Was "Jack the Ripper" Really a Tyrannosaurus? | Science | Smithsonian
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Was "Jack the Ripper" Really a Tyrannosaurus?

It's pretty common that when a blockbuster film premieres, there's a cheesy direct-to-video version right on its heels, so it is not altogether surprising that the B-movie production company the Asylum recently released their own version of Sherlock Holmes. What is surprising, however, is that the ...

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The poster for the Asylum version of Sherlock Holmes.


It's pretty common that when a blockbuster film premieres, there's a cheesy direct-to-video version right on its heels, so it is not altogether surprising that the B-movie production company the Asylum recently released their own version of Sherlock Holmes. What is surprising, however, is that the Asylum adaptation features a pint-size Tyrannosaurus (among other beasties), and offers up a strange explanation for one of the most famous unsolved murder cases of all time.

Set in 1882, the film centers around the efforts of Holmes and Dr. Watson to stop Spring-Heeled Jack, a mechanical genius who has created a slew of mechanical monsters. Among the assortment of threatening creatures is a relatively small Tyrannosaurus (or, at least, one small enough to sneak through the London streets) which violently interrupts a business transaction between a prostitute and a client in the infamous Whitechapel district of London which "Jack the Ripper" prowled. While the actual case was much more convoluted, so much so that the killer has never been conclusively identified, in the film it is clear that at least one of the notorious Whitechapel murders was carried about by a robotic Tyrannosaurus.

Naturally there are all sorts of problems with this scenario, but, from a paleontological perspective, some of the biggest surround the way the Tyrannosaurus was presented. I could suspend my disbelief for a steampunk dinosaur, but in this film we see a modern version of a living Tyrannosaurus. Never mind that the dinosaur was not described until the beginning of the 20th century and that it was portrayed as a tail-dragging animal until the "Dinosaur Renaissance" of the 1970s; it seems that a spare dinosaur from another Asylum film, a loose adaptation of the Land That Time Forgot, was plopped into the Sherlock Holmes film. Personally, I would have found it much more interesting to have cast a Megalosaurus as anatomists would have pictured it at the end of the 19th century, but given the outrageous plot and low production values of this version of Sherlock Holmes I am not that surprised that getting the history of science right was not the first concern.
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About Brian Switek
Brian Switek

Brian Switek is a freelance science writer specializing in evolution, paleontology, and natural history. He writes regularly for National Geographic's Phenomena blog as Laelaps.

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