The full version of this article appears on Flickering Myth.
Along with inexplicable weight gain, age brings with it an ability to look back on what has gone before with fresh clarity. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to think that Jurassic Park isn’t really about dinosaurs at all. It’s about life succeeding through love, family and the evolutionary instinct to further the species.
Park vs. World
Jurassic World’s themes are more cynical. Director Colin Trevorrow confirmed as much in an interview on the JurassicCast fan podcast: “Jurassic World is all based on Ian Malcolm’s quote, ‘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 wanna sell it.’ That to me is Jurassic World, that’s why I had all the product placement.”
Jurassic Park however, is bright and optimistic, which is perhaps why it still packs more emotional weight than the reboot. At the end, we somehow feel like both the humans and the dinosaurs are in a better place.
It’s about the characters, stupid
The original Jurassic is one of the only films in the franchise that had characters you were really rooting for. We know from an early scene that Sam Neil’s Alan Grant isn’t a ‘kid person’, which plenty of people can relate to.
In contrast, we know Laura Dern’s Ellie Sattler loves kids. She outright tells Grant that she wants them in the following scene. But it could be that trying to deny himself his natural evolutionary instinct to make little Alan and Ellies could be bad for nature.
The events on the island are just as much about Alan growing towards this epiphany than it is about dinosaurs killing people.
Life breaks free
Many have pointed out that on the helicopter decent, Alan’s seatbelt is two female plugs – foreshadowing the lab scene where we learn that all the dinosaurs on the island are female to prevent breeding. Alan improvises by tying the two ends together and life finds a way.
We’re often reminded of the “life finds a way” line. Ian Malcolm first utters the phrase on the tour of the lab and Grant later echoes it when he sees dinosaur nest in the wild.
We can see nature beginning to take its course, with dinosaurs breeding, and Grant beginning to grow some paternal instinct.
After being duped by Ellie to share a tour car with Lex and Tim, Grant opts to do the adult thing when the T-Rex escapes by saving them from certain death rather than diving to the toilet.
It’s touching moment to see Grant and the kids snuggle up for the night after he’s rescued them both from the T-Rex attack.
Grant the Dad
The trek across the island is as important to the kids and it is for Grant. We know Hammond has been absent at the park because his daughter is getting a divorce.
Grant will go on to play father figure throughout the film. He begins to connect with them, sharing moments usually associated with a parent and child – such as petting the brachiosaurus (“Just think of him as, kind of a big cow.”) and gently scolding them when their sibling rivalry gets too much (“Come on guys, it’s not a race.”)
The family unit
In case we were in any doubt, Spielberg sends us clear visual signals as to who the family unit of the movie is.
Early on, he frames Alan, Ellie and the children in the same shot before they see the sick triceratops. And then later as the kids flee the raptors from the kitchen. And it’s all over the climax.
The birth of a family is how life that truly finds a way in the film. Alan gets over his distain for kids so he and Ellie can now move forward as a couple – and the kids get to have loving parents who will help them make it through the island alive, even as their own real life parents are in the middle of a divorce.
Life finds a way
When the survivors make it on the the helicopter, Ellie smiles lovingly as she gazes at Alan and the kids. She knows he’s finally grown. Dinosaurs evolved 65 million years ago to survive and now Alan and Ellie have too.
You can read the full version on Flickering Myth.
You can listen to our podcast that celebrates Spielberg’s impact on the franchise as a whole: Jurassic Park’s Sequels: How Do You Solve a Problem Like Crichton and Spielberg – The Electronic Labyrinth Podcast
Fletch celebrates the craft of Spielberg’s original classic in Many Sensational Shots – Capturing Jurassic Park
We re-examine Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World and find that it may well have been the Jurassic Park movie we needed at the time
Luke and Fletch review Fallen Kingdom on The Electronic Labyrinth Podcast