Welcome to Issue 58.1 of Digestable, your thrice-weekly mouthful of real things happening in the world, minus alarmist pandemic news.
Today’s news, fermented:
The Monday rundown:
Cyber criminals are attacking pipelines now, adding yet another reason to transition away from this dumb infrastructure.
Here’s yet another reason—tracing the long legacy of slavery to environmental racism to a new plastic factory in Louisiana.
Israelis injured about 300 Palestinians in a celebration of capturing a segment of Palestinian land this morning. The framing in this article isn’t the best—note the cause of this ‘celebration’ and that Israelis are colonizers on Palestinian land.
And much more, of course.
In lighter and brighter—I got to see a woodcock dance this weekend.
The Second Look
Half-baked cultural criticism from Gabriel Coleman.
Okay, you all thought I was done talking about theme parks, heck I thought I was done talking about theme parks, but here I am again. Why? Because last week the Velocicoaster opened for previews at Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando. This led me to watch the new Jurassic World movies the ride is based on and boy do I have some thoughts.
Let’s start with the Jurassic Park River Adventure, a river raft ride at Universal’s Florida and California theme parks. Michael Crichton’s book Jurassic Park was a hit as soon as it hit shelves and even before it was published, Jurassic franchising was underway. According to the Theme Park History YouTube channel, Universal and Stephen Spielberg had already discussed making a Jurassic Park movie before the novel was published and as soon as Crichton’s book hit shelves, Spielberg approached Universal’s theme park to develop the book into a ride. The raft ride concept for the attraction is actually based around a rafting scene from the novel and doesn’t actually appear in the film.
Creating a real-life version of Jurassic Park is a fun idea. The book and films are based around a never-operational theme park and it’s fun to imagine you’re stepping into this amazing alternate-universe attraction. The Jurassic World reboot deepened this theme park tie in as the rebooted theme park is actually operational. This made room for additional franchise opportunities. An example of this added franchising is how the character of the dinosaurs differ between the original films and the reboot. In the original the dinosaurs provide an awesome and often terrifying part of the setting: the herbivorous dinos inspire wonder while the t-rex and velociraptors are vicious and scary-as-heck manifestations of the violence inherent in the park. In contrast, the Jurassic World dinos are characters in their own right. The velociraptors have names (Blue, Charlie, Delta, Echo) and are semi-domesticated by Chris Pratt (yuck). The villains are new GMO dinosaurs, the indominous-rex and the indoraptor, which both are smart and malicious independent actors. Even the t-rex (Rexy) sheds her man-eating nature to become an awkwardly benevolent protector of the human protagonists against the villanous GMO dinos. This sets up a weird dynamic of the “natural” vs. “artificial” whereas the original film regarded the whole operation as an atrocious Frankenstein. But it also makes these dinosaurs more marketable—folks can easily identify Blue the velociraptor, and will spend money to experience more of her.
The Velocicoaster takes advantage of this new dino-charisma, theming the ride after Chris Pratt’s four pet raptors. The concept is for the roller coaster to allow you to race alongside these speedy bird dinosaurs. As you wait in line you learn that Chris Pratt seems upset at the ride’s existence, warning that the raptors may try to eat riders instead of running alongside them, but despite some near-miss encounters, things go smoothly and you come out of the ride unscathed. The cue line and ride-dialogue also builds the larger universe of the park, including references to other attractions in the fictional-not-fictional park like the River Adventure and the gyrosphere.
The gyrosphere is the most blatant theme park franchising effort incorporated into Jurassic World. The film’s gyrosphere scenes don’t advance the plot at all and seem to only be there to familiarize and sell viewers on the idea that it would be cool to ride in one. A broken-down gyrosphere can be seen in the California version of the River Adventure which was revamped for the Jurassic World reboot and Universal has patented a ride vehicle design that’s very obviously supposed to emulate the gyrosphere.
The whole Jurassic franchise has been tied in with theme parks since the beginning, so what makes this new expansion and rebrand under the reboot different? I think it’s got to do with cynicism. In the movies, Jurassic Park World is a theme park gone wrong. The investor’s desire for dinos with “more teeth'' leads to mass death and the operation’s doom. Where the original was fairly staunch in this criticism, the reboot talks out of both sides of its mouth, taking jabs at the bigger-scarier-more thrust of the entertainment industry, while at the same time, playing into and profiting from it. The result is a theme park where things are always narrowly averting disaster - a roller coaster where you’re almost torn apart by velociraptors, a river raft where you narrowly escape being eaten by an i-rex, and soon a gyrosphere ride where you probably get bounced around by stampeding herbivores, fall off a cliff, get swallowed by the mosasaurus and yet still come out unscathed.
The critique of the entertainment industry’s “more teeth” philosophy in the original Jurassic Park is part of what makes the film interesting. However, Jurassic World’s thinly-veiled effort to play into that very philosophy leaves the whole franchise a kind of toothless monster. The new coaster seems fun though.