Media & TechnologyScience

Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, Superheroes and GMOs: a Rambletale

SPOILER ALERT.

ALSO, UNORGANIZED NON-CHRONOLOGICAL CHILDHOOD MEMORY RAMBLE ALERT.

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Once upon a time there was a dinosaur named brontosaurus that lived in a swamp surrounded by volanos under a red sky (like pretty much every dinosaur, ever)… and my teacher was nagging and nagging me about why I didn’t use prettier colors when I was coloring it. This exasperated me to no end because OF COURSE dinosaurs would be camouflaged (I didn’t figure out that animals don’t always have to be muddy greens and browns and grays until later in life, but whatever, I was like… 6 or something)! I watched all the dinosaur documentaries on TV, and other paleontology-themed shows like Planet of Life in which I learned about how plants rule the world (don’t think that’s what the creators intended to convey but that’s what I took from it.) I loved my dinosaur and dinosaur-era creature miniatures. I loved when a storyteller came and told some dinosaur story to the school. I loved the Land Before Time… man, I totally had to get to Pizza Hut for those puppets! And after all of this, I taught myself to draw by copying Dinotopia illustrations and referencing fossil books.

I recall my elementary school teachers somewhere in the middle of all this being obsessed with this thick paperback novel with a T-Rex skeleton on the cover. We listened to it as an audiobook, and discussed it in multiple classes because all the teachers loved it. My mom and her boyfriend read it to me in sections as a bed time story. They talked about how it was going to be a movie soon.

Anatomically outdated illustration of T-Rex in black and white.

Yesterday’s Godzilla-rex. Today, featherless theropods.
(Charles R. Knight’s early 1900 representation of T-Rex via the Land Before Time Wiki.)

AND THEN IT WAS.

AND IT WAS AMAZING.

Jurassic Park just completely blew my mind. It was awesome. It was wonderful. And it changed the world. Suddenly, museums were closing and redoing their exhibits. Monsters and dinosaurs in just about any movie and illustration suddenly found themselves needing to appear more anatomically accurate (even if they weren’t real.) DNA was a BIG DEAL. Jurassic Park introduced me to vegetarianism (I sympathized a little too much with the carnivores of the movie, alas) and “hacking.” It taught me birds are dinosaurs. I learned dinosaurs lived on a planet much like our own, not one that was always a misty, swampy, volcanic Hell. Probably because it was the first time I ever saw dinosaurs portrayed in a setting that wasn’t those things. I had a VCR that would automatically rewind at the end of a tape and when my best friend visited for multiweek sleepovers we would just play the Jurassic Park movie over and over and over again, the entire time. I am not joking. We would play the 3DO game, in the dark with the couch close to the TV and scream and scream at the velociraptor part, which was pretty much the only part of that game we played. I fell in love with the Suchomimus tenerensis in the fighting game (I needed to stand out from the velociraptor-loving crowd, of course.) Movie makers seemed to be climbing on top of each other for better and better graphics (while ignoring what made Jurassic Park’s so amazing), and many new amazing documentaries about dinosaurs and dinosaur discoveries were released.

I knew what I wanted to do for a living:

I wanted to be a genetic engineer. I was going to make dinosaurs. I would stitch together DNA and make pet dragons for people. IT WAS GOING TO BE AWESOME. WAS THERE NOTHING THAT GENETIC ENGINEERING COULDN’T DO?

Time passed. Life meandered in another direction.

And I discovered something weird.

I discovered that others fans of Jurassic Park didn’t take the same message from Jurassic Park that I did. They took it as a message of the arrogance of man and science vs nature and God. Which, isn’t to say I wasn’t ignorant of those messages when I watched the movies about a bajillion times… but I guess I viewed them as more of a filler-in dialogue in the story to give the characters depth and drive the plot a little bit, because how else can one explain half the stuff in that movie without it? I mean, who would seriously GE a dinosaur with frog DNA and not realize with regular vet checkups that the dinosaurs switch sexes or anything else that radical?

