Sunday 14 June 2015

8-Year-Old Reviews: Jurassic World

We’re going to grow old but never grow up.
We’re going to stay 18 years old and we’re going to love dinosaurs forever.
 - Ray Harryhausen & Ray Bradbury made a pact together. They never broke it as long as they lived.

A review 22 years in the making.

Jurassic Park

Aly was 9 years old when Jurassic Park came out in 1993, but for the purposes of the review, we'll still go with 8-year-old Aly, because why sweat the details?

See, that's your problem right there, 31-year-old Aly: you never worry about the details. It's your greatest failing.

8-year-old Aly, you're talking to the guy who wrote a 20,000 word dissertation on the 2011 Conan the Barbarian. I think I can still go into insane detail like nobody's business. In any case, this'll be an unusual 8-year-old review in that I'll occasionally poke my head in to give 31-year-old's thoughts.

And I'll occasionally poke you in the eye with my Invicta Diplodocus. Tail first.

You monster.

People may wonder: why 8-year-old reviews? Why, specifically, 8-year-old? Why not 12-year-old, or 5-year-old, or 16-year-old? Well, it's mostly because now-31-year-old Aly can vividly remember that particular year of his life - and a big reason for that is it's the year leading up to the release of Jurassic Park.

It will no doubt shock you to learn that 8-year-old Aly was obsessed with dinosaurs. Obsessed. I'm not talking the usual enthusiasm small children have for dinosaurs. I'm not even talking "if dinosaurs were Pokemon he'd be the school's resident Professor Oak." I'm talking my teacher in my second year of Primary School having me teach the rest of the class about dinosaurs for a few weeks. When I was 9 months old, my mother wasn't having any luck getting much reaction out of me until she started reading me books about dinosaurs. I built up a collection of dinosaur toys numbering in the thousands. It seemed like a given I would have become a palaeontologist when I grew up. I'm still angry that 31-year-old Aly hasn't met Bob Bakker yet.

You think I'm not angry I haven't met Bob Bakker yet? Why do you think I've grown this beard and hair and started wearing cowboy hats?

This single image explains so much about the way I've turned out.

In any case, it's fair to say that I was truly, madly, deeply in love with dinosaurs. I devoured anything dinosaur-related I could get my hands on: toys ranging from museum-quality replica to cheap Chinese rubber beasties; the stop motion extravaganzas of Willis O'Brien, Ray Harryhausen and Jim Danforth; books about dinosaurs, usually by Dougal Dixon; documentaries, posters, video games. If it had a dinosaur, I had to have it. So I had built up a fair bit of knowledge about dinosaurs by the time news of Jurassic Park came around, and I was understandably excited. So I got every newspaper, every magazine, every tiny morsel of information about the film I could afford.

Even then, the seeds of pedantic 31-year-old Aly were present. I couldn't help correcting my classmates and teachers in the pronunciations of Diplodocus, Ankylosaurus, and Velociraptor. I noted, with a certain precocious cynicism, when films like the 1968 The Lord World tried to fob off monitor lizards with pieces of plastic cruelly glued onto their heads as dinosaurs, as if they were cinematic carnies trying to convince oblivious rubes that this actually is a mummified mermaid. And when the first pictures and snippets about Jurassic Park came out, I went over it all with a fine-toothed comb, much like a Pterodaustro is believed to have filtered plankton and algae through its remarkable beak.

It's a somewhat obscure pterosaur, not surprised you haven't heard of it - after all, I was a dinosaur hipster before it was cool.

So there I was, all on my 8-year-old lonesome, on the one hand gushing about how the dinosaurs were being depicted as active warm-blooded animals rather than sluggish cold-blooded monsters, and on the other complaining about how the Dilophosaurus wasn't a tiny frill-sporting venom-spitter, and how the Tyrannosaurus didn't hunt based on movement because that's a stupid idea that makes no sense, and how that's not a Velociraptor when it's far too big and clearly must be a Deinonychus. And this was all before the film came out: I was already nitpicking it to within an inch of its life, like an angry herd of Dromeceiomimus taking ironic vengeance on a wounded Daspletosaurus. (Daspletosaurus would have the last laugh, as Dromiceiomimus was later reclassified as a junior synonym of Ornithomimus.)

Isn't it nice having a blog where you can just make silly dinosaur puns all day and nobody can do anything about it? I wish they had blogs back when you were at school, 8-year-old Aly.

Me too, 31-year-old Aly. So it's strange to think about it now, but I was an extremely skeptical 8-year-old during the run up to Jurassic Park. I read the junior novelisation (Mum considered the Crichton original a bit too salty in language & content, and 12-year-old Aly agreed when he finally read it years later), and remained intrigued but unconvinced that this film would be quite the paradigm shift in dinosaur culture it was being touted as.

Still, when the trailers started to come out, I was becoming a lot more amenable to the film. The snippets of Phil Tippet-directed CGI and Stan Winston Studios' remarkable puppets were selling me significantly, and I was always a big Steven Spielberg fan. Hook came out a few years previously, and while even 7-year-old Aly was aware of its imperfections, it had a lot of great elements: the John Williams score, the set design, the sense of grandeur and childlike wonder. Basically Steven Spielberg in Close Encounters of the Third Kind mode.

