Alien and Aliens: Horror and Sequels

I was rewatching Alien and Aliens, as I like to do from time to time, and a couple thoughts really stuck with me on this viewing.

First, people often like to distinguish the two films as horror versus action-adventure. Not only is that a tired distinction, but it doesn’t sit with me as very accurate. Aliens is in many ways just as much a horror film as the original, just of a different nature and with different themes. After all, our first view of Ripley’s perspective is a horrifying nightmare of a chestburster erupting from her as she recovers from prolonged “hypersleep” in her hospital bed, and we don’t actually know it’s a nightmare until Ripley does, when she wakes up. We see her startle awake, drenched in sweat, gripping at her chest, on a couple of occasions. Sure, the first act of the film has some less intense sequences, as we first navigate the corporate politics in the aftermath of the recovery of the only survivor of the Nostromo and then meet the colorful colonial marines who are sent on the rescue mission to Hadley’s Hope. But this is just a precursor of what is to come, and the gung-ho heroics end with the company of soldiers decimated and terrified. Newt’s repeated imperilment, Burke’s revolting scheme to smuggle xenomorph embryos, the picking off of the last squad members in the vents, the sheer tense dread of Ripley’s solo incursion into the alien hive, and the surprise maiming of Bishop are all at home in a horror film. Sure, you have the macho marines–for a third of the film, before the majority are ripped to shreds–and you have Ripley armed to the teeth, blowing up the nesting grounds and later growling, “Get away from her, you bitch” before fighting the alien queen in a mech-suit cargo hauler, but these are isolated moments. I won’t deny that there are definitely elements of an action-adventure film, as well as a Vietnam-era war film, baked into the movie, but there are plenty of moments that feel, for lack of a better word, horrific. Bruce Kawin defines horror in Horror and the Horror Film as “a compound of terror and revulsion” (p. 3), for instance. Additionally:

Above all, the horror film provides a way to conceptualize, give a shape to and deal with the evil and frightening . . . . As a genre, the horror film is defined by its recurring elements (such as undeath, witches, or gross, bloody violence), by its attitudes toward those elements (such as that transgressing limits is dangerous) and by its goal: to frighten and revolt the audience.

Kawin, p. 3-4.

Furthermore, “A film with a particular monster or threat usually is built around a particular fear or set of fears, including the outright fear of the monster and what it can do, as well as of what it represents, evokes, symbolizes, or implies” (p. 5). Certainly, Aliens capitalizes on many of the same fears as the original film: fears of death, of rape, of parasites. But it also seems fascinated with fears associated with pregnancy and parenthood. These include fears:

  1. of death on childbirth (after all, the characters take note that removing a facehugger resulted in both death of host and parasite, and we witness a couple different chestburster eruptions specifically killing women, once in dream and once in reality);
  2. of the rapid changes and pain and suffering of pregnancy itself (the use of “impregnate” or another variation to refer to the parasitic means of reproduction on display is used on more than one occasion, and Newt asks Ripley if the process is the same as childbirth);
  3. of somehow failing or abandoning a child (perhaps through premature parental death, as is the case with Newt’s parents, or letting them down in a time of need, as Ripley almost does when she goes to rescue Newt);
  4. of outliving a child out of order with the natural trend of events (as Ripley outlives her daughter through her prolonged hibernation); and
  5. of having a child kidnapped/molested (once more, see Newt, her third-act abduction, and the multiple efforts of facehuggers to latch onto her).

And, in channeling its inner war movie, it reflects cultural anxieties of what asymmetrical war can do, and did, to young soldiers. In fact, Kawin discusses many of these horror elements in his write-up of the Alien films in Horror and the Horror Film (p. 77-79). It’s not purely a horror movie, and by adding hordes of aliens the threat of the individual xenomorph is greatly diminished, but it certainly has a place within the horror genre.

