed dromaeosaurs belonged—and any raptor restoration should sport a comfy coat of feathers. Granted, the creators of the Slasher gave the dinosaur an embarrassing pate of wispy fuzz which makes the dinosaur look as if it needs to subscribe to the “Feather Club For Dinosaurs,” but it’s not nearly enough. The Slasher is a naked dinosaur, and I can’t help but feel sorry for it.
According to Hollywood scuttlebutt, Terra Nova was pushed back to a fall release date so that the show’s creators would have more time to work on visual effects. If the Slasher is any indication, though, the new dinosaurs the show is playing up are not going to be nearly as impressive as I had hoped. (As Stephen Colbert might ask, is the Slasher a lame imaginary dinosaur, or the lamest imaginary dinosaur?) Flip through paleontologist Thomas Holtz’s recent encyclopedia Dinosaurs and you will meet a dazzling array of weird and wonderful dinosaurs. By comparison, the Slasher is a turkey—give me Suchomimus, Acrocanthosaurus, Cryolophosaurus and Austroraptor any day.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.