AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A SCIENTIST!
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JURASSIC PARK (1993)
“There is no unauthorised breeding in
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough, Jeff Goldblum, Wayne Knight, Bob Peck, Samuel L. Jackson, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello, Martin Ferrero, B.D. Wong, Gerald R. Molen, Cameron Thor, Miguel Sandoval
Screenplay: Michael Crichton and David Koepp, based upon the novel by Michael Crichton
Nublar, one hundred and fifty miles west of
Comments: In the American summer of 1975, a twenty-nine year old Steven Spielberg turned the established tenets of movie-marketing on their head by proving that, given good reason, the public would indeed exchange blue skies and sunshine for the air-conditioned darkness of the cinema. Until that time, it was assumed by the studios that people simply didn’t want to go to the movies during the summer. That period of the year was consequently used as a dumping-ground for films that didn’t really work, or weren’t expected to draw a broad-based audience. Then everything changed. The film that changed it was, of course, Jaws; and given the nature of its subject matter, perhaps it’s not surprising that so many people weren’t all that eager to get back to the beach afterwards, but instead stuck around for a second, or even a third, viewing.
For good or ill – I say ill, but then, I’m a curmudgeon – the lessons of Jaws continue to this day to dictate the way that films are made and marketed. Film-making generally is dominated by the concept of “the summer blockbuster”; sums of money that would have been considered unthinkable, perhaps even unconscionable, in 1975, are routinely thrown into production and marketing in the hope of winning that all-important battle of the opening weekend take; a mark of success that, bizarrely, appears to be more important than the staying-power of the film; while the quality of the product in question often seems no more than an afterthought. The disheartening thing is how little the paying public demands of these mega-budgeted extravaganzas. It is almost taken for granted these days that there will be a yawning gulf between the promises of the marketing and the reality of the finished product; expecting a fair portion of steak along with all the sizzle is considered unrealistic, not to say greedy. The discovery that a particular blockbuster is actually good – or, more commonly, not that bad – is likely to elicit gasps of astonishment.
there is a subset of blockbuster films where the film-makers’ efforts to
keep faith with the paying public are hearteningly evident. One of those
In the first instance, while Winston and his people were assigned the task of creating the “live” dinosaurs – models, puppets and animatronics, which would be used for the close-up and partial shots, and some of the cast interactions – it was the intention to employ Tippet’s “Go-Motion” process, a refined version of stop-motion that incorporates motion blur, for all of the remaining dinosaur scenes with the exception of the stampede of the herd of Gallimimus. This key sequence was assigned to Dennis Muren of Industrial Light & Magic, to be realised via the still-developing technique of computer-generated imagery.
The first fully CGI-created film character had
appeared in 1985, in
Young Sherlock Holmes;
by the time of
pre-production, the technology had taken great strides, making
unforgettable contributions to such films as
However, while it was conceded that CGI could work wonders for realising
imaginary life-forms and entities, there was profound doubt about the
technique’s ability to do the same for real ones. The team at ILM was
convinced that the technology was up to the challenge, and that the work
It is impossible to watch Jurassic Park today without a gloomy recognition of how exponentially worse CGI effects seem to have gotten over the intervening years; bad enough, indeed, for snobs like me to turn up their noses with a sniff, and start making wistful remarks about the good old days of stop-motion and guys in rubber suits. Although this argument is one often couched in emotional terms – traditional effects have “heart”, CGI is “soulless” – the underlying criticism is not invalid. Too many productions now employ CGI as a matter of course, while lacking either the means or, perhaps more importantly, the inclination to take that final step and give their creations real substance, instead exhibiting precisely the near enough is good enough attitude that Jurassic Park so scrupulously avoids. The result is flat, ill-integrated constructs that fail either to convince the eye or capture the imagination. In that respect, at least, traditional effects are frequently superior, not only because there is, in fact, a solid object before the camera, but because they so often bring with them a sense of their designer’s personality and enthusiasm for his work. This is where Jurassic Park separates itself from so many of its descendants. The effects in the film aren’t perfect – some of the compositing is obvious, particularly in the opening dinosaur sequence – but they are heartfelt. Like many earlier, practical effect-based films, and unlike so many subsequent CGI-heavy ones, here you can feel in every frame the excitement and the dedication of all of those involved in its creation.
So what was it about this particular production that elicited that response? There was, of course, the fact that Jurassic Park was in so many ways the first; the film was simultaneously a demonstration of the capabilities of the various special effects technologies, a vindication of those who had embraced them, and a glimpse (again, for good or ill) into the future of film-making. But in truth, I think it ultimately comes down to something much more fundamental than that.
It’s the dinosaurs.
The relationship between modern man and these
extraordinary, long-extinct creatures is a peculiarly emotional one.