Second, there’s a reason that I end with Aliens. My wife commented, as we finished rewatching Alien yet again, that she was fine with Alien by itself, that a sequel was never needed. Of course, with very few exceptions, a sequel is never needed. Star Wars, Jurassic Park, The Fast and the Furious, Dr. No, and many, many other examples would have been fine without sequels, even though, in these cases, there were many good sequels (amidst many bad ones). But it’s especially true that at the end of Alien, the monster is contained, there is no immediate threat of further infestation, and we can choose to assume, if we so desire, that Ripley is eventually found and given a happy ever after. But what I like about Aliens is that it gives Ripley the chance to right the wrongs of the past, to face her fears, and to (hopefully) find peace. Whereas she lost everyone before, she manages to walk away with some survivors by the end of this film, and she has saved a young girl who would otherwise have been doomed. On top of all that, all those alien eggs on the derelict ship are presumably blown away in the massive explosion at the end. Hopefully Ripley and Newt will be free of night terrors for now on. Then Alien 3 undoes all that, killing off Hicks and Newt and dooming Ripley to die a horrible death by the end of the film. It is all for naught. There is something so bleakly fatalistic about it all; now, surviving is not the end goal, but rather simply destruction, including self-destruction. All is lost. Of course, the great thing about a fictional canon is that it’s all fiction, anyway. My personal headcanon is that Ripley and company arrive safely back on Earth, the alien threat eliminated, and this time Ripley is believed and vindicated because she has others, including an unerring android, to support her account; Ripley cares for Newt, and they wait for Hicks to heal, and the three become a family; the trio win generous compensation for the company’s negligence; the company can’t collect any biomaterials because the destruction of Hadley’s Hope wiped everything out; and we all live in a safer universe, at least for a while. There’s not a story there, there’s no needed sequel, but there doesn’t always have to be more to a story.

And that’s it, except for a third and final thought: damn, these remain great movies.

Review – Star Wars: Visions

Star Wars: Visions is an incredible creative treasure trove and probably the single most-exciting and innovative addition to the franchise since…I can’t even say when, but certainly at least since I’ve been a fan. The easiest comparison point I can make isn’t even a work of fiction, exactly, but the West End Games release of the Star Wars roleplaying game, before my time as a fan. That opened the galaxy up wildly, inviting players to take on new roles and tell their own stories while providing a great deal of new lore and settings and story prompts. In the same way, Visions is refreshingly free from the intertangled core relationships between familiar characters that fill most of Star Wars content (brief appearances by Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt in a single episode of this anthology notwithstanding). But more than that, it feels free from the stranglehold of canon itself. You can choose to align the stories to the larger canon galaxy if you want, or imagine them in alternative universes, but they’re doing their own thing that’s not hung up on continuity or interconnected storytelling. It’s the freedom of creative energy from many creators also found in A Certain Point of View, but with a complete detachment from the films. It’s beautiful and inspiring.

Visions is, of course, an anthology series from different anime studios with very distinctive styles. For someone familiar with anime broadly and a fan of certain works, but lacking some of the cultural touchstones of a true fan (and I’d fall into this casual-fan category), you’ll surely recognize some influences, homages, and familiar styles. I’d be fascinated to know what a heavy anime fan made of the nine unique shorts, though. Just as excitingly, I think this is a great jumping-off point for someone with little to no familiarity with anime as a medium, as it showcases a wide range of art and animation styles, themes, and storytelling methods. Each episode feels quite unique.

It’s easy to binge all nine episodes, as I did; they’re all fairly short and intensely watchable. I can imagine easily re-watching many of these episodes again and again, as well. Every episode feels crafted by an auteur with a unique point of view and intent, and as a result, they’re all worth watching, although I certainly favored some over others. I expect that we’ll see a lot of officially licensed works, fan fiction, and analytical essays exploring the dimensions of each and every one of these episodes over time. I know I’d certainly like to see more, especially of my favorite stories of this batch, and basically every episode has some dangling plot threads that could be woven into follow-up chapters.

Speaking of favorites, there were a few knock-outs for me: “The Duel,” a story of a wandering Ronin who stumbles onto a village besieged by a group of bandits (lovingly rendered like an old black-and-white film with heavy nods to Akira Kurosawa, with splashes of color for lasers and lightsabers), from studio Kamikaze Douga; “The Ninth Jedi,” set in a distant future in which the Jedi have disappeared from the galaxy, where the daughter of a man who’s rediscovered the techniques behind crafting lightsabers must do her part to renew the Order, from Production I.G; and “The Elder,” showcasing a Master/Padawan team during the height of the Old Republic who stumble upon a powerful Dark Sider in the Outer Rim, from Trigger.

