Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Interview with Jurassic Park Legacy's Terry Alan Davis, Jr.

Ever since visiting the Dinosaur Journey museum in Fruita, CO when he was three, Terry Alan Davis, Jr. has had dinosaurs on the brain. That love has come to manifest itself in running Jurassic Park Legacy, a huge Jurassic Park website that's full of everything you'd need to know about the franchise in all of its forms. To that end, he also created the Jurassic Park Encyclopedia. In this interview, we delve into the world of Jurassic Park fandom and discuss where it's been and where Terry hopes it will go.

Terry at the Burpee, IL Paleofest this year
When did you first become aware of Jurassic Park? For me, I remember reading a preview in Entertainment Weekly, then I read the book in anticipation of the movie.

It was about 1989/1990, my mother was taking me to get a new dinosaur book and we saw a little ad for a new release for the Jurassic Park book. I so wanted it, but being five years old I was dino-crazy and she insisted it was a book for big kids and that eventually I could read it when I was older. Then when I was about seven I ran into the ad at a theater and subsequent teaser for Jurassic Park the motion picture. Immediately I was thrilled and wanted to see it. I was nine when it came out and my first toys were Robert Muldoon and Young Tyrannosaurus rex. My T. rex kicked my Batman and Aliens toys' butt as any dinosaur toy should have at that point.

How did JP Legacy get its start? How has the community grown? Has it taken any extra effort from you to make it grow?

I used to be a Moderator on a Jurassic Park site called inGenNET back from early 2000, then switched to Jurassic Park Database from 2001/2002 to 2003 and '03 was when I started JPL with the Encyclopedia as our flagship feature. The Encyclopedia actually has changed a lot of hands from over the years before finally settling on JPL. I joined up and had a good idea for the Encyclopedia project at inGenNET essentially; I got the project practically handed to me. I began this when I was 15 and the mission was a clear "what's on Isla Nublar? What are all the fifteen species present?" and it became something more after I realized what I was attempting to do. The Encyclopedia project essentially has grown from that simple question to being something more of "What are the canon definitions for the JP universe?" and so forth. At the moment we're focused on identifying and educating the public on the key differences between the film animal and the real life animal essentially as the original mission I feel has been satisfied essentially.

The community has grown considerably since the state of despair it was originally in, amazingly. A lot of the fandom was crushed in regards to Jurassic Park 3 and what it did to the franchise and it did turn fan against fan for the longest time. So I set JPL out to be that beacon of hope to unite the fans and restore that kind of peace the community had before JP3. I believe JPL still remains the beacon of hope today for people to come and discuss Jurassic Park and all things prehistoric in a nice friendly environment. Another sort of hampering presence in the community is the lack of Jurassic Park 4. Some fans have given up hope of JP4, but where that's happened JPL has inspired a lot of efforts of fan-created ventures to catch the eye of Universal and let them know we would like a fourth film or a tv series at this point. I personally would love a JP TV series. I have an idea I'd love to put to use.

It's taken a lot of effort on my staff and me to make it grow. Like I said with the negative state of the fandom and the franchise not expanding and being a relatively under utilized license a lot of fans have just fallen out of it or developed a harsh opinion towards the powers that be or with each other for those reasons. I think the biggest challenge though, but it was also JPL's success in a lot of ways was to overcome the hostile viewpoints of the fans and remember the good and get people to remember the good of it. We try to encourage a friendly environment because a lot of people still come on here to escape from life's hostilities though and talk about what they love.

The Jurassic Park Enyclopedia, one of Terry's creations

Concerning dinosaur projects on television, do you think that Terra Nova will be a good way to gauge the viability of a JP series?

I think Terra Nova stands a good chance to attempt to bring back at least the dinosaur vibe to the public eye and maybe that might be enough to bring back Jurassic Park. The only problem is that it's on FOX and shows on FOX usually don't last long sadly. Sci-fi shows on Fox have just not done well save for The X-Files and Fringe. I hope this one does well though, and I think it will from what I've seen of the previews it does look promising. I can't say for certain what kind of effect it would have on Jurassic Park and the franchise's movement (or lack there of) at this point. Terra Nova though is certainly a viable property at this point to gauge that definitely.

