Jurassic World gives us food for thought on Man’s Dominion and the Tragedy of Death


Jurassic-World-Banner-teethI’ve seen Jurassic World twice now and I wouldn’t mind a third helping! I love the entire premise! What’s not to love? It’s got dinosaurs, Chris Pratt, those awesome gyrosphere vehicles and even includes several nods to the original movie for us diehard fans. And did I mention dinosaurs??

[Spoiler Alert! I’m discussing a movie and I may mention more than what you’ve seen in the trailers. Deal with it.]

Not everybody liked it. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis opined that it was too violent and gory and that such fare desensitizes us to the reality of death:

“I think many Christians have become “desensitized” to death! And I think so many in the younger generations are not challenged to think about  death—including as presented in this new movie—in a correct, biblical way.

With the instance of when Jesus came to the tomb of Lazarus, many Bible scholars explain that this account shows He was a true man (the God-man) exhibiting sympathy and compassion. But it also shows that He was angry at death. Christ was about to deal death its “death blow” by dying on the Cross and being raised again. You see, all human beings are under the judgment of death because of sin (Genesis 3). In fact, when we experience that horrible separation between us and a loved one who dies, we need to be reminded of how a much greater separation has occurred between us and our God because of sin. Yes, death is an enemy! We also need to remember that for those who do not receive the free gift of salvation, the Bible tells us they will suffer a “second death” (Revelation 20:14).

Think about it! Those who are outside of Christ will suffer eternity separated from God. When we watch a movie like Jurassic World and see human beings being killed and devoured by dinosaurs, are we abhorred at the depiction of death? Are we reminded that if all those people had been non-Christians in a real world, they would be separated from God for eternity?”

I agree with him that Jurassic World was a little bit gory. There was a bit of blood to be sure. I thought the violence was handled well, with most of the bad stuff happening just off camera. It definitely wasn’t a movie for little kids.

I respectfully but strongly disagree with Mr. Ham’s opinion that our consumption of such fare necessarily desensitizes folks to the reality of death. Far from it! If violent, gory death alone were enough to desensitize us to the tragedy of death, we’d have to stop reading certain sections of our Bibles. Here’s how such desensitization works:

One way to desensitize ourselves to death and violence is to sanitize ourselves against it. That’s right. Just sugar coat it, turn into singsong or ignore it completely. Whatever we do, this method makes the scary thing something safer. Like when we turn this:Indominus-Rex-Jurassic-World-Movie-Jaws

 

 

 

…into this:

LEGO-75919-Jurassic-Park-Indominus-Rex-1

Children are good at this. For crying out loud, they turned the Black Death into a nursery rhyme [“Ring around the rosies…”]. Some of us even do it with God, making Him into some safe Deity we can predict and control, who exists merely for our pleasure and certainly at our service. Not exactly the God of the Bible.

Or we can go the other way. Most of us recognize that horror movies like the Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Saw franchises desensitize us to the reality and cruelty of death. In those movies [and in video games like Mortal Kombat X, a game so gory and violent that they’ve placed an “age gate” on the website] not only show death in the most gory ways possible, but also in the most wickedly creative ways possible. These types of movies diminish the significance of death by trying to make death a matter of mere entertainment. In most cases, neither the killers nor victims are anything more than flat, two-dimensional constructs; they exist merely to provide a body count, to demonstrate the levels of depravity the creators of such fare are willing to go to in order to entertain us.

As a storyteller, I appreciated how almost each and every scene in Jurassic World was calculated to show us how tragic death is and how precious life is. That’s what Jesus taught us [among other things] at Lazarus’ tomb. When somebody dies, human or otherwise, director Colin Trevorrow made sure we felt how sad and wrong it was. Well, except when they kill off the villains, but even that was handled without being gratuitous. The only exception, in my opinion, is also the most talked about death in the movie, involving an assistant charged with taking care of the female lead’s nephews. That one was pretty gratuitous and drawn out. Even so, it wasn’t bloody and the other characters reacted appropriately with shock and horror at her demise.

I agree with Mr. Ham that we need to take opportunities to remind ourselves and our families why exactly Death is the enemy and of the tragedy of millions of lost souls headed for hell. In fact, the death scenes in Jurassic World were handled with sufficient gravity that I feel they represent the perfect opportunity to launch into this very discussion  from a Biblical perspective. Obviously, you should wait until you’ve left the theater to do so.

