Posted by: joevanderfluit | June 13, 2015

Hold On To Your Butts: Let’s Talk Jurassic Park

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It’s a good feeling, sitting here thrumming with excitement on the release of the newest installment of the Jurassic Park franchise. Jurassic Park is something that is, for me, truly, extraordinarily special. I mean, objectively, as a movie it is pretty excellent. But for me – and I would expect so for many others – subjectively, is that it came out at the perfect time to receive the largest possible buff from pure nostalgia that this universe can possibly contain. It was released in the weeks before I turned five years old; a time when the entire length and breadth of my existence revolved around dinosaurs. Now, it must be understood that 1993 was by no means a dark age. But, a disturbingly large portion of dinosauria that existed for kids to consume was outdated. You know the image. Big dopey looking lizard things dragging fat limp tails through swamps. Toys, books, crappy stop-motion videos, education material in schools; there was a lot of around. But Jurassic Park accelerated decades of dogged scientific persistence and but a stop to that nonsense with a giant shotgun blast to the back of the head. Those wizards at ILM and Stan Winston Studios built things which blew my mind – and still do. They didn’t make movie monsters. They made animals. Dynamic things that appeared to live and breathe and ripple with muscle as they moved. Moved, with agility and life. That was something that was totally new. There are two cinematic moments from my early childhood that are indelibly burned into my mind: an F-14 hauling ass off a carrier deck in the intro to Top Gun; and that Tyrannosaurus Rex chasing road flares. I can close my eyes any time, any day and still see that beautiful creature. That was something I’d known from books and plastic toys and glow-in-the-dark skeletons made flesh and blood. That big, heavy gait; heavy breathing; the shifting bulk. Even as a kid, it was so…intuitive that that was what a dinosaur was. A gorgeous seven-tonne kinetic freight train. article-0-2049659A00000578-579_634x422

Any reviewer can talk until they are blue in the face and I won’t give half a damn about character development (or lack thereof) or other nonsense in that movie. They made dinosaurs real and they made their origins sorta-kinda believable, with a timeless soundtrack and vehicles that I still lust after. It’s just something that I can watch over and over again, and even with an adult, scientifically literate eye that kid’s wonderment refuses to fade. (I’m watching it as I write this. The strings just swelled and bam, Brachiosaurus and 21 years on I’m smiling ear to ear with damp eyes.)

That being said, I have not kept my hopes terribly high for Jurassic World. Sure, the other two sequels did much that I like and love. The Lost World: Jurassic Park showed dinosaurs in a more or less integrated, barrier-free ecosystem. The Stegosaurus herd moving through that forest riverbed is a stunning image. My favorite, the Tyrannosaurs aren’t just animals but intelligent, doting parents that aren’t above a drug-fuelled San Diego rampage. Even the (deservingly!) maligned Jurassic Park 3 made the raptors social and deeply intelligent rather than bloodthirsty. And they sorta half-assed some feathers on the males; so at least they tried to keep up with science. But then they laid some turds. Like the glaring plot hole of Sherlock Holmes and the Mystery of the SS Venture Crew. I assume raptors made the poor sailors, as the kids would say, REKT. But how did they get there and where did they go? Did they jump and swim? Jetski? Are there a pack of raptors loose in San Diego; where after escaping from a maximum-security stockade they disappeared into the underground and help people with a GMC van? That…that may be the best idea I’ve ever written down. And 3. Ugh. You just don’t pull a Spinosaurus out of InGen’s ass and have it snap a T-Rex’s neck. That, sceenwriters, was slapping my idol in the face. Plus, I cannot be the only one who noticed that the USMC invaded a sovereign country to rescue a half-dozen idiots who knowingly trespassed on an internationally-recognized wildlife preserve.

