What do you think of when you imagine a utopia? How about a dystopia? If you had trouble with the first, but The Hunger Games immediately sprung to mind for the second, you are not alone. There are masses of examples of dystopian literature and film, from 1984 to The Hunger Games. However, one is hard-pressed to find examples of a utopia. “Why is that?” is not a difficult question to answer: dystopias are just so much fun! The angst, the psychological manipulation, the dark imaginings of “what will be”—it’s all fascinating subject matter. Utopias, on the other hand, are harder to imagine. It cannot be easy for an author or screenwriter to somehow completely fix the world as we know it without sacrificing a good deal of plausibility. The 2002 television mini-series, Dinotopia, takes this loss of plausibility in stride and adds dinosaurs for good measure.
Originally a series of books by James Gurney, Dinotopia was developed for the small screen and released as a four-hour mini-series. The subject matter makes the transition remarkably well, and becomes one of the only depictions of a utopia in recent fiction. The Dinotopia world is built around the idea that for a utopia to exist, it must be utterly separated from the rest of the world. The inhabitants are born, raised, and die on the island of Dinotopia, cleverly hidden in the Bermuda Triangle. If people, or “Outsiders” as they are called, somehow stumble onto the island, they are forever stranded there, prevented from leaving lest they tell the outside world of the island’s existence. The island itself is ideal: dinosaurs share equal presence with humans, each working alongside the other to live and thrive. Technology is almost nonexistent but for the “sunstones”: ancient devices that both illuminate the island and mediate peace between dinosaurs and humans. Without them, there would be a good deal more screaming and Jurassic Park-like tension. The unlikely pairing of ancient beasts and modern human beings leads to a pastoral society, built on education and cooperation.
But as with every story, there must be some conflict. It cannot, however, come from Dinotopia to any great extent lest the story risk compromising its generic status as a “utopia.” Instead, it comes in the form of an “Outsider” who has been living on Dinotopia for years, and has hatched a plan to go home that could effectively destroy the island. In this conflict, metaphors for “outside interference” run rampant, but the solution to the problem is decidedly final and provides hope that Dinotopia can continue, if not indefinitely, then at least for a very long time.
Notably, the question of whether Dinotopia should exist is never addressed. It simply does. There is no “for better or worse” in this world, only the comfortable society that the inhabitants have built for themselves. This works in its favor to create an absorbing story. The tale does not hold our attention because of a violent depiction of a possible future, but instead draws us in to discover how such a simple yet incredibly complex society could possibly sustain itself. The beauty of the telling lies not in a constant use of flash-bangs and whizzes, but in the constantly pressing questions surrounding the inception of such a world. And then, of course, are the dinosaurs. Some of them talk. This is but one of the many elements of the dreamland, the first of its kind, that is Dinotopia.
Contributed by Rej Ford