Which is something else that is interesting to note. A lot of opponents of GM seem to view genetic engineering much like how Jurassic Park and Jurassic World portray it: as though scientists are randomly mish-mashing a whole bunch of genes and getting all sorts of strange side effects. In Jurassic World, the Indominus rex is able to camouflage itself because of cuttlefish DNA inserted so it could survive an enhanced growth speed to get to adulthood quickly enough to become an attraction at the park. It can also show astounding intelligence presumably because of the raptor DNA (meanwhile, the raptors themselves seem to take a bit of a nose-dive in the intelligence department from the 3rd movie which I thought was a little disappointing. I wanted to see some raptor culture, damnit!) This makes about as much sense as Spiderman getting his spider powers (including an ability spiders don’t even have, but “sound” like something a spider has) because he was bitten by a radioactive spider. It’s an example of magical thinking, sympathetic magic perhaps?

And of course,  scientists involved with or supporting GM are all viewed as copies of Dr. Wu… cocky bastards that roll their eyes at the very idea that what they are doing could ever get out of hand even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And of course, eager to continue semi-blindly flailing around with bits of nature as long as anyone is willing to pay them to do so for no reason other than fun and profit.

Before I saw Jurassic World, I saw much of the merchandise. I thought nostalgically of how the numerous images of the velociraptors look so… old fashioned now. I thought it was a real shame that the creators didn’t take the opportunity to reboot the dinosaur image in Jurassic World, but given some of the plot points of movie it makes sense (and I will admit, the line about corporate wanting the dinosaurs to not look entirely authentic kind of struck a chord with me… who hasn’t had to deal with bizarre corporate decisions in some form or another?) An advertisement before the movie showed an opportunity for kids to get dinosaur puppets with food, very similar to the Land Before Time ones, which really threw me back a few decades. And I wonder, without the bam-wow of updated dinosaurs in this installment, what is left for kids to take away from this movie?

Action, romance, clicker-training, and an anti-GMO sentiment.

(That being said, I enjoyed the fuck out of the movie anyway.)

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J.G. Hovey

J.G. Hovey

A (casual) hunter, a (casual) fisher, a (casual) video gamer, a (casual) tabletop gamer, a librarian, a (former) machinist, a skeptic, an atheist, a pretty heavy reader, a writer, a parent, and a (casual) tinkerer of electronics.

Follow the author's other endeavors at: A Parent With Glass, and ALTsapiens, and G+.

5 Comments

  1. June 24, 2015 at 6:03 pm —

    This: “A lot of opponents of GM seem to view genetic engineering much like how Jurassic Park and Jurassic World portray it: as though scientists are randomly mish-mashing a whole bunch of genes and getting all sorts of strange side effects.” Along with the “you’re not a real scientist. You’re just standing on the shoulders of giants” idea.

    I love good story-telling, but would it kill the Hollywood set to actually meet a scientist or twelve? So they don’t perpetually think of scientists as men (yes, males) who never study what came before, or look around at the world, but just come up with brilliant ideas, de novo, so they can create their own scary world and not invite the rest of us. (Because that plot line hasn’t been driven into the ground, since, oh, the beginning of the nineteenth century.)

  2. June 29, 2015 at 11:03 am —

    A friend of mine said, “What Jurassic Park showed wasn’t a failure of science; it was a failure of zookeeping.”

    I mean, seriously. The primary containment system is: an electric fence. And the backup containment system is: what do you mean, backup? We don’t need no stinkin’ backup! We’re living on a small tropical island, and we all know that the electrical system on those is 100% reliable! It’s not as if we’d have anything to worry about hurricanes or, oh, falling trees for that matter, that might mess up our indestructible fences!

    Anyone who has lived in a dairy state will tell you that electric fences aren’t a foolproof method of confining COWS. Yet we’re trusting them to confine dinosaurs?

    • June 30, 2015 at 8:31 pm —

      Probably that wouldn’t even be so bad if everything that was even vaguely carnivorous viewed human flesh like some kind of addictive drug. Maybe because human meat is so soft and buttery in comparison? 😉

    • June 30, 2015 at 8:33 pm —

      Although to be fair it seemed the primary containment system was huge walls and cages and then electric fences. At least for the Indominus, the T-Rex, and the raptors.

    • June 30, 2015 at 8:35 pm —

      Sorry, brain decided World and Park are synonyms. Haha

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