Top Predator

Jurassic_Park_III_poster

The reboot of Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has been on my mind. Back in the early days of this century I hadn’t bothered to see either Jurassic Park II or III. The original, despite its faults, was like a childhood dream come true. I’ve always felt that dinosaurs (along with vampires and pirates) made for the best movies, although space has to be right up there in the top since 2001 (not the year, the movie). Since the summer I’ve made a point to carve out time to finish out the holy trilogy of dinosaur flicks. I liked the character Dr. Malcolm in the original, but he should’ve never been the main character of the sequel. The Lost World almost lost my resolve to see the series through. The story was unvarying: humans meet dinosaurs, dinosaurs chase humans. New and innovative means of trying to contain or exploit them try to demonstrate the evils of hubris and greed, but dinosaurs always prevail. Jurassic Park III was a bit better, going back to the original formula but adding something bigger than Tyrannosaurus Rex—the Spinosaurus. It was unbelievable, however, that a paleontology doctoral student couldn’t recognize it, thinking it a mere Suchomimus. At the turn of the century, new dinosaur finds had suggested that Spinosaurus was larger than T-Rex, and the movie reflected the new top predator of the time.

It is the little boy in me that keeps me coming back for dinosaurs. Some of my favorite toys were cheap, molded plastic dinos, and when my daughter was young we bought her all the more realistic (and pricey) Safari versions. When I get to the store, I still stop and look at the species we never acquired and make a wish. I think it’s because dinosaurs represent something we can never have. Species that grew to enormous size and had armor-like skin, and even, if some paleontologists are to be believed, considerable intelligence. Of course, that may just be the movie talking. In a world where all things are equal, we’d never stand a chance against dinosaurs. They are like reptilian deities.

When Amanda Kirby (ironically, the only adult to be addressed by first name in the movie by new acquaintances; the males are called by their titles even after they’ve been through several dinosaur attacks together) sees the incubators at the compound, she says, “So this is how you make dinosaurs.” Dr. Grant (let’s give him his title) responds, “No, this is how you play God.” Playing God is a trope as old as science itself. Planting crops to grow where you want them to grow is playing God in its own way. Creating uncontrollable forces that can destroy you seems to be a uniquely human trait. And so my imagination is drawn back to dinosaur days. Those who make the movies tug on wishes that any mere creature would have: to create its own gods and somehow manage to survive them. Hubris, it seems, is just as human as dreaming of dinosaurs.

God-Adam! Is That What it Really Says?

GodAdam

While reading a recent article on the origins of the abstract art movement I was struck by this quote from Wassily Kandinsky, widely considered to have been one of the founders of the movement: “the contact between the acute angle of a triangle and a circle has no less effect than that of God’s finger touching Adam’s in Michelangelo.” Apart from putting me in mind of Edwin Abbott’s Flatland, this statement emphasized once again the power of one of Genesis’ creation stories. It also made me aware of a new dimension of the distressed pleas of Creationists for a reversal of science and a resetting of the hands of time itself. It seems that there is so much to lose.

Michelangelo’s Adam, as I always tell my students, has bestowed a disproportionate influence on all subsequent biblical interpretation. Rather like the case with Handel’s Messiah and Isaiah 9, modern readers find it exceptionally difficult to climb over Renaissance images to peer directly at the ancient sources themselves. Isaiah was writing about Hezekiah ben Ahaz rather than Jesus of Nazareth, but just try to convince any holiday shopper of the fact! Art has made the decision for us; there can be no questioning of Handel. Michelangelo was a brilliant painter, indeed, a genius by any stretch of artistic imagination, but he was no Bible scholar. Even if he had been, the tools available now were not available then.

I sense that Creationists fear the loss of the literal image (if it can even be considered literal) of Michelangelo’s God and Adam. How threatening it is to ponder that God is not a bearded white man! What blasphemy to consider that instead of an insouciant Adam we have promiscuously procreating ape-like hominids hopping around!

One of my favorite movies has always been 2001: A Space Odyssey, Kubrick’s coming of age. The iconic monolith with early, distinctly apelike humans cavorting around it, timidly daring to touch it, to become something more — this abstraction felt like creation to me. Indeed, much of the film is abstract art. Creationists fear the demise of classical art; however, abstract artists do not destroy classical art, but rather build on it. It is humanity growing up. Like abstract art the biblical images leave much to the imagination. Is it better to remain firmly mired in what we know cannot be true or to allow human progression to continue? Even Wall-e reaches a mechanical hand out to the light (image copyrighted, all rights reserved).