When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth: The Horror of Being Prey and Forgetting Nature, Yet Again, in Jurassic Park and Jurassic World

Below is an abstract for a piece I finished this summer and which is currently under review for inclusion in an exciting book idea. I’d like to develop the work a little further if the opportunity presents itself, so I’m posting it here.


“When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth: The Horror of Being Prey and Forgetting Nature, Yet Again, in Jurassic Park and Jurassic World” (under review)


Jurassic Park (1993) and its rebooted sequel Jurassic World (2015) (hereafter JP and JW) rely on a tried and tested sci-fi horror trope. Despite best efforts to control their creations, ‘life, uh, finds a way,’ and characters are confronted with the ultimate horror of our interconnection to nature by becoming a meal (Plumwood) for the resurrected reptiles. At first glance, the moral of the story seems to be simple: we cannot rise above or outsmart nature, for what is wild cannot be tamed. The success of this film franchise is explained in part by the prominence of such warnings against hubris in popular environmental thought. But when the two films, along with the introduction Crichton wrote to the original novel, are read together, there is a problem with this simple message. Collectively they reveal a more complicated warning about the horrors of our interdependence with nature: namely that we can never fully understand what it means.

This chapter examines the hubris warning as it evolves within the two films. The narrative success of the sequel – the confession of hubris and the return to a ‘proper’ relationship with nature – depends upon a simultaneous forgetting of, and nostalgia for, the original film. Briefly, here is how. Dinosaurs in JP are resurrected by recovering fossilized DNA and substituting missing sequences with DNA from other animals such as frogs – like a genetic Frankenstein. The designers’ hubris is in part exposed when the all-female population, containing DNA never found in nature, unpredictably change sex, as do some frogs, and reproduce. Death ensues and only a few characters escape with their lives.

In the sequel, JW, which takes place after the failures of the first JP, the designers’ hubris is exposed when an even nastier creation, the Indominus rex, escapes and runs amok. Unlike the major horrors of JP, the tyrannosaur and velociraptor, the Indominus is a deliberately fabricated as a hybrid species, not resembling any dinosaur ever found in nature. The characters restore order by teaming up with the now tamed monsters of JP. The audience is meant to route for their triumph over the new unnatural, Indominus threat but in doing so must forget that the new heroes are a product the same hubristic technologies. So what exactly is the warning against tampering with nature?

In this chapter, I argue that these muddled messages rely upon a misunderstanding of what nature is and what being ecologically interdependent really means. This is because charges of hubris rely upon what Vogel sees as a problematic distinction between the natural and the artificial. Furthermore, our thinking about nature is plagued by forgetfulness: that the nature we are nostalgic for never was (Cronon).  Finally, I draw from ecosocialist thought (Malm and Dawson) to look at the anticapitalist themes in the novel and films. Crichton’s written introduction warns us not to forget that the background conditions for this horror story to unfold is a mode of production connecting us all to nature and each other, but demanding the relentless pursuit of profits for the few at the expense of the many.


Selected References

Cronon, William. 1996. “The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” Environmental History 1 (1): 7–28.

Dawson, Ashley. 2016. Extinction: A Radical History. OR Books.

Malm, Andreas. 2016. Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming. New York: Verso.

Plumwood, Val. 2012. The Eye of the Crocodile,. Edited by Lorraine Shannon. Canberra: Australian National University E Press.

Vogel, Steve. 2015. Thinking like a Mall: Environmental Philosophy after the End of Nature. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.