There is a moment in Jurassic Park when Ellie Sattler, the smart and charming paleobotanist, slams down the old man who paid the geneticists to bring back the dinosaurs. Someone needs to go out to rescue the kids from the dinosaurs, and the old man says to her, “It ought to be me going really, because I’m a… and you’re a…”
Sattler rolls her eyes and says, “Look, we can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back.” And off she goes with her walkie talkie and her dignity. Later in the film, the geeky girl Lex (“I prefer to be called a hacker”) figures out the computer system running the island—and activates the door locks that block the ferocious velociraptors from eating her, her little brother and two grown-ups.
When I was a nine-year-old watching this film in 1993, I didn’t think: Boom, I’m loving the director’s sensible approach to gender. I just thought: OMG, there’s a velociraptor all up in the kitchen and you better go go go!
Kids watching the new film in the franchise will also probably be as enthralled by the monsters as I was. And they’ll also absorb the representations of men and women like I did. Except—and here’s the twist—unlike its ancestor Jurassic World is based on prehistoric versions of what men and women are. The poor kids today are not treated to the kind of normal mixture of men and women they see in real life, like I was back in the Nineties thanks to Jurassic Park.
Instead, they’re force-fed a hilarious pair of cardboard cut-out man-and-woman in the form of Owen and Claire, played by Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard. I loved watching this film—the dinosaurs, the science, the baddies, the nature, the chase, the chase, the chase—and I can suspend my disbelief for all of that. But what is more implausible than resurrected dinosaurs is the fact that Claire wades through muddy swamps and sprints away from a T-Rex all the time wearing high heels. Owen even tells her she’s not dressed for surviving the dino-infested rainforest, and her answer is to remove her jacket and tie her shirt tighter so we can see her boobs better.
It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so clearly mad. Owen is just as unbelievable as Claire. He’s dressed like Bruce Springsteen in the 80s (actually not a bad look), but he clearly puts so much pressure on himself to be capable and to save everyone. Of course, he manages it because he’s in a Hollywood film. He tames the raptors, shoots his gun like a demon and tells Claire what to do. Here is a man who knows his shit. The reason this is unbelievable is because, well, no one is actually like that. Sure, there are lots of men who take charge, or who pressure themselves to be good at stuff. But there aren’t many who would be able to outrun a genetically modified dinosaur that can reach 50mph.
Owen is a kind of perfect man: strong and smart and able and fast and sexy. He’s everything I’d love to be, but know I’m not. Nobody is like him. The perfect man doesn’t exist—he’s more of a fantasy than the dinosaurs (who did actually exist). But the problem with him being the main character in a film like this is that we watch it and we’re supposed to want to be like that. I really do hope that if I was hiding under a car from a sniffing dino I’d have the presence of mind to slash the break fluid cable and pour it over myself to mask my scent. But come on; in reality I’d have forgotten to carry my knife in the first place. Oh god, have I even got the right kind of knife?
The differences between Claire and Owen are stark. He is nature and chaos and impulse because he knows about trees and dinos. She is order and femininity because she’s obsessed with spreadsheets, high heels and looking clinical—she’s a walking lab. We’re supposed to believe that these opposites attract. We’re supposed to believe that by the end of the film she does what he suggests (because, well, he’s helped to save everyone). But instead they come off as totally fake and, at best, wacky versions of what lifestyle magazines tell us to be. It’s completely bizarre. Because they’re not like actual people, when they kiss it’s fucking awkward. It’s like watching a wardrobe trying to runt a chest of drawers.
As you can see, I’m pretty mad about this regression in the Jurassic film series. The contrast between the characters in the first and fourth films is mind-boggling. (Claire is also miles away from the female lead in The Lost World, film number two, who is Julianne Moore playing Sarah Harding, inventive and warm and practical.)
And you might think that I want politically correct characters in all my films. Of course I don’t. Screenwriters don’t have to sit down and craft perfect characters that please feminist film scholars. They have to tell decent stories. So I do expect them to write believable characters. Claire and Owen are flimsy magazine-as-manual unpeople. You can create characters who reflect real human traits and behaviours. There’s a truth in Claire’s sacrificing her family for her job. But come on, a woman who doesn’t take off her heels when she’s being chased down by a T-Rex? Find me that woman and I’ll apologise and start doing my sit-ups to get the perfect six-pack I’m supposed to have.