Film Review: Why You Should Watch 'Jurassic World Dominion'
With all its cliches, this is still the best movie as on date to introduce your children to the fascinating world of dinosaurs, evolution, and ecology.
India was undergoing an immense churning in the 1990s. Early years of the decade were when Coke and Pepsi appeared on market shelves and computer centres mushroomed.
In 1993 came Jurassic Park. The movie redefined cinema, bringing to life the prehistoric animals in a spectacular manner. People were mesmerised. It was a surreal achievement of computer graphics; a kind never seen before in action.
The movie showed a fictional, advanced DNA technology that looked very possibly true.
Since then, many movies have come with far more advanced computer graphics and and even overdose of them.
But what makes Jurassic Park special is the philosophy behind it.
Michael Crichton (1942-2008) was an extraordinary story teller. It would be surprising for the readers to know that his novel Terminal Man (1972) was translated and serialised in the 1970's popular Tamil magazine Kumutham and was a smashing hit with readers.
It was about how a medical effort to control human behaviour with a neural implant 'brain pacemaker' goes haywire.
His 1990 novel Jurassic Park also centres around the same theme but in a more detailed manner.
Later he wrote a sequel, The Lost World (1995). This centred around the mathematician character Ian Malcolm who comes as the voice of holistic approach in Jurassic Park.
His statement that "life finds a way" is quite an unofficial philosophical statement of Crichton's worldview.
Both the novels Jurassic Park and The Lost World bring to the readers some of the core concepts of theoretical and systems biology, particularly concerning evolution.
They also bring in questions of bio-ethics and show us how great power can create disturbances in the complex connected ecosystems which make the planetary process we call Earth.
Essentially, both the novels are tales of caution and also motivation to understand the phenomenon called life, with reverence and humility. The philosophical core of Jurassic Park is expressed through the delirious words of mathematician character Ian Malcolm which is worth quoting in detail:
Most kinds of power require a substantial sacrifice by whoever wants the power. There is an apprenticeship, a discipline lasting many years. Whatever kind of power you want. President of the company. Black belt in karate. Spiritual guru. Whatever it is you seek, you have to put in the time, the practice, the effort. You must give up a lot to get it. It has to be very important to you. And once you have attained it, it is your power. It can't be given away: it resides in you. It is literally the result of your discipline. ...
But scientific power is like inherited wealth: attained without discipline. You read what others have done, and you take the next step. You can do it very young. You can make progress very fast. There is no discipline lasting many decades. There is no mastery: old scientists are ignored. There is no humility before nature. There is only a get-rich-quick, make-a-name-for-yourself-fast philosophy. Cheat, lie, falsify-it doesn't matter. ... "A karate master does not kill people with his bare hands. He does not lose his temper and kill his wife. The person who kills is the person who has no discipline, no restraint, and who has purchased his power in the form of a Saturday night special.
This is also one of the core problems of knowledge appropriation.
The first movie was true to the spirit and values of the author. Now in 2022, 29 years after the first Jurassic Park movie and 14 years after the death of Crichton, we have Jurassic World Dominion, directed by Colin Trevorrow.
It is a world where the failed Jurassic Park experiment had spilled out its genetically revived and manipulated dinosaurs into world and the prehistoric animals, through their own pathways of evolution, are settling for a new kind of equilibrium.
Then there is corporate greed and the perverted side of human depravation. These create corporate, genetic control of the food chain of the planet on one side and underground illegal trade of dinosaurs on the other (wet markets for dinosaur meat to velociraptor fighting rings).
Then, a human-dinosaur relation also evolves based on a kind of empathy.
Telling the entire story here is not the plan; see it for yourself, but you get the picture of the world in which the plot unveils, don't you? Essentially, it is about corporate greed to manipulate genomes versus unfolding chaos thwarting the control-based science. In other words, the story line is the same as in the original Jurassic Park but scaled up for a planet and that with upgraded graphics as well as our new knowledge of dinosaurs.
The movie brings in some new dinosaurs for sure. There is Giganotosaurus (not Gigantosaurus as commonly misspelt. It is Giga as in Gigabytes) as the apex predator. This is how National Geographic News reported the discovery of their fossils:
Skeletons of a huge, meat-eating dinosaur that overshadows Tyrannosaurus rex have been discovered in Argentina. The newly revealed species is one of the biggest carnivores ever to have walked the Earth, dinosaur experts say. At least seven of the animals were uncovered together in a mass fossil graveyard in western Patagonia, a region famous for giant-dinosaur remains. Living some 100 million years ago, the largest specimen was more than 40 feet (12.5 meters) long.
