A koala ‘roar’ in Jurassic Park? Hollywood filmmakers have made some bizarre animal sound selections

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OK, you’re deep in what seems to be a steamy tropical jungle — a voyeur on some sort of intrepid safari, judging by the hats.

Men are speaking what sounds a bit like Spanish, maybe Portuguese, and you can hear exotic animals calling through the bush.

Right, you must be somewhere in South America.

A foreboding mountain peak in the distance would appear to be the destination of your traveling party.

Their manner suggests they’re in a hurry, on some sort of quest, possibly involving an ark.

A kookaburra calls.

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You’re no longer in the jungle. You’re back in your lounge room thinking, “what the hell is a kookaburra doing in South America?”

If you’ve ever had a movie ruined by something completely incongruous, a glaring oversight that once you notice, you can’t unsee (or unhear), you’re not alone.

But it turns out you’re especially at risk of this happening if you have a decent knowledge of animals.

You may have already spotted a few yourself, but here, in no particular order, are some of Hollywood’s most ridiculous — sometimes justifiably so — faunal flights of fancy. Strap in, we’re going to the movies.

(And if you’re a fan of Jurassic Park and you don’t want to have your precious memories of that film sullied … we’re talking audio of a mid-coitus tortoise and an amorous koala just for starters so, you ‘ve been warned.)

Raiders of the lost kookaburra

You might have already guessed, but the description above was for 1981’s Raiders of the Lost Ark — the first in Steven Spielberg’s Indiana Jones series.

In that case, ornithologists couldn’t even make it past the opening credits without an out-of-place kookaburra spoiling the scene.

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As you’ll hear more about soon, this seems to be a regular occurrence for the kookaburra in Hollywood.

But that particular kookaburra was the work of a “sound guy out of Sydney”, sound recordist and editor James Currie told ABC RN podcast What the Duck?!

“Oh yeah, that’s a good one,” says James, a veteran of more than 40 years in the industry with credits on films like Charlie’s Country and The Tracker.

“I was laughing with the sound guy out of Sydney that sent the Americans the kookaburra sound.”

A lot of American films are shot “mute” and atmospheric sound is added later, James says.

“They wanted something different, something that would excite the American audience — something exotic. So [the sound guy] said ‘how about a kookaburra?’ And they said ‘what’s that?'”

“So he sent them the kookaburra and they put it in.”

It wasn’t the first or the last film to include the Australian bird though. The Wizard of Oz, Cape Fear and Tarzan are just a few more examples.

And there’s one more really weird one but you’ll have to read to the end for the big reveal.

Don’t skip ahead. You’ll miss heaps of good stuff.

Jurassic koala

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Whereas the above example is perhaps sloppiness on behalf of the filmmakers, in other cases there’s little choice but for the sound designers to get creative with their audio.

Enter scene, Jurassic Park.

Lawyer Donald Gennaro has taken refuge in a particularly flimsy dunny, as a rampaging T. rex closes in.

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Before plucking him from his outhouse, the dinosaur makes a series of grunting sounds.

“One of the sounds that the T. rex makes is a koala sound,” says Maggie Watson, an ornithologist and conservation biologist at Charles Sturt University.

Specifically, it’s the mating call of a male koala.

“A lot of [the T. rex’s] grunts are alligators and crocodiles.

“But before [the T. rex] roars in that iconic scene where he’s about to go and eat the dude in the toilet, that kind of [grunt, grunt] sound is a koala.”

In fact, Jurassic Park’s sound creators borrowed a whole smorgasbord from nature’s audio library to give their prehistoric actors voice.

The hiss of the velociraptor, for instance, came from a goose. And its bark?

It was actually a male tortoise consuming his relationship, according to Dr Watson.

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But Jurassic Park’s creators deserve a bit of leeway here. It’s not like they had access to actual dinosaur audio.

Which is more than can be said for many Hollywood producers of the past, who have inadvertently created the modern sound designer’s dilemma: the “coconut effect”.

Basically, the coconut effect is a phenomenon where a fake sound — such as the banging together of coconuts for a horse’s galloping hooves — has become so ubiquitous that filmmakers have been forced to continue including the fake device, in place of the real one.

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The absence of, say, the audible splat of a punch landing, or the ringing of an unsheathed sword, can prove jarring to an audience steeped in the language of Hollywood.

Anyway, that’s the last time we’ll let Jurassic Park off the hook because apart from their island off the coast of Costa Rica also featuring a kookaburra, they went and did this:

Wrong mosquito, wrong gender

“In my humble opinion the most famous mosquito in Hollywood blockbusters is the mosquito that’s in Jurassic Park,” says Cameron Webb, a mosquito researcher from the University of Sydney and NSW Health Pathology.

If you’re not familiar with the plot, basically a mosquito is discovered with a gutful of dinosaur blood, and preserved perfectly in amber.

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Scientists extract the blood and use that to harvest dino DNA and — insert science stuff — clone dinosaurs. But…

“It’s really the wrong type of mosquito,” Dr Webb says.

“The mosquito that is featured in the film is in real life a mosquito whose scientific name is Toxorhynchites. In Australia we have a very similar species.”

Toxorhynchites is a genus of usually large mosquitoes, which may explain why it was used in the film — for dramatic effect.

“One of the things about this mosquito is it is kind of a friendly mosquito — it doesn’t bite,” Dr Webb says.

“So that type of mosquito is not one that you’d be extracting blood from.”

But even if they’d got the species right, there’s still the issue of gender.

“To make matters worse, the mosquito looks like it’s a male,” Dr Webb says.

“Only the female mosquitoes bite. The males live on plant juice and sugars; it’s the female that needs the blood to develop her eggs.”

Golf broadcasts have bird tracks?

For some reason when Hollywood gets their fauna wrong, it often involves birds, which can make movie-going a minefield for people like John Fitzpatrick, professor emeritus at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

His audio nemesis is the oft-misplaced shrill cry of the red-tailed hawk.

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It’s become a trope to signify wilderness or isolation, and the call is often used alongside vision of the bald eagle (because the bald eagle call is underwhelming).

“Producers that aren’t paying attention have their standard sources of sounds,” Professor Fitzpatrick says.

And it’s not just movie producers. Televised golf often appears with a dubbed nature track, he says.

“I actually have a life list of golf birds … it’s 131 species of birds I’ve identified on golf live broadcasts.

“When they get it wrong … they get inundated with people saying, ‘what are you doing? You’re playing the wrong birds!'”

The big reveal

If the red-tailed hawk is Professor Fitzpatrick’s bugbear, for Dr Watson it’s a pelican in the kids’ film Finding Nemo.

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“They went to ichthyologists, they went to aquariums, and they figured out exactly what fish should be on the Great Barrier Reef,” Dr Watson says.

“They got all of that perfectly right. And they didn’t bother with the bird?”

The bird she’s referring to is Nigel, a pelican with an Australian brogue and a penchant for dentistry.

“It’s a pelican, and such [the animators] looked out of their window and they saw brown pelicans in southern California and they’re like, ‘oh yeah, whatever, pelican, it’s the same,'” Dr Watson says.

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“No it’s not! They’re very different looking. You don’t have brown pelicans, you have Australian pelicans, in Australia.”

The other thing we don’t have in Australia is dolphins that talk like kookaburras.

That’s right. That’s the big reveal. That squeaking noise that Flipper the dolphin makes? Dolphins don’t make that sound.

Though difficult to verify, all the evidence points to it being the modified call of a kookaburra.

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