Spielberg: Jurassic Park part 3

Okay, where were we? Jurassic Park is an hour old at this point and is about to take a sudden genre-shift from “drama of ideas” to adventure-suspense masterwork. And it occurs to me that Spielberg is here almost pulling a Hitchcock with his mid-movie genre-switch. Almost, but not quite. Psycho switches genres mid-way through, but the effect is a shock and a surprise, whereas Jurassic Park tells you right up front that it’s a thriller, then forestalls the thrills for a solid hour, until the tension becomes almost unbearable.free web site hit counter

And so, let’s continue!

Act III begins at 1:00:00 on the dot with, as I’ve noted before, a perfect ten-minute action-suspense set-piece, easily as good as the opening of Raiders in its construction and execution. The orchestration of the mayhem in this sequence could not be improved, and Spielberg is so sure-handed in his work that he even foregos musical accompaniment.

The set piece is, of course, deeply thematic in its plot-points. The T-Rex escapes from its high-tech paddock because the power is off, the lawyer flees one piece of technology (the car) and scampers across the jungle to another piece of technology (the rest room), neither of which succeed in saving him. (Life, in this case a twenty-foot lizard, “finds a way” to devour him.) In the lawyer’s pursuit of survival, he abandons Hammond’s grandchildren, which forces Alan into the position of reluctant caregiver. The children are trapped inside their piece of technology, forcing Alan to abandon his, Ian uses yet another piece of technology (a flare) to lure the T-Rex away from Alan and the kids. The T-Rex, shoving the car around on the roadway, forces Alan and the kids over the retaining wall — the humans are now in the zoo, the beast is now free.

This set-piece is followed immediately by another, Dennis’s death at the hands of the dilophasaurus. Again, we’ve got a man (life), who’s got a bunch of embryos (life) smuggled in a high-tech can of shaving cream (technology) using technology (a jeep) to get through the jungle (life) during a storm (nature), his glasses (technology) fogging (due to the heat coming off his body in his excited state), causing him to crash, which leads to him using his winch (technology) wrapped around a tree (life) to try to get him out of his situation, all of which is interrupted by the dilophasaurus (life), who spits in Dennis’s eyes, which is his vulnerable spot due to him losing his glasses (technology failing again), which paralyzes him, allowing the dilophasaurus to eat Dennis inside his car. Dennis’s escape craft becomes his tomb, and his can of shaving cream tumbles into the mud, swallowed up, seemingly, by nature.

As if to make up for lost time, we then have a third wonderful action-suspense set-piece, involving a car (technology) in a tree (life), endangering the life of a boy who Alan promised to not abandon. These scenes are, obviously, where Spielberg lives, and they serve the plot (escape the dinosaurs!), the theme (life finds a way) and the character (Alan must protect the children) all at once.

Had enough? The movie isn’t ready to slow down yet. After the car in the tree, there is a fourth masterful action-suspense scene as Ellie and Muldoon show up at the T-Rex paddock looking for their friends and find only Ian and the remains of the lawyer, then are forced to high-tail it out of there with a T-Rex chasing them.

Finally, after 21 minutes of non-stop thrills, the movie is ready to slow down a little, as Alan gets the kids safely up into another tree. A sense of wonder returns as the A-team beholds a herd of brachiosaurs, and yet Alan is clearly through with his dinosaur obsession. When the kids cling to him for comfort, he feels, literally, a pain in his ass, which turns out to be the raptor claw he previously used to ruin a child’s day. Trading childcare for obsession, he tosses the claw out of the tree.

At 1:24:00, we have the end-of-Act-III-low-point, as Ellie sits down with Hammond in the designed-to-look-like-nature restaurant at HQ. Hammond has — horrors — a “death of my kitten” speech, wherein he tells a story about his early days as a young charlatan. Ellie picks up his story and, presto, turns it around to suggest that, for all Hammond’s new sophistication, he’s still a charlatan for thinking he could control nature. The act, and the narrative, is then honed to a point when it is announced that getting the children back safely is “the only thing that matters now.” Because “ideas” about science and technology and nature and morality are all well and good, but movies thrive on plot and motion. You can’t really make a movie about an idea — you can write a novel about an idea, and you can even have a play about an idea, but a movie needs a plot with a physically obtainable goal. And “get the children back home safe” is about as basic and compelling as that sort of thing gets.

