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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Friday, June 12, 2015

Jurassic Park I, 2, and 3

With Jurassic World being released more or less as I write, I've been watching the first three movies in the franchise, released in 1993, 1997, and 2001 respectively. Commercially speaking, these were immensely successful, although this gradually declined after the original Jurassic Park, which set box-office records in its day and still ranks highly among the biggest cinematic drawcards of all time. Even a 3-D re-release in 2013 made significant money for the Jurassic Park franchise.

Watching them again, I was struck by these movies as morality plays. Good guys (of both sexes) and children are menaced by the dinosaurs, but invariably escape. The dislikeable characters come to humiliating ends (this is especially obvious in the first movie), and there's the all-too-common element of "black guys die first" - doubtless shaped by various social pressures to do with casting, etc., rather than by any conscious racist intent, but still prominent, illusion-breaking, and a source of annoyance.

Leaving aside the minor characters - often non-white - who are merely dinosaur fodder, there's a sense that the dinosaurs act as instruments of fate to give characters whatever they deserve, even if some must suffer for flaws and wrongdoings before they can be rewarded. Children are most likely to get out of the movies okay, but not before being terrorised and endangered to manipulate our emotions.

This gives the dinosaurs three aspects, and the movies seem quite knowing about all three, and about the tensions involved: the dinos are the products of an advanced genetic science that is almost always represented as evil (and associated with venal motives); yet at the same time, they evoke awe and wonder; and they also act as instruments of karma - of a sort of impersonal, fatalistic justice.

Some of this probably sounds cynical (some of it is!), but I love these movies, whatever their flaws. In many ways they are masterpieces of the cinematic art (though again, this probably declined after the original Jurassic Park). The complex, perhaps unstable, dramatic meaning of the dinosaurs makes the movies richer rather than undermining their impact. This aspect is well controlled, surely deliberate to some extent, and leaves the experience open to interpretation each time. There are technophobic, technophilic, and karmic elements in movies that look damn good (though the special effects are getting dated) and are always emotionally engrossing.

Jurassic World employs a new generation of SFX technology to make the dinosaurs come alive on screen, and from what I've heard it's successful. I have high hopes that it will, at the very least, look magnificent. I wonder how far the narrative will break the mould we've seen to date.

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