Jurassic Park and a rant about Shark Week

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I have but a mere eight hours before a long-awaited toy is finally in my hands.

On an unrelated note, I’ve been in a Jurassic Park kind of mood lately. Not sure why. It occurred to me it’s been twenty years since that movie came out. (Good freakin’ lord. I was making out with my first girlfriend two decades ago?! Those memories are intertwined with Jurassic Park in my head. That was a magical summer, except for the part where I herniated a disc in my back that would ultimately require surgery. That part was less magical.)

Kenner did the toys, though they were owned by Hasbro at that point so it was really just a branding thing. I had – and still have – the big red Tyrannosaurus they made, which was always puzzling. Why was it deep sunburn red instead of the greenish-brown of the movie? Weird things like that always used to happen in toys.

I also had the “young” T. rex, which was arguably a much cooler toy with a better sculpt. It’s only downside was the stupid “battle damage” chunk missing from it. It had a little rubber plug for it, but that annoying battle damage later became a common feature on JP toys. It’s always annoyed the hell out of me. I don’t want a dinosaur dying from blood loss or a rampant infection. Doesn’t it also seem kind of like the wrong message about dinosaurs? That they’re monsters that deserve to be killed, instead of amazing wonders to be appreciated? To be fair, though, that was arguably the movie’s underlying message, even if the stated message was the opposite.

Anyway, I also had the Velociraptor, the Dilophosaurus and the Compsognathus, which wasn’t in the movie but was in the book (in fact, a bunch of them eat John Hammond, who’s less of a kindly grandpa and more of a Lex Luthor-type businessman in the novel). I never bought any of the humans because who gives a crap about humans?

Jurassic Park had a few videogames too. I had the Sega Genesis game, which seems to have been the best of them. You could play as Alan Grant or a Velociraptor. I don’t know if I ever played as Grant even once.

I watched the movie again this weekend, and while I loved the hell out of it in 1993 (I think I saw it at least three times), even then I knew it wasn’t Spielberg’s best work, and that’s even more obvious now. There’s hardly any story, though the character development for Grant, Sattler, Hammond and Malcolm isn’t bad. I still find the ice cream dialogue between Hammond and Sattler – ostensibly the heart of the film – very poorly written. The dinosaur action, however, still holds up. Even two decades later, the CGI work in Jurassic Park is superior to anything on whatever today’s crappy SyFy shark movie is.

Speaking of crappy shark-related entertainment: I’m a big fan of Shark Week, but last night’s Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives was dreadful. It was an entirely made-up documentary about a supposed attack on a fishing boat by what the fake scientists speculate might have been a Carcharodon megalodon (I suspect most Poester already know this, but C. megalodon was a gigantic prehistoric shark). Nothing in the documentary announced itself as fake.

It’s even worse than the ghost and Bigfoot hunter shows that run on SyFy because those, well, run on SyFy for one thing, so you already know what you’re getting into, and also everyone is fully aware of the fact that ghosts and Bigfoot are considered myths by many reasonable people. Your average Shark Week viewer may not be aware of the incredible unlikelihood of a C. megalodon existing today simply because it’s not something that’s brought up in pop culture very often (terrible SyFy movies aside).

This is a sad example of the Discovery Channel succumbing to the urge to slum in pseudoscience and sensationalism solely to get ratings. They discovered its power with the idiotic mermaids special that aired on DC’s sister channel Animal Planet. It became the channel’s most-watched telecast in history.

I understand the appeal of these shows. It’s fun to speculate about this sort of stuff. I’m a fan of cryptozoology – but as a form of entertainment, not a science. I might have been able to deal with The Monster Shark Lives – probably even enjoy it – if the Discovery Channel hadn’t made it the standard-bearer program for this year and had been a lot more up-front about the fake aspect, with some sort of disclaimer at the beginning (and in each commercial bumper) explaining that it was a sort of “If C. megalodon did exist today, this might be how we’d find out” thing.

Instead, it’s another example of greed trumping intelligence. I understand that after twenty-five years, it can be hard to find new and fun ways to make the science about sharks interesting. I’m not opposed to the Discovery Channel borrowing a little of Sharknado‘s mojo to get people excited about Shark Week and sharks in general (lord knows they need all the help they can get). But to do so in such a deceptive manner is, I think, a betrayal of the Discovery Channel’s reason for being. Maybe I’m being naïve here and that reason for being is simply “to get ratings and make money,” but the whole thing kind of bums me out.