There is a strange, deep yearning associated with it, one that compels
small children to wrestle with multisyllabic names; that sends adults
out into the wilds of our world to sift painstakingly through its dust;
that turns theoretical musings into violent blood-feuds; and that, yes,
inspires writers and film-makers to create, and makes the general public
eager to consume. The remarkable thing about the effects sequences in
Jurassic Park is the sense that those
responsible for them were acting at once as creator and audience. No
more than the public were these technicians prepared to settle for
second best here. Their devotion to their cause reveals itself in the
constant attention to detail: the dilation of a pupil; the curl of a
lip; the rippling of the skin over the musculature beneath; the curve of
a neck; and above all, the mass, the
of the creatures. The seeming reality of the resulting images is one
that touches a chord deep within our human natures. That first glimpse
Brachiosaurus is a scene of such visual
power that almost on its own it vindicates the existence of the film
that contains it; while I’m not sure there’s ever been a better
audience-surrogate moment than the scene with
when Alan Grant, giddy with rapturous delight, leans against the
animal’s flank and presses his body against it, stretching out his arms
and laying his hands flat in answer to a deep, instinctive need to
the creature’s life beneath his touch. I have my problems with Steven
Spielberg as a film-maker, and particularly with some of his more
manipulative tactics, but I have to confess that when it comes to
Well, what can I say? It’s the dinosaurs.
just spent the first three pages of this review talking about
Brachiosaurus has also undergone some renovation. It is highly unlikely that an animal of Brachiosaurus’ weight and build would or could rear up on its hind legs – and why would it here, with plenty of food within its reach? The head of these dinosaurs, seen when Alan and the kids get to pat one, is too large; while the design of their teeth would prohibit them from biting and chewing their food as shown. And--- Do my eyes deceive me, or are those Eucalyptus trees that the brachiosaurs are feeding on!? I don’t think so. Just consider what koalas have to go through to subsist on those things. It is inconceivable that an animal requiring the enormous daily food input of Brachiosaurus would waste its time that way – even assuming that the plants weren’t toxic to it. Dishearteningly – speaking purely from the point of view of the film’s wonderful visuals – recent studies suggest that Brachiosaurus was in all likelihood a grazing animal; and that far from stretching up its neck to munch on the treetops, it probably wasn’t able to lift its head much above the level of its back.
(While I can’t help reacting to this tampering, I do have to admit that the film’s best joke – Objects in mirror are closer than they appear – goes a long, long way towards excusing it.)
The other issue with
Tyrannosaurus is the question of its
vision. One problem I have generally with
Which brings us to
Velociraptor. Oh, boy. Here we have not
just a makeover, but a thoroughly Bionic Man-esque rebuilding. First and
most obviously, actual velociraptors were nowhere near as big as they
are here; they averaged about a metre tall and two metres long. The
animals in the film are actually based upon
which at the time that Michael Crichton was writing were thought to be
velociraptors (and were called V.
antirrhopus, prior to being reclassified).
Similarly, that could not be Velociraptor
that Alan and his team are excavating. Two species of
have been identified, both in
Of more concern is the exaggeration of the
velociraptors’ physical and mental capabilities. Indeed, there were
moments when these team-playing, problem-solving, door-opening predators
began to give me unpleasant flashbacks to
My ultimate reaction to the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park is a right-brain/left-brain sort of thing: although I register the artistic license taken, for the most part while I’m watching I’m quite content just to play along. As is the case with the dinosaurs themselves, the sequences involving them are so indicative of the thought and effort and care that went into their creation that focusing upon the possible criticisms would be an act of churlishness of which not even I am capable.
Amusingly, creating dinosaurs seems to have had the same sort of effect upon David Koepp, who treats them with a great deal more thought and care than he shows for any of his human characters. The screenplay is scrupulous in its refusal to demonise the dinosaurs; even after the raw terror of the attack by T. rex, when Lex announces that she, “Hates those other ones” – meaning the carnivores – Alan reminds her quietly that they were, “Just doing what they do.” It is a thoughtful touch, too, that at no point does either Alan or Tim lose their sense of awe in the presence of these overwhelming creatures. No matter what the circumstances, there is always a moment when they stop and simply....gaze.
No, it isn’t the dinosaurs, however tarted up for
the cameras they might be, that are the problem here; it’s everything
else. If the rest
As for that
film-making revolution, its basis is the fact that the bigger a film’s
budget, the less you can afford to exclude any paying customers. The
absolute need to secure a PG-13 rating at worst dictates the content of
any such film. This is most clearly illustrated in
novel, Michael Crichton was much more generous with his supply of dino-fodder,
and far more ruthless about doling out bloody fates.
The Lawyer and The Fat Guy. Or maybe The Lawyer and The Computer Geek. Take your pick.
