India was undergoing immense brewing in the 1990s. The early years of the decade were when Coke and Pepsi appeared on market shelves and computer centers proliferated.
In 1993 came jurassic park. The film redefined cinema, bringing prehistoric animals to life in spectacular fashion. People were fascinated. It was a surreal realization of computer graphics; a genre never before seen in action.
The film showed fictitious, advanced DNA technology that most likely appeared to be true.
Since then, many movies have come with much more advanced infographics and even an overkill.
But what makes jurassic park special is the philosophy behind it.
Michael Crichton (1942-2008) was an extraordinary storyteller. It would be surprising if readers knew that his novel Male Terminal (1972) was translated and serialized in the popular Tamil magazine of the 1970s Kumutham and was a smash hit with readers.
It was about how a medical effort to control human behavior with a neural implant “brain stimulator” goes haywire.
Her 1990 novel jurassic park also revolves around the same theme but in more detail.
Later he wrote a sequel, The lost World (1995). It centered around the character of mathematician Ian Malcolm who presents himself as the voice of the holistic approach in jurassic park.
His statement that “life finds a way” is a fairly unofficial philosophical statement of Crichton’s worldview.
The two novels jurassic park and The lost World provide readers with some of the basic concepts of theoretical and systems biology, particularly regarding evolution.
They also raise questions of bioethics and show us how a great power can create disruptions in the complex connected ecosystems that make up the planetary process we call Earth.
Essentially, both novels are tales of caution and also motivation to understand the phenomenon called life, with respect and humility. The philosophical core of Jurassic Park is expressed through the delirious words of the mathematician character Ian Malcolm who deserves to be quoted in detail:
It is also one of the central problems of the appropriation of knowledge.
The first film was faithful to the spirit and values of the author. Now in 2022, 29 years after the first Jurassic Park movie and 14 years after Crichton’s death, we have Jurassic World Dominion, directed by Colin Trevorrow.
It’s a world where the failed Jurassic Park experiment had dumped its genetically resurrected and manipulated dinosaurs into the world and prehistoric animals, through their own evolutionary pathways, settle for a new kind of balance.
Then there is corporate greed and the evil side of human depravity. These create corporate genetic control of the planet’s food chain on one side and an underground illegal trade in dinosaurs on the other (dinosaur meat wet markets to velociraptor battle rings).
Then, a human-dinosaur relationship also evolves based on a kind of empathy.
Telling the whole story here isn’t the plan; see it for yourself, but you get the picture of the world the plot unfolds in, don’t you? Essentially, it’s about corporate greed to manipulate genomes versus the ongoing chaos that thwarts control-based science. In other words, the storyline is the same as in the original. jurassic park but on the scale of a planet and that with improved graphics as well as our new knowledge on the dinosaurs.
The movie brings new dinosaurs for sure. There are Giganotosaurus (not Gigantosaurus as commonly misspelled. It’s Giga as in Gigabytes) as apex predator. Here is how National Geographic News reported the discovery of their fossils:
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 the Chinese province of Lianoing. It was sold to a museum. Phil Currie of the Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, who was touring the fossils in Mongolia, recognized the importance.
When this became known to the Chinese government, it banned all photos of the fossil and a team of Chinese scientists began working on it. Until their article was published, there would be no photographs.
In the same year, Chinese scientists published the article in a Chinese museum journal. Appointed Sinosauropteryx (Chinese lizard wing), the fossil has become something of a climactic piece of evidence to settle the raging debate over whether birds evolved from dinosaurs.
Dinosaurs had feathers.
Feathered dinosaurs have become 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 updated with scientific discoveries – better than how our textbooks update. What is needed is the passionate urge to bring science to children and ignite their brains with the need to explore. It’s a shame that our textbook makers lack what even the Hollywood industry has.
There are other significant changes to the film franchise. (Here the two sequences of jurassic park and others following jurassic world movies are not taken into account.)
One is how velociraptors are depicted. In the original film, they were portrayed as packs hunting cruel predators. In fact, in the first movie, there seemed to be an underlying assumption – herbivorous dinosaurs are good, carnivorous dinosaurs are bad. Even the facial features of the former were shown pleasing, and a gratuitous cruelty emanated from the way the raptors and Tyrannosaurus rex were shown.
In reality, the species depicted in the original jurassic park has been Deinonychus antirrhopus, also known as Velociraptor antirrhopus, who inhabited what is now America.
In the 2022 movie, the velociraptors seem to understand humans and the human characters are made to sympathize with the velociraptors, almost like in the old Indian miracle movies where the snakes seem to hear and understand what the humans are saying.
The film also talks about the mother-child bond and the care of velociraptors. This may seem quite overkill. Although we don’t yet have such evidence for velociraptors in general, fossil evidence shows varying levels of parental care. Studying the behavior of the closest dinosaur descendants like ostriches shows remarkable parental care for newborns.
More important is how quickly we transform by expanding our empathy. What was a hideous monster in 1993 has become an animal that humans sympathize with.
It’s sort of a reflection of the same trend in science as well. When the first oviraptor fossil was discovered in 1922 near what appeared to be the fossilized eggs, thought to be the stolen eggs of another dinosaur species, protoceraptos. Therefore, the given name meant “egg thieves”. But now we know the fossil was actually a relative.
In fact, a superb fossil discovered in the Gobi desert in 1994 shows a oviraptor spread over her nest of eggs. The skull was missing. She brooded or guarded her eggs just like today’s birds. She was ready to sit on the eggs and face disaster rather than maybe run. Perhaps she was as “selfless” as any mother protecting her offspring.
The fossil, now in a Mongolian dinosaur museum, is a reminder of ‘Ya Devi Sarva Bhuteshu Matru Rupena …’. This has been a claim that is as true for at least some dinosaur species as it is for branches of modern mammalian life, including humans.
The new film is full of the usual cliches – the corporate villain manipulating nature through the control of reductionist technology, the dinosaurs still killing the bad guys while still missing the good guys, and the USA-centric approach. However, it remains the best film to date to introduce your children to the fascinating world of dinosaurs, evolution and ecology.
The film ends with a plea for coexistence and mutual respect for all life, with a silhouette of elephants and dinosaurs moving together, minutes before we leave the room.
Personally, I can only wonder if the mahout-elephant relationship is not one. Nowhere else has such a majestic animal been integrated with such love and respect into human culture and life. Although vilified today by fashionable wildlife enthusiasts, and despite some systemic course corrections it requires, the elephant-mahout relationship in the traditional Hindu ecosystem provides a classic example of a historical demonstration of a such coexistence and such mutual respect.
Coexistence in mutual respect with the infinite variety that evolution produces is a fundamental value of Hindu civilization and today its importance is impressively underlined through such popular films, despite their clichés and obsession centered on United States.