Bloodthirsty beasts on the loose - and dinosaurs as well

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AS YOU may well know, the most primitive landscape in the world is to be found in the United States of America, where through the urban jungle stalks the terrifying form of the man-eating American lawyer. There are believed to be more than 10 million of these monsters, ripping each other limb from limb in an attempt to keep up their daily dollar intake, without which they would surely die - or at least have to get a decent job.

Would you believe that the other day a man was told by a hotel receptionist in Dallas to '. . . have a nice day]', and he sued her for breach of contract because he didn't, as it turned out, have a nice day? Would you believe that? Well, as it happens, I have just made it up, but that's not the point. The point is, did you believe it? Yes, of course you did. I think I do, too, now.

Here's another example. A small town in Pennsylvania has just put on an exhibition of animated dinosaur models. It has called the exhibition 'Jurassic Jungle'. Universal Pictures, maker of Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park, has demanded that this small show, mounted by the Erie Zoological Society, change its name - which it claims is cashing in on the film's title - or face a mighty lawsuit.

This is a true story, as I read it on the back of the International Herald Tribune. The story suggests that American lawyers are not only cruel and rapacious reptiles, but are also becoming demented. Jurassic is a word that has been around even longer than motion pictures - it was used by geologists before dinosaurs got their name to describe a prehistoric period after Triassic times and before Cretaceous times and it is named after the Jura mountains in France and their distinctive limestone. (No, I didn't know all that, I had to borrow my son's dinosaur books.) So how can 'Jurassic' be private property?

The folks in Erie, Pennsylvania, have taken it calmly. John J Quinn, president of the Erie zoo, is quoted as saying: 'I thought it was kind of flattering. Our little old zoo in Erie is being sued by these big Hollywood moguls.' And, he might have added, getting a lot of free publicity. The director of the zoo, Jim Rhea, added that they would probably change the show's name to avoid a fight. 'We'll probably call it Dinosaur Park or something,' he said.

Several interesting points arise out of this. One is that the Erie zoo people do not seem to have turned immediately to their lawyers to countersue Universal Pictures, which suggests that Erie, Pennsylvania, is a more civilised place than Hollywood. Maybe they don't have any lawyers in Erie, Pennsylvania, which suggests it is more civilised than anywhere in America.

Another is that Universal Pictures is lucky not to be sued by the inhabitants of the Jura mountains in France, for naming a motion picture after the age which is named after their mountains. If Universal Pictures can sue Erie zoo, the Jura people have got a good case. Come to that, the director of the zoo in Erie is lucky not to be sued by lawyers representing the wildlife of South America. His name is Jim Rhea but, according to my dictionary, 'rhea' is the name of a large, flightless bird that inhabits the wide open spaces of South America, and if a large American lawyer does not approach a token rhea in Latin America in the near future, hinting that between them they can make a fortune out of poor Jim Rhea, then American lawyers do not deserve to go on running the American jungle. (Incidentally, 'jungle' is an 18th-century word take from the Hindi jangal, meaning wilderness, so I think we're safe there, although when Mr Quinn refers blithely to the big Hollywood moguls, I just wonder how many descendants of the Indian Mogul dynasty might feel inclined to sue . . .)

One should never underestimate Hollywood. It has, after all, cracked the secret of existence. It has discovered a magic formula for going back into the primeval sludge of Steven Spielberg's childhood memories, and endlessly cloning tiny bits of it into massive motion pictures that stalk the land, terrifying us all into buying merchandise.

And now comes Jurassic Park, about which so much has been said that I have already lost all desire to see it. All we can look forward to now is a film that dares to tackle the mystifying disappearance of the dinosaurs, which all vanished from the earth for unknown reasons, which fact gives us hope that one day the current breed of American lawyers may vanish from the earth, and the world will be a duller place. A lot safer, though.