I think a few folks were shocked at Mr. Ham’s objection to Jurassic World because it wasn’t the objection we expected. Most of us presumed he would object to the aspects of the movie that portray millions of years of microbes-to-man evolution and a 65 million year gap between humans and dinosaurs as historical fact.

The idea of humans co-existing with dinosaurs is not a new one. Cryptozoologists have been suggesting for years that relict dinosaurs might exist in some forgotten corner of the world, inspiring the Ankgor Wat Stegosaurus carving of Ta Prohm temple, the Kachina Bridge Sauropod petroglyph at Utah’s Natural Bridges National Monument, and the myriad legends of mokele-mbembe and emela entouka of the African Congo’s Likoula swamp region. Those who believe in millions of years of microbes-to-man evolution might find such a possibility extremely unlikely.

anasazi dino2

In fact, Tyler Francke of GodofEvolution.com has written a post in which he opines that the Jurassic Park franchise demonstrates that the young earth creationist idea of human/dinosaur co-existence is probably not very realistic.

It is very true that when humans and dinosaurs come together in fiction, it’s almost never a good thing. When I was a kid, I used to enjoy reading Danny and the Dinosaur by Syd Hoff [Harper & Brothers, 1958]. If you’re not familiar with it, it involves a museum exhibit that turns out to be a real live dinosaur who ends up playing with a little boy named Danny and his friends. It’s cute. It’s fun to read. It’s probably never going to be adapted into an action-packed movie starring Chris Pratt. In fact, most of us imagine any story where a boy meets a live dinosaur will likely involve a lot of running and big teeth. As Ian Malcom [portrayed by Jeff Goldblum] noted in the first Jurassic Park sequel, “Yeah. ‘Ooh, ah,’ that’s how it always starts. But then later there’s running and screaming.”

Jules Verne’s 1864 Journey to the Center of the Earth gave early science fiction readers our first glimpse of the sort of fun-filled peril humans struggling to escape dinosaurs and other allegedly prehistoric creatures we’ve come to expect in works of fiction featuring humans and dinosaurs together. Arthur Conan Doyle, the fellow who gave us Sherlock Holmes, published The Lost World in 1912, featuring dinosaurs and other extinct creatures surviving on a plateau in the Amazon basin of South America rather than somewhere in a fictional Hollow Earth as Verne proposed. In 1918, Edgar Rice Burroughs, the fellow who gave us Tarzan and John Carter of Barsoom, er, I mean Mars, gave us The Land that Time Forgot, tucked away in a freak paradise in Antarctica, but even before that he gave us the first of his Pelucidar novels, At Earth’s Core [1914]. In 1929, in a notable crossover between his own series, the ever imaginative Burroughs pitted Tarzan against the prehistoric creatures in his fictional Hollow Earth [Tarzan at Earth’s Core].

Whether tucked away under Antarctica, in a fictional Hollow Earth or in some undiscovered remote jungle, the premise was always the same: some dinosaurs hadn’t gone extinct but rather existed in some “Lost World,” and when man ran into them, he ran out of ammo quick!

the-valley-of-gwangi-photos-4

While there were earlier attempts to portray modern humans and dinosaurs together on film [viz. Willis O’Brien’s The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918) which features cowboys fighting dinosaurs is considered by many to be a trial run for the 1925 version of The Lost World, also by O’Brien], it is Merian C. Cooper’s 1933 King Kong that stands out in most people’s minds as the film that finally allowed us see the human-dinosaur interactions of our sci-fi-fueled imaginations. Once again, these relict dinosaurs existed in a remote corner of the globe, Kong’s Skull Island. Slowly but surely, the science fiction dinosaur classics were translated onto the big screen, along with newer additions like Godzilla (1954), The Valley of Gwangi (1969) with cowboys and stop-motion dinosaurs orchestrated by the inimitable Ray Harryhausen, and even a film based on the mokele-mbembe legend Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985).

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In 1990, Michael Crichton offered us a new angle on dinosaurs interacting with modern humans. Instead of finding them alive and well in some forgotten or unexpected corner of the globe, scientists discover a way to recreate dinosaurs from ancient DNA preserved in amber and then populate a “biological preserve” with their creations. Like King Kong, the book took place on a remote island, Isla Nubar. The 1993 film adaptation gave us a look at dinosaurs that were faster and ultimately more terrifying than ever before. The special effects of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park were so groundbreaking that it paved the way for Lucas’ Star Wars prequels [for better or worse], Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings franchise and 2005 King Kong remake [which thankfully included dinosaurs unlike the disappointing 1976 King Kong starring Jeff Bridges], the most recent Godzilla remakes, and pretty much any other film that was unthinkable before CGI technology reached this level. Of course, it also spawned two immediate film sequels [Jurassic Park: The Lost World (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001), both set on a sister island to Isla Nublar called Isla Sorna where dinosaurs run about free range and featuring some of the actors from the first movie] and, of course, Jurassic World(2015).