You know, I have a serious problem with this, both
oh, but it’s okay to kill THESE guys
attitude, and the prefatory humiliation of their death scenes. The
treatment dished out to Donald Gennaro is particularly disturbing. If
Justifying himself after disaster has struck,
You know--- Philosophically speaking, there are few things I enjoy more than finding a lecture on the evils of capitalism buried within one of the top twenty highest grossing films of all time; a film whose studio spent even more on marketing it than they did to make it; a film that set a new record for its number of tie-ins – over one thousand individual deals that generated over $1 billion in revenue. The effrontery of it is just....awe-inspiring.
While John Hammond and Donald Gennaro are the characters most altered in their translation to the screen, almost everyone is re-shaped to a certain degree. Actually, pretty much the same rule applies here as did to the dinosaurs: more screentime = more changes. Truthfully, neither version of this story is notable for the shading or complexity of its characters. Dennis Nedry is an embarrassing cliché in the book, and even worse in the film. (Spielberg’s fault rather than Wayne Knight’s, evidently.) As Muldoon, Bob Peck tries to flesh out his vaguely-sketched character, but he’s obviously just marking time until he becomes raptor-chow; although I do like his ambiguous little smile at the end of the jeep pursuit: is that, “Yes, we got away!” or “Damn, that is one magnificent animal!”? (In view of, “Clever girl!”, I’m betting the latter.) Ian Malcolm, our rock star mathematician, is pretty much the same here, only – more so. When I recently reviewed No Highway In The Sky, I commented that it featured “Jimmy Stewart at his absolute Jimmy Stewart-est”. I’m afraid that I really can’t do better here: Ian Malcolm is played by Jeff Goldblum at his absolute Jeff Goldblum-est....and with all the horror that entails. Now, given that one of his main tasks in the story is to tell me that, as a scientist, I am Worse Than Hitler, it’s likely I would have had certain issues with Ian Malcolm no matter who was playing him; but as it is--- Oh, the pain, the pain of it all! (In this respect, Spielberg and Koepp are far more merciful than Crichton: after the Tyrannosaurus attack, which happens at about the one hour mark, Ian is kept largely offscreen and/or silent.)
Apart from the cuddlification of John Hammond, the
Jurassic Park is
“A Film By Steven Spielberg” shows itself most blatantly in the added
plot-thread that sees Alan Grant almost as notable for his dislike of
children as he is for his palaeontological qualifications. Naturally, he
then has the
Tell me--- Has there ever been a film where a character was expressed a reluctance to have children, or didn't particularly care for them, and then was permitted simply to hold to their opinion? At any rate, I’m pretty certain that no character in a PG-13 summer blockbuster ever was. So if you are such a character, and you do express such a reluctance, rest assured that by the end of the film, you will have been taught the error of your ways. With extreme prejudice.
(By the way, note to screenwriters: disliking children and not wanting children are not the same thing; and one does not necessarily arise from the other.)
Mind you, the one place above all else where we have to thank Steven Spielberg and David Koepp is in their complete re-writing of Lex, who in the novel is an obnoxious, whiny, nerve-scraping brat. (If movie-Alan had ever met novel-Lex, he’d’ve booked a vasectomy on the spot.) The film adds a few years to Lex’s age, making her the older sibling, and more capable of helping herself in a crisis, although by no means independent. She is still terrified of the dinosaurs, even the herbivores, but this is not anything to do with her sex, merely a reflection of the fact that she is simply not the dino-freak her brother is. (Although you’d think that someone who declares herself a vegetarian would know the word “carnivore”.) To balance this, the screenplay re-tools a plot-point and makes Lex the computer expert, who towards the climax of the film has to figure out and operate the program that controls the security aspects of the park. In the novel, this expertise is given to Tim (there’s very little point to novel-Lex at all), in addition to making him just the kind of dinosaur expert that we all were at the age of ten – right? The bonding of Tim and Alan over their mutual love of dinosaurs, which is a carryover from the novel, is certainly the most credible aspect of Alan’s emotional transformation. Much of Jurassic Park focuses upon the two kids and, I have to admit, as far as children in a Spielberg film go, we could have done (and have done) a lot worse.
Unfortunately, a similar kind of renovation was not performed for the character of Ellie Sattler: she is about as much of a nonentity in the film as she is in the novel, for all that Laura Dern is second-billed. Upon reflection, I can’t help thinking that the problem here is that this film gives so much of the traditional female role to Alan: he is frequently overcome with emotion; most of his behaviour is reactive rather than proactive; and he is given the task of defending the children. With such an emotional hero on our hands, you might think that the screenplay would see its way clear to making Ellie a stronger or more intellectual heroine – but no such luck. There are a couple of feints towards it – Ellie’s “And woman inherits the earth” crack, and her dash to the power station – but if anything, overall she becomes even more traditionally female. Despite the dinosaurs, the first thing on her mind at any given moment is Alan’s bonding with the children; her response to Ian Malcolm zig-zags between fluttery confessions of ignorance about chaos theory, and embarrassing simpering when he tries to flirt; and most of what little action she does take involves tending the sick or wounded, whether it be saurian or human. (Someone may have thought that getting up to your elbows in dinosaur dung was “woman’s work”, too.) And then of course, there’s Ellie’s Big Moment, where, with Alan and the kids unaccounted for, and in response to John Hammond’s rambling, half-guilty, half-exculpatory account of his motivations, she gets to say solemnly, “But you can’t think your way through this one, John. You have to feel it.”