The truth is, I wish Terra Nova was a Jurassic Park television series because of the story-telling possibilities with it and the fact that JP needs to go a different direction. If the franchise is to continue, that's where it needs to go to keep active interest, break new ground like the first movie did, and reach a new audience of fans, a television series with Jurassic Park is probably best. Speaking of which, I have a wonderful idea for a JP TV series also if someone from Universal is reading your site. They should call me!

The world is really lacking dinosaur entertainment though. It feels like the dino-craze has come and gone, but here's hoping it gets resurrected. Terra Nova is hopefully going to bring the dino-craze back. Kids have Dinosaur Train, Dino Dan, and a couple small things in there, but it's not enough as it's all geared towards preschoolers and young kids. I grew up when Dino-Riders, Dinosaucers, things like Dink (which ripped off The Land Before Time in a big way) and a couple other cartoons were the big thing. I also recall that it felt like there was a documentary on A&E, Discovery, or PBS practically every day concerning dinosaurs. Terra Nova is a good idea to try to push for in terms of "dino-tainment" and in some capacity who knows the fan following it might spawn might bring people over to another Spielberg-dinosaur franchise to back that into returning, but I'm cautiously optimistic about it. I heard there's going to be "fictional" dinosaurs in it and that might be interesting - all I can say is I hope they follow scientific plausibility with that. Time will tell on that one, though. Personally most of the JP community wants to see Reign of the Dinosaurs more so because of the realistic nature of it.

Where do you fall on the JP3 spectrum? Love it, hate it, tolerate it?

Truthfully, my view is mixed on it and it varies from month-to-month. I consider it an experiment in another's hands that could have been done better, but did alright as a summer film in total. I guess my biggest issue aside from the hyper-intelligent JP Velociraptors and the barbarian Spinosaurus is story-telling wise it has little to offer when compared to the original and the subsequent sequel. A lot of people complained about The Lost World: Jurassic Park because it differed from the source material, but in a way The Lost World was good in the aspect because it did provide an interesting and layered storyline. The biggest problem with JP films is you know who is going to end up a meat snack and who isn't basically and that's a problem in all three. There should be an element of surprise here and there. What would have been better for the third film is the original idea involving Grant being a really darker character and some experiences on the mainland in a Costa Rican village involving, you guessed it, dinosaurs. This idea? Great! It showed Dr. Grant going into a down hill spiral and coming back up, the repercussions these "real" dinosaurs were having on the world with people going to Costa Rica to try to see them and other little things. One problem though is I think the influence of one of the producers was to do another "rescue mission" and this idea they had was abandoned for something that just didn't work and seemed like it took a basic plot you saw in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, a re-hash - but not as sophisticated as the second film in regards to plot. It slapped the fans in the face when Jurassic Park was meant to be a "grown-up and intelligent" franchise.

As a result with this new idea the script suffered through a majority of problems from suspending belief on down to just circumventing pre-established film canon without explanation for the changes on-screen save for props scattered throughout the previous two films, with some similarities to paleontology of having a keen eye you have to move through the frames of the film and knowledge of the science from the novel. If you don't have a good eye and read the novels to understand the science, you miss the explanation for things like the JP Velociraptor (Deinonychus) and Pteranodon changes present in the third film. Does the general audience care? No. That's also probably why they didn't make the time to tell much of a story in JP3. A lot of fans just loathe it because of how things were frankly as well as the over-exaggeration of the Raptor intelligence to the whole thing with Eric Kirby (Trevor Morgan's character) being stranded on Isla Sorna for eight weeks and how unlikely that would be for his own survival.

