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NOT MONSTERS. JUST ANIMALS. — JURASSIC WORLD: THE EVOLUTION OF CLAIRE

‘The Evolution of Claire is far from perfect. It’s also my favourite Jurassic World story so far.’

SPOILER WARNING!


I’ll get straight to the point for a change: The Evolution of Claire is far from perfect. Between the first page and the last, I cringed so much it might’ve permanently damaged my face. It’s also, however, my favourite Jurassic World story so far… though I’m sure much of what I’m about to say will make that hard to believe.

At its best, Evolutionthat’s not going to get confusing! — is a fascinating, credible look at the origins of Jurassic World. It feels, at times, as though you’re right there with the characters in getting a behind-the-scenes look at the park. At its worst, however, it’s a frustratingly juvenile drama filled with thin characters, aggressively twee romance, a central mystery that never feels quite as pressing as it should… and a dose of feminism so heavy-handed that it’ll leave any reasonable reader dazed, as though they’ve quite literally been beaten over the head.

‘IT WAS KINDA PREACHY…’

Of all the points I wanted to make about Evolution, that’s the one to which I’ve given the most thought, about which I’ve been most conflicted, and I think it’s best to get it out of the way early given that there’s so much more to the book beyond it.

If you were to read my notes for this post, in which I’ve jotted down almost every overtly feminist part of the story I registered, you’d probably think me a horrible misogynist. That I did so, however, wasn’t out of some desire for women to shut up and accept their lot, but to make sure I wasn’t imagining how prevalent it is. Seriously, it’s everywhere. We know we’re supposed to like Justin — the story’s leading man and Claire’s main squeeze — because he introduces himself by solemnly promising not to ‘man-spread’ his legs all over the place, and the tale’s main douche, Wyatt — already thoroughly cardboard and stereotypical to the core — is, of course, a raging sexist.

Claire laments the fact that driven girls are considered bossy, and reflects on the history books not being as full of women as they should be. She muses about life just being harder for girls, and gets frustrated about the ‘you’re a silly girl’ look that ‘only guys seem to give’. Oh, and girls don’t wear certain clothes or makeup for any man — they do so for various reasons of their own, as we’re told by Tanya, a character who, among other things, has a button emblazoned with ‘FEMINIST’ in bold pink letters stuck to her bag… as if it wasn’t clear enough already.

The real shame is that most of the book’s feminist arguments are perfectly valid, and would be meaningful if written with any degree of subtlety whatsoever. Shown, not told. Instead, they’re likely to cause severe eye-rolling even among those with enough common sense to know that women belong to no one other than themselves.

And then, of course, there’s the fact that it all stands in stark contrast to the progressive things the book handles well — Bertie, for example: a kick-ass character who just happens to be gay. She has a girlfriend, and that’s all there is to it. The fact isn’t dwelled on or preached… it just is. There’s more to Bertie than her sexuality; as one of the park’s animal handlers, she is, in fact, directly involved with my favourite aspect of the story.

But we’ll get to that later…

THE NEW WORLD

Evolution kicks off with an introduction from the Claire we know and tolerate from the films. It’s a brief affair, however, merely setting the stage before the story whisks us back in time and presents a very different version of the character. In 2004, Claire is nineteen and on the cusp of taking her place in Simon Masrani’s inaugural Bright Minds program — an internship allowing her to spend a summer at the still-under-construction Jurassic World, where she hopes to foster connections that’ll lay the groundwork for a future career in politics through which she plans to make the world a better place for everyone and everything in it, human and otherwise.

Unfortunately, her abrupt devotion to animals is jarring, and never becomes less-so as Evolution goes on. Though the purpose of the story is to chart Claire’s journey towards becoming the woman we met in Jurassic World — the woman who sees assets instead of animals, who walks through that Parasaurolophus hologram as though it isn’t there — the two versions of the character rarely feel like the same person. You’ll get no argument from me that people change or that ten years is a long time, but Claire’s convictions, her beliefs about animal rights, are so strong, established as having been so prevalent throughout her life, that I have trouble believing she could’ve so thoroughly abandoned them — and even when, towards the end of the story, she begins to harden, that shard of ice to form in her heart, it’s thoroughly contradicted in the book’s final lines by a scene that, written differently, might’ve made her ‘evolution’ that bit more believable.

With absolutely no hint of this activist past in Jurassic World, it feels, frankly, like damage control, like an attempt to say, ‘But wait! She had a heart all along!’ after the character was slammed, by some, as a cold, sexist caricature in the wake of the film’s release. Unfortunately, however, Claire’s character isn’t the only source of inconsistency. Her actions prove incongruous, too. Would you believe that the woman who, during the fall of Jurassic World, got ready for a trek in the jungle by unbuckling her belt and rolling-up her sleeves once covered herself in mud to hide her scent from a Velociraptor, before managing to take said raptor out with some bear-spray and a dinosaur-strength cattle prod? Me neither.

There are also various issues with the book’s park, too. It’s suggested, for example, during a discussion about whether anything from the original park was kept, that Hammond’s ‘command centre’ — presumably the old Visitor Centre — stood where Jurassic World’s command centre is located, and the tyrannosaur paddock is categorically in the wrong location, mentioned as being ‘out of the way’ in the north of the island, rather than just off Main Street. I did wonder whether the paddock in question was simply a temporary one, but, later in the story, it’s explicitly confirmed to be Paddock Nine.

Oh, and Funko aren’t the only folks who have trouble spelling everyone’s favourite chaotician’s surname.