Hmm. Was that the sound of one anvil dropping, or two?
The perversely beautiful thing about that line is that I really have no idea what it means. What is it exactly that he’s supposed to be feeling rather than thinking? John Hammond is here reflecting upon his motives in resurrecting the dinosaurs and building his park, and upon what went wrong, what were his mistakes. That seems a valid behaviour to me; what should he be doing, having hysterics? Ah, but then he commits the fatal transgression of considering how he might correct his mistakes next time....
If science fiction films have taught us anything, it is that you must never, never, never under any circumstances try to learn from your mistakes – chiefly because any mistake, committed for any reason, is evidence of a process’s fundamental unsoundness, not to say immorality. Instead, you must dismantle, destroy and deny. I think my favourite example of this trope comes in the original version of The Fly, where Andre Delambre responds to his teleportation accident by burning his papers, trashing his lab, and having his head squashed in an industrial press; rather than by, you know, installing flyscreens. While in the real world the expression “throwing the baby out with the bath water” might come to mind, in the world of science fiction obliterating all evidence of a failed experiment and never trying again – or allowing anyone else to do so – is the only acceptable response. Just think of all those Frankenstein movies where someone stumbles over imperfectly destroyed lab notes; invariably, history repeats.
which, very belatedly, and by long and winding roads, brings us to what
is really the subject of this review: the science of
Michael Crichton is co-credited with the screenplay of
In fact....the more I sat and thought about the science of this story, and the way that it is used, the more I felt an ominous warmth creeping up the back of my neck. That’s not good news for any of us. The last time I felt that burn, the film in question was Embryo; I reacted by losing both my temper and my sense of humour; the result was a Dull Thudding Rant. I’ll try to do a little better this time.
To the question, “Can the dinosaurs be brought back using the methods described in this story?”, the answer – and believe me, this hurts me more than it hurts you – is, simply, no. There are reasons big and small why this is so. To deal with the big ones first: animals brought back over a period of 100 million years (give or take) would have no immunity to our world; it would be deadly to them. In addition, except for a plot-point no sooner raised than dropped, no attempt is made also to recreate a suitable diet for these creatures. And who knows what effect changes in climate and atmosphere would have on them? So – no.
(One of the strangest points in both book and film is the idea of containing the dinosaurs by making them lysine-dependent: they are “engineered” to be that way. Now, while the island might not supply sufficient lysine, so that the dinosaurs’ diets would need to be supplemented, it would hardly be necessary to “engineer” this trait. Lysine is an essential amino acid, which means it cannot be manufactured in the vertebrate body, and must be obtained in food. Furthermore, lysine is the limiting amino acid, meaning that there is less of it found naturally than any other amino acid. As a containment device, it might hold the herbivores, given their massive requirements – adult humans require around 30 mg/kg/day of lysine, so you can judge how much a brachiosaurus might need – but as for the carnivores--- Red meat is a particularly rich source of lysine....)
But neither the book nor the film is very interested in the big reasons; they ignore these basic practicalities in favour of the minutiae of scientific technique. The premise of Jurassic Park, as most of the world knows by now, is the recreation of the dinosaurs via the cloning and genetic manipulation of their DNA, extracted from blood preserved within mosquitoes, which themselves were preserved in amber.
There is a major blunder here that is entirely an
invention of the movie, so I’ll get that out of the way first.
But supposing you had a sample of the right age, what you would need would be a piece of amber that contained a pregnant female mosquito, trapped after feeding, but before she had begun to digest her meal. Dinosaurs almost certainly had nucleated red blood cells (as do amphibians, reptiles and birds), so in theory their blood would be a reasonable target for sequencing.
attempts made to extract DNA from preserved samples before
But the issue is finally one of time. DNA degrades over time, and it is an ongoing process; the end product of 100 million years of amber preservation – give or take – would be DNA that was both fragmented and grossly incomplete. There’s no way of retrieving that missing information, and no way to determine how those gaps should be filled in order to produce a functional genome. There nothing to compare it to; nothing you could use as a template. Sadly, upon examination, it is only too clear how the impossibilities of this scenario multiple upon themselves.
I appreciate Michael Crichton’s attempt to tell his story with “real science”, but in this instance he should have bitten the bullet and invented something to carry his story over this barrier – possibly a different DNA storage system; or perhaps a series of super-duper enzymes with predictive functions, capable of interpreting and recreating the fragmented DNA sequences. (They could be bioengineered, and therefore eee-vil.)
