Dinosaurs and Feminism: Jurassic Park 20 Years Later

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I saw Jurassic Park, directed by Steven Spielberg, in the theater when it opened in 1993 after loving the book by Michael Crichton. A wealthy naturalist finds a way to use ancient dinosaur DNA to hatch new living dinosaurs to populate his island zoo. Before opening it to the public, he invites several experts, his lawyer, and his grandchildren to the park for a test run.  Of course, man should not mess with dinosaurs, and things go badly!

I was teaching high school biology at the time, and many of my students had read the book, too. I remember telling my classes the next day how exciting and reptilian the dinosaurs moved and ate (we had lizards and snakes in the classroom), that the movie reflected well on the book, and that they (my students) could teach DNA just as well as the little animated DNA explanation video did! Fun movie!

Twenty years later, my teenaged-daughters and I saw the 3D version.  I was interested to see how the movie held up over the passing of time.  Here’s what I noticed:

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1.  The Dinosaurs are Still Amazing and Frightening.   With or without 3D, the dinosaurs still move and eat realistically, and are still frightening and awe-inspiring.

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2.  Styles Have Changed.  Of course they have changed!  Aside from dinosaur-era plant expert Laura Dern‘s shorts being at her natural waist instead of low waist, it was the facial hair that stuck out.  Actually, the lack of it.  Unless they had a beard, the men were all clean shaven.  Dinosaur expert Sam Neill, chaos theory guy Jeff Goldblum, greedy computer nerd Wayne Knight, and outback hunter Bob Peck; even after 24 hours slogging through rain forests and running from dinosaurs, no one had any stubble.  I actually prefer this to the perpetual need-to-shave look of leading men today.

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3.  Children are Children.  The kids were regular kids.  The grandkids, played by Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards, didn’t make sarcastic remarks or act wiser than their years and they didn’t save the day (actually, the granddaughter did some computer hacking that did help, but it wasn’t over-the-top).  They were happy and silly and bored and hungry and scared.  Very scared.  The scene where they are finally back at the compound, safe, enjoying a feast, is particularly moving.  When the jello on her spoon starts to quiver and the milk in his glass starts to shake, you know, as they know, that the dinosaurs are coming to get them.  And they are terrified!

4.  Feminism.  It worked then, but seems dated now.  We all loved the Women Inherit the Earth line in 1993.  In 2013, few people in the theater laughed.  You have “women inherit the earth” lines, but in the Jurassic Park science lab, I didn’t notice any female scientists.

Aside from being excited, then frightened, by living dinosaurs, Laura Dern’s character yearns to marry Sam Neill’s character and start a family, but he does not like kids.  A big part of the movie shows how the children start by idolizing him as the dinosaur expert, then come to rely on him as their protector.  One of the closing shots is of him comforting the two kids on the escape helicopter, as Laura Dern smiles, relieved that they have survived, and happy that her love has softened towards children.  I can’t think of a movie lately that has shown such a strong maternal yearning.

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Fun movie in 1993!  Still fun in 2013!

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