Film & TV

The Jurassic Man v. Nature Debate

Scene from Jurassic Park (1993) Photo taken from The New York Times / Photo credits: Universal Pictures, via Everett Collection

By Pui Kuan Cheah

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should” – Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park (1993)

They say some things are better left as they are, and this arises as one of the central debates of the famed Jurassic film franchise. For those unfamiliar with the franchise’s premise, it is set around the return of dinosaurs thanks to humans working their wonders with science and technology, all in the name of putting these animals on display as an attraction in a theme park. Based on the book by Michael Crichton, it is arguably one of the greatest adventure/sci-fi film franchises of all time, constantly seeking to delve into a greater area of discussion beyond its entertainment value – the theme of man vs. nature.

Character Ian Malcolm (played gloriously by Hollywood icon Jeff Goldblum)’s quote sums up an issue presented in the movies perfectly. While scientific progress and discovery no doubt has its benefits, is it really worth achieving when it could endanger human lives in return? Every Jurassic film has shown that the existence of these revived dinosaurs have no real happy ending for humans – we unintentionally engineer a war against ourselves. Take for example the more recent 2015 film Jurassic World, where a highly genetically modified dinosaur breed Indominus Rex causes chaos on the island of Isla Nublar, home to the Jurassic World theme park. Created with the intention of impressing park guests, it quickly becomes something they fear and find themselves running away from. I’m sure the scientists involved in the research and development process felt a sense of achievement having this new breed successfully hatch – as anyone would – but did they not think that there was even the slightest possibility of this carnivorous creature threatening human lives? 

This all boils down to the human ego and the desire for power. We think that we are largely invincible as a species, despite our very small and short existence on Earth compared to everything else around us (Mother Nature says hello). The characters involved in the development of the parks in both the Park and World series of films decide to engineer and keep these creatures in captivity and isolation, all to satisfy human curiosity, fascination, and entertainment. Every time I watch these films, I ask myself why we think we have the right to do so, and why there are characters who still believe in the usage of dinosaurs. This demonstrates how the man vs. nature conflict isn’t that black-and-white for some. Malcolm was right, we get so blinded by our own achievements that we are steered away from seeing the bigger picture: the consequences of our actions and the snowball effect it could have. As we see, once these dinosaurs fight their way out of the park, not only will they harm park guests, but have the potential to harm the general public in their unrestrained state and free roaming. 

There was no real, justified reason – in my opinion – for John Hammond to bring these dinosaurs back to life. Unlike scientific discoveries like vaccines and finding the cure to deadly diseases, these creatures were never going to be actually beneficial to most of humankind besides the park owners and stakeholders themselves – to fulfill their capitalist want for business profit (and also later on for military use – but can’t we just stick to what we have).  Just because they found a way to bring dinosaurs back to life, I think humankind is better off without yet another wild predator, and one that has been modified to be more ‘advanced’, at that. As Malcolm puts it, “nature selected them for extinction”. Nature knows how to keep itself in check, that’s for sure.

Despite all this, I do sincerely love the franchise, and have for a while now. It’s a highly enjoyable one to watch, and I love the story it tells. Having been written back in the 1990s, I can’t say we currently aren’t in a diversion away from the path that the franchise continuously traces. The thrill of genetic engineering is hard to discard, but hopefully material like the Jurassic franchise can serve as a warning to us to not mess with nature unnecessarily. We can write the project but we ultimately do not write the terms.