The real lesson of 'Jurassic Park'
“Jurassic Park,” the 1993 film*, is so misunderstood even the film’s writers (including source material author Michael Crichton) and director Steven Spielberg got messed up.
The ostensible message of the film is that playing God with nature is bad. Jurassic Park (the park) was doomed to fail, we are told, because humanity had exceeded its grasp by restoring dinosaurs to life and deluding ourselves into thinking we could control them.
Take it from Ian Malcolm, the Jeff Goldblum character who served as the authorial voice in the film:
Dr. Ian Malcolm: John, the kind of control you’re attempting simply is… it’s not possible. 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.
Dr. Ian Malcolm: I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it, you wanna sell it. Well…
John Hammond: I don’t think you’re giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody’s ever done before…
Dr. Ian Malcolm: Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.
Hogwash. The lesson of “Jurassic Park” was not that it was foolish for humans to resurrect dinosaurs. It was that humans were foolish to resurrect velociraptors.
If you want to be picky, you could add T-Rex to the list, but really, I would argue that was a perfectly acceptable risk to take to be able to say you have a T-Rex, the most popular and famous dinosaur species, in your dinosaur park.
Let’s review the sequence of events in the film:
Jurassic Park is created. Even with all systems operational, a hapless worker is killed by velociraptors
Treacherous programmer Dennis Nedry shuts down the island’s security system in order to escape. He is killed by a dilophosaurus after a coincidental typhoon messes up his carefully rehearsed exit strategy
This allows the tyrannosaurus rex to break out of its (in hindsight under-engineered) enclosure
By pure coincidence, a civilian tour group gets caught immediately in front of the T-Rex pen. The tyrannosaur kills one and injures another; the rest escape
The park’s computer engineer restarts the software to restore the fences. This releases the velociraptors, which until this point had remained mercifully contained
The velociraptors kill the engineer and the highly trained game warden and somehow fail to kill two small children.
The T-Rex enters the center area and kills the velociraptors, allowing the surviving humans to escape
Nedry got what was coming to him, so we’ll ignore the dilophosaurus. If you crash your jeep into a lion cage at a zoo you might get eaten too, but no one would cite that as a reason to not have lions in zoos.
The only reason the T-Rex hurt anyone was a freak coincidence that at the exact same time the system was disabled, a tour group was in front of its cage. Now, the T-Rex incident clearly showed several system vulnerabilities — the electric jeeps need some sort of backup system, the cages around carnivorous dinosaurs need to be built to contain them even when power is disabled, and guests should probably be given a safety briefing about T-Rex vision before setting off on their safari. If you want to be incredibly cautious, keep the T-Rex out of your park. I’m sure the kiddos will understand when you tell them why their favorite dinosaur isn’t there. But even with the park’s systems shutting down, it was only by chance that the T-Rex was able to harm anyone.
And the other dinosaurs in the park? Glorious. Peaceful. Stayed in their enclosures and didn’t harm a single human. Don’t punish them for the crimes of other species.
Namely, the velociraptors. While the T-Rex was a force of nature, the velociraptors were shown to be intelligent, aggressive and determined. Even with all systems operational they probed their enclosure, searching for weaknesses, and managed to kill a very wary park employee. Plus no one cares much about velociraptors (or at least they didn’t until “Jurassic Park” was released, and anyway those were really more like utahraptors.) These guys are BAD NEWS. Leave them in the Cretaceous where they belong, and good riddance.
Without the velociraptors, the number of innocents killed in the park’s singular disaster would be one, who was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that guy was a lawyer, so I’m not even sure he counts as innocent. (I KID.) Of the 10 people on the island when Nedry turned off the security, two would have died, counting Nedry. In the actual incident, twice as many people bit the dust, solely because there were velociraptors present, and it really should have been more.
So scientists: if you ever manage to invent technology to recreate dinosaurs, don’t let the misinterpretations of Michael Crichton dissuade you from creating a new Jurassic Park. Such a park would be AWESOME, and minimally dangerous, as long as you are not dumb enough to include velociraptors in the mix. They’re clever girls.
Also the 1990 Michael Crichton book on which the movie was based. UPDATE: As Tim points out in the comments, the above light-hearted post is not actually accurate when it comes to Crichton’s book, which more thoroughly expounded his techno-skepticism. I haven’t read it in more than a decade, and forgot elements he mentions. I stand by my argument when it comes to the movie.