While those were the ones I most loved, virtually every episode had some charming character, intriguing idea, or gorgeous aesthetic. “Tatooine Rhapsody,” from Studio Colorido, managed to combine a band story, a gangster story, a Jedi in the Dark Times plot, and one really oddball punk Hutt. “The Village Bride,” from Kinema Citrus, offered another interesting alternative Force tradition and provided an understated redemption narrative for the Jedi exile protagonist that left a lot of intriguing mystery. “T0-B1,” from Science Saru, mixed a quirky, silly tone with some rather dark narrative and a classic animation style with themes that echoed Astro Boy, Mega Man, and Pinnochio–and it offers up a droid that may just be able to feel the Force, or at least who truly understands the concepts of the Force and finds a way of life more authentic to the Jedi way than the dreams of adventure he started off with. “Lop and Ochō,” from Geno Studio, has some truly gorgeous visuals and a strong emotional heart about complicated family dynamics, although the narrative itself is way too rushed and confused, deserving much more room to breathe and grow. “Akakiri,” from Science Saru, feels largely like an even more explicit remake of The Hidden Fortress than A New Hope, with a dash of Obi-Wan’s complicated history with Satine thrown in, up until its very dark twist ending, an ending that perhaps won’t feel so entirely surprising given how George Lucas tended to treat dreams and prophecy in his films–but this, too, is a whole lot of narrative that feels a tad rushed, or maybe ended too early, right when the story gets interesting. The only one I didn’t really like was “The Twins,” from studio Trigger just like “The Elder”; this story, rather than the brooding and tense investigation with a quietly dynamic mentor-student relationship at the core of “The Elder,” was exposition-heavy, flashy and over-the-top, heavy-handed with its ideas, and somewhat absurd in the excesses of its stylized action sequences, although my wife was a fan and could probably explain its charms quite well. There’s something for everyone in this set, and each story will appeal to someone, truly.

There’s a lot more that I could say about each episode. Like I said earlier, I expect there will be a lot of essays exploring elements of every episode, after all, and I think the episodes are worth that level of intense consideration. But I’ll leave this as a broad initial reaction: this was some incredible television, all the more remarkable because I’d felt rather indifferent about it until the opening scene of that very first episode. This is good Star Wars and good animation, well worth the viewing.

And yes, now I’m really stoked for Emma Mieko Candon’s Ronin, a novel that will expand on the world of “The Duel”; I’m sure we’ll see many more works that do similar for the other stories–or, at least, I really hope so.

Jurassic Park Series Summary

This Jurassic Park / World series of posts finally meets its end. I had fun with it, and I’m also glad to be returning to the roulette of random topics for future posts. Especially since this series had some off-topic posts intermingled over the many weeks since this began, a list of all the final individual posts seems useful. So, to recap, I wrote:

  1. The initial introduction;
  2. A comparison of the first novel and the first film;
  3. What I love about the largely panned sequel;
  4. How I’ve come to accept the third movie, flaws and all;
  5. A review of Blue’s character arc;
  6. Which themes made The Battle at Big Rock so exciting to me;
  7. A reading of the Jurassic Park films as metaphors for family trauma;
  8. Gap stories I’d like to see, or a list of fan fiction projects I’ll probably never get around to; and
  9. What’s on my mind about Dominion as we draw closer to its release.

Some hopes and anxieties about Jurassic World: Dominion

[Warning: I’ll be discussing some rumors. These may or may not be spoilers. Not sure you can be spoiled by something that may or may not happen, but I know some people are very averse to even the faintest whiff of possible information about an eagerly anticipated future release.]

My hopes and anxieties are pretty intertwined for Jurassic World: Dominion. For instance, I’d love to see feathered theropods, and I know some will be feathered, but how will that be represented? How will the dinosaurs look? Will there be an explanation explicitly offered as to why some are feathered and others are not?

And I’ve heard that the opening scene shown before F9 was really cool (never saw it myself) but also intermingled dinosaurs from disparate times and regions in what was supposed to be the late Cretaceous. Maybe the feathered dinosaurs will be confined to the past? But either way, is there any explanation offered for a random assortment of dinosaurs in what is supposed to be a legitimate presentation of a prehistoric landscape? I suppose that just reflects my larger anxiety about inaccuracies to come.

In a related vein, I’ve heard rumors that Deinonychus will feature heavily in the new film. If that’s true, why would they double down on treating Deinonychus and Velociraptor as different species? I could always just accept that Velociraptor was really Deinonyhcus antirrhopus, mislabeled as V. antirrhopus (although still an inaccurate version of the animal). If the movie makes clear that they’re distinct, how do we reconcile the film Velociraptor, built more like a large Deinonychus or Utahraptor, with the actual Velociraptor mongoliensis?