At least the rest of the shows for the week look pretty good. I’m especially interested in Return of JAWS, which features great white sharks hanging around my own state; Voodoo Sharks, because finally, a special not about great white sharks or Carcharodon megalodon; and especially Alien Sharks of the Deep, because the goblin shark and the megamouth shark are really cool.

Comments now closed (16)

  • My son got into Jurassic Park and sucked me back in. I ended up buying the new TRU exclusives and rebuying some of my old ones. Great figures now and when they were released (except the humans, like you said).

  • I thought the same thing. They could have done something really interesting and thought provoking if they had really acknowledged the speculative aspect of the program, and gotten better talking heads. But what they did was so self-serious but amateurish that it just sank the whole program. Blegh.

    Poe, how do you feel about the whole "no feathers" announcement for JP4? Personally, I'm heartbroken. I'm much more interested in the dinosaurs as animals rather than monsters (that's what kaiju are for), and the potential for that sort of movie is really strong with a GOOD JP movie. Like, hard science not exploitation.

    • I liked dinosaurs better without feathers, but once the scientific consensus says dinosaurs had feathers, I think they should be added to everything after that, including JP4. And today's kids will grow up not knowing anything else, and whereas we chuckled at people in the past who thought T.rex walked upright, those kids will grow up chuckling at us and our plucked-chicken Velociraptors.

      It's really not that difficult to believe – an angry Canadian goose is terrifying.

      I'll also add, personally I'm not opposed to updating movies for reasons such as science, and if Spielberg had decided to re-render the velociraptors with feathers for the 3D re-release, I wouldn't have cried foul, and would have made more of an effort to see it.

      That said, I'm glad it seems unlikely T.rex had feathers.

      • I used to feel that way about the feathers, and then I started getting into Paleoart and guys like Jon Conway ( http://johnconway.co/ ) changed my mind. The new school of thought isn't just adding feathers, it's adding quills to ceratopsians and crazy display structures in sauropods. Not to mention fully "furred" pterosaurs. I can't recommend the book "All Yesterdays" enough. It's short, but a brilliant primer on paleoart's relationship to speculation and reconstruction. The E-book is cheap if you've got a tablet.
        http://www.amazon.com/All-Yesterdays-Speculative-

      • I know the Feeling of typing the current name of the network formerly known as Sci-Fi causing hatred.

        Shark Week lost me this year with the BS Megalodon The Monster Shark Lives!
        Then again there's a limit on how many great white specials they can do…

  • I’m much more interested in the deep sea creatures than great whites. I’ve noticed that tlc & discovery play shows with nothing related to science. on a similiar note, how many shows about storage sheds & pawn shops do we need??

  • "Anyway, I also had the Velociraptor, the Dilophosaurus and the Compsognathus,"

    Actually, they never made a Compsognathus for the first movie, instead they had Coelophysis (which I'm assuming is what you meant).

  • Lol, I had a serious make out sesh when I went to see Jurassic Park as well!

  • I'm SO glad someone else was disturbed by dino-damage. Even now it disturbs me. I mean, the amount of damage would have these animals in excruciating pain, if not near death. That's just an awful thought to me, even if some of them would be opportunistic man-eaters.

  • Agreed on Shark Week, Poe!

    As to JP: I loved those toys and still have most if them. However, I also really dug the humans-you could rip Nedry’s arms off!

  • I'm glad I missed that megalodon show. Discovery Channel in general has lost a lot of credibility with me, a lot of that has to do with the shows they run on TLC and History which are completely speculative and staged.
    Ahh, making out during Jurassic Park, I was a bit too young to have that happening during that movie. My first make-out movie ended up being 'Daylight' starring Sylvester Stallone. I missed the entire second half of the movie. I still don't know how they got out from where ever they were stuck, and I also know I don't care.

  • I always wanted the big red T.rex from the first film, but–no lie–I was afraid to go near the damn thing when I was little (the huge wall at Toys R Us with the black jungle and sunset motif both thrilled and intimidated me). The raptor toys were no big deal, but the rex was too much. I eventually got the big Bull T.Rex from "The Lost World", and even after I sold the rest of my JP toys–including the big research trailer–I kept the Bull rex because he's great.

    I actually saw two original rexes at a comic shop a while back, and it's silly to think it scared me so as a kid. I would have picked one up, but they were in terrible shape.

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