“Its all wrong!” goes the favoured response of the pedant to the film Jurassic World. “Those are Cretaceous dinosaurs! And where are their feathers? And why are the velociraptors so BIG? They should be the size of turkeys!” and so on and so forth. All completely valid, obviously, but rather missing the point of a summer blockbuster. However, aside from the thrill of adventure and mayhem there is actually a fundamental truth within Jurassic World – that we are still hungry for monster stories. Still keen to imagine the fearful consequences if they actually existed. Dinosaurs are the perfect candidates to take on this role because once upon a time they did actually exist. We know that they were real creatures that walked the earth, real monsters, with a threat potential based more on biological fact than on flights of fancy (artistic license notwithstanding). The reassurance against the scares in Jurassic World aren’t so much to do with the monsters not existing, but the fact that they are extinct. Once we leave the cinema we return to the safety that sixty five million years of time has provided.
Of course like all good monster movies Jurassic World is as much about us, and our own ability to generate horror, as it is about the creatures themselves. In this case morally suspect genetic engineers funded by unscrupulous corporate fat cats team up to create a dangerous and unpredictable theme park where punters might literally get eaten alive. It’s a classic tale of hubris and anxiety in the face of an indomitable natural world. Perhaps the name given to the genetic-hybrid star of the dino-cast, Indominus rex, is a faint reference to that very idea. The message is simple – don’t meddle with mother nature, she bites!
Jurassic World is the ultimate fusion of science and entertainment. Dinosaurs and their prehistoric brethren are, and have always been, a source of great wonder for us. Ever since the first scientific ideas about these extinct animals first emerged during the early 1800s, revealing their visceral and fearsome characteristics, people have been in awe. The dinosaur models created for the Crystal Palace in 1854 are just an example of efforts made to satisfy public curiosity and proved to be hugely popular. They were the first sculptures of dinosaurs ever made and remain in Crystal Palace Gardens to this day, although we now know them to be horribly inaccurate… but then, just like today’s critics of Jurassic World, to shun them for that reason would be to miss the point.
When Henry de la Beche put pen to paper and drew his image Duria Antiquior (‘a more ancient Dorset’) in 1830 his express intent was to rouse excitement about the grotesque and monstrous creatures being found fossilised around Lyme Regis. In the main it was to help his friend, Mary Anning, sell her finds. The painting became the first recreation of prehistoric life to be published widely. Nearly 200 years later our attitude towards these denizens of a past world has changed little. The bigger, the more frightening, the better. Take a look at Durior Antiquior… it is a scene of utter carnage. Henry de la Beche knew what people wanted, and the producers of Jurassic World knew it too. As one of the young characters in the film observes “we need more teeth!”… and ‘aint that the truth.