It’s just a movie, and movies are art (even when they’re big, dumb, pop art blockbusters), and so we don’t need verisimilitude or accuracy. But I don’t see the reason to eschew reality–dinosaurs were fantastic enough as they actually existed! And given that we only have fossilized remains, there is still plenty to be speculative about, whether providing speculative behavior or feathering or coloration or even creating whole new speculative animals. Deviating from what we actually know about the animals just seems like a big mistake.

On the other hand, there are some things I’m without a doubt and without complication looking forward to. I’ve gone on and on about my excitement for dinosaurs just out and about in the modern world. And I’ll be delighted with the return of beloved characters from Jurassic Park, regardless of their role; the voice acting in Jurassic World: Evolution‘s Return to Jurassic Park was already quite a nice treat. It also sounds like the new movie will be a globe-trotting adventure, and I think that sounds rather fun.

At the end of the day, though, I’ll probably be fine with the movie however it turns out. Still, it would be great to end the Jurassic World trilogy with a bang!

The Jurassic gap stories I’d like to see

I have a false memory about The Lost World, before the movie even came out. I distinctly remember Velociraptors running through a field alongside a train in what appeared to be rural America. Where’d I get this image from? A dream? A misinterpretation of a trailer? It doesn’t matter. It’s not real, didn’t happen. But even before the movie came out, I remember hoping that dinosaurs would end up on the mainland. When the freighter plows into the dock and the scattered remains of its crew are discovered, I thought maybe this would mean that raptors had snuck aboard and would now wreak havoc along with the Tyrannosaurus. Of course, this was not to be. But because of that specific hope, the difficulty of understanding exactly how the freighter crew was killed off has stood out to me more. If not the raptors, then how did it happen? The juvenile was taken back separately. The buck was in the cargo hold. How did such a large animal get its jaws into the pilothouse, wrenching some poor soul free from a hand that remained firmly clutched to the wheel? Why did it kill the crewmember who closed the cargo hold back on it but left the body apparently undisturbed? And how did the crewmember survive long enough to close the hold? For that matter, why would the Tyrannosaurus voluntarily return to the hold? The pilothouse, more than anything else, stands out to me, because while normally presented in narrow angles, there’s every indication that it’s closed off to the outside and undamaged.

All that to say, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a gap story that fills in what happened. I think it’d be fun to have a private investigator hired by one of the family of the lost crew to investigate events. Perhaps this leads to the discovery that more than the Tyrannosaurus was aboard the freighter. Perhaps he encounters disinterested police officials and active resistance from InGen execs determined to minimize the already disastrous events in San Diego. Maybe he runs into a pack of escaped raptors–or something else entirely! I imagine it as a bit of Chinatown meets Jurassic Park.

But there are other stories I’d like to see (or create myself, in the form of a little fan fiction). There are a few moments not relevant to the films that could offer gung-ho action-adventure. For instance, the Dinosaur Protection Group site has in-universe documentation dated October 5, 1994 that reports current dinosaur population levels on Isla Nublar based on a “1994 clean-up” and estimated dinosaur population levels on Isla Nublar based on a 1993 report. So of course, following the mercenary team that went into the island and cleaned things up, collecting and containing and cataloguing surviving dinosaurs, would be an interesting story. TellTale’s Jurassic Park: The Game, which never really quite fit as a direct follow-up on events from Jurassic Park, doesn’t have a narrative that works well with the newer movies, and so that can safely be disregarded, leaving a big opening.

The list of dinosaurs on Isla Sorna is presumably similar to the report that Alan and Billy had reviewed before Jurassic Park III, in which the Spinosaurus was noticeably missing. That same Dinosaur Protection Group page I referenced earlier discusses the illegal creation of other dinosaurs that were abandoned on Site B, resulting in the rampaging Spinosaurus. The page says that the new research happened over nine months and started 100 days after InGen was purchased by Masrani Global, while another page says that bidding for InGen happened in 1997 and the illegally cloned animals were introduced in 1999. A story that chronicled the backroom dealings and unethical science, or the release/escape of the newly resurrected dinosaurs, would probably make for an interesting tale. And there’s another mercenary adventure story waiting to detail the recapturing of the escaped Pteranodons from Isla Sorna in 2001.

