Jurassic Park is my favorite film. Bar none. It’s not even close. No matter how well Ryan Coogler adapts my favorite superhero (and one of my favorite fictional characters) in Black Panther, it still won’t touch my love of Jurassic Park.
Like pretty much every child, I grew up loving dinosaurs. They were my lifeblood and for a long time, I wanted to be a paleontologist. My parents recognized this passion and gave it fuel. Dozens upon dozens of books about dinosaurs. Trips to see the Allosaurus and Stegosaurus (and the diverse range of mammoths that would come well after them) in Morrill Hall. Vacations to both the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument and the Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park. My childhood was surrounded by the prehistoric.
Like most kids born in 1987, Jurassic Park blew my mind. No longer were dinosaurs something my parents had to seek out. They were everywhere, and they weren’t the tail-dragging monsters of old B-movies. These were living, breathing animals — or so I thought. Jurassic Park wasn’t just entertainment for me, it was a profound, almost spiritual thing. Jurassic Park entranced me so much through its storytelling that I know longer wanted to be a paleontologist. I wanted to make movies, in the hopes that I could one day give that magical feeling to someone else.
I never abandoned dinosaurs though. The winter of 1995 would see me, sitting with my dad as we read Bob Bakker’s Raptor Red to one another. Trips to our family in St. Louis would feature the audiobook of Michael Crichton’s The Lost World. A high school trip took my classmates and I to New York City. I waited nervously for when we would see the American Museum of Natural History. When I finally laid my eyes on AMNH 5027 (the T. rex mount), I got weak at the knees. Now an adult, I still do my best to keep up with the scientific publications and the paleoart community.
Today will see the release of the trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth film in the franchise. And, I just can’t bring myself to give a damn. For me, Jurassic Park was never really scary. I love dinosaurs so why would I fear them? Certainly, the film has its horror elements, but I still think everyone involved did their best to present the dinosaurs within the film as actual animals.
With each successive film, however, the franchise has trended towards horror rather than representing the creatures as animals. It started with 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park where the T. rex is brought to San Diego in a sequence that calls back to 1933’s King Kong and the original The Lost World (1925). Jurassic Park III and Jurassic World are basically straight action films – the science fiction that spawned the franchise is now largely lip service to get the audience to the next action sequence.
What frustrated me most, though, was the growing inaccuracies of the films’ dinosaur reconstructions. I’d be remiss not to address the fact that Jurassic Park wasn’t devoid of changes for dramatic effect. The Dilophosaurus is given a neck frill and the ability to spit venom, neither of which it possessed in real life. The Velociraptors were blown up in size, even from the Deinonychus they were likely based off of. Other, relatively minor errors also appear, such as the “bunny-hands” on the theropods. But for the most part, the film strived for and succeeded in bringing general audiences up to speed on what was then cutting edge research.
Fast forward to 2017, and the dinosaurs still largely look like something out of 1980. This was true in 2015’s Jurassic World as well. Apologists will argue that these were never meant to be “true” dinosaurs, pointing to a scene between Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong) and Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) where Wu points out that the animals in the park would look quite different if the animals were properly recreated. Ignoring the fact that the scene reeks of a reshoot (the film does nothing with this point), the animals that Wu has created are boring and dull in comparison to the actual animals. For a film about a struggling park, maybe they could have tried for something other than a hybrid that is less than the sum of its parts. Why push the franchise in a backwards direction when the semi-reboot could have once again been on the frontier?
So as I masochistically await the trailer for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I do so recognizing that the franchise is no longer for me. That even though the film is introducing new dinosaurs to the franchise like Baryonyx, it does so with inaccuracies that even the touring animatronics exhibits of the late 90s avoided. And I do so knowing that I will not see Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
These movies may no longer be for me, but I hope they spark the imagination of children around the world and drive them (and their parents) to museums. I hope the franchise gives them a need to learn about the planet they live on and an appreciation for their place in it. I hope that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is magic for them, the same way that Jurassic Park was magic for me. And I hope that any cynical folks like myself that do go see it make sure to save their criticisms for when children are no longer in earshot.
Since this is the holiday season, I figured I’d put some recommendations on other dinosaur media below:
The Beasts of the Mesozoic toy line by David Silva
Dinosaurs: How They Lived and Evolved by Darren Naish & Paul Barrett
Paleoart: Visions of the Prehistoric Past by Zoë Lescaze and Walton Ford
Recreating an Age of Reptiles by Mark Witton
Chaos Theory: Zombies vs. Dinosaurs – An independent comic by DJ Wooldridge, Pietro Antoginioni, and M. Woods that has the blood and cursing one would expect of such a mixture, and yet still has more accurate dinosaurs than these movies
The Paleoart of Julius Csotyoni by Julius Csotyoni
Saurian, a survival based computer game on Steam.
All Yesterdays: Unique and Speculative Views of Dinosaurs and other Prehistoric Animals by John Conway, C.M. Koseman, and Darren Naish
Paleoplushies by Rebecca Groom
Boy, We Were Wrong About Dinosaurs by Kathleen V. Kudlinski and S.D. Schindler
The Tyrannosaur Chronicles by David Hone
The Princeton Field Guide to Dinosaurs by Gregory S. Paul