There are also feathered dinosaurs in the movie.
In 1996, a Chinese farmer Li Yumin, who was also a part-time fossil hunter, discovered a fossil slab from Lianoing province of China. It was sold to a museum. Phil Currie of the Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, who was on a fossil tour to Mongolia, recognised the importance of it.
When this was known to the Chinese government, it banned all photos of the fossil and a team of Chinese scientists started working on it. Till their paper was published, there would be no photographs.
The same year, Chinese scientists published the paper in a Chinese museum journal. Named Sinosauropteryx (Chinese lizard wing), the fossil became a kind of clinching evidence for settling the raging debate on whether birds evolved from dinosaurs.
The dinosaurs had feathers.
Feathered dinosaurs are now a part of common paleontological knowledge. The current paleontological conclusion is that even velociraptors had feathers.
This is just a glimpse of how the movie franchise has been updating itself with scientific discoveries - better than the way our textbooks update themselves. What is needed is the passionate urge to take science to the children and fire their brains with need to explore. It is a pity our textbook makers lack what even the Hollywood industry has.
There are other important changes in the film franchise. (Here the two sequels to Jurassic Park and subsequent other Jurassic World movies are not taken into account.)
One is the way velociraptors are depicted. In the initial movie they were depicted as pack hunting cruel predators. Actually in the first movie, there seemed to be an underlying assumption – herbivorous dinosaurs good, carnivorous dinosaurs bad. Even the facial features of the former were shown pleasing and wanton cruelty emanated from the way raptors and Tyrannosaurus rex were shown.
In reality, the species shown in the original Jurassic Park was Deinonychus antirrhopus, also known as Velociraptor antirrhopus, which inhabited what is now America.
In the 2022 film, velociraptors seem to understand humans and human characters are being made to empathise with velociraptors, almost like in old Indian miracle movies where the snakes seem to hear and understand what humans say.
The movie also speaks of mother-child bonding and cares in velociraptors. That may look quite a stretch. While we may not yet have such proof for velociraptors in general, the fossil evidence shows varied levels of parental care. The study of the behaviour of the nearest dinosaur descendants like ostriches shows a remarkable parental care for the hatchlings.
More important is the way we are rapidly transforming in expanding our empathy. What was a hideous monster in 1993 has become an animal with which humans empathise.
This is in a way reflective of the same tendency in science as well. When the first oviraptor fossil was discovered in 1922 near what appeared to be the fossilised eggs, it was thought to be the stolen eggs of another dinosaur species, protoceraptos. Hence, the name given meant 'egg-thieves'. But now we know that the fossil was actually a parent.
In fact, a stunning fossil discovered in the Gobi desert of 1994 shows an oviraptor spread over her nest of eggs. The skull was missing. She was either incubating or protecting her eggs very much like the birds today. She was ready to sit over the eggs and face the disaster rather than run perhaps. Perhaps she was being as ‘unselfish’ as any mother protecting her offspring.
The fossil, now in a Mongolian Dinosaur museum, a is reminder of ‘Ya Devi Sarva Bhuteshu Matru Rupena …’. This has been a statement that is as much true of at least some dinosaur species as it is true for modern mammalian branches of life, including humans.
The new movie is replete with the usual clichés –the corporate villain manipulating nature through reductionist technology control, dinosaurs always killing the evil people while always missing the good ones and US-centric approach. However, this is still the best movie as on date to introduce your children to the fascinating world of dinosaurs, evolution and ecology.
The movie ends with a plea for co-existence and mutual respect for all life, with a silhouette of elephants and dinosaurs moving together, minutes before we leave the hall.
Personally I cannot but wonder if the mahout-elephant relation is not one such. Nowhere else such a majestic animal has been integrated with so much love and respect with human culture and life. Though vilified today by fashion-statement ac-room based wildlife enthusiasts, and despite some systemic course correction it requires, the elephant-mahout relation in traditional Hindu ecosystem provides a classic example of historic demonstration of such co-existence and mutual respect.
Co-existence with mutual respect with the infinite variety that evolution produces is very much a Hindu civilisational core value and today its importance is being stressed impressively through such popular movies, despite their clichés and the US-centric obsession.
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