I imagine Henry Wu weaving his way through all of these stories: part of the efforts to contain the situation on Isla Nublar, returning from his shipboard evacuation of the island to collect valuable scientific information only to be shut out of further genetics efforts until brought in by Masrani for the illegal experiments in 1999 that I’d like to imagine had to be shut down when the Spinosaurus broke containment, and finally meeting up with Vic Hoskins, forming a fateful relationship that would prove pivotal in Jurassic World, when the ex-military man led the mission to collect the pterosaurs.

Then there are the stories that can happen post-Fallen Kingdom. I’ve already rattled off ideas before, but there’s one concept I’d sort of like to play with at some point. At its core, an enterprising rancher has gathered up a small herd of Gallimimus and plans to grow the herd. He soon encounters two threats: something is hunting his new flock of bird mimics at night, and a government investigator shows up to claim that he’s in illegal possession of contraband intellectual property. The two threats collide pretty quickly, deciding the fate of the rancher’s whole operation. I think there’s some mileage in that for a short story, at least.

Anyone else have any gap or side stories they’d want to see, or any fan fiction they’d like to point out?

Jurassic Park as Metaphor for Family Trauma

The element that takes the Jurassic Park formula beyond simple action-adventure fun is the emphasis on human characters with flaws and clear arcs. That human emphasis has, whether intentionally or inadvertently, often resulted in movies with a subtext about family trauma. This is a topic I’ve thought and talked about intermittently on other platforms, but I want to try to develop it a little more here.

Most of the Park and World films are guided by a loss of family unity and a gradual rebuilding of family around kids. The pattern starts with Jurassic Park: Tim and Lex come to the island to get them away from their parents’ divorce. Through the events of the film, they bond with Grant, who starts out as someone who is very child-averse. As he guides them through the park safely and comes to care deeply about them, he’s addressing the issue in his own otherwise solid relationship with Sattler: she wants kids, but he couldn’t stand them. In the final helicopter flight out, Alan and Ellie share looks that express a great number of things: relief, gratitude, affection…but also there seems to be a shared recognition of how things have changed, as the kids rest against the man who starts out the movie terrifying a child merely out of slight annoyance over an offhanded remark. At least within the scope of the movie, the kids have found a new family, somewhat ironically formed around a man who never wanted one.

The Lost World continues the pattern. This time, Ian Malcolm’s daughter Kelly finds herself torn between separated parents. Her mother’s off on a trip with a new love interest. Her father, a habitual divorcé who’s never made time to nurture relationships with his (ex-)wives or kid(s), acts similarly disinterested in her and inconvenienced by her presence. Rather than be pawned off on one of her dad’s acquaintances, Kelly stows away to come along on his next expedition. The horrors of the island bring her to bond closely with Ian’s girlfriend, Sarah, and Ian finds renewed focus on the safety of both Sarah and Kelly. Ian repeatedly risks his life for both of them. This focus on protecting family ties in rather nicely with the threat from the Tyrannosaurus family that occupies the second and third acts of the film. Once more, the movie ends with a moment of peace for the reformed family, with Kelly, Sarah, and Ian all on the couch; in a reverse on the original, the child stays awake and watches over the sleeping adults.

Jurassic Park III once more finds much of the character motivations in a divorce. The Kirbys have divorced, Paul hasn’t really moved on while Amanda has, and their son Eric is caught in the middle. Eric gets stranded on Isla Sorna because of Amanda’s reckless “fun” boyfriend. The trauma of the island pushes Paul and Amanda back together, and the little nuclear family appears restored by the end of the film. In a separate arc, Grant and Sattler have remained friends but split up; Grant seems to slowly be reintroducing himself to Sattler’s new life of husband and child, but he feels out of place. Ellie insists that Alan can ask for help if he needs it. And by the end of the film, he’s able to do so in a moment of crisis, and she’s there for them. The dinosaurs get their family arc, too, as the Velociraptor pack is desperately pursuing their stolen eggs, and the Pteranodon flock attack to feed their offspring.