Now I give due credit where it should be given in this next part. I'm glad there's a third film from the fan viewpoint, but again we got cheated on plot. I do feel that Joe Johnston did a lot of saving though with Sam Neill's reprisal of Dr. Grant. It makes the film bearable to watch and had a good idea for Spinosaurus to be included as the new "antagonist" if even some of the behaviors were overdone and the introduction was poorly executed as it made the rest of the film rather anti-climatic. In retrospect, JP3 set out to do what it did. It was a popular summer flick to catch the audience in the mid-summer and offer them dinosaurs it also did better than Planet of the Apes did that summer. To me and the other fans it'll never compare completely to the other two films as anything spectacular. There are others though that praise it and love it completely and totally. More power to them is all I can say there.

Is it safe to assume that you were horrified by the supposed JP4 script treatment that went around a few years ago? The one with the enhanced raptor super soldiers? I don't know how close that ever came to reality, but it seems that the franchise has dodged a bullet.

I really was considering writing an angry letter to all those involved with it and saying how the fandom would boycott it. We want a fourth film, yes, but it has to have quality in it and not just be a SyFy original movie basically. So in other words I was very thoroughly utterly horrified that the franchise was considered for such a terrible and gross abomination. We saw the concept art and while the artist is good at what he does we think the concept was too mad scientist-ish and really does not do the original idea of Jurassic Park justice in the slightest. One fan on the JPLegacy Boards, Dinoslayer, called them "Homocraptor saylensis" in jest, but the name has stuck to them by all rights. The etymology is a funny story when you think about it: "Human Plunderer (Crap) from Sayles" was essentially a way to slap John Sayles for the idea. JPIV was heading in the B-movie direction at this point and I'm glad the concept died and hasn't resurrected itself since. Thankfully it's gone back to the pit from where it came, but the idea should be literally lit on fire and shot into outer space at this point for the unbelievably cheesy terrible lameness it offered.

In your opinion, what have been the best "spin-offs" of the franchise?

Aside from The Lost World: Jurassic Park I've loved a lot of stuff, but I'd love to see something that's told within the Film canon and uses it instead of going about it for all intents and purposes it's "own way". Telltale Games's approaching "Jurassic Park: The Game" seems to be looking better and better for that. Some of the worthy games I enjoyed, despite the canonicity issues, are like Trespasser and Operation Genesis. I even enjoyed "Jurassic Park" for Sega CD and "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" for Playstation. Comics wise? JP hasn't really had the best reputation in. Redemption flopped and the Topps Comics that were out were just plain wacky with Hyper Intelligent Raptors and Great Apes in the Amazon. I haven't done much reading into Devils in the Desert by IDW, but some are hailing it as a good comic that expands the film story line possibly. We're pending data evaluations on that for sure to analyze and see if it fits the canon at all. There hasn't been much in the term of books for Jurassic Park aside from the original two novels and the pre-teen adventures starring Eric Kirby (shudder). The problem with Jurassic Park is despite the popularity it's heavily under-utilized by people and kind of just forgotten about, but loved by all at once. Only lately has it started to come back. The problem is a few of the fans, knowing this, gave up on the market and we at JPL have been trying to lure them back - but that's hard when there so few properties out there. I'd love to see Jurassic Park get the "Star Wars treatment" essentially and it would be popular if people would hype it. The market is there, it just needs to be approached properly.

Do you think one problem is that Jurassic Park lacks its own Roddenberry or Lucas? Crichton seems to have not cared about being caretaker of a franchise, and Spielberg has far too many interests to be the "Jurassic Park Guy."

YES! I mean err... yes. It is exactly the problem and that is why I am sort of the de facto one for it at the moment. I've come in to take over that role with my enthusiasm and knowledge of the franchise and story and what Crichton I felt intended. Many-a-time I have said Jurassic Park as a whole gets treated as the step child franchise where it seems like nobody really cares about it and yet everybody knows about it at the same time. JP in the '90s had the potential to be as big as Star Wars and more or less was the "Star Wars of the '90s" but something happened. I have heard stories about Spielberg just being over-saturated with the merchandising and throwing things out, but again these are rumors to me. Rumors can be wrong of course.

