At last: a Jurassic Park film, set in a Jurassic location…

The screening process would be geared towards identifying a candidate that is palatable to both sides of the House… as if that were the only consideration that matters… even if it means concocting a hopelessly over-convoluted way of making public appointments: one that is likely to take ages to unfold in practice; and which, in any case, offers no guarantee of meeting the required consensus anyway

Right, that’s it. I’m going to have to write an official letter to Hollywood, to complain about how they keep stealing all my ideas for their films.

The latest incident happened just a few days ago. I found myself seated at one of my preferred Valletta haunts: an outdoor café around the corner from the law courts, ideal for quietly observing the ebb and flow of human traffic in between sips of a double espresso.

I guess there must have been an important (and probably very ancient) court case going on; because in the time it took me to drain the cup, around eight recognisable personalities from our political past had hurried by… almost like a procession of living ghosts.

I won’t mention names, but they included at least two former members of government going back to the days of Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici; while others were mostly former MPs who had featured prominently in the news until around a decade ago… but are now largely forgotten (in truth I barely remembered some of them even existed at all).

And I thought to myself: ‘If they ever want a location for another Jurassic Park sequel, they should try Valletta. It’s a place where time stands still… where dinosaurs just keep roaming the earth indefinitely…’

Well, what do know? Later that very day I discovered that some Hollywood scout must have come to the same conclusion. There it was, in black on white: ‘Jurassic Park 3 to be filmed in Malta’… and our own newspaper even observed: “It is unclear whether dinosaurs will be seen roaming the streets of Valletta…” [huh? What do you mean, ‘unclear’? I was there: I saw them, I tell you…] “but the return of a blockbuster movie is expected to generate business that will have a spill-over effect on the communities where filming will take place…”

So there you have it: cheated out of yet another movie script idea…

At the same time, however, I must confess that I was otherwise bowled over by the news. As a fan of the original movie (but none of the other sequels and spin-offs), I was instantly beset by the usual ‘it’s-probably-going-to-be-crap’ trepidation… a feeling of dread that has accompanied me throughout every announced sequel since ‘A Phantom Menace’ in 1999. (Note: ‘Godzilla, King of the Monsters’ was another recent example).

But on another level entirely, I was instantly transported back to 1994, around the time the first movie came out. I happened to be in the United States back then, aged around 20 or so; and I distinctly remember buying a copy of the Michael Crichton novel at the train station in New York City, to read on the two-or-three-day train journey to my destination: middle-of-nowhere Iowa (or was in Kansas? Can’t remember now...)

This way, I got to read the book before watching the movie for the first time. And while I still enjoyed Spielberg’s version, for all usual reasons [‘Dinosaurs! I saw them, I tell you…!’] to this day, I still feel that the film misses one of the novel’s most crucial points.

‘Jurassic Park’ is not just about genetically-engineered dinosaurs, running amok in a theme park as a result of multiple administrative failures (including a series of power-cuts, by the way… yet another good reason for choosing Malta as a location.).

It is also about the ethical dilemmas of genetic science itself. Some of these are admittedly present in the film – for instance, the fact that the Triceratops was dying: being unsuited to a climate and atmosphere that has changed so drastically over 65 million years.

But the main difference between book and film concerned the dinosaurs’ behaviour when resurrected: which defied human preconceptions of the ‘slow, lumbering prehistoric giants’ we all irrationally assume them to have been.

On the contrary, Crichton’s genetically-engineered specimens surprise their viewers by moving with the speed and ambulation of modern birds… a connection stressed throughout the book… and the T-Rex, in particular, proved a ‘disappointing’ sight at feeding time.

Rather than devour that goat in one gulp, and spilling a leg onto the jeep’s roof… the novel’s T-Rex approaches its prey cautiously; and then almost timidly guards the carcass against possible incursions by scavengers… just as any apex predator would today, when facing competition from other carnivores.

In the book, this prompts the Park’s chief science advisor to suggest genetically ‘modifying’ the dinosaurs, so that they ‘match’ our own flawed expectations instead of reality: tampering with their genes to make otherwise fast-moving, intelligent creatures look slow and dimwitted… or to dim their unexpectedly bright colours to a dull, uniform greyish-brownish-green.

Unlike the film, the novel goes beyond the mere use of genetic technology to bring extinct animals back to life. Like Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, it also explores the God-like powers inherent in the creation-manipulation process; and what might happen if we tamper too far with the natural order of things.

None of which, of course, has anything to do with the fact that the latest sequel will be filmed here… or wait, maybe it does.

OK, I’ll concede that the following analogy is a little contrived: but the dilemma explored by Michael Crichton’s novel is in a sense parallel to the political and institutional shifts this country is currently experiencing.

Take the controversy surrounding the appointment of a new police commissioner, for example. Our present, flawed system (i.e., simple appointment by the Prime Minister) was not considered in any way ‘flawed’ for any of the five or so decades since it was introduced in the 1960s: a veritable Jurassic age, by our present standards (just think that the Maltese head of state was still the British Governor, even after Independence).

So it is not strictly a case of having a system that is, in itself, not for purpose; it is more a case of a system that used to be perfectly valid, until the political landscape evolved dramatically over the last 20 or so years… with no corresponding evolutionary changes to the country’s institutional set-up in the meantime.

Like that Triceratops brought back from extinction after 65 million years, we retained an archaic system of appointing police commissioners… yet still irrationally expected the office to live and breathe normally in a totally changed environment. Then we all watched, while it struggled, gasped and eventually heaved its last breath (mercifully, without having to also sift through its faeces… as happens with the Triceratops in the film).

And now, like the Hammond Institute, we have to engineer a whole new system to take its place… and already we are manipulating it, to somehow retain as much of its predecessor’s qualities – eg, that the final decision rests with the Prime Minister – while also conforming to the exigencies of today (which include, inter alia, that the position has to be independent of government, and enjoy mutual, national trust).

As a result, we have a proposed system that is every bit as baffling as Jeff Goldblum’s ravings about ‘Chaos Theory’. The new Commissioner will be chosen after a competitive process, overseen by the Public Service Commission, narrows contenders down to two shortlisted candidates. The Prime Minister will then choose one of those candidates, and present his choice to Parliament, which will first grill the candidate in the public appointments committee, and then have to approve him by simple majority in the House.

All to appoint a police commissioner who is, on paper, supposed to be at an arm’s length from the executive branch of government… for all the reasons that have become so painfully visible in recent years.

The sheer complexity of this system points towards that unresolved dilemma – how to create a functional system, without losing any of the ‘benefits’ of the one it is supposed to be replacing.

So the screening process would be geared towards identifying a candidate that is palatable to both sides of the House… as if that were the only consideration that matters… even if it means concocting a hopelessly over-convoluted way of making public appointments: one that is likely to take ages to unfold in practice; and which in any case offers no guarantee of meeting the required consensus anyway.

As a result, we would be getting a new system, yes… but one which still retains the flaws of the old.

Because the underlying factors remain party-political in nature… and it has always been the Jurassic bipartisan hold over our institutions that resulted in all the issues that now need reforming in the first place.

This suggests that, in some ways, our institutional set-up would still likely remain Jurassic for some time to come: even if the whole point of the Jurassic Park novels and films is precisely that extinction happens for a reason; and that it is never a good idea to keep outmoded and historically obsolete models alive beyond their expiry date.

Oh, and they also illustrate that failure to consign extinct systems to history, at the appropriate time, can have chaotic – or even fatal – effects… something which, to be honest, we didn’t even need Jurassic Park to illustrate, after all the experience of the last three years.

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