If you asked TV-watching Americans which channels they couldn’t live without, the results are somewhat surprising. Variety conducted a survey asking cable TV customers which channels they would be willing to pay to keep should cable move to a la carte pricing. It was no surprise that ABC, a broadcast network, came in first, but after that came the Discovery Channel, CBS, NBC, the History channel, and National Geographic, in that order. We could speculate on the reasons for this, but it seems strange that three of the top five networks are those that show alien and UFO related programming. The real reason is probably a bit more prosaic: Men tend to watch fewer channels and to like the docudrama-style male-oriented reality shows heavily feature on the three cable channels on the list, so their choices are more highly concentrated relative to women’s more diverse choices. Still: Three channels of pseudoscience, aliens, and cryptids made the top five. That’s depressing.
Less depressing was the startling success of Jurassic World, the latest installment in the Jurassic Park franchise. The movie hit at just about the right time for those of us who were kids when the first film debuted to feel a tinge of nostalgia for childhood. I described my feelings about Jurassic Park last year, in reviewing a different book:
Sometime during the summer of 1992, when I was eleven years old, I bought a paperback copy of Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, which had been released at the end of 1990. I loved the book and must have read it three or four times before Steven Spielberg’s movie adaptation was released the following summer. I remember making a scale model of the park using poster board, Legos, and little plastic dinosaurs. When the movie came out, I even painted a Matchbox car to match the iconic Ford Explorers used in the film. I also devoured most of Crichton’s other books over the next year, though only Congo made enough of an impression on me that I can recall much of the story two decades later. Jurassic Park gave the impression of being a book for smart people, filled as it was with long sections of research into genetics and paleontology and chaos theory, and when I was eleven that made it seem like a real grown-up book. Because it was something I loved as a child, I still have affection for the book even though I can recognize now Crichton’s shortcomings as a novelist.
It was the last of big thing from my childhood, before the teen years took over, so I have always had an emotional attachment to the story. I remember how much I loved the movie, and the effort that Steven Spielberg expended in creating the aesthetics of the theme park helped to spark my interest in graphic design.
Jurassic World was an enjoyable movie, but one that seemed a little less carefully designed than the first, though I did appreciate that the blue-and-white aesthetics of this movie were borrowed from Crichton’s descriptions from the novel. Allusions to King Kong and Jaws were also a nice touch. Jurassic World is, to be quite frank, a retelling of the original story, almost point for point It reminded me in many ways of the old Universal horror and monster movies, which kept cranking out nearly identical retreads of the same material with slight variations—like Son of Dracula retelling Dracula in Louisiana—building to “monster battling monster in cataclysmic destruction,” as the trailer to House of Frankenstein put it. (Jurassic World is a Universal production.) And like those earlier Universal horror films, there’s a good deal of (seemingly) unintentional sexism toward the female lead, who descends from an imperious executive to a screaming Fay Wray over the course of two hours.
It probably goes without saying that Michael Crichton took some of his influence from H. P. Lovecraft, whose settings and themes tend to pop up in Crichton’s work in somewhat disguised form. (Obviously, this is far from his only influence—elements of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and midcentury pulp and sci-fi are quite evident, too.) Jurassic Park is, I think, most closely captures the motif of prehistoric forces threatening a return to primal chaos, though his Congo is probably the closest to Lovecraft in terms of setting and story. In the latter novel, the heroes stumble across a lost stone city whose story they read from murals, like the heroes of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, and they encounter strange white apes in a prehistoric African city like in “Arthur Jermyn.” Heck, in Eaters of the Dead, Crichton even cited the Necronomicon as a (fictitious) “source”!
But it is in Jurassic Park that we see the fulfillment of the maxim Lovecraft had one of his characters deliver in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward: “As I told you longe ago, do not calle up That which you can not put downe; either from dead Saltes or out of ye Spheres beyond.” The dinosaurs are essentially the Old Ones, and their resurrection is akin to efforts of Lovecraftian ignoramuses to return the Old Ones to this world. DNA therefore becomes a bioscience analogue to the non-Euclidean math and relativity that intrigued Lovecraft. A close analog occurs in the Dunwich Horror when Wizard Whateley calls forth Yog Sothoth to impregnate his daughter and then tries to keep the resulting monstrosity locked up in his house. The horror begins when the creature breaks free and goes on a rampage. The scientists and showmen, like the deranged cultists of Lovecraft, think that they can master the titanic forces they have called up out of the past, and they continuously discover they cannot.
The real shame of it, though, is that while Jurassic World is the best entry in the series since the original, it has no new notes to play, and doesn’t really lend itself to much discussion beyond the superficial, excepting its retrograde view of masculinity whereby everyone—women (female and dinosaur) and even teen boys—all submit to the dominance and power of the alpha male. Well, except for the Tyrannosaurus. She wasn’t having any of that, so I guess that makes her the real heroine.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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