The problem is the idea for that has been abandoned. Did you know at one point it was considered for an animated series? I think William Stout was attached to it briefly and did some sketches, I recall seeing some work with a plesiosaur somewhere and it being in Prehistoric Times at some point. The whole concept and franchise itself has been abandoned much like the idea of the dinosaur park is in the film and it's just a darn shame. Sure we have IDW producing the Jurassic Park comic series now, TellTale and their awesome efforts to revitalize the franchise, the 2009 toy line that the only plus point was the huge T. rex of it. The point is it'd be nice if a collector series of JP figures would be released and the films did make it back to a more public consciousness again either re-playing for the 20th anniversary coming up or what have you. The fandom is there, waiting - Universal just needs to see that. As I said I'd love to work on a JP TV show if given the opportunity even though I don't have the experience, but I love to write and spin ideas with people for that concept. I'd personally love to see a novel related to the films written or a book series even at this point. JP also serves a dual-purpose and it could even educate the public about paleontology and all things prehistoric as a whole or serve as a launch point for some to elevate the interest in the field.

It must be a great feeling to be taken seriously by Telltale. Understanding that you can't give away too much, what about the new game do you feel is particularly faithful to the core of the franchise? Do you think it could revitalize the franchise?

The extent of our involvement is really small, but mostly we've been doing contests and I got invited out to San Francisco for the Jurassic Magnitude event. I got to play a demo of the game and quite enjoyed it. I found out that they've mostly been checking the encyclopedia and the research on the site I started oh so long ago. That's actually really cool in my book that the fans matter so much to them. I hope it helps them make an awesome game in the end. Right now I saw recently they're delayed until the fall and while that's too bad and I'm saddened by that, but I see it as a good thing. I see it as that they are taking their time and they have mine as well as JPL's support there.

Years ago, "Trespasser" was supposed to be released as the digital sequel to "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" and due to the complexity of the engine, the mechanics of the game, and the overall movie/novel hybridization the game itself flopped. You can see the game as an addition to the films, but when you look at the details is when the game gets problematic in terms of the canon. I love "Trespasser" despite the problems, and for a while it was considered one of the best Jurassic Park games out there. "Operation Genesis" is also a fan favorite in the mix too. I do find myself wishing that extra care had been taken into making "Trespasser" fit in the film canon, but it disrupts the film canon as it tries to alter the continuity with the contradictory nature of the island map and some of what Hammond says in it, making it more like it borrowed stuff from the novel without making it work first.

Telltale's JP game is promising to not "overwrite" the canon as all these previous titles have, but more or less supplement the canon with the game itself. I think this is going to be a hit personally either way, but I do like the precision they're taking at this point. In the end we're going to know for sure how loyal it is, but from the demo I played in San Francisco back in February it does look like they took a lot of attention to canonical elements such as the uniforms the park staff wear to the jeeps (some issues there, but it's barely noticeable), and on down to the coloration of the dinosaurs. I was only upset about one thing and that was the T. rex roar, which at the time was borrowed from the Dino-Crisis/Carnivores games. Thankfully they've changed this from what I heard/saw recently in the new version of the trailer.

Telltale's aim though, as it was expressed to me, was to revitalize the franchise with this title. JPL has been doing what we can to help them with that and Telltale has been helpful in allowing us. Mostly they've been cooperative with our contests with offering a free game code for folks to receive a copy. Even after the delay was announced we were pleased to hear the codes will stay good for "Jurassic Park" and this is great. We thank them for helping us fans and we hope to find ways to promote the game for them if even it proves itself not to be film canon from when we do our analysis of it. We have a research ethic after all that we do take seriously and who knows maybe they can help retcon it if we notice any problems, which would be nice for once to have some sort of explanation out there officially for things instead of "digging through evidence" without clear connections.

Terry's take on Dryptosaurus
How did your partnership with Project Dryptosaurus come about? What are your goals?