So I saw the film. And you can probably guess how I felt about it.

Oh sure, there were things that bothered me: the Brachiosaurus chewing leaves, the poor sick Triceratops' spectacular physics-defying incontinence, even wondering why they left the Apatosaurus, Compsognathus and Stegosaurus out when they were in the book. But all that was washed to the back of my mind because those were dinosaurs up on the big screen. Not really good puppets, not really good stop-motion, not really good animation: those were dinosaurs. Actual dinosaurs.

Much as I adored Ray Harryhausen's creatures, I viewed them as being "alive" in the same way a well-drawn cartoon was "alive": I could believe in its life in the moment of viewing, but not the objective reality that this was a living, breathing thing. Know what I mean? It was something I think was insurmountable when it came to stop-motion, possibly because I grew up long after the golden age of stop motion animation, or possibly just because I'm me. But understand: Jurassic Park came out just after these films:

The 1990s were not a great time for cinematic dinosaurs. Nor were the 1980s, for that matter: only the depressing Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend and the even more traumatising The Land Before Time were out, and as an 8-year-old I could hardly track down The Missing Link, Caveman, Prehistoric Beast or My Science Project. And even then, nothing could touch Harryhausen's effects in The Valley of Gwangi or Jim Danforth's When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth, both released in the 1960s. So to go from those films, to this:

Was little short of miraculous.

It's difficult for me to fully convey how I felt seeing the Brachiosaurus for the first time in Jurassic Park as a boy. Even as an adult, there isn't really anything I can easily compare it to. All I can think of is how it must have felt for history enthusiasts seeing famous moments from the past rendered on screen: civil war aficionados watching Gone with the Wind, biblical scholars viewing The Ten Commandments, Roman historians watching Ben Hur. Inaccuracies will always abound, but for the big things - seeing the aftermath of Atlanta, the Pharoah's court, the chariot race at the Coliseum - surely the 8-year-old enthusiast in all of them felt a rush as something they only saw as drawings or models or described in text visually represented?

It was practically a spiritual experience for 8-year-old me.

Indeed. Harryhausen's monsters were art, his work and creativity and life rendered on screen: I was always conscious, on some level, that this was his creation I was watching. Don Bluth's dinosaurs were similarly his creations: each movement, expression and emotion rendered the way Don Bluth worked so hard to master. All dinosaurs before Jurassic Park from Gertie to Littlefoot were informed by the popular consensus, and reflected the cultural prejudices of the day, as well as the input of their creators.

But the creatures of Jurassic Park? They felt like the ghosts of those ancient animals manifested right there, in real time, in real life, be it the amazing CGI informed by Phil Tippett's input, or Stan Winston's characteristically magnificent puppets. They weren't "Phil Tippett's dinosaurs," "Stan Winston's dinosaurs," even "Mark McCreery's dinosaurs" = they were real dinosaurs. Our Lady of the Sauropods appeared, dead for tens of millions of years, followed by the Ghost of Hell Creek and the Spirits of the Blazing Cliffs.

Two benchmarks in dinosaur cultural representation united by mutual love of shoogling puny humans like chewtoys.

Jurassic Park came in a perfect storm much like the disaster which befell the island: just as popular culture was catching up with the idea of dinosaurs as mobile, active, warm-blooded creatures, Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg provided an opportunity to define the dinosaur in literature and cinema for generations to come. As such, not only was Jurassic Park at the forefront of the depiction of dinosaurs in cinema, it was pretty close to the forefront in science, too - or at least, closer than most films had been for decades.

Despite being 22 years old, Jurassic Park has yet to be matched in terms of redefining dinosaurs, with only Walking With Dinosaurs (the documentary, of course, not the film) coming close. Planet Dinosaur could have done it, but it only ran for the one series, and didn't seem to quite capture the imagination of its spiritual predecessor even if it is - in my opinion - superior to Walking With in nearly every way.

It's unsurprising, but no less a shame, that the sequels fell so far short.

The Lost World & Jurassic Park III

It seems expedient to lump these two together, because they both suffer from much of the same problem.

They both sucked?

Well no, not that, more that both of them simultaneously fail to live up to expectations yet also fail to replicate what worked about the first film.

So they both sucked.

They didn't suck, so much as they both failed.

There's a difference?

Yes, as it happens. There are several things in both films that are genuinely good: the raptor chase in The Lost World, and the Aviary in Jurassic Park III are excellently shot and directed action scenes, and both films had elements that could have been expanded upon with a better script and direction. The Lost World had a novel to work from which nonetheless had issues of its own, but conceptually speaking it was a solid base to build upon the original, showing a very post-apocalyptic (or at least post-cyclone) setting on a miniature scale. Considering JPIII had no Crichton to work from it makes a good swing of it, and there were several very cool ideas like the impact of genetic engineering on palaeontology, continued corporate espionage in InGen, and the idea of Jurassic Park entering the world's knowledge.