I have no doubt some will find these points picky, but they are, unfortunately, symptomatic of a much bigger issue — of the fact that, for some reason, Jurassic World has been plagued by a frustrating lack of attention to detail, the most egregious example so far being Fallen Kingdom’s near totally different version of Isla Nublar. Incorrect maps? I wish that was all there is to it…

I’m deep in the weeds now, but I promise there is some light at the end of this particular tunnel. Evolution is my favourite Jurassic World story, after all, despite its myriad issues. There are, however, a few more to discuss. Whereas the problems with its park are objectively verifiable, though, this next point is much more of a creative difference.

‘YOU WANT TO JOIN THE FUTURE, RIGHT?’

One of the things that I felt detracted most from Jurassic World’s credibility was the technology. Holograms and Gyrospheres made the place feel like much more of a far-off dream than Jurassic Park ever did. I was, therefore, disappointed to discover that Evolution doubles down on it all. I can, funnily enough, get past the Gyrospheres — the scenes in which the interns calibrate them are some of the most fun in the book — but the other stuff… with everyday holograms, drones, video cameras recording onto cards rather than tapes, and advanced tablets for the interns, it often feels as though the story forgets it’s set in 2004.

And on the subject of stuff it feels as though the story forgets, it can be quite a shock to remind yourself that Claire is nineteen here — and the various other interns similarly-aged — so juvenile do some of their interactions seem. I suppose this could be written off as a consequence of the book being targeted at a young adult audience, but I don’t really buy that one; I’ve read plenty of YA fiction that feels lightyears ahead of this in maturity.

(Speaking of maturity, the book also canonises ‘Rexy’ as the name of Jurassic Park/World’s tyrannosaur, which didn’t make me want to burn the thing at all. I promise. Scorch marks? Don’t know what you’re talking about…)

And yet, despite it all, Evolution is my favourite tale of the Jurassic World era; despite it all, I looked forward to getting back to the story each time I had to put it down. Because of the park; because of the little glimpses into how the events of Jurassic’s first trilogy affected the wider world; because, above all, of the dinosaurs.

I’ve said it before, but it truly feels as though you’re along for the ride with Claire and co. at Jurassic World. I couldn’t help but feel the excitement and wonder as they approached the island for the first time, and I’d challenge any Jurassic fan of a certain degree of obsession enthusiasm not to feel similar excitement as they read about the teasing of Jurassic World.

It began when amber-handled archaeological tools… began arriving. At first, it was journalists, social media influencers, actors, pop stars, the leading professors and minds of the world. Then… the tools began arriving at random people’s doorsteps across the world… The tools came with no note, just a simple card that had the profile of a T. rex skeleton stamped upon it.

(As a brief aside, I’d be interested to learn whether Grant, Sattler, Malcolm — or even Lex and Tim — received the packages, and how they reacted. Even if they didn’t, they’d undoubtedly hear about them, and recognise that logo…)

Two more packages arrived… The second… contained a compass; carved on the back was that same T. rex stamp… the third and final package… had three clues — a jagged tooth, a curled piece of parchment with the sketch of a gate in spidery ink, and an old-fashioned-looking key… The first person to discover how to activate the boxes was a farmer’s son in Bolivia… he noticed a strange indentation in the top of the lid and placed his key inside… activating a hidden hologram chip embedded in the key’s handle. This beamed a message. Two silver words. One date. They’re coming. May 30, 2005.

For God’s sake. Here I am, twenty-seven years old, sitting in bed on an utterly mundane Monday morning with my laptop on my knee, thoroughly excited all over again.

Apart, of course, from the hologram, this — and various other details scattered throughout the story (such as Masrani’s plan to combat ticket scalpers in the early days) — lends an excellent sense of credibility to the park’s development, and, for the most part, that credibility extends to the dinosaurs, too.

Here, more than in any other canon World-era media released thus far, the dinosaurs feel like animals — and that sends Evolution straight to the top of my list. There are, of course, a few hiccups — there are repeated references to Lovelace the Triceratops’s frill ‘rippling’ despite the fact that said frills were thoroughly rigid, and I was a little dubious of Pearl the Brachiosaurus’s… uh… athleticism, shall we say? (At one point, she literally kicks a Gyrosphere with her hind legs, ‘donkey style’…) — but they’re nowhere near as frustrating as some of the book’s other issues, and when it treats its animals believably, the story shines. After all, ‘They’re not monsters, Lex…’

There is, of course, some typically Jurassic drama when a certain carnivore gets loose towards the end of the tale, but for the most part, Evolution’s dino dilemmas are solely focused on acclimating the animals to Nublar and the park. I can’t tell you how refreshing I found that. It’s proof positive that there were — and are — other stories to be told within Jurassic World, and that the films abandoned the setting entirely too soon.

Almost there. I have just one more thing to address, and it concerns the man who brought the dream to life: Henry Wu.

Frankly, Dr. Wu has been an utter disappointment in most Jurassic World media. In the films, he’s been reduced to a largely cardboard pseudo-villain, and in Jurassic World Evolution (not canon, thank God), he’s portrayed as some ridiculously stereotypical evil genius. Here, though, he’s far more human. Here, he’s measured, controlled; incredibly strict, yes, but reasonable, too. His scenes, and those in his lab, are among the best the novel has to offer — and, towards the end, provide a poignant reminder that he’s seen things go wrong before. Perhaps most surprisingly, it’s he who gives Claire the nudge towards staying at Jurassic World.

‘The island takes, yes.’ He tells her. ‘But it gives, too. That is nature, Claire. That is life.’

Pretentious though it may seem, he might as well be talking to me, about Jurassic World. With its many and varied disappointments, it’s taken more from me than I ever thought it could… with Evolution, however, it’s given me something that I can’t quite like, but can certainly tolerate. 

It’s a nice change.

Baby steps.


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