The other problem with using “real science” is that when something is simply wrong, or even just fudged, it really draws attention to itself. We hit this point in Jurassic Park when the animated Mr DNA – by the way, am I the only one put in mind of Destination Moon and Woody Woodpecker here? – announces casually, “We use the complete DNA of a frog to fill in the holes and complete the code. And now we can make a baby dinosaur!”
Just like that, hey? There are several issues here – like the fact that if you did use frog DNA, you’d need to use frog eggs to develop your babies, not ostrich eggs – but the overriding one is, why frog DNA? The movie makes no comment; the book has Dr Henry Wu, a typically unthinking Crichton scientist, shrug that he had some to hand, and DNA is DNA, right? The choice is counterintuitive, and the lack of justification, telling.
Henry Wu is another character somewhat rehabilitated by the screenplay. In the novel he is – being a scientist – the target of a great deal of Michael Crichton’s venom. He is drawn as being completely professionally myopic. He spends all his time tinkering with DNA, unable to see outside the tiniest of boxes. He is very little interested in the ultimate outcome of his work, to the extent that not only can he not be bothered to learn the correct names of the various dinosaurs – this is reflected in the film in the misspellings in the storage facility – but he doesn’t even know how many species of dinosaur he has helped to recreate: he “stopped counting” after the first dozen. Ian Malcolm, his author’s mouthpiece, excoriates Wu and Ray Arnold as, “Technicians. They don’t have intelligence. They see the immediate situation. They think narrowly and they call it ‘being focused’. They don't see the surround. They don't see the consequences....”
They don’t separate paper and plastic, either.
I might be biased myself, of course, but I find Jurassic Park’s Henry Wu a more credible proposition. There is still plenty of dangerous smugness in his attitude, and he is still given to speaking in the kind of absolutes that invite disaster; but significantly, this Henry Wu is first encountered in the hatchery, not in the sequencing lab. Whisked along too quickly to suit them, Alan, Ellie and Ian break from their designated automated journey and find their way to the simulated “nest”, where a robotic arm carefully turns the developing eggs. When a baby velociraptor starts struggling free of its egg, Wu exclaims in relief at being present for the birth and then, like all the others, draws near to watch the hatching, beaming with excitement and delight – and, yes, pride. Clearly, the wonder of the process has no more worn off for him that it has for John Hammond.
This scene also introduces the theme of the park’s
population control....or lack thereof. “There
no unauthorised breeding in
Even the novice science fiction watcher will have no trouble spotting the red flags in that dialogue: words like “unauthorised” and “engineered” exist in science fiction only to be defied and disproved. Wu then compounds his cosmic error by adding, “We control their chromosomes. It’s really not that difficult.”
Okay – we’ve reached the point we’re there’s just so much to argue over, it’s a little difficult to know where to start. Bear with me.
The first thing that comes to mind here is that,
sits comfortably within that subset of science fiction films where an
experimental subject is made female
specifically so that it can be controlled.
In this we can think back to, say,
Frankenstein’s Daughter, wherein one
“Dr Frank” goes against the dogma of his grandfather and father, and
uses a female brain in his experiments because, “Now we’re aware that
the female brain is conditioned to a man’s world. Therefore it takes
orders....” Or we can look past
“All vertebrate embryos are inherently female,”
states Henry Wu, explaining that they use this phenomenon to maintain an
all-female population, by denying the hormones during development that
would make a proportion of the dinosaurs male. This is where the frog
DNA enters the picture. When it is determined to everyone’s shock and
horror that the dinosaurs
are breeding, it
is blamed upon their hybrid DNA: “Some
I hardly know where to start with this. How about by asking what male-to-female sexual transformation has to do with anything!? Well, that has to be a flub in the screenplay: the assertion in the novel is that, as a result of their frog DNA, the dinosaurs acquire a capacity for female-to-male sequential hermaphroditism; and I imagine that’s what was intended in the film, too. So we’ll let that pass, and deal instead with the fact that all vertebrate embryos are NOT inherently female at all. Many vertebrates do indeed have an XY sex determination system – H. sapiens among them – wherein the female is the homogamete (XX) and the male the heterogamete (XY). Briefly, “maleness” is conferred by the Y-chromosome (in therian mammals, there is a specific sex-determining region), and its absence results in female offspring; as embryos, they are “inherently female”, if you like. However, there are also vertebrates that have a ZW sex determination system, wherein the male is homogametic (ZZ), and the female heterogametic (ZW). This arrangement is found in a variety of vertebrates: some insects, amphibians and reptiles – and in all birds.