Unfortunately, both of them seemed dead set on returning to the same well: people going back to the island, disaster ensues, people have to get off the island alive. They couldn't really replicate the sense of wonder in the first film since everyone knew they were stepping into danger as soon as they set foot on the island, and you can't see the Brachiosaurus for the first time a second time. So all they had left was the suspense, and it couldn't carry the entire film.

Man, people REALLY didn't go for this.

There are two often-cited criticisms of the films I never understood. In The Lost World, everyone apparently hates the scene where the Tyrannosaurus goes nuts in San Diego. I genuinely didn't get it - maybe because I've never been to San Diego, maybe because I never saw it in cinemas (I was on holiday during the original release) or it's because for some reason this was just a bit too unrealistic. I can see a lot of criticisms for The Lost World holding up, particularly the noble but awkwardly-handled environmental message, but this just seemed bizarre to me. It was fun, chaotic, and a little bit horrific.

On the other hand, I know exactly why everyone hated the Spinosaurus defeating the Tyrannosaurus in Jurassic Park III: everyone loves the T.rex, and they didn't like the idea of Some Other Dinosaurs Nobody Even Heard Of Before This Movie beating him. I, on the other hand, loved the fight.


See, in most dinosaur media, the T.rex is The King: he - it's usually he, of course - almost always wins. In 1925's The Lost World, he beats the Brontosaurus. In Fantasia, he beats the Stegosaurus. In so many films featuring the Mighty Tyrannosaurus, it ends up victorious - usually over its old foe the Triceratops. I was always a herbivore kind of guy, so whenever a dinosaur fight took place, I was always rooting for the plant-eater. Hence how it was so great for Littlefoot's mother to lay the smackdown on Sharptooth: usually it's the big carnivore, not the gentle herbivore, which prevails. So when it's T.rex vs Some Other Dinosaur Nobody Even Heard Of Before This Movie (I came across several who were adamant that the filmmakers just made the Spinosaurus up, "what kind of a name is Spinosaurus?" etc), I was instinctively backing the Spinosaurus simply because I was perfectly happy to see the So Called King of the Dinosaurs being dethroned by a more obscure dinosaur. I figured Spinosaurus deserved a bit of a chance to shine.

I do have criticisms - namely that it the fight was short. They could've stretched that out for a good minute or so, break it up with having the humans trying to escape without being trampled, to make it a bit more satisfying. What's more of an issue is they didn't provide a satisfactory conclusion to the Spinosaurus narrative thread - being chased off by some fire, after the beastie's been hunting them the whole film? Not good enough. That's why I really think people hated the Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park III so much - he never really received a fitting comeuppance. It would've been far more appropriate for either the female T.rex to avenge her mate/child (female rexes are bigger and most likely much more vengeful), or to tie up the Spinosaurus/Velociraptor threads in some way.

I see.

I think Jurassic Park also benefited from taking its time to explore the characters, the themes of the film, and just giving the audience some time to meditate. Think about Grant giving people a brief explanation of Velociraptors; the tour explaining the science-fiction of genetically recreating the dinosaurs; the dinner scene where they debate the ethics of what they were doing; Hammond and Satler's talk in the restaurant about the flea circus and illusions of control. That stuff was all great, because it gives the audience something to think about, it makes you feel like the characters have motivations and opinions outside of the immediate plot, and it contextualises the plot itself.

What little there is of that sort of thing in the second and third films is too incidental to really impact on the plot. The closest they get is the mercenary stuff - InGen transporting dinosaurs off the island to Jurassic Park San Diego, and Billy snatching a couple of raptor eggs to help fund the beleaguered palaeontology field - and then, they're only there to get the plot going, not to ruminate on. The two films hint at much more interesting stories on the periphery of the final narratives - what were InGen really up to with Site B when Hammond himself claimed every dinosaur on the island (Isla Nublar) hatched in his presence? Where does BioSyn fit in with all this? Where did the Spinosaurus come from given it wasn't on InGen's species list? And most glaringly, how has the rest of the world changed now that Jurassic Park has been made public, and humanity has to come to terms with the idea that long-extinct animals can be resurrected? Sadly, these ideas are in the background for most of the series - though hints of them come back in Jurassic World.

So, onto the show.

Jurassic World

I came very close to crying while watching this film.

Och, Aly.

Well, I did. It might be because I was a bit fragile after hearing of Christopher Lee's death on the same day, or because I'm missing my pals in Cross Plains where I'd normally be this time of year, or because I saw it with my niece who I dote on and got all nostalgic about the time I watched the first film thinking this is her in the same situation I was twenty years ago. Or maybe it's because I really, really wanted to love this film, and willed myself into loving it despite its flaws - and there are flaws.

Oh yes, there are.

Gray Mitchell, best character in the film. You heard me.

