Category Archives

One Article

Forget Jurassic World, Ex Machina is the spiritual sequel to Jurassic Park

Jurassic World – the fourth Jurassic Park movie – launches on June the 10th, almost 14 years after JPIII launched in 2001. And as the marketing machine winds up and prepares us to return to Isla Nublar, you can be sure that there will be no escape from velociraptors, motorbike chases, greedy execs, kids in peril, and the inevitably catastrophic new superdino.

The marketing message is clear – this film will be bigger, better, louder, larger and more dangerous than anything that’s come before. It’s the newer, even higher, even faster rollercoaster of the dinosaur movies.  And in all that noise, when looking back on Jurassic Park (1993!) you’d be forgiven for just remembering the parts that Jurassic World is so keen to exceed – the ground-breaking special effects, the stupendous tyrannosaur, the terrifying call of the velociraptor, and *that* impact tremor scene.

But it’s easy to forget that Jurassic Park wasn’t really a story about dinosaurs. In the entire 127 minutes of film, only 14 minutes contained dinosaur effects shots.  They may be the scenes that left us with an impact, and that made us want to go back to the islands again and again, but it’s the movie’s slow-paced philosophical crescendo that makes it one of the great sci-fi movies of its time. It has not only had an impact on film technology, but also in attitudes towards science and technology in popular culture.

And not least in 2015’s Ex Machina. On the surface, Ex Machina is a completely different type of movie to Jurassic Park. It’s about AI and not dinosaurs, it lacks any of Jurassic Park’s family-friendly trimmings, and its deep-dive into its scientific and philosophical themes makes Jurassic Park look like the scientific-equivalent of a Kraft Dinner to Ex Machina’s rib-eye steak. But Ex Machina owes so much to JP – both in the way the story is told, and the use of science to drive the drama.

Let’s start with the protagonists. In both films they are technical experts – in JP a palaeontologist and a palaeobotanist, in Ex Machina a coder. They have been asked to go somewhere, but they don’t know why and they don’t know what to expect when they get there.

Jurassic Park ProtagonistsEx Machina ProtagonistCue a helicopter ride over spectacular scenery to a mysterious remote location.

Photo 22-05-2015 08 17 25Helicopter in Ex MachinaThe protagonists are accompanied eccentric billionaire, who has done something groundbreaking. We know what it is, but our heroes still do not.

Photo 26-05-2015 00 43 29Caleb meets NathanFirst we establish the rules of the location. Both plots rely heavily on computer-controlled electronic security systems.

Photo 26-05-2015 00 44 20Keycard system in Ex MachinaThen we meet the star attraction. Both the protagonist and the audience are entranced. Even though we knew what was coming, we’re amazed as we see it through their eyes.

Alan and Ellie Meet the DinosaursCaleb meets AvaThere are signs of danger:

Ellie discovers the T-RexCaleb and the Cracked GlassBut first, here comes the science!

Jurassic Park DNA CartoonEx Machina talks science!And next the philosophical debates. Remember that Jurassic Park spends about 10 minutes around a dinner table with characters talking about science, genetics and morality.

Photo 22-05-2015 08 20 22Ex Machina PhilosophyBoth films use a thought experiment to share scientific concepts – in Jurassic Park Malcolm uses one to discuss chaos theory, in Ex Machina, Caleb uses one to discuss the human mind vs the computer mind.

Malcolm demonstrates Chaos TheoryEx Machina Mary and the Black and White RoomBoth movies take trips off into related topics that aren’t core to the action. Which Hollywood movie can claim to spend 5 minutes investigating a sick animal by searching through piles of dung?

One Big Pile of ShitWhile Ex Machina gives us a lesson in art history.

Ex Machina and Jackson PollockBoth have a respect for – and fear of – computer technology, with extensive shots of code:

Samuel L Jackson hackingPython in Ex MachinaBut ultimately the topic of the film wants to get out!

Raptors test the fencesAI wants out!Someone messes with the security systems:

The fences are offCaleb messes with the security… and life, ah, finds a way:

Grant vs the T-RexEx Machina OopsBoth films also deal heavily in gender politics. But while Ex Machina may have a fembot problem and gets a resounding F in the Bechdel test, Jurassic Park passes (by a whisker), and as Ellie would say:

Ellie and sexism in survival situations