By this point, the recurrence of divorce and separation begins to feel somewhere between a fundamental franchise building block and a tired trope trotted out simply because it worked before. Either way, it’s back again in Jurassic World. Brothers Zach and Gray get sent to the titular theme park to visit their aunt Claire while their parents finalize a divorce back home. (Side note: I recall people complaining that the divorce reveal came from nowhere, but this is hinted at from as early as the airport departure scene, and the scene where Karen and Claire talk made that pretty clear to me even though it’s not explicitly stated until a little later on.) Even as their family falls apart, the brothers recommit to each other, and Zach changes his attitude from an aloof bully to a caring and supportive older brother. Claire’s arc echoes both John Hammond (as the most visible face of the park administration’s hubris and a more prominent figure than Masrani) and Alan Grant. From Grant, she gets the same apparent disinterest in kids or parenting, and her commitment to saving her nephews provides a somewhat similar arc, though bogged down in sexism: Grant undergoes an attitude change that is not required by society but simply a natural progression that resolves a tension in his romantic relationship, while Claire is nagged by her sister about how she’ll one day want to have children, stares longingly at a child reunited with their parent, is called out or treated differently because of her awkwardness with kids, and is operating within a larger societal notion that women should be guided by a desire to nurture and raise children. Regardless, while the arc had its missteps, I do believe the intent was to provide an arc that echoed Grant’s. Her relationship with the rugged Owen, from exes to romantic partners, suggests something of a collision of the Sarah/Ian and Amanda/Paul relationships from the other films, as well. Then, of course, as I recently wrote about at length, Owen’s relationship with Blue and the raptor pack provides the dinosaur family narrative for this entry in the series.

Finally, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is partially about people looking for connection and purpose after losing everything. Owen and Claire have split up and slowly reconnect, Owen is motivated to save his abandoned baby Blue, and Claire is guided by a desire to make right her failings at the park and feels deeply obligated to the dinosaurs she once saw as only “assets.” Lockwood fell out with business partner Hammond after using cloning technology to duplicate his deceased daughter. Over the course of the movie, that cloned girl, Maisie, learns the truth about her identity only after she discovers that her “grandfather” was killed by his not-so-loyal assistant. Once more, a family is formed by film’s end, this time between Owen, Claire, and Maisie. As all three characters are returning in Dominion, perhaps this new found family will be a little more permanent. And for the dinosaur family, Owen reunites with Blue, only to part ways once more by the end of the film.

Not only is this deconstruction and reformation of family structures so central to the movies’ narratives, but the movies themselves work as a metaphor for that family turmoil–as I suggested way back at the top. The dinosaurs are a vehicle for children’s wonder, amazement, and curiosity. Family and children were clearly on the mind of Michael Crichton when he wrote the original novel. As he’s quoted as saying in The Making of Jurassic Park:

My wife was pregnant with my first child, and I found that I couldn’t walk past a toy store without buying a stuffed toy. And what I was buying, more often than not, were stuffed dinosaurs. My wife couldn’t understand it. We knew we were having a girl. Why was I buying all these dinosaurs? And I would say, “Well, girls like dinosaurs, too.” But it was clear that I was sort of obsessed with dinosaurs; and the whole idea of children and dinosaurs, and the meaning of what that was, was just on my mind a lot during that period.

(Don Shay & Jody Duncan, p. 3)

Dr. Will Tattersdill, an academic researching the “social history of dinosaurs” in popular culture over the decades, has discussed how dinosaurs “mean a yearning for the past” and allow the observer to experience both human culture and natural history simultaneously. It’s interesting to consider that framework in recognizing that these movies start with characters, especially kids, yearning to connect with the dinosaurs, being awed by the dinosaurs, before the dinosaurs turn against them. The past isn’t enough to shield them from the crisis of the present, and in fact leads to that very crisis, the dissolution of the preexisting family.

It pains me to say that I can’t recall who said this or where it was printed, but I vaguely recall a comparison made between dinosaurs and children’s parents. Dinosaurs are big, objects of affection, at times terrifying, representative of a past before you existed, just as parents are to kids. A divorce or separation causes a considerable amount of chaos and confusion, if not outright trauma, for a young child, and these devoted caretakers also may inadvertently harm the child in the process of an especially bitter divorce. I think there’s something there in the Jurassic Park franchise, in that these kids admire the dinosaurs, the dinosaurs cause them harm, and they ultimately learn to coexist with the dinosaurs and survive. That evolution typically overlaps with the reformation of the family or the creation of a new found family.

At least to my eye, then, the experiences of the characters make literal the emotional harm and healing associated with the largely background family dynamics that inform the motivations and relationships central to every Jurassic Park movie.

