Steven Spielberg did the impossible in 1993's Jurassic Park, making audiences believe that dinosaurs could actually roam the Earth in the modern day. Of course, that was achieved thanks to some truly groundbreaking special effects, but as always the director did more than just impress with new film techniques.
We believed the dinosaurs were real because Spielberg showed us a world where science and nature worked in unison to make the impossible real. He stressed how science and nature could benefit and harm one another and, most importantly, he illustrated how their relationship plays a role in human life. We're exploring Spielberg's film with a look at the lessons Jurassic Park taught us about science and nature.
1. Smart Science Can Benefit Nature
Science can improve not only our necessities of life, but those of other animals and organisms. The cloning tech seen in Jurassic Park is responsible for saving dinosaurs from extinction, with further genetic modification used to ensure that the revived creatures can survive in modern times.
While those sorts of experiments might prove controversial in our world, scientists have experimented with gene therapy and genetic modification to discover how they can prevent inheritable diseases in both animals and humans. Jurassic Park shows that adroitly applied science can actually improve nature's building blocks, with the potential to enrich society along the way.
2. Never Underestimate Nature
When Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) arrives at Jurassic Park, one of his main concerns is the potential threat of its more menacing dinosaurs. And in a speech about chaos theory, he explains how even the most carefully laid plans can fall apart due to the dynamic nature of life.
As Malcolm insists, a T-rex isn't bound by behavioral patterns. Rather, it acts unpredictably, despite the park staffs' confidence that its animals will adhere to specific patterns. Malcolm is later proved right in the film when the T-rex breaks free from its enclosure. The ensuing chaos illustrates the notion that while science has the potential to improve nature, it's important that scientists don't overstep their bounds. In the end, natural chaos rules supreme.
3. Science's Potential Is Infinite
The cloning process in Jurassic Park may be ripped from the pages of a sci-fi book, but the processes the characters go through are clearly inspired by real science.
Much like actual scientists, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) and his team of researchers took inspiration from others before embarking on their own scientific quest. Their research built upon previous findings, resulting in some truly groundbreaking accomplishments. Spielberg's story may be fiction, but its basis in real scientific methods proves that the potential for scientific advances is limitless.
4. Life Finds A Way
We learn early on that all the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are females, an intentional choice to ensure breeding wouldn't flood the park with dinos. But as Ian Malcolm reminds us, "Life finds a way," and sure enough that proves to be true when Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) discovers hatched dinosaur eggs while traversing the park.
The film explains that the incomplete DNA used to clone the dinosaurs was combined with that of West African bullfrogs, which can change their sex for reproduction to fill in the gaps. While it's farfetched, Spielberg's point is clear: Nature will fight to maintain order, even after scientific meddling.
5. We Have To Use Science Responsibly
One of the most unique aspects of Jurassic Park is Spielberg's examination of the ethics behind science. While the film is an action-packed adventure, it also manages to question why we undertake scientific research to begin with — best seen when Hammond first meets with Malcom, Grant and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern).
In the scene, Hammond lays out his basic plan for Jurassic Park, but the three scientists are less than receptive to his ideas. Hammond boasts about how his team can bring dinosaurs to life, but as Malcolm says:
"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."
Groundbreaking technology might have allowed Hammond to create dinosaurs, but that tech was used recklessly. As Malcolm explained, the extinction of the dinosaurs was nature's way of saying time's up, and Hammond should have taken time to actually consider the ramifications of bringing them back.
Throughout Jurassic Park, Spielberg teaches thoughtful lessons on the relationship between science and nature. He makes you question how science and nature are related, the ethics behind scientific research, the mysterious ways of the world and more, while still delivering impressive on-screen action and thrills. The conflict of science versus natural order might be a central theme of the film, but as Spielberg shows, there's no end to the scientific advances we can achieve. And in the end, responsible scientists can take cues from nature to truly improve our world.
Check out the rest of our Steven Spielberg Fanzine here.