In October of the year 1990, the Human Genome Project began mapping the DNA building blocks of humankind, and a new era of genetic science was upon us.
As had been the case with the atom bomb in 1940s and 1950s genre cinema, this dawning chapter in man’s scientific understanding was quickly recognized by intrepid Hollywood filmmakers, and immediately recruited as a template for new silver-screen initiatives.
According to critic Malcolm W. Brown in his New York Times article “In New Spielberg Film, a Dim View of Science,” – Jurassic Park “revived” the image of Frankenstein in terms of “amoral scientists unleashing forces they can’t control.”
In terms of Jurassic Park’s thematic DNA, the “science run amok” conceit was indeed powerfully vetted, and, yes, it concerned scientists unleashing forces they weren’t able to control.
Yet the message of the film wasn’t necessarily so much anti-science as pro-responsibility. The scientists who created the dinosaurs in the film did so explicitly for profit, and because technology made it possible. In other words, they went climbing a dangerous mountain…because it was there.
The film thus owes much of its power, even to this day, to its breathtaking dinosaur specimens. These “living biological attractions” move and roar and rage with a sense of realism previously unseen in the cinema. The dinosaurs in the film even seem to boast personalities or specific characteristics, from the nobility of the T-Rex to the cunning, cold intelligence of the Velociraptors. For all intents and purposes, our eyes register these creatures as "alive" and no bad effects exist to undercut that accomplishment.
I admire Jurassic Park so much because Spielberg understands this dynamic perfectly. Many compositions in the film as imagined by the director showcase the idea of technology as the "monster" to be reckoned with. Since the film concerns the dangers of relying on technology without first judging technology in terms of how it affects the surrounding landscape, this approach is appropriate.
But lest this approach sound preachy or heavy-handed, Spielberg leavens Crichton’s jargon-laden narrative – one highly reminiscent of Westworld (1973) – with large dollops of visual humor and roller-coaster ride tension.
These scenes retain surprising power, more than twenty years after the film was released. The powerful idea underneath those images is quite resonant: what if man "recreates" with science a being with the power to usurp him, to replace him on the food chain? The T-Rex attack, and especially the Velociraptor hunt remind us that except by a quirk of destiny, dinosaurs may have "ruled the world."
Is man so foolish and imprudent a creature that he could undo that favorable destiny, even after God "selected" dinosaurs for extinction?
On Isla Nublar, an island close to Costa Rica, InGen CEO John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has harnessed cloning technology and genetic engineering to create a new breed of dinosaurs.
Utilizing dinosaur DNA found in mosquito corpses trapped in amber -- and filling in the sequence gaps with frog DNA -- Hammond has brought back to life specimens including a T-Rex, triceratops, brachiosaurus, and even the pack-hunting velociraptors.