Hard Project: Jurassic Park

Fun for people who like watching from the sidelines, less so for pop culture generators.

Let’s see how absurd this all looks in another ten years of research, because we still don’t know a fragment of what we like to pretend we know about dinosaurs.

The Jurassic Park franchise seems a lot like its main draw – it keeps dying out, then getting resurrected through increasingly flimsy means as an excuse every few years.  We’re getting another movie soon, and while the temptation to see it remains because I both love Chris Pratt and dinosaurs, I also know that there’s literally no movie that has been made or will ever be made that can actually live up to what was done with the first film.

Which itself was less of a great film and more of a long love letter to special effects with a fairly straightforward plot, but at least it inspired one of the best fan videos of all time.

But I have to say, the discordant screeching of that right there is how I feel when I fire up pretty much any video game based on the franchise.  Every single time.  I’m not saying that every single one of them is terrible, I’m saying that none of them really replicate what Jurassic Park is or was, and we might need to find a different way to get our dinosaur-shooting impulses out in video game form.  A different, non-Turok way, preferably.

Awe, fear, handguns

The central point of Jurassic Park is that these creatures are ancient, deadly, and dangerous.  Every bit of fear in the film once things go off the rails is the fact that these are huge monsters, the closest thing the real world has ever seen to kaiju, and human beings have long since evolved out of a need to defend themselves.  So pretty much every single video game has you shooting a whole pile of dinosaurs, and yes, I’m even going to go ahead and indict games like the serial-numbers-filed-off Dino Crisis.

You don't know either, to be fair.

And then you have this fucking thing, which is SimZoo Or Some Bullshit But With Dinosaurs, which… I mean, at this point I just don’t even know.

The problem, of course, is that dinosaurs are not supernatural.  I haven’t actually hunted any dinosaurs for several reasons – my disgust for hunting and the fact that they are still 100% extinct being two of the main ones – but I’m willing to bet that killing a carnosaur is not appreciably different from killing an elephant except that one will stomp you and the other will stomp you and eat you.  The part that makes the film interesting is the idea that these are primal creatures that predate humans, not that they have some sort of bulletproof skin despite bullets not existing when they evolved.

In the movies, you are expected to be overawed by these creatures.  In the games, you are expected to shoot them.  It’s kind of a major disconnect, not dissimilar to the one that you see in a lot of games based around the Alien franchise.  Except at least there was an Alien plot revolving around shooting the things.

Terrible commentary and ideas

All right, so the spirit of the movies has not exactly translated into a video games well.  But that’s all right – you can still sort of put in the same basic science and commentary, right?  Except that the thrust behind the original film is pretty horrible, starting with the idea that everything goes wrong because this was a Bad Thing human beings Should Not Do and we Tried To Play God.

Never mind that the central plot of the film doesn’t teach the lesson that we tried to play God so much as the importance of multi-layer security.

At least there's a T-Rex eating people?

You would think this would be the point where Telltale’s laser-narrow focus would actually work out really great, but apparently not.

This is one of those regular science fiction plots you see far too often – rather than making any sort of interesting commentary, it just shows someone using science to do a thing and then the thing goes entirely wrong, thus proving that there’s some perfect metaphysical order that was being messed with when human beings decided it was a wise idea to try and do something really cool.  I read a story in which this was applied to doctors trying to cure the common cold, which was truly hilarious.  It’s always a kind of dumb idea, never more so when applied to a story that is fundamentally about how totally awesome dinosaurs are.

As for the actual science, leaving aside the fact that all evidence suggests them critters should be covered in feathers, it’s about as scientific as your average Star Trek plot.  Except there you don’t have scientists who are afraid to build a telephone for fear that it’ll destroy us all.  Really, it’s all boilerplate for people being awed by dinosaurs.  Which causes another problem.

Unspectacular

I want you to go watch your copy of Pacific Rim right now.  (It is assumed that you have a copy of Pacific Rim much in the same fashion that it is assumed you know how to dress yourself in the morning.)  Did you notice anything in the first few moments of the film?  Like how there’s no point in the movie wherein you find yourself staring at the screen and screaming how fake it is?  Of course you don’t.  The filmmakers went out of their way to ensure you wouldn’t think that, it yanks you right out of the movie when that happens.

And so appropriate thematically.

Oh, well, this is plenty of visual spectacle.

A big part of what made Jurassic Park such a magnificent experience back in the day was that much like Pacific Rim or Star Wars or The Dark Knight, extensive amounts of work was done to make sure that the dinosaurs you saw on the screen looked and felt like living creatures.  And to top that off, they sort of mostly were real, at one point, so you had that extra feeling like you had almost watched something that was sort of close to maybe being educational.

Video games, on the other hand, are always trying to make the unreal look real.  That’s what they do.  It’s not a spectacular achievement, it’s something you mark off in your head as “graphics = good” and then you move on.  The sheer visual spectacle is almost completely wasted, leaving you with a game that doesn’t match the tone of the films and wouldn’t be all that great even if it did.

Unless the game also features Chris Pratt, in which case I’d still probably see it, because I find him fun to watch on screen.

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About expostninja

I've been playing video games and MMOs for years, I read a great deal of design articles, and I work for a news site. This, of course, means that I want to spend more time talking about them. I am not a ninja.

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