Act IV begins with a quiet beat as the sun comes up and Alan and the kids are visited by a brachiosaur. Alan, still, cannot help but be in awe of these magnificent creatures, even though they are, literally, sick of this island.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the plot for the first half of the act is announced: “let’s shut down the system,” so that we might then re-start it and save the children. This applies to the immediate physical situation and, I suppose, to the larger metaphor at work, ie: “the system” the establishment has at present is flawed, and we must “shut it down” and re-start it, in an uncorrupted state, in order to preserve the future.

America’s greatest actor Samuel L. Jackson then steps forward for his time in the limelight of Jurassic Park, to deliver what has to be the most opaquely expository speech in a movie full of opaque expository speeches, as he explains: THE LYSINE CONTINGENCY (so sad that Robert Ludlam did not think to use that for a title). Jackson delivers the speech beautifully, but I, for the life of me, cannot figure out what THE LYSINE CONTINGENCY has to do with the plot of the movie, ie “getting the children back home safe.” Dramatically, it highlights Hammond’s affection for the dinosaurs, which he considers his “children” almost as much as his biological grandchildren, but Jackson, unless I am mistaken, is talking about a plan that would kill off the dinosaurs eventually, not right now, so I’m still mystified as to why it’s in the movie, much less why it’s shot and acted with such skill.

Out in the field, Alan and the kids encounter a T-Rex again, but this time the T-Rex has other things on its mind. This time, Alan and the kids are merely witnesses to the glory and terror of nature, as they realize that, if anyone, they are the ones who don’t belong here. All this works to emphasize that the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park are not monsters or even villains, they are animals with their own agendas, unpredictable but not unknowable.

There then follows a masterful suspense sequence as Hammond and Ian guide Ellie and Muldoon through the steps of re-booting the power as Alan and the kids negotiate atall electrified fence. Spielberg, again, keeps almost every aspect of this sequence soaking in theme as he wrings every conceivable drop of suspense from the situation, adding typically Spielbergian touches of grim humor to punctuate the tension.

The power comes back on, Muldoon gets eaten, and the second half of Act IV begins. Now everybody is back at home base and the only objective is “let’s get out of here.” Alan and Ellie go off to figure out how to do that while the kids get attacked by velociraptors in the kitchen, the sixth masterful sequence in the movie.

At 1:53:00 everyone meets up in the control room as the velociraptors attack. The movie’s only real eye-rolling moment comes as Hammond’s pre-teen granddaughter easily decodes Nedry’s so-fiendishly-complex-system-that-only-he-can-understand-it system while dinosaurs attack, not six feet away. This moment, thankfully, gives way to a pulse-pounding out-and-out chase scene, through the building’s ceiling space and out into the lobby. The chase leads to the climax, where Alan, Ellie and the kids are cornered by — oh no! Two velociraptors! How are we ever going to survive? We’re cornered by two velociraptors! Thankfully, unseen by anyone, the twenty-foot T-Rex sneaks into the lobby and saves the day, on tiptoe I’m guessing, although how he fit through the lobby door is another mystery.

The movie’s exclamation point, pictured above, where the “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth!” banner comes fluttering down as the T-Rex gives a triumphal roar, still makes me laugh and cheer. The image perfectly sums up the movie’s argument and stance — the dinosaurs time has come and gone, yet here, at this moment, someone apparently forgot to tell the dinosaurs. The image acknowledges that, in spite of all the warnings in the narrative, the idea of dinosaurs returning is still an insanely powerful one, which can be proven by the fact that you’ve just watched this movie.

In the movie’s closing moments, Alan comes to the conclusion that his obsession isn’t so cool after all, that there is life beyond obsession. His “purpose” in life has shifted, he’s more interested in life and less interested in the study of long-dead creatures. As he flees Jurassic Park with Ellie, Ian, Hammond and the kids, he sees a flock of pelicans skimming the surface of the water, reminding him that dinosaurs, of course, are actually still here.  “Life found a way,” the way life generally does — it evolved, as Alan senses he must now evolve as well, and that, for all of science’s inquiry into the possible, “the way things are” is probably the best of all possible worlds.


12 Responses to “Spielberg: Jurassic Park part 3”
  1. I’m still mystified as to why it’s in the movie, much less why it’s shot and acted with such skill.

    You wrote that E.T. could be a metaphor for Spielberg’s artistic-ness (artisticles?) — do you think he’s doing something similar in JP? A lot of people have commented on how John Hammond is a total dick in the novel whereas in the movie Spielberg makes him a jolly little Richard Attenborough whose only desire is to entertain the Hell out of everybody. Is it too much to say Hammond is a stand-in for Spielberg’s creative impulse?

    From the moment we first see him–when his helicopter blunders into the dig site and he goes straight for the booze–he’s putting on a show. He needs to get Grant to his park for the investors, but he invites Ellie just for the Hell of it–another person to entertain. We know he doesn’t care about the money because he says everyone deserves to see the attractions. He reminisces over delighting kids with something as simple as a flea circus, and he only gets pissed when someone threatens to kill his creation (which in this case is a bloodthirsty goddamn lizard).

    And outside of bloodthirsty goddamn lizards eating cars and lawyers, I think there’s a Spielbergian internal debate going on between Hammond, who’s saying, “Art is creation, life is creation; aren’t they the same thing?” and Malcolm, who’s saying, “No.”

    In the scene you mention, Malcolm says, “it’d be a first; man and dinosaur all die together. John’s plan.” Malcolm’s chiding John for playing God, for not knowing the limits of his art. Of course, it’s not John’s plan, John just wants to entertain, but in his struggle to do so he’s blurred the line between imitating life and actually creating it. And his response to Malcolm, “People are dying! Will you please shut down the system” shows that–he’s pretty much saying, “I know they’re in danger, but I don’t want to kill anything; I just want to create, dammit!”

    I may be off my rocker, but if I’m close that would explain why the lysine contingency would kill them off eventually–it takes as many days (7) to kill John’s creation as it did to create God’s.

    • Todd says:

      I certainly believe that Jurassic Park, the place, is a close metaphor for Jurassic Park, the movie. Which at least partly explains why Spielberg made Hammond a misguided Santa instead of a calculating monster.

  2. mattyoung says:

    I have to say, I never found Lex’s understanding of the computer system as eye-rolling as the insertion of the “hacker” facet of her personality into the movie at the beginning of Act IV without any evidence or acknowledgment previous to it being announced by Tim. (Probably because, as I recall, her only role in the book was “Girl who is there to scream and be in peril” and the movie producers decided she should probably be able to do Something).

    Dennis’ system was Unix-based and designed to be so automated and simple that even a one-handed, chain-smoking Samuel L. Jackson could work it. It just didn’t work well.

  3. curt_holman says:

    Deus T-Rex Machina

    I think one of the extras on the JP DVD explains that in the original plan for the ending, the two velociraptors were closing in on our heroes when — BLAM! BLAM! — Richard Attenborough shoots them and saves the day, which would be a visually neat way to have him repudiate his earlier belief that the park was a good idea. But apparently Spielberg loved the T-Rex so much, he wanted to have it return in some way for the finale.

    I really hate the gag of the lawyer sitting on the toilet in front of the T-Rex — it’s like being elbowed in the ribs.

    And even though the jeep-in-the-tree scene is put together impeccably, after being terrified by a T-Rex for ten minutes, a plain ol’ car just isn’t as frightening.

    • Todd says:

      Re: Deus T-Rex Machina

      Hell, it’s practically comedy — closer to an Indiana Jones set-piece. Alan even has the hat.

  4. greyaenigma says:

    The dinosaurs definitely seem to have a stealth mode. When the tour first sees them, Alan looks out of the jeep — OMG dinosaur! And suddenly they look the other way and sees herds of dinosaurs and suddenly the air is filled with their cries. I think if I were in that jeep, I would have been craning my neck this way and that, desperately trying to catch a glimpse (as they do later, stealth mode engaged.)

    The first dino they see on the official tour is the triceratops, tranquilized so that her stealth field is compromised.

    I can only assume the forty foot T Rex is also part shark by how he slips in unseen.

  5. Great!

    How bout you analyze this?

  6. mikeyed says:

    You forgot to mention the most beautiful looking scene in the movie: when the velociraptor is standing on the desk trying to get to its prey climbing around in the ceiling and the four bases of DNA (A, C, T, and G) are projected in repetition on its body. I thought that was a nice touch.