What really sold me on the film was, surprisingly enough, the youngest character. I know, right, a child character in a Jurassic Park film being the best character in it, what parallel universe have I stepped into? Yet this wee boy is vital in counteracting the extremely punishing sense of world-weary cynicism permeating Jurassic World. I sometimes felt like I was watching a Paul Verhoeven movie for all the biting satire in it. Constant references are made to stockholders and shareholders and corporations and big businesses driving everything, focus groups and finances dictating the future, people in suits obsessed with minute detail, condescending use of euphemistic language to pacify customers, calling animals "assets" and escapes "containment anomalies." It's a little too on the nose, especially when one character rants about product placement whilst slurping from a cup of Coca-Cola.

There's a particularly telling moment where Gray's older brother has a phone conversation with his mother as a Tyrannosaurus rex - indeed, it's hinted to be the very same Tyrannosaurus from the first film - is eating a goat in the background. Arguably one of the most iconic moments in a film bursting with iconic moments is recreated while a crowd watches, and this guy turns his back to it. This feels like it's less a characterisation moment to show this particular character having "fallen out of love" with dinosaurs as he grew up (how Lewisian) or at least showing how the very small problems of family turmoil can hold one's attention more than the grand spectacle of nature, and more of a damning indictment of the audience themselves.

Look, it seems to roar: behold the mighty Tyrannosaurus, The Prize-Fighter of Antiquity, The Most Formidable Fighting Animal Of Which There Is Any Record Whatever, Monarch of All Monarchs in the Domain of Animal Life, Royal Man-Eater of the Jungle, Absolute Warlord of the Earth, Last of the Great Reptiles and Ruler Of Them All. It stands before you now, in all its primordial majesty, its savage dominance, its terrible power. Dead for 65 million years, compared to which the sum of all human endeavour is but a heartbeat in the life of the Earth.

And you're on your iphone.

Gray, on the other hand, has no time for this navel-gazing nonsense. He doesn't care about focus groups saying the public want bigger dinosaurs, more teeth, more claws, more angry. He's oblivious to the charge that people have become so acclimatised to dinosaurs that they view them with the same apparent lack of wonder as an elephant in a city zoo. He knows nothing of the byzantine, obfuscating mess of markets and studies that all too often refuse to see the wood for the trees in a futile quest to please 100% of the people 100% of the time.

He doesn't want to wait. He rushes everywhere, wide-eyed, full of wonder, even before he sets his eyes on a dinosaur. He's actually there - he's actually at Jurassic World! He's going to see dinosaurs. And every moment Gray is on screen is an utter joy, as he's showing the genuine and unmistakable awe that a child has before the adult world cruelly and stupidly beats it out of them - even as his brother tells him to "grow up," remarks on how the park is full of "little kids." Gray doesn't care. He isn't trying to impress anyone. He is here to see the dinosaurs.

And you know that beneath all that tiresome cynicism and corporate commentary, the filmmakers are thinking "this kid? He gets it. He's got it right."

I'm not sure if that's the filmmaker's intent: it's also possible that we're meant to see the boy's enthusiasm as naivete, and the cynicism of the investors reflecting the "real world." Nonetheless, given what a hash the grow-ups make of things, I'm happy thinking you're meant to be on the boy's side all along.

It's even more gratifying that the brother comes around and starts to appreciate it, and though it's largely due to a sense of brotherly bonding arising from family problems, it's still cool. Don't you think that it's almost like the writers/director are making some pointed criticisms at producers, too? We all know the "too many cooks" thing that plagues big-budget Hollywood films: wouldn't surprise me if half the lines in the film could have been in meetings with executives and corporate sponsors.

The film is very self-aware, almost self-conscious. There are many, many nods and winks to the previous film, either subliminal or superliminal.


Yes, the opposite of subliminal. "Hey guys, remember the old logo, well I'm wearing it on a t-shirt!" "Hey guys, remember the jeep from the first film, well here it is!" "Hey guys, remember how everyone hated the T.rex-Spinosaurus fight from the third film, well enjoy some righteous vindication!" Sometimes there's a decent enough reason for these callbacks - the use of flares, for instance, is a good signpost - but other times it seemed like it was going to break the fourth wall a bit too often.

From boss lady to Regina from Dino Crisis in one day!

There were some good human characters apart from the boy, though. I really liked Claire: I think because I'm a very organised 8-year-old who likes everything to run on schedule, and she's like the sort of person I think I'd get along with really well. She's the main character in the film, even if Chris Pratt gets all the attention: she undergoes an actual story arc, whereas he's the sort of John Wayne character who doesn't "go on a journey." She starts off austere, business-like, prim and proper, and detail-oriented, treating her family as a distracting obligation, and buys into the dangerous dehumanising language and culture of mega-corporations. As the film goes on, she gains a new appreciation for family, she truly comes to terms with the fact her "assets" are living creatures, and actually shows comparatively greater bravery than Owen does: it's easy for an ex-Marine to be badass, but Claire really pushes herself through, and I'd say she's the human character that saves the day at the end. She also has a single tear roll down her cheek when she finds a wounded Apatosaurus - that might be the moment I totally fell in love with her. If you can be moved to tears by a gigantic sauropod's pain, you're my kind of person.

