I’ve long held a (flaming, waved in front of a hungry dinosaur) torch for Dr Alan Grant. The floppy hair. The red paisley bandana. His Jurassic Park combo of beige chinos and a blue shirt, the uniform of literally any middle-aged man in the office on any Dress Down Friday in the ’90s. Poor Alan; all he ever wanted was to dig up bones and marry Dr Sattler. Instead he’s repeatedly finding, at moments of great peril, that he was right all along about some thoroughly-mocked dinosaur hypothesis.
He’s a hot but lonely palaeontologist who takes John Hammond’s shilling in order to fund his future digs, only to find himself in the midst of a dino-explosion that by the time of Jurassic World: Dominion has left his work even more financially precarious. No one’s going to pay for him to dig up a dinosaur fossil when they’re surrounded by living, breathing specimens. What was once unprovable conjecture around their habits can now be easily proved: “they do hunt in herds!” he says in wonder when he sees Brachiosauruses moving together across the fields in Jurassic Park.
But much as I love Alan, with some wistfulness it’s time to move on — to Dr Henry Wu (BD Wong) and Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who I feel in Jurassic World: Dominion are having a moment. Dr Wu has moved, Ian Malcolm has stayed still, and they now occupy similar spots within the story.
Both are more visible and more important, but not centre stage; instead they’re satellites orbiting their billionaire boss, trying to act as a warning system and rein in his excesses. Dr Malcolm has always occupied that space, though his oft-repeated arguments, while more relevant than ever, are also paradoxically sounding stale; a background hum while the world gets to grips with firefighting a problem that wouldn’t exist if they’d listened to him in the first place. Dr Wu, after a career fiddling with nature’s creations to make them better (read: worse), seems to have developed humility (though he’s still not averse to using more science to try to fix things).
I’d also argue the two characters have uttered the most quotable lines in all the films (bolded below so you can check whether you’ve been using them correctly).
Both characters have been intermittent visitors to the two franchises.
Malcolm has dotted in and out of various sequels (Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) — warning us yet eventually almost revelling in our imminent destruction, while still accepting his rich paymasters. He’s there at the beginning. Brought in by John Hammond to check out Jurassic Park on the order of his own lawyers, Malcolm is part Cassandra — his prophecies never to be believed — and part gloomy court jester, paid by a king to bring him back down to size, to say what no one else dares to say.
Wu has been less visible, ironic when it is his willingness to give his unethical employers what they demand that has driven the disasters and chaos: whether filling the gaps in dinosaur DNA without realising they will then be able to reproduce; or developing living, breathing weapons more dangerous than nature had ever created. “You didn’t ask for reality, you asked for more teeth,” Wu reminds billionaire owner Masrani in Jurassic World.
In Jurassic Park Henry Wu appears for only one scene though it’s a vital one: the laboratory birth of the baby velociraptor, a scene which includes his exchange with Malcolm around what we can control. All Jurassic Park dinosaurs are bred to be female, Wu tells them smugly, leading to the famous “life finds, uh, a way!” riposte from Malcolm. Wu returns in Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. He’s still pushing the ethical boundaries of science but is also tartly rebuffing faux naiveté from his bosses at the violent outcomes of their/his experiments. Again, to Masrani: “Monster is a relative term. To a canary, a cat is a monster. We’re just used to being the cat.”
In the latest and final film, Dr Wu is the most interesting character. If they do make another film, a look at past and future Dr Wu would be well worth a watch, fiddling with dinosaur DNA while the world burns. And just imagine his career retrospective at his retirement party!
Wu has believed in the supremacy of man, controlling life, though disasters have tempered that belief once we reach Dominion. Now Wu rejects the idea of control when it comes to his artificially-created lifeforms, pushing back against his boss Lewis Dodgson who absolutely wants to control their off-message giant locusts rather than destroy them. However in trying to fix the problem Wu decides to delve deeper into the DNA of the baby velociraptor and teenage clone Maisie. One of the final scenes in the film sees Dr Wu releasing a giant locust that has had its DNA altered with a pathogen to stop the swarming creatures’ disastrous attacks. (He also publicly credits the late Charlotte Lockwood for this breakthrough; in Jurassic Park Malcolm had accused John Hammond of using other scientists’ breakthroughs for their own ends.) Presumably it works, and what could possibly go wrong! It’s okay though as now Wu is one of the good guys; he’s grown as a person. We even hear in Dominion that as scientists his Biosyn team has “evolved”.
Malcolm has never had any truck with man’s hubris, the way we’re always overreaching and never learning, and believes life (or indeed Life) cannot be controlled. “Life, uh, finds a way”; and “your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should”. Sure, he starts back in 1993 from a more considered position than Wu can. Malcolm then is already a respected chaos theorist, who understands how often our billionaires and scientists’ best laid plans go awry. He has the space to do so as it’s his job, while Wu’s is to break scientific barriers.
I’m not sure Malcolm, a showman, always believes it all himself. While his actual job is to explain chaos and its effects, with nature a messy uncontainable force, the way he talks of nature sometimes sounds less like a metaphor and more that he thinks of it as an entity that itself controls: “Nature selected them for extinction,” he says of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. (I’m struggling to think of an extinction less deliberate than an asteroid strike, unless you believe in god, which we know Malcolm doesn’t.)
Then in Dominion he tells an audience we need to change or die, and that we as a species are no more worthy of supremacy than any other species on Earth. So far, so Malcolm — yet he later mocks Owen Grady for making a promise to a velociraptor that he will bring back her baby. Owen is in fact doing what the late scientist Charlotte Lockwood (Maisie’s mother) advocated, and what Malcolm himself warns we will have to do in his closing monologue in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: coexist with dinosaurs.
It’s as if, as Dr Wu learns and grows, Malcolm is regressing into playing the role of Dr Ian Malcolm (a metaphorical clone, perhaps?).
Maybe he has reached that end point that all apex predators will eventually reach — where we can evolve no more?