Yes, birds. Those modern-day animals that Jurassic Park spends so much time telling us the dinosaurs are most closely related to, whose features they so frequently share. If you were to follow that argument to its conclusion, it would be far more logical to assume that the dinosaurs, too, had a ZW sex determination system. It is therefore more likely that the experimental population would turn out all male, than all female. And of course, if you’re really trying to prevent breeding, an all-male population is preferable; there are far, far fewer mechanisms whereby male animals can break free of these kinds of restrictions; even the one by which they might, protandry, that is, male-to-female transformation, is much rarer in the natural world than is protogyny. By starting with an all-male population, the risk of “unauthorised breeding” would be truly minimised, possibly even eliminated altogether.
But then, what’d be the fun in that, right? So let’s ignore logic and probability, and start out in a world where our dinosaurs are all female, and go from there. First we need to address the mechanism by which (it is proposed) they manage to begin reproducing, namely, sexual reproduction following the spontaneous female-to-male sexual transformation of certain individuals; an ability conferred by the use of frog DNA during the dinosaurs’ regeneration.
While it is
claimed here that “some species” of frog are protogynous, this
phenomenon has been observed in only a single subspecies:
the common reed frog, which is found across sub-Saharan
So – no.
Oh, I know, I know: I’m a killjoy, right? Well, I’ll tell you what: just to prove that I’m not such a party-pooper after all, I’ll give you an alternative reproductive strategy; one that seems to me to be so much more likely and workable, I have to wonder why it didn’t occur to Michael Crichton; or, if it did, why he went ahead with that convoluted frog DNA scenario instead.
(Actually, there’s probably
a simple answer to that: protogyny in
viridiflavus ommatostictus was first
reported in 1989 – while
So, what’s my solution to the problem? Simple: parthenogenesis. Surely, if you need an all-female population to reproduce, that’s the first thing that comes to mind, rather than sexual transformation? Parthenogenesis not only occurs in more species than does sequential hermaphroditism, it occurs in more relevant species: while it is most common amongst the insects, the phenomenon has also been recorded in molluscs, crustaceans, sharks, snakes, lizards and (rarely) birds. In vertebrates, parthenogenesis may take one of two forms, and occur either constitutively, or only under certain conditions. There are various species of whiptail lizard that exist as entirely female populations; their offspring are clonal reproductions of their mothers. Different species of shark, too, can produce female offspring when kept in captivity separated from any males; it is not known whether this occurs in the wild as well. (Conversely, there has never been an instance of male animals in similar circumstances managing to breed.) However, there are certain animals that normally reproduce sexually, but which are able if necessary to resort to facultative parthenogenesis. This form of reproduction is not only a response to the absence of males in the environment, but is intended specifically to reintroduce them; the all-male offspring then back-breed with their mothers. The species that are able to use this tactic are those with a ZW sex determination system; that is, some snakes, and lizards, and birds, and....dinosaurs?
See? It’s so neat, and beautiful. And, if you like, you can facilitate the process with your choice of fill-in DNA; turkey or chicken would be good; or – oh, how about this? – if you use DNA from the right species of lizard, you even get to keep your venomous dinosaur! – and without it being quite so obvious that someone just pulled that plot-point out of their backside.
Well, it’s been fun and all (at least, it has been for me; my apologies to the rest of you!), but reproduction is only one way that John Hammond’s dinosaurs escape from their controllers; they also take the far more straightforward route of just busting out. And unfortunately (or perhaps I should look upon this as a fitting punishment for all my self-indulgence here), this means it’s time for me to deal with Ian Malcolm, his version of chaos theory, and his opinion of Jurassic Park, and of scientists generally.
It is the death of a worker on Isla Nublar (killed by a velociraptor while it is being transferred between a cage and its pen, although this is not explicitly revealed at the time) that initiates Jurassic Park’s chain of events. Under threat of a lawsuit, and a potential pull-out by the project’s investors, a decision is made to invite experts in to make an inspection. If they declare the park to be safe, the project will go ahead; if not....
(Actually, this is a detail that has always puzzled me. The immediate issue is one of safety and logistics. So where are the engineers? – the security guys? – the computer experts? – even the zoo-keepers? I don’t understand what two palaeontologists and a mathematician are supposed to contribute. I always had it in my head that John Hammond – at least, eee-vil John Hammond – invited Alan and Ellie because he expected them to be so blown away by the dinosaurs that they wouldn’t criticise; but if so, it is not made explicit even in the novel.)
As Hammond reveals the processes behind the resurrection of the dinosaurs, it is Ian who asks the pointed questions, particularly when confronted by Henry Wu’s calm assumption of “control”: how do you know they’re not breeding, how do you know they’re all female? He dismisses the answers given, insisting in turn that “life will find a way”....