She had a very cool "look," too, which means you could dress up as her for comic conventions and such and people would know who you were: the white suit and red bob is quite striking. I really like bob haircuts. I hope I don't grow out of liking redheads with bob haircuts.

You most assuredly will not. On that note, though, my sister - who has something of an attunement for these things - thought the film was weirdly sexist. 31-year-old Aly must profess to have missed it, possibly on account of being a male, or more likely just inobservant: there were a few scenes that I think could have been construed as sexist, but I got the impression that Claire not only held her own, but basically stood firm against those pressures. Chris Pratt's character has a number of scenes with her where he was being rather obnoxious, and to be frank, I was on her side all the time. If the film wanted us to sympathise with Owen in those scenes (basically that Claire should loosen up and just get together with the rugged manly man), it didn't do a good job of it with me. Maybe because I'm not nearly the Chris Pratt fan the rest of the internet seems to be.

Chris Pratt's character was alright, a bit of a mix of Dr. Grant and Muldoon without being as awesome as either. I didn't take to him because I felt some producer saying "gee kids, look how cool and manly and fun this guy is, you loved him in Guardians of the Galaxy, wouldn't you just love to see him as Indiana Jones"? I wasn't convinced. Vincent D'Onofrio's Vic Hoskins was a bit like what you'd get if you put Walter from The Big Lebowski in charge of Jurassic Park's security, making him the second best character in the film. OH NO WAIT, Mr Masrani! He was another Benevolent Billionaire Philanthropist like John Hammond, except Indian rather than Scottish, and a bit more of a daredevil. He has one of the funniest lines in the film. I REALLY liked him.

There was another character who was really leaning on the fourth wall, a techy nerdy guy whose entire purpose seemed to be to the voice of dinosaur nerds like me. It's almost like the director went on websites for comments and lifted them for the film: "why do you need to make a new dinosaur, real dinosaurs are awesome!" "the original Jurassic Park was great!" and so forth, with his desk covered in toy dinosaurs. At least he didn't get eaten, though they did an annoying "nerdy guy can't get girls" thing. It was stupid.

Nice try, Colin Trevorrow?

Really, though, as with most of these films, the dinosaurs are the characters you care most about.

 Jurassic World's dinosaurs vs reconstructions (currently) more in line with palaeontological thinking.

Oh yes. Couldn't we just have a Jurassic Park film without those pesky humans?

You and me both, and your sister agrees. #nomorehumans

I'm disappointed some of the dinosaurs revealed on the official website like Baryonyx, Suchomimus, Metriacanthosaurus, Edmontosaurus and Microceratus et al didn't make it in, but it's nice seeing some new dinosaurs - at least new to the Jurassic Park cinematic universe. Well, Dimorphodon and Mosasaurus aren't dinosaurs, of course, but biological issues aside they were great fun. 

The film is very good at taking its time and showing the park operating properly, so there are quite a few nice wee scenes and shots of tourists Walking With Dinosaurs. Several scenes are shot-for-shot homages to scenes from the earlier films: a car driving alongside a herd of Gallimimus shot identically to the chase in the first film, for instance. But the thing is, I didn't feel nearly the same sort of spiritual experience with this film as I did with Jurassic Park.

How so?

Well, consider: when Jurassic Park came out, the dinosaur designs were very close to the scientific consensus, barring a few glaring howlers. They were pretty close to how people really thought they looked. Jurassic World has come out, and even though a LOT has changed in the past 22 years since the original film came out, very little has changed with the dinosaurs. So when I saw the dinosaurs in Jurassic World, I didn't feel like I was seeing real dinosaurs: I was viewing creations, like Harryhausen's and O'Brien's. Really beautifully designed, well-rendered and appealing creations, but creations nonetheless.

This is actually addressed in the film, where the returning Dr. Wu actually says that the dinosaurs would look "totally different" if they were going for complete biological accuracy. So it's a bit of a plot point.

A plot point it may be, but it's a bit confusing: if the film acknowledges that the dinosaurs aren't accurate, then how come the dinosaur experts of the film (the wee boy and the techie guy) are so in awe of the park's non-Frankenstein's dinosaurs? There is no indication that Gray or Lowery even acknowledge that the dinosaurs aren't exactly like they "should" be - yet as dinosaur experts, surely they would?

This is one of those criticisms of Jurassic World I feel is a bit of a personal thing. I've grown up with massively inaccurate dinosaurs in films for a long time, so it's easy for me to put Jurassic World on the same pile as others. But given how trailblazing Jurassic Park was, it seems something of a step backwards to simply perpetuate 1990s dinosaur science in 2015 as if nothing has changed in the past two decades. I can understand why Jurassic World went in the direction it did, it's thematically consistent and appropriate for the story, and you know that the franchise holders want a consistent "look" for their stuff.

I'm reminded of a quote by the late, great Ray Harryhausen who I still worship and adore no matter what:

We used to be criticised a lot when we made the remake of 1 Million BC, that man never lived in the age of the dinosaurs. When you have no humans with the dinosaurs, you have no size comparison, you have no drama, so you have to take that liberty. After all, we're not making these pictures for professors. They probably never go to the cinema anyway. 

