Life Found a Way

When I was six years old, I watched dinosaurs kill and eat several people. My father tried to force me to close my eyes when the Tyrannosaurus rex picked up the lawyer in his jaws and shook him around like a chew toy, but I peeked between my fingers. This was a happy moment for me because I was watching real life dinosaurs doing real life things. In 1993, mind you. It is 2013 now, 20 years after that film was made. I still question whether that was in fact CGI, or if Steven Spielberg secretly cloned dinosaurs and trained them for the film. You can probably imagine how terrified and thrilled I was when April 5th rolled around. A chance to see Jurassic Park in 3D? I had never had the jaws of a Tyrannosaurus rex in my face this way before, and let me tell you, it is quite the experience.

Jurassic Park is not just a film. It is an iconic example of movie magic that will likely never be duplicated again. Most of the dinosaurs when shown at semi-distance, or in action scenes, are CGI. Certain close-ups ultilize animatronics. Maybe, just maybe Spielberg has an advantage here because 20 years ago we didn’t know what dinosaur skin looked like, or even what color it was. But I have seen plenty of stretched skin, muscle tone and movement, dewdrops on scales, retracted pupils and moisture around eyelids to know that when that Tyrannosaurus rex is peering at the children in the car, she is alive, and very hungry. I have yet to see another film, even one as beautiful as Life of Pi, capture this magical feeling.

John Hammond is elusive in his explanations of what his park entails. We, the audience, certainly know dinosaurs are coming. But Dr. Grant stands straight up in the guest jeep, rips off his sunglasses, drops his jaw, and widens his eyes. Dr. Sattler, sitting near him, won’t stop talking to herself about an extinct species of plant. Impatiently, Grant reaches down and turns her head to left. Now Sattler is standing up, yanking off her glasses and dropping her jaw. It takes a moment, but they hop out of their jeep and walk within 50 feet of Brachiosaurus. Grant simply points to her and exclaims, “It’s… it’s a dinosaur!” I think we all said the same thing at the same time as him. Grant and Sattler quickly draw the conclusion that a Brachiosaurus is warm-blooded, and doesn’t dwell in swamps. Since then, this conclusion has sparked scientific inquiry about whether or not dinosaurs could make their own body heat, like mammals. We finally found the answer: Yes.

The moral that has stuck with me for so many years, is the destructive force of the human race. Even with the best intentions, Hammond has pioneered cloning predators which react to humans in the only way they know how: eating them. No matter the warning signs from other characters, Hammond forced his dream into a reality so dark it destroys his vision, tortures children and traumatizes everyone else for years to come. As Ian Malcolm puts it, “Dinosaurs had their shot, and nature selected them for extinction.” In 1993, there wasn’t a heated debate about whether or not we should clone dinosaurs, and there still isn’t one. But one debate that existed then, and still exists now is that humans need to stop touching things that don’t belong to them.

I unwillingly noticed flaws in this film. It doesn’t hurt the magic, and the way movies were made back then are different from how they are made now. Spielberg was a student of Alfred Hitchcock, so I would never say Jurassic Park is poorly executed. What I will say is that when the Tyrannosaurus rex breaks out of the electric fence, she is standing on flat ground. When this same animal pushes the jeep off of the road, and through the hole in the fence, there’s a cliff in place of where she had been standing. It’s not that different from Pulp Fiction, where the gunshots in the wall appear before the shots are actually fired. From a creative standpoint, this cliff needed to exist to show the brute force of this dinosaur.

The most unanswered flaw of this film, to this day is why the Triceratops is sick. The group of visitors find her sedated in a field, being looked after by park rangers. After so many hiding dinosaurs and disappointments, everyone leaps out of their jeeps to go pet the Triceratops. Grant mentions, “She was my favorite as a kid and now she’s the most beautiful thing I ever saw.” He lays himself on her belly, and rises up as she inhales. This lovely scene segways into her illness. The film suggests that she ate lilac berries, but as Dr. Sattler examines her ‘droppings’, she notes that there is no trace of the berries. So where did they go? The rangers insist that the dinosaurs don’t eat lilac berries. I should probably cave in and read the book, because Michael Crichton most likely explains it better (Many people had no idea that the book came before the movie). Still, I just need to point out that maybe, just maybe, our cognitive dissonance is intentional. How do you solve a problem with a prehistoric beast in present day with different anatomy? You don’t.

Two-thirds into the movie, two children are crouched behind a counter in a kitchen while something is trying to break through the door. A clawed hand tinkers with the doorknob until a click echoes into the room. Their breathing quickens as one of these monsters pushes the door wide open and starts barking and shrieking into the air. Lex whispers to Tim, “what is it?” He peeks around the corner then whispers back, “it’s a Velociraptor.” Tom Hiddleston was 12 years old when he saw this movie in theaters, and he notes this part as being one of his favorites. He also notes that the magic of Jurassic Park inspired him to hide behind the kitchen door of an old job, and mimic a Velociraptor while tormenting his co-workers. There are many people from my generation, including me, who mimicked Velociraptor behavior. All fun aside, every time I watch this film, I cringe at the sight of that tail smacking those pots and pans down on those kids. I am in that kitchen, crawling around on the floor, hoping that I am smart enough to outsmart a Velociraptor.

These raptors are freaky, ultimate villains that certainly leave me and anyone else unsettled. However, Velociraptors are not six feet tall. They barely grew over three feet tall on average, and had almost as many feathers as present day birds. We know from the size of their brain cavity that they were smart for their time. If they were living among us today, they’d be as smart as chickens. We still don’t know what sounds they made, or all of their behaviors. Spielberg likely modeled his version of the Velociraptor after the Utahraptor. Utahraptors are six feet tall on average, so they are certainly intimidating. He eliminated feathers, because after a movie like Jaws, we wanted to see people get eaten by something cool, not a gracefully feathered raptor. Say this aloud: “It’s a Utahraptor.” A Velociraptor sounds like a creeper that will find you, climb in your windows and snatch your people up. Spielberg’s version of the Velociraptor is justified by his creativity, and the demand of entertainment.

So in the end, life finds a way through the sneaky employee known as Denice. He shuts down all of the computer systems in the park, enabling him to steal dinosaur embryos, only to get eaten later on anyways. So much for that idea! Nature breaks free of the fences with a vengeance. In our heads we wish that if Hammond hadn’t hired that greedy leech, Jurassic Park could have been successful. But in our hearts, we know that we didn’t want to keep nature locked in a fence. Besides, how entertaining would this film have been if we just watched dinosaurs hop around behind electric fences? John Hammond’s consequence for trying to lock up nature, is as Dr. Sattler says, “You never had control, that’s the illusion!” We must face the reality that Jurassic Park is a fallacy. These dinosaurs are theme park monsters forged from DNA sequences and codes. They are a part of nature we cannot understand outside of a film. No matter how appealing it is to almost be stomped on by a Brachiosaurus, I was angry when my father asked me how cool it would be to clone dinosaurs. No, no, I don’t want to have a thin piece of glass be the barrier between me and the jaws of a Tyrannosaurus rex. I don’t want Jurassic Park to be real. I want it to stay movie magic, forever.

2 Responses

  1. “God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs, God creates man, man destroys God, man creates dinosaurs.”

    I deeply appreciate your deep appreciation of what has to be one of the best movies of all time, for most of the reasons you mentioned. I have to be honest, I skipped the flaws section. I…I just don’t want to know. 😉

    • Lol, I defended every “flaw” though. Spielberg had a reason for everything he did.

      And that is my favorite quote from the film.

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