Big ideas in Battle at Big Rock

I really rather liked Battle at Big Rock. It’s a high-concept short film with a very close focus on how just one family is impacted by this new world of dinosaurs coexisting with the modern era. The dinosaurs look great, and the terrified family has enough characterization to really root for them. I would love a lot of little films like this, just showcasing the new reality of that dinosaur-infused world.

Maybe more than the core story itself, the ending vignettes really showcase the big and small ways that the world has changed. That’s where I think the magic really lies with Big Rock. It’s not just the dramatic, life-or-death struggle between humans and big theropods, but seeing dinosaurs as harmless pests, traffic hazards, beautiful wildlife to see when out fishing or camping, invasive species, and so on. Those quieter moments set up interesting questions, prompt fun ideas, and provide a variety of new narrative possibilities. Outside of movies, I could see a variety of storytelling initiatives that all end up under the Jurassic World umbrella.

It’s not exactly comparable to Xenozoic because in that world, the neo-prehistoric life has overwhelmed the natural order in the wake of apocalypse (and that life comes from a much broader range of geologic ages). But still, the idea of a whole world of stories of humans just interacting with these long-lost lifeforms creates the same sort of tingling up and down my spine. It’s an exhilarating concept!

Jurassic World Evolution 2 seems like it’s going to play with this concept of a world adjusting to live with dinosaurs. For instance, in a fairly early forum post, Frontier Senior Community Manager Jens Erik wrote, “Certain modes allow you to transport live dinosaurs into your park from the wild via remote capture and narrative events and in some levels, they’ll be wild dinosaurs in your surrounding area that you need to locate, tranquilise and transport back to your facilities.” That same post discussed how the game would have dinosaurs forming natural territories in their exhibits. Rather than the deluxe destination resorts of Jurassic World Evolution (or the first and fourth movies), this seems more like an effort at conservation and containment among us, not apart from us. But not all stories need to be so big as a story about conservation park-building.

More Big Rock-style encounters with dinosaurs, even quiet moments, even subtle moments, could make for fun stories. I could imagine:

  • A group of biologists and paleontologists study a community of dinosaurs in northern California, seeing whether they’re thriving in their new environment and how the native plants and animals are handling the new arrivals;
  • A Jaws-type adventure as a whaling vessel attempts to hunt down the mosasaur;
  • A group of children befriend a peaceful baby Apatosaurus that becomes a bit of a handful as it continues to grow bigger and bigger;
  • Animal control struggles to keep a compy problem in check in a small city; or
  • Scientists for a rogue state or terrorist organization have bought or engineered some predators that predictably get loose and munch on their overlords.

And I’m still thinking too narrowly, along the lines of movies I’ve seen before. You could do whatever you wanted with the premise of dinosaurs just being out in the wild now. The “big idea” from Big Rock is the promise that you can have any sort of humans-and-dinosaurs story now, that it doesn’t have to be defined by a single genre and doesn’t even have to look like a Jurassic Park movie. I’m sure I’ve said it before a time or two on this blog, and I’ll probably say it a time or two again. But this promise continues to excite me! I hope it gets realized, in more short films, books, comics, and things that don’t really look anything like what the franchise has been so far.

Blue’s Story

Jurassic World portrays the Velociraptors as very intelligent, feral animals that can nonetheless be trained, at least to a certain degree. Owen’s pack appears to bounce around in loyalty dependent on the situation, and there’s the constant tension from the beginning that they’re always a moment away from turning on and killing their human alpha. It makes sense that the raptors would be trainable but unreliable. You could expect the same from a “trained” wolf or tiger or bear. And the raptors are super-smart predators from another era.

Still, Fallen Kingdom relies on the audience to root for and trust Blue throughout virtually the whole movie. She’s the Good Dinosaur, if you will. And we’re shown early on in this movie that Blue is actually special in a number of ways, not just smarter than the other raptors but more empathetic. She and Owen have a very special bond.

At first, Fallen Kingdom seems to reverse on the depiction of the raptors from the predecessor film, making Blue, at least, a friendlier killer. But while I’ll admit that it’s at least somewhat of a retcon, I don’t think that the movies are actually in contradiction. Fallen Kingdom invites a different read, in which Blue has been a hero the whole time, a consistently loyal girl to her sisters and her human dad.

It must be acknowledged that this view of Blue is not shared by Owen himself. Owen clearly respects the raptors, but he is also clearly aware that they might kill him given the chance. And that’s undeniable; riled up enough, they probably would kill Owen and move on. But these raptors don’t have any reason to understand just how much weaker humans are; humans always seem in control of the situation, literally above them all, wielding treats and correction from a remove. They could easily kill Owen, but I suspect that were it to happen, it would be an accident. The raptors regularly jostle for rank, it would seem, and what could be an acceptable clash between sisters could be lethal if applied toward a human.