But although Ian, as his
author’s mouthpiece, gets to deliver all of the story’s anti-science,
and anti-scientist, lectures, it is as an adherent of chaos theory that
he objects to the idea of even the
of control within
Although extensive commentary upon chaos theory
and its applicability to the situation recurs throughout
A careful reading of the relevant inserts in
Which, of course, when it came to the film version, was exactly what most people wanted. Nevertheless, chaos theory was such a substantial component of the novel that Steven Spielberg and David Koepp must have felt they had to keep it. The problem, then, was how to translate it so that it was present in their film, but neither overwhelmed nor bogged down the story. Not surprisingly, the version of chaos theory that finds its way into Jurassic Park is a very slimline one indeed; and if Michael Crichton’s presentation of the workings of this discipline was somewhat simplified, by the time it hit our screens chaos theory was nothing more than a fancy way of saying “Murphy’s Law”. Now, I commented earlier (somewhere back there in the mists of time and type), that there were moments in Jurassic Park when David Koepp’s screenplay exposed the deck-stacking of Michael Crichton’s story; and the presentation of John Hammond’s Jurassic Park, and its subsequent breakdown, is the most significant of them.
chaos theory was simply a useful narrative tool to Michael Crichton is
most evident in the fact that
Oh, where to start, where to start? How about with
the fact that tropical storms apparently have a serious impact of the
safe functioning of this park? –
which sits on an island off the coast of
Where is the security, human and otherwise? Where
are the 24-7 patrols, the helicopter surveillance, the back-up systems,
the redundancy, the sharing of information? Not at
I mean, please.... This isn’t chaos theory in action; it isn’t the unpredictability of a dynamic system; it isn’t “nature breaking through barriers”, or “life finding a way”; it’s just old-fashioned human stupidity....which, as we all know, is one of the two most common elements in the universe.
really, nothing sums up the farcical nature of this aspect of the plot
than the treatment of Dennis Nedry by John Hammond – and that holds
whether you’re talking about the book or the film. In the former,
Ultimately, Besides, Michael
Crichton may have been sincere in his condemnation of John Hammond and
his plans, but you certainly don't get the feeling that Steven Spielberg
was. Those last sad shots of Hammond, as he looks back at the ruins of
his dream, and Alan puts a consoling arm about his shoulders, convey
anything but condemnation. And of course, just at that time Spielberg
may have known exactly how John Hammond felt:
finished making Hook.
Besides, Michael Crichton may have been sincere in his condemnation of John Hammond and his plans, but you certainly don't get the feeling that Steven Spielberg was. Those last sad shots of Hammond, as he looks back at the ruins of his dream, and Alan puts a consoling arm about his shoulders, convey anything but condemnation. And of course, just at that time Spielberg may have known exactly how John Hammond felt: he'd just finished making Hook.
(And I can’t let my practical objections to
You know, whenever I post one of these dissectory reviews, the first consequence is always, always, that someone will send me an e-mail demanding, “Why do you have to think so much about the films you watch? Why can’t you just enjoy them? Why do you get so upset?” Given the implication that “thinking” and “enjoying yourself” are necessarily mutually exclusive, it is perhaps not surprising that they rarely believe me when I say that such an exercise gives me a great deal of pleasure; that the process of putting a film under the microscope (ha, ha) adds considerably to my whole experience of it – and that’s true whether I ultimately endorse or criticise its science. And I hope that this time at least, I didn’t get upset.
While all professions are misrepresented on film in film to a certain degree, in the interests of plot and drama, poor old science really takes one for the team; I couldn’t begin to count the number of films that turn on science, and scientists, behaving in ways they never would or could. And while occasionally such a film will irritate me into taking it more seriously than it deserves (the aforementioned Embryo, for instance), I think on the whole I do keep a sense of proportion. I’m not going to sit here, for instance, and explain to you what’s wrong about the science of Bela Lugosi injecting himself with cerebrospinal fluid and turning Amish; for one thing, I hope I wouldn’t have to. And I’m not going to get into a debate about the ethics of keeping your girlfriend’s severed head alive in a pan of neck-juice, either (although I might be tempted to argue that the real transgression in that film isn’t Jan In The Pan, it’s the search for a replacement body). Science fiction films are full of monologues about science; and while most of them are condemnatory, I accept that very few of them were ever intended seriously; but rather, simply that the screenwriter saw an opportunity for penning a fulsome curtain speech and closing his script with a flourish.
But sometimes, a film’s attitude to science will succeed in flushing me out of the undergrowth. Jurassic Park is one such film. Although much of it is drowned out by Steven Spielberg and David Koepp’s competing (and far more attractive) philosophy of “DINOSAURS ARE COOL!”, enough of Michael Crichton’s own viewpoint remains in the film for it to demand a more serious response.
After the visitors to
“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. Not to you, or to your colleagues. No one will criticise you. No one has any standards.”
