The only thing scarier than a rampaging mega-dinosauar is a rampaging mega-dinosaur that’s also a genetically modified organism. That, at least, seems to be the spirit behind the marketing for Jurassic World, which comes out tonight. As the trailer makes clear, theatergoers should expect some meditations on genetic tinkering along with the more traditional chase scenes and roaring theropods.
“We have learned more in the past decade from genetics than a century of digging up bones,” a hubristic scientist (Bryce Dallas Howard) intones midway through the trailer. “A whole new frontier has opened up. We have our first genetically modified hybrid.” Cue the dramatic music and bubbling laboratory equipment, before neatly-dressed-scientist transitions to a scene featuring an earthy man in a brown vest, with fashionable scruff–Chris Pratt, looking like a cross between Indiana Jones and your middle school biology teacher. “They just went and made a new dinosaur?” Brown Vest asks sagely. “Probably not a good idea.”
Brown Vest frets further about the “dinosaur they cooked up in that lab.” Then the trailer starts to get bloody. GMO on the loose!
You can watch it yourself. The Cubit editors are looking forward to the film (well, one of us is; the other is too scared to see it) but unless Jurassic Park surprises us, this whole premise feels pretty familiar: the fable of the hubristic scientist, spun up with some straightforward GMO fear-mongering.
Hubris happens. It does. But this story is starting to feel old. In part, that’s because it’s difficult today to find an onscreen scientist who’s not one or more of the following: (a) heartless and overconfident; (b) a weapons designer; (c) a stock character from the Asian stereotype department; (d) charmingly insane.
But it’s also because hubris and tinkering with stuff aren’t necessarily necessarily linked, as much as vest-man would like us to believe that they are. It’s possible to make bold things, and also to be thoughtful about the consequences—to be, in short, both the swaggering geneticist and the grizzled skeptic.
Observers of certain conversations about some new technologies, including GMOs, will be forgiven for thinking that kind of balance is impossible. Between the rabid skeptics and the rabid backers, the voices that speak seriously about the benefits of a scientific advance, while also acknowledging the problems that come with any new technology (Who gets to control it? How will we know when the tinkering has gone too far?) tend to get lost.
In our marketing and in our fictions, we set those roles apart: innovation versus common sense. This generates good stories that can be told in 90 seconds or less. But in the real world, perhaps, we separate them at our peril.
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