When we first meet the raptors, they’re responding to Owen’s commands (if perhaps a bit reluctantly). We are to understand that this has been a long journey to get them to respond promptly and correctly. But Fallen Kingdom also lets us know that the other raptors are going to be more problematic, that they don’t have the same level of empathy, the same ability for cross-species connection, that Blue has. Blue is the bridge between the worlds. Even Jurassic World doesn’t suggest that they’d kill for no reason. The antics with the pig and the keeper are the result of human negligence; it’s natural that the raptors, instinctively viewing the little fleeing piglet as prey, would be desirous of it, and it’s also natural that they might react with hostility toward a human suddenly and unwantedly dropped into their territory, a human interfering with their pig hunt, a human they have no connection to. They’d definitely kill that keeper; I’m not so sure, however, that they’d have lunged for Owen if he hadn’t rolled away. In fact, it’s not just the roll but his movement to face away from them that seems to trigger them. If they’d wanted to, they could have easily taken him down in the moment, but they were at least tenuously reactive to his commands.

After that, Blue doesn’t ever act aggressively toward Owen. In fact, none of the raptors seem to act aggressively toward their alpha. When deployed on the chase for the Indominus, they’re perfectly content to hunt down their target, running alongside Owen as an integrated pack. Sure, they’re caught off guard by the Indominus; they’d have no reason to expect that it could communicate with them. And it’s certainly big enough to be a real threat! When I first watched this scene, I saw the moment in which all their camera views are trained on Owen as a sign that they’d turned on him, that they were about to attack. Owen certainly believes they’d found a new alpha (after, it should be mentioned, the raptors would have reason to feel betrayed by being fired on). But again, in context of the softer view of at least Blue in Fallen Kingdom, it’s just as reasonable to see that moment as the raptors turning back to Owen for input about how to proceed. Because Owen doesn’t fully trust his pack and can’t intuit their thinking, he perceives it as a threat. But wouldn’t a loyal pack look to their leader, waiting patiently for his cue before proceeding? It’s only when the mercenaries start firing that they turn on the humans–and even then, they target the other humans, not Owen. Owen had warned early in the movie, in that pig-keeper scene, that if the raptors were fired on, they’d “never trust me again.”

Even in the ensuing chaos, there are signs of raptor loyalty. Charlie and Owen made eye contact during the fight, and even though she’d just killed another man, she didn’t react aggressively. She cocked her head, acted curious. She seemed to be awaiting input yet again, only to be killed by a rocket explosion a moment later. Similarly, Owen was able to get Blue to leave Barry alone by whistling for her; it’s as easy to say that she followed him because he was the leader as to say it was because she was hunting him instead. Later, Delta might even have attacked Hoskins because she recognizes him as a bad guy and a threat to both Owen and her pack.

It’s true that the raptors pursue Owen’s party and corner them, but why wouldn’t they? Owen’s their leader, and they’re trained to form up on him. Rather than attack, Blue lets him remove the camera halter. The raptors once more communicate with Indominus and look to Owen for input, which he’s able to actually signal this time. Frustrated by the raptors’ lack of compliance, the Indominus attacks Blue, making the ensuing fight deeply personal for Delta and Echo. The raptors fight for their sisters and their dad to the very end in this final battle. After the fight, lone raptor survivor Blue looks first to the Tyrannosaurus and then to Owen to determine what to do. Subtly warned away by Owen and apparently perceiving that she no longer has a place or a pack, she leaves without any aggression toward Owen or his companions.

Fallen Kingdom‘s additional details about Blue don’t have to undermine or contradict anything that came before. And once more in Fallen Kingdom, Blue feels fiercely loyal to her human dad and his human pack, though once more she ultimately chooses to go off on her own when all the threats have passed, seemingly recognizing that she’ll never fit in without her own raptor companions. She stays long enough to make sure Owen is okay, and then she leaves, choosing a life of isolation and freedom over companionship and imprisonment.

Blue is a loyal hero with a tragic arc. This is largely true for her antihero raptor sisters, as well. Both of the Jurassic World films ultimately support this read, especially when viewed together. And Blue deserves the interpretation!