I’m sorry, Nutmeg. I did go see Jurassic World this weekend and you guys didn’t get to come. And not to rub it in, but you would have loved the star turn by your ancestor T. rex, who is called in to help save the day towards the end and has the last roar before the credits roll. However, the stars of the film are the velociraptors, who are also related to you. Yes, almost everything about them in the film is inaccurate, from being depicted with no feathers, to their size (not as tall as Chris Pratt, but about the size of a turkey), to their speed, to hunting in packs. (Apparently the filmmakers modeled their velociraptors on Deinonychus but went with velociraptors because their name is easier to pronounce.) But regardless, what was fun about the velociraptors was the way the film depicted their relationship with their keeper, Owen (played by Pratt).
A mix of Konrad Lorenz-style imprinting and Monty Roberts/Chris Cox–style horse training techniques plus clicker training, Owen establishes a bond with the raptors from hatching and works within their hierarchy to teach them to follow commands that make handling them easier. In an iconic (and much replicated) scene, Owen holds the velociraptors off while a new keeper, who has fallen in to their enclosure, escapes from the cage. The velociraptors don’t pretend to be waiting out of the goodness of their hearts; Owen has established himself as another raptor whom they see as the alpha. Given the fluff of the rest of the film, which is really just a setup for seeing people chased and eaten by dinosaurs (“Not that there’s anything wrong with that!” says Nutmeg), these scenes address human respect for animal intelligence and a humane understanding of how animals see their world in a way that could have made for a fascinating movie. While the character of Claire, the park’s CEO, keeps focusing on corporate things like attendance, Owen (and to a certain extent Masrani, the park’s owner) repeatedly reminds her that the dinosaurs are animals, not “assets,” with their own perspective that has very little relation to the highly artificial one the park has concocted.
Owen is certainly attached to his raptors, but he doesn’t kid himself that they have a cuddly relationship. When the raptors finally encounter the hyperengineered Indominus rex (who has some raptor DNA, along with a cocktail of cuttlefish, tree frog, and T. rex DNA), they switch allegiances very quickly and join their newfound alpha on the hunt for human prey. Owen understands that this isn’t personal — it’s how things work for raptors in their social order. But Owen’s bond with the raptors was real. Their mutual respect pays off in the film’s climax when the velociraptors help vanquish Indominus rex, but is most evident when the last raptor standing calmly regards Owen, vocalizes something to which Owen replies with a head movement, and then looks back before zipping off into the darkness. What passes between them? A mutual thank you? A goodbye? I like to think it may be a “See ya later,” not because I want yet another sequel, but because it leaves open the possibility of a really cool story.
And meanwhile, Nutmeg, this interesting tidbit about your dinosaur forebears should make you smile: apparently, when researchers tinkered with the expression of certain genes that are involved in a chick’s beak development, they ended up with chickens who had the muzzle and palate of a dinosaur. While the experimental embryos were not allowed to develop to hatching, one of the researchers involved thinks that they probably wouldn’t have fared too badly had they lived. If you’re a good girl, maybe we could score you some of those eggs if you go broody . . .
“That’s all well and good,” says Cookies. “But there have been far too many films and discussions about these bird/reptile things. What about our badass ancestors, like Smilodon? We want to see ancient felines raising hell in a theme park, or maybe just downtown L.A., too! Get on that, please! And while I’m pitching film plots here, how about one where — wait for it — a CAT goes to SPACE? I know someone who could play the lead.”