The thing is, as a precocious 8-year-old, I can remember thinking: "well, who will make these pictures for those professors"? I felt a lot more like one of those professors as an 8-year-old than my peers, because even though I loved 1 Million Years B.C. as a fantasy as well as his other films, I also loved The Animal World, a documentary which featured his animation. Can't we do both? And so right now, we're seeing people continuing to criticize those "professors" for hating fun. All I can say is, if Steven Spielberg decided not to put biological verisimilitude at the forefront of Jurassic Park, would it have had the same impact today? I don't know if it would.

Perhaps you had to be there. I know that I'd be bouncing off the walls in sheer joy being within touching distance of a living facsimile of a dinosaur even if they were balder, wrinklier or scalier than they would have been in the Mesozoic.

You know what? Me too.

Devil Dinosaurs

The original name for the genetic horror in this film was Diabolus rex, which would make it quite literally a Devil Dinosaur. Now THERE'S a trick they missed...

So we come to Indominus rex-


... OK, the Murdersaurus-


Why do you hate it, Aly?

BECAUSE IT'S NOT A REAL DINOSAUR. It's a bit like a dinosaur, it has some dinosaur parts to it, but it's no more a real dinosaur than Godzilla or the Rhedosaurus or those lizards with frills and horns glued to their heads. It's made up. It's fake. It's false. It's phoney. It's Phoneosaurus frankensteini. "Frankenstein's Murder Lizard."

Hah, "Phoneosaurus." It works on multiple lingual levels! I'm going to call it that instead.


Regardless of its name, why do you hate it so much?

I hate it because it symbolises everything wrong with dinosaurs in popular culture. Allow me to explain.

Back when dinosaurs were first discovered, science as we currently understand it was rather different than it was today. Palaeontologists in the American West and Gobi desert had to pack guns to fight off bandits; current mainstays of science like Linnean taxonomy, deep time and the pragmatic theory of truth were comparatively new and outrageous ideas; the concept of conservation was practically fringe. The Christian religions were still in a very Old Testament mindset, especially when it came to anything that could challenge Biblical literalism. Back when Mesozoic creatures were first described in a modern scientific context, some of the earliest pioneers of palaeoart like John Martin also worked in apocalyptic biblical art. This would set the tone of palaeoart for decades to come:

The nightmarish imagery of early palaeoart isn't far removed from various depictions of Hell: great hideous beasts tearing each other to pieces in a mad frenzy of cannibalistic horror. They knew only to hunt and to slay and to feast: their life was the agony and ecstasy of constant battle and bloodshed. Then you have descriptions of the Tyrannosaurus in the New York Times being no less bombastic:

THE petrified bones of the prize-fighter of antiquity have been found in Hell Creek, Montana, and yesterday, after several years of patient study on the part of the experts in fossil anatomy of the Natural History Museum, were put in place in the Hall of the Dinosaurs as a restoration, in bone and plaster, of the King of the Saurians. Tyrannus Rex is the name of this newly discovered creature, and, as a mere fighting-machine, his sponsors are inclined to place him at the head of the animal creation.
 - ""A Magnificent Tyrannosaurus Rex Set up in the Museum of Natural History Here - Last of the Great Reptiles and the King of Them All," The New York Times, 30th December 1906

After decades of disillusionment with the Age of Exploration proving Hic Sunt Dracones sadly barren of beasts, the collective imagination was transfixed - HERE were dragons! And not in some far-off clime beyond the seven seas, but right beneath our feet! It's easy to see how the Dinosaur As Monster meme came about. The problem is, it kept going. Lions, tigers, and other endangered animals were no longer deemed man-eating monsters to slay, but animals, creatures of the earth that deserve the dignity and respect of any other. As their populations declines, a sad grandeur was afforded to the charismatic megafauna, even as Great White Hunters continued - and continue - to whittle the species to join their saurian predecessors.

But dinosaurs were still monsters. They were evolutionary dead-ends, too slow or sluggish or stupid to change with the times. There's even the implication that they didn't deserve to survive - their tiny brains and rapacious appetites casting them as villains in a world better off without them - or that their death somehow proves humanity's birthright as Masters of the Earth. Any time they appeared in cinema, they were treated as if they were dragons or ogres rather than natural creatures. They constantly fought among their kind; they chased any anachronistic humans as if they owed it money; they showed little instinct for survival, more a reckless death-wish. Even herbivores were bloodthirsty demons, like the Brontosaurus in King Kong.

Jurassic Park sought to redress that imbalance: in addition to the herbivores, the carnivores were a bit less psychopathic than usual. The Tyrannosaurus was territorial, but not overly punitive against the humans. The Dilophosaurus was a frightened but curious (and hungry) juvenile. Even the Velociraptors, depicted as the film's "villains," were arguably seeking to assert their dominance over the humans which held them in captivity. The dinosaurs had instincts beyond hunting, killing and eating.

