When Dinosaurs Ruled The World

In the summer of ‘93, I was an eight-year-old jorts wearing tomboy, covered in mosquito bites and baseball caps. I spent most of that summer playing in the dirt at my great grandma’s house. It had been a weird year for me. I was a year or so removed from a near catastrophic knee injury (remember kids, don’t ride double on a moped. Not even with your dad), my sister was a toddler and my mother was dealing with an impending hysterectomy. It was a very confusing time. In the chaos that all of that brought, I found solace in three things. Baseball, pro wrestling, and dinosaurs.

 

And 1993 was a very, very good year to love dinosaurs.

 

The commercials for the movie started earlier in the year. Water rippling in colossal footprints, talons through metal gates and the now iconic clip of a young girl shining a giant flashlight into a dilating pupil of something huge and monstrous. I was hooked. I was feverish. I don’t think, outside my family and my little mutt puppy, there was anything I loved more. Without really knowing much about the movie, or any movie really, I knew I had to go. I had to see it.

Pretty soon, my closest cousin was in on the excitement. We’d spend hours reenacting the trailer over and over each time adding a little bit more. We’d trampled through our great grandma’s woods for hours searching for dinosaur bones and pretending the chickens were velociraptors. The briars and kudzu were toxic plants from another age. Smashed elderberries were our blood stains as we battled imagined terrible beasts.

 

When we finally made it to the local cinema (which teenaged me would nickname “The Enema”  much later) we were beyond ready. We paid our nominal fee, grabbed some over buttered popcorn and sat in the darkness.

 

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The next 2 hours and 7 minutes would change my life. 

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And not all of that change was because of the prehistoric beast in the story. Even my eight-year-old brain understood how different this movie was. Yes, it had special and practical effects galore.  But it also had female characters doing the heavy lifting. It had eccentric weirdo-nerds saving the day by loving their craft openly and out loud.

Ellie Sattler was never a damsel in distress. She was a woman of science. Even though she was in a relationship with Grant, she was his equal. Her knowledge was her own. It wasn’t built around her connections. Her bravery, courage, and intelligence made her a hero. She was brave not only in dealings with the dinosaurs on the island but also with the hubris of the males around her.

 

Lex Murphy wasn’t a clueless little rich girl. She was a hacker daredevil that helped reset the park and ensure the group’s survival. Yeah, she screamed a lot, but who the hell wouldn’t? She was also a woman of morals. Even the in the midst of the worst event of her life, she stuck to her beliefs in vegetarianism. If I were being chased by hungry carnivores, I’d probably want to rip some meat apart solely out of spite. She was loyal to herself and her family, biological and collective.

 

Ian Malcolm was more than a sweet talker in a leather jacket. He was like the 007 of chaos theory. He was cool, he was suave, he was unapologetic. He made math and being a geek sexy. He was also unbending in his opinions. He was unafraid of the fat cats with deep purses. He constantly viewed his truth as being more worthy than monetary gain. And he was right.

 

Jurassic Park inspired me in ways I don’t think I fully understood until much later. It strengthened my desire to do well in what years later would be touted as the STEM field. Because of how important math, science, and tech was in that movie, it pushed me to focus on those avenues and go further. Even on an elementary school level, I knew that if I wanted to actually become a paleobotanist, I was going to have to focus on math and science. Math was a struggle for me when I was younger. But that one night at the theater (and many, many Blockbuster rentals) showed me how important that struggle was.

 

That night, watching that movie, changed my young life. The next year at school I was placed in the gifted and talented program.
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Now let’s jump 25 years forward.

33 year old me is standing in the same theater (now known only as “The Enema” in my mind) with my just turned 10-year-old son going to see the latest in the Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World Fallen Kingdom. We grab popcorn and soda and take the same outdated cushioned seats that I sat on in my single digit years.

 

Everything in the theater is almost the same as it was a quarter of a century before. The curtains covering the walls were still dark, but I’m not sure whether it was from age or dust. The seats were squeaky and uncomfortable, from hundreds of butts spending hundreds of hours of movie escapism in them. The popcorn was still less than grand, but still not quite as overpriced as the mega cinemas out of town. The ticket prices are still incredibly low, even with the dollar increase. (“All shows before 6, all seats, $4”). The No Smoking sign was still there but it now read No Texting. It was the very same place with just a slight timeline shift.

 

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To celebrate his tenth year of life, the Not So Little Anymore Guy and I were going to watch some dinosaurs. He had seen the other Jurassic Park movies, but not in the theater. I hoped that the magic I felt as a young person would still be in there for him. I hoped that the movie would inspire him the same way its predecessor had inspired me. I wanted him to see the connection between absolute badassery and science. I wanted those strong characters that showed him there was no need to fit into any one stereotype. You can be this AND that at the same time.

 

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Instead, we got a disaster movie full of generic bad guys, flat characters, and jump scares. It just didn’t have the same magic that the first movie had for me. I don’t think he came away from the movie wanting to jump into science or to study dinosaurs. He was excited, he had a great time, but in the five minutes or so drive home (small towns for the win), he was pretty much over it. The movie was all fluff and no filler. There was no meat on those bones dancing around under all that dino CGI. It’s not one of those things where I expected him to be moved the same way I was at his age. I wanted him to have his own experience and I had great hope it would be wonderful.  I just expected the movie makers to do better. I miss the heart that the original movie had. Maybe I’m looking back with nostalgia in my eyes. Maybe we live in a time where it’s easier to produce thousands of frames of computer generation instead of sustainable storylines. I don’t know. It’s like the whole movie felt like a glass of soda after being left out all night.
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I don’t mean to make it sound like I didn’t have fun and enjoy him grabbing for my hand when a there was a surprising swerve. I did. I loved seeing the movie with him so much. I know how special that moment was, for both of us. In a handful of years, he’s going to be a teenager. I will probably, at least for a short moment in time, not be his favorite person. Soon, I will be the out of place dinosaur, living in an era not my own.  And that’s ok! That’s how things are supposed to work.
This trip to the movies, just the two of us, will be memorable forever. The experience of us giggling to each other after a sudden scare or whisper-yelling that the old lady down front needs to get off her phone will forever be recorded in my heart as something significant. Shared moments always are. The movie may have lacked the importance that its predecessor had for me, but the event of seeing it with my son was worth so much more.
I wouldn’t trade it for all the money spent on special effects in all the Jurassic Park movies.
I never became the paleobotanist that I dreamed of becoming. I never became a computer hacker or a chaotician or any type of person of science. I became a mom. And while I’m not bringing the stories of the past to life for another try at existence, I am trying to make a path for the future by loving my kids the way they need to be. And if that’s by having special moments watching less than stellar films, then I’ll gladly go see the next five Jurassic Park/World movies.
Dinosaurs ruled the world once. Soon the same will be said of us humans. We shouldn’t expect every generation to be motivated and inspired by the same things.

Life, after all, finds a way.

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