Jurassic Park (1993)

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Jurassic Park is the closest movie to Jaws, I’d guess.  It’s kind of the same story, but the themes and characters adapt to fit the different circumstances, a bit like the movie’s theme of life adapting to survive.

In both films there is a monster that needs to be stopped, but unlike Jaws, this monster was man-made.  Because of that the whole thing is a big, cruel joke.  We’re the monsters, I suppose.  The film is a heavy critique on our own hubris, and you can really tell what a horror movie wants to say by who it kills off and in what order.

Jurassic Park isn’t exactly a horror film, but it also is.  It’s like Frankenstein’s monster.  The first person to die is a nameless character, so his death doesn’t really count.  That moment only exists to justify the rest of the plot, namely John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), the park’s creator, having to bring along a lawyer and a couple of paleontologists to vouch for the park’s safety.

The lawyer is the first person to die.  He never seems like a bad guy, and his death is pretty brutal, so you have to wonder why he was picked off first.  The lawyer badgers Hammond about making sure the park is safe, and we’re on his side.  Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is also on the audience’s side, stating the many reasons this park is a bad idea.  He also states the theme of the film (“life finds a way.”)

But after viewing the dinosaurs for the first time (the safe, plant-eating dinos), the lawyer says something about how this park will make them so much money.  It’s like death was sleeping, then heard this line and woke up and said “I will take him first.”  I think movies like this, particularly ones marketed to a large audience, operated under a strict set of rules when it comes to characters dying.  Right off the bat we can be sure the kids won’t die because that would be horrifying, and a Spielberg film isn’t the type of film that leaves you feeling hollow when you leave the theater.

So we know people will die and that they will deserve something on the spectrum of stubbed toe to dinosaur-induced murder.  So the lawyer gets the axe, then Newman from Seinfeld is killed, and his death is well-earned (in the movie sense) because he became greedy and tried to smuggle out dinosaur embryos for hundreds of thousands of dollars.  In fact, his plan and slip ups lead to all the problems when he shuts down the park security, endangering everyone else.

Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson) a park technician is killed offscreen, and his death doesn’t make me feel good, because he’s a nice character who mostly spends his screen time trying to undo Newman’s mistakes and negligence.  But again, we don’t see Arnold’s death.  His severed arm just appears out of the blue, and it establishes or reinforces the danger of the raptors on the loose.  Because we never see it occur, we quickly forget about Arnold and the fact that he died.

The other important character to die is Muldoon (Bob Peck), the raptor wrangler.  He is killed by the raptors in a scene set up by Grant (Sam Neill) early in the film when he explains how the raptors are pack hunters.  Before his death, Muldoon utters “clever girl,” showing an admiration and respect for the raptors though this doesn’t force the movie gods to intervene and save him.  He gets torn up.

Now, not all the deaths have to be “earned.”  The movie makes humans the bad guys and demonstrates how nature is hard to control.  The point is to show that we can’t do what we think we can do, so there has to be a price to pay.  Examples of man’s hubris = Hammond building the damn park and Newman thinking he can get away from his computer for 18 minutes to deliver the embryos only to fail miserably.  Hell, there’s a storm that hits, and that just strengthens the image of nature as an uncontrollable force.

I like this film because not only is it exciting and amusing, but it has characters on various points of the spectrum with different philosophies and goals.  In other words they are simply strong characters that are also fun to be around.  Malcolm in particular is a joy to watch, but that might also just be Goldblum’s onscreen charisma.  I’ve said it before in past Spielberg write ups, but this film, like his others, does a good job of injecting humor into an otherwise dramatic, terrifying, even tragic story.

Many mass-marketed Hollywood films try to do this, and that forced balance has a negative impact, making the film bounce around tonally so that it never feels like a cohesive whole.  But Jurassic Park feels like one story, despite the differing extremes of humor and horror.  I don’t know exactly why it works, but I’ll try to figure it out.

The movie begins with a frightening scene in which that one guy gets ripped to shreds by a raptor.  The very next scene is brightly lit (whereas the previous one was dark), and it’s full of joyful, passionate characters.  Grant and Ellie (Laura Dern) are our heroes, but they’re not perfect.  Grant doesn’t like children, so when one smartass kid says the bones of a raptor make it look more like a turkey, Grant seems eerily gleeful as he describes how that “turkey” would rip him to shreds if given the chance.  Right off the bat we know this is a movie that will smile through the horror.

I think as a whole, the film has a dark sense of humor.  I mean, it clearly has a dark sense of humor, but many times the phrase “dark sense of humor ” (DSOH) means something like a guy disdainfully muttering or a guy with reluctant, cutting wit.  In Jurassic Park, that “DSOH” is directly towards each character from the movie gods above, rather than from one character to another.  Maybe it’s because these characters all seem like relatively well-adjusted adults who take their lives in stride and are able to joke about them, and struggle to continue joking while things get worse.  Malcolm, for example, is constantly tossing out one-liners in the face of extreme danger.  It’s like Michael Crichton (writer) and Spielberg took these optimistic, joking characters and said “how can we make it worse.”  They punched Grant and Malcolm, but then the two men got back up and smiled it off, so they punched them again, and again and again to see how many times it’d be before they got back up.

But Grant and Malcolm and the other characters always get back up because “life finds a way.”  So not only do the dinosaurs (who are meant to be all female) find a way to reproduce within unsupportive circumstances, but the humans also find a way to survive in the face of similarly unsupportive (to put it lightly) circumstances.

The story enables its own DSOH because we’re the cause of the problem.  Sure Grant, Ellie and the children didn’t bring the dinosaurs back to life, but they enjoy the park nonetheless.  Hammond brought these creatures to life because he knows he can make money off of it from people like Grant, Ellie and the kids.  It’s like how we’re told to buy locally-farmed produce.  When I don’t do it, I don’t think of myself as part of the problem, but I am part of it.  What I’m trying to say is if there’s ever a Jurassic Park, it’s our job not to go.  Granted, if there ever is a Jurassic Park, after this movie was made, it must mean we’re incredibly dumb OR we’ve definitely mastered all the safety requirements so there’s no chance anything go wrong, in which case I’m going to put my name on the waiting list right now.

I saw Jurassic World when it came out in theaters, and I liked the film, but after seeing Jurassic Park again (for the first time in a few years) I definitely understand the dislike for that most recent sequel.  Jurassic Park has something it wants to say, and Jurassic World piggy backs off to the original to just exist.  There is nothing biting about JW.  The director even said that one female character’s particularly grizzly death serves no purpose other than to be a spectacle.  There’s no movie god deciding who should get the axe, how and why.  It doesn’t have its own code, and a good movie, whether or not you agree with it’s ‘code,’ should have some direction it’s following.

Anyways, the comparison of those two films is a good excuse for me to link to this video:

 

 

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