So then we got to the Murdersaurus. This beastie is explicitly designed to be a sociopathic killer: raised in isolation with no social contact, it ate the only other living thing it encountered (its sibling, apparently right after it hatched), and genetically engineered and imbued with extreme predatory instincts. It is as if they designed a dinosaur they wanted to break out and wreak havoc. It's like the Sharptooth, Dinosaur's Carnotaurs, JP3's Spinosaurus, the Skull Island dinosaurs and the Terminator all rolled into one

The thing is, doesn't this work in the film's favour? Much of what you're saying about the Murdersaurus seems to be a deliberate commentary on corporate competitive culture. All through the film, we're reminded that this was Frankenstein's dinosaur, a horrific mismatch of multiple species, and absolutely not a real dinosaur - words like "monster" and "thing" were used.

If it is, then they did far too good a job in getting me to hate it. It goes on a killing spree throughout the park, killing poor peaceful Apatosauruses and Ankylosauruses, and I just wanted it to DIE PAINFULLY. LEAVE THE LONGNECKS ALONE!

It's about this point my dislike of the Murdersaurus transformed from anger at its existence to a furious KILL IT! KILL IT NOW! AVENGE LITTLEFOOT'S MAMMA! *sobs plaintively*

Isn't that how most people might've felt about the Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park III?

At least Spinosaurus was a real dinosaur. This is the Mary Sue of dinosaurs: it's designed to be bigger than a T.rex, cleverer than a Raptor, hornier than a Carnotaurus, it has all these radical superpowers like camouflage and body temperature shielding, it's all teeth and claws and spikes, and it can totally take on any dinosaur one-on-one and win. X-TREME, D00D! AND it's a girl. AND some of the dinosaurs fall in love with it. I'm not even kidding.

That's a... bit of an exaggeration.

I get that the Murdersaurus is supposed to be this colossus, but the way it slaughtered not only the Ankylosaurus, but the Apatosauruses was too much. We have a T.rex called Sue. Here's Mary Sue.

But remember, Aly: InGen bred these Apatosaurus to be docile and gentle. They had the visitors going right up to them in the hamster balls, they couldn't risk them being damaged. So of course the Murdersaurus would kill them - everything that would have given them a chance to defend themselves was removed from their genetic makeup.

Harrumph. I still hate the emotional trauma they put me through with the dying Apatosauruses. What is it with films and dead Apatosauruses? They've clearly seen Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend or The Land Before Time. Big manipulative meanies.

I definitely think this is all deliberate on the filmmaker's part. As much as this is even more of a Michael Crichton film than the first film, this film has serious Paul Verhoevan chops too. Early in the film, Clair is providing a tour to three business tycoons, telling them all about how there'd be a spike in popularity every time a new exhibit was revealed. When she asks them what they want in an exhibit they'd consider sponsoring, they responded as you'd expect clueless executives to respond: something to thrill them. They want a killer, a monster, something to scare people.

This is intercut with Gray and other children running about having the time of their lives. Toddlers riding on baby Triceratopses with adorable smiles; little boys running up and hugging baby Apatosauruses; families cooing over young Gallimimuses. Indeed, for the first half hour of Jurassic World, the park is going perfectly. There are thrills in the Tyrannosaurus and Mosasaurus, but the children have the exact same thrill on their faces paddling down a river while Stegosauruses graze peacefully, or rolling along in futuristic hamster balls among tranquil herbivores, as they do watching the predators munching on their prey.

What went wrong is out-of-touch billionaire sponsors have their idea of what the people want with no actual insight or understanding of the public actually want. Hence, even though we're actually seeing families and children delighting in the wonders of Jurassic World, the elite are living in a world of their own.

Another really great moment: when questioned about the name of THE MURDERSAURUS, Claire claimed that they needed a name that's easy to pronounce. "Have you heard a 4-year-old try to pronounce Archaeornithomimus?" To which Owen responds: "have they heard you try to pronounce Archaeornithomimus?" See, one of the truisms about children and dinosaurs is that children are more likely to actually take the time and effort to learn how to pronounce dinosaur names than adults. But adults, especially rich business/management people, cannot comprehend the idea that children could possibly do something they can't - like pronounce dinosaur names - so of course they would somehow think that children would be incapable of pronouncing dinosaur names. They have forgotten - or never knew to begin with - that young children are at a perfect age to absorb and collate information, especially when they have an interest in it.

Hence how when I was 8, I was the one explaining to teachers why it's Di-PLOD-o-cus rather than DIP-lo-DOC-us, and still find it easier to pronounce Micropachycephalosaurus than spaghetti. Same with technology: older people would ask children my age to work their videos and recorders for them. I know adults have more experience and life knowledge, I get that - I just don't understand why they don't have the self-awareness to realise that kids may just lack the knowledge they have, but that doesn't mean they're stupid.

This is a bit of a theme throughout the film: indeed, you could argue that if it wasn't for adults completely misunderstanding what the park was about, Jurassic World wouldn't have the problems it ended up having at all. It could have been a prehistoric zoo with lovely drives through Cretaceous habitats punctuated by the occasional predator grand guignol, without deciding to essentially create the Weapon X of the dinosaur world.