I sincerely hope that Michael Crichton personally knew, or knew of, some scientists who actually behaved like that; because otherwise that is an incredible piece of arrogance. No doubt he viewed the emergence of biotechnology and the commercialisation of science as a dangerous development; and no doubt he had a right to be concerned about the adequacy of the regulations governing the new industry; but to so sweepingly condemn the ethics and intentions of all concerned is outrageous.
Now, I don’t doubt Michael Crichton’s sincerity, but I do question his methods. Scrutiny, and challenge, and criticism are all perfectly valid approaches to a subject; but misrepresentation is something else; and so, for that matter, is name-calling. Increasingly over the course of Crichton’s career, he evinced a tendency to fight his battles via abusive attack, rather than by measured debate. Instead of offering a thoughtful argument, he would spray accusation around like machine-gun fire. It is a tactic that sometimes makes it hard to follow his reasoning – and harder still to formulate an appropriate response. It’s difficult to think clearly when you’re busy ducking for cover.
As for the rest, I can only do what Michael Crichton, I suspect, was not doing, and speak from my personal experience. I can say without hesitation that I never knew anyone to go into science for the money – although I’ve known plenty of people who got out of it for financial reasons. Even those who actively pursue employment with biotechnology companies rarely do so for reasons of money, or fame. For opportunity, yes; but that’s a different thing. In most cases, the main motivations are better working conditions, and that most elusive of all scientific outcomes, job security.
For those who do choose science, it’s usually for
no more complicated a reason than having an interest. And while I don’t
for a second buy into
And to drag
this rambling response somewhat back to the point, there’s an aspect of
While I always read Michael Crichton’s novels, it was a major downer to me that a science fiction writer who shaped his stories around “real science” would so often be so very negative about it. What bothered me particularly was the obvious shift in his attitude over time; the move from writing cautionary tales to writing alarmist ones. I find it a disheartening journey, from The Andromeda Strain, with its realistic scientists doing realistic science; through the “scientists are evil, but DINOSAURS ARE COOL!” of Jurassic Park; to State Of Fear, where--- No, we’re not going to talk about that. Somewhere along the line, we lost the Michael Crichton who has happy enough to admit in interview that he learned only enough about a subject, “To be able to make it sound like I know a great deal more”; or who, when asked why a novel called Jurassic Park had a Cretaceous dinosaur on the cover, laughed that he hadn’t even thought of that: “That was just the best-looking design.” Pity. However--- Perhaps we should just focus on the positive here, particularly the better film adaptations of Crichton’s stories which, whatever their dramatic and narrative flaws, are often hugely enjoyable. This is certainly true of Jurassic Park – which of course has a distinctly unfair advantage over all of its competition, something that makes us (well, most of us) wave away the dubious science, and forgive the too-frequent intrusion of the PG-13 rating.
It’s the dinosaurs, man. From the opening velociraptor lunch, to the Tyrannosaurus ex machina climax – it’s the dinosaurs....
Footnote: What, another killer animal movie that ends with a helicopter flying safely off into the sunset!? I am OUTRAGED! Dammit, Spielberg – !
Now, that's more like it!
More informative footnote: Correspondent 'MegaLemur’ writes: “Regarding Brachiosaurus neck posture, there is a series of papers by Kent Stevens and collaborators arguing for strong horizontality in the sauropod neck. This is most extreme in the diplodocoids (Apatosaurus, Diplodocus, and their close relatives) which have been reconstructed with their heads nearly touching the ground. However, more recent research suggests that the osteological neutral pose utilized in those papers is not consistent with what is observed in living organisms. The authors of this more recent work, which suggests that the Brachiosaurus neck posture in Jurassic Park is entirely accurate, have blogged about this research extensively at: http://svpow.wordpress.com/2009....rabbits ”
“The rearing up on the hind legs bit is still ridiculous, though. The sauropod research community still strenuously debates whether diplodocoid dinosaurs, with their small forelimbs and massive, tripod-suggestive tail, were able to rear up (as has been depicted in the spectacular mounted Barosaurus skeleton in New York), but this has never been suggested for brachiosaurids (wherein, as their name indicates, the arms are longer than the legs).”
“About the “raptors”, it was never widely-accepted in the theropod community that Deinonychus and Velociraptor were synonymous. Crichton took this assertion from Greg Paul's semi-popular 1988 book Predatory Dinosaurs of the World. Interestingly, though, Paul depicted all of his dromaeosaurids completely feathered (a position he was excoriated for at the time, but of course has been subsequently vindicated)--so you have the unfortunate situation where all the wrong science from Crichton's sources made it into the final work, but he left out the right! I do give them credit for pushing the dinosaur-bird connection so hard at a time when it was still the subject of serious, volcanic debate among dinosaurologists, though (as opposed to the increasingly aged, sad set of professional cranks that the “birds aren't dinosaurs!” set compose today). Lame as another helicopter escape may be, I always thought the sight of the pelicans flying off in formation and realizing that dinosaurs were with us all along was a beautiful coda.”