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.
Both 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.
Both 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: