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SCI-FI MOVIE PAGE PICK: JURASSIC PARK

 

 

JURASSIC PARK


Sam Neill Dr. Alan Grant
Laura Dern Dr. Ellie Sattler
Jeff Goldblum Ian Malcolm
Richard Attenborough Dr. John Hammond
Bob Peck Robert Muldoon
Martin Ferrero Donald Gennaro
B.D. Wong Dr. Wu
Joseph Mazzello Tim
Ariana Richards Lex
Samuel L. Jackson Arnold
Wayne Knight Dennis Nedry
Jerry Molden Harding
Miguel Sandoval Rostagno
Cameron Thor Dodgson

Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by David Koepp, Michael Crichton and Malia Scotch Marmo (adapted from the novel by Crichton).1993. Running time: 126 Minutes.

Jurassic Park is, well, the culmination of Steven Spielberg's talents. No, it's not Schindler's List or The Color Purple. And, I'm afraid to say, this statement is more derogatory than anything else. I call it a case of riding the whirlwind - or twister if you like.

As everybody knows, Steven Spielberg rose to prominence along with his buddy George Lucas in the 1970s with Jaws, his second full-length feature to see the light on the big screen. What Jaws and Star Wars represented were the arrival of the summer blockbuster. Back then both movies seemed daring for their time. After all, Lucas doubted whether Star Wars would make money and Spielberg thought he was finished in Hollywood after the grueling shoot on Jaws.

Besides, the film was expensive and not a clear-cut box office winner. The truth is that, if we are honest for a moment, both heralded the end of personal film-making. While both films contained some aspects of their creators' personalities, they are far less personal or meaningful than, let's say, Annie Hall - the Woody Allen film that won the Oscar for best film in the year of Star Wars. No longer would it be fashionable (or rather profitable) to have three-dimensional characters or recognizable situations in films. No, audiences have acquired a taste for the bizarre. They wanted better, faster, more . . .

With Jurassic Park Spielberg had gone full-circle: the film has more in common with Jaws than it does with any of his other efforts. But Jurassic Park is a self-parodying Jaws. It shows us how far this particular genre of film has been downgraded . (Another good example of this is Independence Day.) While Jaws gave us some funny and likeable characters we cared about, Jurassic Park gave us cardboard characters that served as little else than dino fodder.

Whereas Jaws has the now famous and chilling scene in which Robert Shaw tells Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider about what happened when the Indianapolis went down, Jurassic Park doesn't have time for such atmosphere building niceties. All we are told, through the mouth of Dr Malcolm, the character played by Jeff Goldblum (vaguely the only likeable person in the movie) is that Chaos Theory tells us that things will go wrong. No shit Sherlock! There wouldn't be a movie if it didn't . . .

The list goes on: in Jaws we rarely got to see the shark (which was scarier), in Jurassic Park all we saw (and wanted to see!) were dinosaurs. After all, the special effects are the reason why we went to see the movie. Jurassic Park is no longer a case of the special effects being in aid of the movie, but the movie being in aid of the special effects. Hollywood movies take it for granted that audiences don't go to movies to see a story: they go to see the type of production values that they don't get to see on the television screen.

Whereas Star Wars and ET has been blessed with a kind of innocence, Jurassic Park is cynical. It even lets us in on the joke when the characters sit in a room filled with Jurassic Park merchandise (stuff like mugs with the now instantly recognizable logo on it). What we have here is a case of marketing - not a story that Spielberg wanted to tell us. For that we must go and see Schindler's List or one of his earlier films like Close Encounters or ET.

Now you might say that Spielberg had little to work with. After all, the novel by Michael Chrichton isn't exactly known for its well-rounded characterizations and original plot-line (it is rather a case of self-plagiarism since the Entertainment Park gone mad is a theme utilized in his much earlier Westworld novel). It offers its readers research on dinosaurs and fashionable scientific theories instead of a strong story. Thrills instead of thought. But the Jaws novel by Peter Benchley was just as bad material to work from. Spielberg however transcended the material at hand and for once the film was better than the book.

The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park is even worse. It offers us more fashionable theories (this time on the possible path the evolution of dinosaurs could have taken) while the same cardboard characters meander across the landscape. It has more self-plagiarism. Like in Twister there are two rival research teams, the one "good" and the other "evil" in competition with each other. The story-line is even thinner than in Twister. Audiences can expect the same from The Lost World as they got from Twister and Jurassic Park: incredible special effects. Once again we will probably thrill like a six-year-old Calvin at the sight of a T-Rex devouring a lawyer. After all, we are being treated like six-year-olds by Hollywood . . .

Also, in another sense Jurassic Park is symptomatic of the times in which we live. On the one hand it is cynical and distrustful of science and technology. (A theme as old as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein story published at the beginning of the previous century.) Yet where would it be without its technological advancements? Without its incredible special effects master-minded by the latter-day magicians at ILM?

The message in Jurassic Park is unambiguous: man mustn't interfere too much in nature. But where do we pull the line? When I'm wearing a pair of glasses I'm already interfering with nature. When we go for penicillin shots we are interfering. At what point do we stop interfering with nature? Must we all return to the state in which our prehistoric ancestors found themselves before the invention of fire? Afraid of the dark and of every little unknown sound in the night? This also a question which many of the ecologically conscious so-called "green" movements must sort out for themselves: when do we stop utilizing science? (A friend of mine has an original take on the issue. He contends that the cities and towns in which we live are part of nature. After all, few of us complain about birds building a nest to live in. Then why complain about cities? It is also in our nature as it is in theirs to do so.)

It is this ambiguity regarding our relation to nature (also a very New Age concern) that caused the revival of the disaster movie. It is either nature wreaking revenge (Twister and Dante's Peak) or man's own doings (Daylight) that causes the dilemma. As we approach the coming millennium, man is taking stock of his achievements and finding them wanting. We are beginning to believe the dictum that "man is his own worst enemy" and are coming to the conclusion that man therefore deserves what he has coming for him.

How else can one explain the gleeful destruction wreaked in films such as Independence Day and Twister? Along the way we are forgetting that without science most of us would have been long-dead and unable to ask any such questions or come to such conclusions. We are also forgetting that essentially people are the same all over and we certainly wouldn't want the bad things happening to other people happening to us. The cycle of current disaster movies, however, didn't start with Independence Day or Twister: It began with Jurassic Park . . .

 

Copyright © April 1997 James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page

 

 



 

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Copyright © 1997-forward James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page (unless where indicated otherwise).