There’s a point to this history lesson. Very few live action films portraying dinosaurs and humans together show them getting along very well. Jurassic Park was no exception. The Velociraptor’s handler in that first film thought they should be destroyed. The only positive interactions humans had with dinosaurs in that film was with the herbivores. The sequels weren’t much better. The message of all three films was clear: the dinosaurs never should have been brought back and the best thing we could ever do is just leave them alone! Or kill them. One of the two.

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Despite Tyler Francke’s assertions, Jurassic World stands apart from the first three films because it actually includes positive interactions between humans and carnivorous dinosaurs. The film’s protagonist, played by Chris Pratt, has made sure the Velociraptors imprint on him as their Alpha from birth. Rather than just being treated like killing machines on legs, they’re treated like real animals with understandable motivations. It’s a turning point as striking as when scientists began advocating for sharks as something more than bloodthirsty demons of the depths. By understanding these creatures, man has been able to harness and control them. The protagonist puts the Velociraptors through their paces like a lion tamer and later runs them like hunting dogs. Using what we learned of a T-rex’s vision from the events of the first movie, we now lure it to its dinner with a flare. [So no more Ian Malcolm mockingly asking you if there will eventually be dinosaurs on the dinosaur ride, right?] In fact, the problem is that we have things so well in hand that a dinosaur theme park has become little more than an expensive zoo.

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To liven things up, the scientists at InGen create a hybrid dinosaur that’s “bigger, badder, with more teeth.” By ignoring what we know about predators in captivity, they create an antisocial  monster that kills for sport. Even so, this Indominus rex should have been easy to kill, in my opinion. In fact, Chris Pratt’s character echoed my own thoughts on the matter: “You’ve got an M134 in your armory. Bolt it to a chopper and take this thing down.” These guns are featured in Johnny Came Home and I daresay that an M134 would definitely smoke any creature lacking some sort of superpowers! Sadly, the humans in this movie were apparently not hired for their ability to accurately hit a target. In any case, every bit of dinosaur mayhem that ensues is a direct result of ignoring the advice of the only dinosaur expert worth a plug nickel in their midst – advice that conforms to everything that zoo experts and other wildlife professionals know on the subject. I mean, seriously, why didn’t they check that transponder for the monster’s location first?

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Which brings up an interesting point. Tyler Francke has a meme on his site showing a T-rex skull saying that “Take it from me – if dinosaurs had ever actually coexisted with humans… we wouldn’t be the ones who went extinct.” Yet Jurassic World shows that without a series of unfortunate – dare I say moronic – events, humans are quite capable of getting along with any other species. In fact, we always seem to find some way to secure dominion over them. In fact, if dragon legends are actually based on relict dinosaurs [with fanciful elements added over repeated tellings at the campfire, so to speak] as cryptozoologists and young earthers propose, it looks like man’s already had the upper hand over the beasties.

I would imagine that Tyler’s beef with Biblical [young earth] creationists is that he doesn’t think man and dinosaurs could have co-existed because science chained to pure naturalism puts about 65 million years between us. Everything else he says is a smokescreen for that a priori assumption that Genesis is a myth because all-natural science says so. Perhaps what he really needs is a lesson in the difference between fact and fantasy. He will find this ironic, of course, since he believes that Genesis is fiction that teaches truth, not a record of historical fact. Nevertheless, if he did not arbitrarily hold all-natural science as his ultimate authority over the revealed word of God in Genesis [though he inconsistently allows for the supernatural elsewhere in the Bible], he would realize that the all-natural story of origins proposed by modern science is nothing more than science fiction parading about as historical fact.

Darwin's Fairy Tales for Grown-Ups
Darwin’s Fairy Tales for Grown-Ups

So go see Jurassic World. Use it to have a Biblically-based discussion on why death is bad and to how man has been given dominion over all of the animals, including dinosaurs. Again, wait until you leave the theater.

Tony Breeden, DefGen.org

 

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