I also take issue with the lengths Jurassic Park 3 and Jurassic Park: The Game went to make John Hammond the Bad Guy. Obviously when I was little I though Dr. Grant was the undisputed hero of that movie but time and experience has changed things. It has come to the point where, if I could choose a movie character with whom to have a drink and converse, it would be John Hammond. That man is essentially me, were I rich and old. His entire motivation is to share with the world his enthusiasm for dinosaurs. He despises lawyers and inspections; and is not motivated by profit. He gathered be best and brightest to make a dream reality, and got shit done. His “…scientists were so concerned with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should”. But I say why shouldn’t they have? The dinosaurs would be placed into an isolated environment with vast enclosures. Even spliced to hell and back with frog DNA, and thus biologically not much more than theme-park approximations of dinosaurs, it is still more than anyone else had tried to do – which, as far as we know in the movie universe, was nothing. Hammond and InGen did the most remarkable thing imaginable with genetic science; and it was working well enough. Even though “life found the way” and the animals began to breed, they were still contained. Hammond and InGen did nothing wrong. The scary people doing scary work in scary labs with scary white coats didn’t cause the disaster in any way. The greasy sack of dicks that underbid on a job he couldn’t do on budget did all of it. Greed, not science.

There are two gripes I have with the immaculate original Jurassic Park, and the ham-fisted message that BIOENGINEERING=BAD is the bigger one. I feel it helps perpetuate A) the fear of science that is regressing society and B) the false human versus nature dichotomy. If I may elaborate on B: there seems to this belief that humans did not spring from nature; and thus the evolutionary pressures we create are not part of the ever-changing way of nature. Granted, we are tearing through the ecosphere with reckless abandon but it isn’t the first time. It is theorized that many hundreds of millions of years ago aquatic single-celled plant life poisoned the earth with oxygen. Killed damn near everything except for strange mutant archaea that could use the horribly electronegative and corrosive gas in what is basically a very slow combustion process. Long story short, we beathe oxygen. Now, I’m a fan of biodiversity and don’t want us to kill everything as we try to conquer the earth; but I’d like it recognized that we are a process of natural selection; not god’s gift (or curse) to the planet. We have to find a balance between stewardship and our own stagnation, is all.

But item A I mention above gets me frothy and spitting mad. This infectious, idiotic growing distrust of science. I’ll come out and say it: I will always trust someone is a labcoat infinitely more than one in a suit.  I trust the process that puts people in those white coats. I’ve been called smart but I have been chewed up and spit out by the “hard” sciences. Especially biochemistry. It is. Really. Freaking. Difficult. The people that can do it have by undying respect and admiration. If they want to inject me with things it would be for a damn good reason. Like not dying of fucking polio, anivaxxers. They are not Mengele or Unit 731. There is a reason those monsters are infamous. They are an exception, not the rule. Profiteering from it? That is getting paid for doing work that most people cannot do. The way I continue to see things, GMOs are needed for feeing a growing population. We go all organic now, billions will starve. We’ve been monkeying with our food for ten millennia. It is why I cannot take paleo dieters seriously. Wild wheat and barley sucks to eat; so we changed it ten thousand years ago. That’s what we do. It’s why there’s seven billion of us. It’s why we have cute little dogs. I see no difference from a Tyrannosaurs Rex stitched together with frog DNA no different than a shih tzu compared to a wild wolf: we made that, and that is awesome.

My second gripe, as I mentioned? Jurassic Park has altered public perception of dinosaurs for the worse as well as the better. I’ve brought up the better: balanced with stiff tails and whatnot. The worse? Feathers, man. Feathers. The thing the movies call “velociraptor” is very much not. The real one is small; not much taller than a medium/large dog and a bit under 2 meters long. And feathered. They knew this in the early ‘90s but scaried up the raptors into some odd, bald, very large Deinonychus/Utahraptor…thing. There’s the frog DNA crutch, sure. Don’t read me wrong here; I adore the movie raptors. And they had a chance to fix it. Why not just insert some exposition that InGen only used frog DNA to get results fast? That, with the extra time they’ve had, they used avian DNA instead? Poof, feathers, as there should be. The public needs to be shown that this is totally how science works: that it is totally acceptable to realize that things change as new knowledge becomes available. I’d love to see a JP T. Rex as they probably were: kind of downy and fluffy, maybe with some interesting bright plumage.

Now, if you’ll all excuse me, I need to watch a “clever girl” eat a man’s face; then rewind to a big beautiful lady eating the lawyer off a toilet a dozen times, and trawl AutoTrader for a silver Jeep.

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