Adults ruin everything. They've tried to do a non-dialogue dinosaur movie with no humans for years, yet every single time some stupid adult decides that since they don't understand what's happening, obviously us mere children couldn't either. So The Land Before Time, Disney's Dinosaur, and the Walking With Dinosaurs movie could have been something really special, but adults projected their own insecurities and lack of imagination on children. Why do they do that, 31-year-old Aly?

Because despite man's quest for knowledge and constant struggle to better themselves, they always underestimate their own stupidity. Always.

Grand Finales

I've spoken at length on the subject of Dinosaur As Monster before, but here's the jist:

As it is, Jurassic Park/World is first and foremost a business. So let's imagine they did want to make dinosaurs as accurate as possible: they work out all the coogles in the code, and manage to create the closest facsimile to a genuine, bona-fide, supinated-armed, feathered Velociraptor mongoliensis. Then they present the creature to a test group. The test group responds negatively. "That's not a raptor, raptors are bigger and scarier!" "What's with the feathers, they look goofy and weird!" "That's not very scary - more like a three foot turkey!" So the executives tell the scientists: go back to the drawing board. "Dump the feathers." "Blow them up to six feet again." "Pronate their arms." "Make them look scary again." And so we have the very curious situation where we desperately want dinosaurs to be real animals - but we also want them to be unreal monsters.

Think about the implications of that. The appearance, the very genetic makeup of an animal being altered into a grotesque caricature of itself, because of public perception. It isn't as if it's an isolated incident, or even in the realms of science fiction - we see this all the time right now in animal husbandry. If we can create toy dogs and show pigeons which would not last a week in the wild, even with modern considerations of animal welfare and animal rights laws, then what could possibly stop a corporation from doing whatever the hell it likes to lifeforms to which it might well own the copyright?
This extends to all the creatures. The Mosasaurus could have been another victim of the "make it bigger and scarier" paradigm: scientists were ecstatic at the possibility of recreating marine reptiles, only to be told that focus groups said "we want something that could eat a Blue Whale." To hell with biological considerations that go with increasing an animal's size to the limits of physical endurance, forget putting the creature under stress in a far-too-small enclosure, the people want a sea monster.

And the D-rex? Focus groups wanted a dinosaur "bigger and scarier than a T-rex." Evidently Spinosaurus didn't test well, and they couldn't find DNA for one of the larger Carcharodontosaurids, so they decided to give the people what they want. Which is, predictably, a monster that bears little resemblance to a living creature. Isn't it a fitting metaphor to the state of the dinosaur in popular culture as a whole?

The name of the Murdersaurus may have changed, but that made its eventual fate no less satisfying.


The final battle of the film is what the finale of Jurassic Park III should have been, but it's infinitely more appropriate in this film, as narratively speaking it's the triumph of "real" dinosaurs against the pop culture monstrosity InGen cooked up.


Oh, I could complain about how contrived it is, how it's so very predictable because of its crowd-pleasing nature. But to be frank -








... Well, you'll sleep tonight.

Overall, I'm probably not the person to ask if you should see Jurassic World, because I can't decide myself if I enjoyed it because of the surprising satirical elements and dramatic ironies abounding, or because I'm seeing things that aren't there - wouldn't be the first time.

There's a lot of sibling subtext in this film, come to think of it: the two brothers coping with their parent's marital strife, Claire and her somewhat estranged sister, the raptor pack, and the Murdersaurus all have some sort of sibling relationship figure into the plot. And I went to this film, as well as the first Jurassic Park, with my sister, as well as my niece. Maybe that's why I was so emotional about it: a bit of sharing a new experience with someone I shared Jurassic Park with.

If I could offer a short review, it would be that Jurassic World is like Jurassic Park's little brother or sister, echoing the sibling subtext: it desperately wants to be just like it, it wants its elder sibling's approval, it's trying to prove itself to the world and to itself. It makes a few blunders, it's very self-conscious and a bit too self-aware of its own actions, and it tends to try to repeat its older sibling's greatest successes. Yet this isn't coming from a cynical attempt to cash in on a winning formula, but a genuine appreciation for what came before, a belief that they got it right.

And in the process, what we ended up with is a film that is trying to reconcile the cultural magnitude of its predecessor with its own place in that universe. It isn't entirely successful, and it didn't have quite the scope to match its clear ambition, but I think it's a lot more worthy than it could have been. It could have been like the new Robocop, a pointless, lifeless, bloodless attempt to rejigger a later-day satirical masterpiece to a half-baked commentary on drones. It could have been the new Conan the Barbarian, a film beset by far too many conflicting ideas and no real idea of what it's trying to do. Jurassic World just takes the central premise of how amazing dinosaurs are, especially in the minds of children not yet dulled by tedium and the false promises of adulthood, and decides to run with it to its logical conclusion.

I may well go to see Jurassic World again. It could be worth a return trip.

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