I met Gary through an e-mail one day about a link exchange for JPL. He and I began talking about my desire to help out more with the actual science even though my qualifications are an associate's degree in computer programming. The fact is I want to put my skills to use working in the field and to further paleontology as a whole. Project: Dryptosaurus I feel as an excellent opportunity for this as I help manage the social media aspects of the site and promote Dryptosaurus. I've desired to be a paleontologist since I was three or four. That was after of course I found out I couldn't be a dinosaur. As time goes on and financial situations change you begin to step away and face the reality of life. I had that and I didn't ask the questions I probably should have asked when I was in high school, due to people giving me strange looks about being a paleontologist. I encountered that a lot and it's a shame.

The idea with helping with Project Dryptosaurus is I like to educate the public as well about dinosaurs and Gary's mission is similar to what I want to do with Megalosaurus eventually. Dryptosaurus is possibly one of the most important fossils in American history though, and it's a piece of American culture that should be more recognized in my opinion. I do make it a point more than ever before to go beyond and learn about the actual animals because they're more stunning than anything we see produced for dramatic license whether it is film, video game, or even novel. To help me I've been independently reading The Dinosauria Second Edition on my own as well as numerous other paleontology books. Some of them have been a difficult (and often long) reads for someone who's highest biology level was in high school. Thankfully I remember enough of biology and that being my major then that I understand a lot of what's being thrown at me in that book. Skeletal terminology I've had to go out and search for diagrams of how things relate in order to help as I'm a visual person that responds better to having essentially a diagram in front of me.

In my spare time, I actually draw paleoart and I'm honing my skills here and there to be better. A put one piece I really liked on the Dryptosaurus Fan Art album to show off. A good resource to help me is SkeletalDrawing and Greg Paul's work inspired me a bit despite the issues there as of late. I do the art for me and friends and I don't take commission. I can easily learn the anatomy without paying oodles to go out and study the fossils myself which on a shoe-string budget is practically impossible for me presently. I learn and make my own style though. For instance I have this habit to feather mane my male Tyrannosaurs. Why I do this I just don't know.

Terry's Chasmosaurus

I seem to have gotten off tangent a bit here, so I'll conclude. I think learning the history of this planet is important in order to understand where we're heading down the line from here. I hope to help contribute in the future of the field in any way I can and I eventually plan to go back to school to work into the long-term idea of getting my masters and eventually even getting my doctorate to do the work that I so enjoy as a hobby at this moment. I am always looking though for volunteer opportunities in the interim until I can do that though. It's just a shame that I haven't got the museum up in Cleveland to get back in contact with me about it as I understand they're busy and I try not to pester people. I admit, with them not getting back in contact with me I have found other ways to help, but I would welcome the opportunity to work even in the prep lab in Cleveland or giving tours in that wing of the museum. Something more so I don't just seem like a guy who likes dinosaurs and Jurassic Park only.

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Thanks for sitting in the virtual interview chair, Terry! Head over to JP Legacy to check out the wealth of information they've gathered there, stay up to date with the Jurassic Innards blog, and take part in the forum. All images provided by Terry, and are his property.

5 comments:

  1. Hey! I'm currently in the process of interviewing Terry right now! Actually, this is fine, since my interview is on a specific aspect of JPL, and could possibly be seen as a suplement to this one, so no worries.

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  2. Which reminds me, I need to respond to you. lol

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  3. Awesome post. I saw the "Jurassic Rock" in Hawaii that was used in the scene where the helicopter approaches Isla Nublar and you can see the distinct coastline. Very cool.

    Great interview and fascinating subject.

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  4. I'd love to see Trespasser remade with today's gaming engines (competantly) and retcon it to fit into the canon. The Telltale game looks great and I hope it revitalizes the franchise.

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  5. I had completely forgotten about Trespasser, but this interview brought it all back: struggling to make Minnie Driver's arms work right. Which is probably what it's like directing her... *rimshot*

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