Where Was the World in ‘Jurassic World’?
Life finds a way ... just not in this movie.
Screenshot from the Jurassic World trailer. Image: Universal Pictures/YouTube
SPOILER ALERT: This article contains spoilers for Jurassic World, the Jurassic Park trilogy, and the original Michael Crichton 1990 novel Jurassic Park.
Jurassic World is totally crushing it at the box office, nabbing the most lucrative Friday opening in history. The movie is expected to pocket well over $204 million this weekend domestically, and is also killing it in foreign markets.
While the film was expected to be a blockbuster, the over-the-top response has gone way beyond Universal's projections. It just goes to show that you should never underestimate the devoted fanbase of the original Jurassic Park, or the mass appeal of dinosaur movies in general.
That said, I have a giant dinosaur bone to pick with Jurassic World, and the crux of it is right there in the movie's title. World. Jurassic World. Since the movie was first announced, I have assumed that it would deliver on that fateful title by validating the premise that sparked this entire mega-franchise in the first place.
Raptor hatching scene. Credit: Universal Pictures/YouTube/rideonwater2
"[T]he kind of control you're attempting simply is...it's not possible," says Malcolm to Richard Attenborough's John Hammond in the raptor-hatching scene. "If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us it's that life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh...well, there it is."
Henry Wu, played by BD Wong, skeptically responds by asking Malcolm, "You're implying that a group composed entirely of female animals will … breed?"
"No," replies Malcolm. "I'm simply saying that life, uh … finds a way."
This sentiment that "life finds a way" is the catchphrase of the entire Jurassic Park franchise, soaring even higher than "hold onto your butts" in terms of quotability. But what is often forgotten is that Michael Crichton first intended this quote to not only foreshadow that the dinosaurs would find a way to breed, but more importantly, that they'd find a way off the island.
Indeed, Crichton's entire novel is predicated on this risk. In the early chapters, he reveals that some of the small carnivorous dinosaurs known as compies have already made it to continental Central America before the main action of the novel even begins.
He also inserts a ticking time bomb into the plot when Alan Grant glimpses a group of raptors aboard a ship departing Isla Nublar for Costa Rica. So, in the book version, not only is Grant attempting to safely escort John Hammond's grandchildren through a dinosaur-infested park, he is also trying to warn the authorities before the ship delivers its payload of invasive raptors to the mainland.
The prospect of this global ecological clash between the beasts of the Mesozoic and those of the Anthropocene has been dangled in front of Jurassic Park fans for 25 years now, and I am getting tired of watching each successive installment of the franchise fail to run with it.
To be fair, the idea is briefly indulged in the sequel The Lost World when a T-Rex is loosed upon the innocent citizens of San Diego. But even then, it is more akin to a Godzilla-style rampage than the kind of large-scale collision of ecosystems that has been teased since Crichton published Jurassic Park.
Jurassic World was a lot of fun at times, but it took the safe route of containing its animals on Isla Nublar rather than letting them break free of their island shackles. There are some seeds planted that suggest that future sequels might take the story to a more global level, but it was not enough to justify swapping "Park" for "World." For a movie overloaded with utterly blatant product placement, Jurassic World really didn't advertise itself very accurately.
Lest you think I am criticizing the film without offering an alternative, allow me to lay out exactly what I would love to see in subsequent sequels. It's simple. Universal: Give us a Seventh Iteration of the Malcolm Effect.
Book readers, you know what I'm talking about. Crichton's novel is divided into ever-complexifying iterations of the natural disturbances unleashed by InGen upon the world—as in, the entire planet Earth. In the seventh and last iteration, Grant and the other survivors discover that Jurassic Park's escaped raptors are actively organizing themselves for migration to the mainland.
The book caps off with the ominous line, "None of us is going anywhere, Dr. Grant." This kicker is ostensibly about the survivors getting quarantined, but Crichton's deeper subtext is clear. The dinosaurs are here to stay, and so are the humans. As Sam Neill said in his role as Dr. Grant in the original film: "Dinosaurs and man, two species separated by 65 million years of evolution have just been suddenly thrown back into the mix together. How can we possibly have the slightest idea what to expect?"
You can expect feral tyrannosaurs, the subjugation of birds by pterosaurs, sauropod herds blocking highways, and a complete disruption of the global food web. Give us cheetahs downing gazelles, only to be downed in turn by packs of wild raptors. Show turf wars between wildebeest and Triceratops herds, and mosasaurs dominating the oceans.
Or, as I suggested when Jurassic Park was re-released in 2013, use John Hammond's throwaway line, "Why didn't I build in Orlando?" as the bedrock for an alternate take on the theme park. Imagine the beautiful chaos of the parallel universe in which dinosaurs break loose in the Magic Kingdom or set up shop in Florida's Jurassic-friendly swamps. Be still, my beating heart.
Regardless of the narrative setup, I want to see the global consequences of reviving a long-extinct group of megafauna addressed in a meaningful way by the franchise. Which dinosaur species would thrive off-island, and which would become re-extinct? How would society respond to the threat of invasive dinosaurs? Could ecological equilibrium ever be reached again?
Not only would these questions invigorate the complex philosophical themes of the original novel and film, it would be an opportunity to highlight our planet's very real environmental crises. Humans have been radically altering Earth's ecosystems for centuries, without any help from reanimated dinosaurs. Using the Jurassic Park universe as a catalyst to discuss these kinds of pressing issues could be both entertaining and enlightening.
In short, Universal, please make Jurassic World worthy of its ambitious title. I've now seen four movies about dinosaurs restricted to islands, barring one brief San Diego slipup. Next time, let's spare no expense with the underlying promise of Crichton's novel. In Malcolm's words, let's allow life to break free, expand to new territories, crash through barriers, and—painfully, maybe even dangerously—find a way.