(This post contains spoilers about “Jurassic World.”)
Several days ago, a picture of Steven Spielberg in front of a dead triceratops on the “Jurassic Park” set went viral when it appeared author Joyce Carol Oates fired off an angry tweet about the “barbaric” act. Oates was actually kidding; but last summer, that same photo blew up when concerned animal lovers didn’t realize that it was fake (and you know, that creature has been extinct for 60 million years).
But despite that picture turning into well-known joke, animal rights is actually a fairly significant overarching theme in “Jurassic World,” the fourth movie in the franchise that raked in more than $515 million this weekend. It’s true: Through all of the action-packed absurdity (given that it’s about dinosaurs) the filmmakers not-so-subtly raise ideas about the moral issues of raising animals in captivity — and what can go horribly wrong
The film has already drawn some tongue-in-cheek comparisons to “Blackfish,” the controversial 2013 documentary that reported disturbing allegations about how marine parks treat their animals, not to mention the deaths of trainers. When the “Jurassic World” trailer was released, some immediately pointed out that the set looked suspiciously like a SeaWorld show, as an enormous mosasaurus leaps out of the water and eats a shark dangling from a hook. There’s a splash zone and everything. Turns out, the tonal similarities between the film are no accident.
“Yeah, there’s a bit of a [‘Blackfish’] vibe to this story,” “Jurassic World” director Colin Trevorrow told Slashfilm. He compared the movie’s havoc-wreaking Indominus rex to a creature that grew up in a SeaWorld-type environment. “Our new dinosaur…is kind of out killing for sport because it grew up in captivity,” Trevorrow said. “It’s sort of, like, if the black fish orca got loose and never knew its mother and has been fed from a crane.”
That’s exactly what happens in “Jurassic World,” as the Indominus rex escapes from a life of isolation and proceeds to test its boundaries and food-chain order by killing everything in sight. The idea of captured animals is brought up again and again, particularly by Owen (Chris Pratt), the ex-military dino expert brought in to help train the velociraptors. He is consistently stunned and offended by the arrogance of people like Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), the park’s operations manager who treats the animals like property created in a lab.
In one scene, Claire tries to convince Owen that they need his help safe-guarding the Indominus rex’s cage. “You’re able to control the raptors,” she points out.
“I don’t control the raptors,” Owen says, a bit condescendingly. “It’s a relationship, it’s based on mutual respect.”
“Can we just focus on the asset, please?” Claire asks impatiently, knowing he’s alluding to their one failed date.
“Look, I get it,” Owen says. “You’re in charge out here, you’ve got to make a lot of tough decisions, it’s probably easier to pretend these animals are just numbers on a spreadsheet. But they’re not. They’re alive…You might have made them in a test-tube, but they don’t know that.”
They’re very much alive, as we see later when the raptors are let loose to try and take down the escaped Indominus rex. It’s a far cry from how we see them in several scenes, as the raptors (whom Owen has given names like they’re his pets: Blue, Charlie, Delta and Echo) wriggle around in cages, their mouths clamped shut with metal spikes as the humans inspect them. Even though they’re killer creatures, they manage to look quite forlorn as they’re trapped.
But that’s nothing compared to when Owen and Claire find a dying brontosaurus on the ground, whimpering and bleeding, covered in scrapes from the Indominus rex attack. Owen and Claire spend a few minutes trying to comfort the gentle giant, who has the saddest eyes — and then they look up and see the field around them, scattered with dead brontosaurus.
“She didn’t eat them,” Owen says. “It’s killing for sport.”
The implication is clear: Because the park treated the Indominus rex so inhumanely, without considering her animal qualities, she’s on a warpath and will destroy everything in its sight. It’s quite a harsh lesson to learn, as the park will inevitably shut down after so many people get eaten.
There are other moral lessons within “Jurassic World” too, about consumer corporate culture; the rapid expansion of technology; and the pressure to make everything bigger and more exciting at any cost. Plus, there are some thoughts about the military. The villain in the movie, security executive Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’onofrio), is intent on weaponizing the raptors, thinking their keen sensibilities could eventually replace humans in war zones.
It’s an insane idea that’s quickly realized when the raptor attack backfires, but the movie ties its big moral lessons together as Hoskins explains why this could work. “We own them,” Hoskins says, refusing to believe that his plan could go awry. “Extinct animals have no rights.”
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