Screening Log #5: Jurassic Park (1993)

The circumstances surrounding this particular viewing of Jurassic Park were sort of perfect; I’d first seen the film in theatre in 1993 – along with any other child of the time I assume – and was afforded the chance to see it last night projected onto a defunct drive-in screen with a few close friends under an open and cloudless sky. In this setting the excitement of youth and an obsession with dinosaurs was replaced by the wonder of being able to watch a film in this manner.

The film, of course, concerns the attempt to create a theme park containing dinosaur clones gleaned from the genetic material present in amber-fossilized mosquitoes. The park’s creator John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough) recruits world paleontology authorities Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil) and Dr. Ellie Satler (Laura Dern) along with chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to preview his island park in the hopes of securing their endorsement that the park is a viable and beneficial attraction. Plans to clone dinosaurs rarely ever go as one hopes, though, and the subterfuge of the park’s automated systems by Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight/Newman) in his attempt to steal dinosaur embryos for a rival company sends the island spiraling into chaos. This is much to the delight of Dr. Malcolm; Dinosaurs escape, chases happen, and a man is devoured on a toilet.

Jurassic Park PosterThe group are divided and Dr. Grant finds himself alone in the faux pre-historic wilderness with Hammond’s grandchildren. The film takes this opportunity to twin its genetic moralizing with a parallel story of a man who does not want children growing to care for them; where Hammond and his scientists rushed to create life without understanding what it was they were undertaking, Dr. Grant grudgingly comes to understand and appreciate children only after saving them from a Tyrannosaurus Rex and several preternaturally clever Velociraptors. In both cases the generative capacity of humans, whether intellectually or physically, is shown to be an act that should be approached with consideration and understanding and not impulsively. A surprisingly conservative and wholesome message hatches from the genetically engineered egg of the film.

Likewise, Malcolm’s warnings about the indomitableness of nature is in keeping with this theme.  Despite all of Hammond’s good intentions and care to keep the dinosaurs manageable, nature perseveres and they find a way to reproduce due to the amphibian DNA the scientists use to fill in the gaps in their mosquito harvested dino-DNA. The chaotic and unpredictable nature of the world amounts to a fairly standard plot arc wherein the protagonists mostly escape the island, T-Rex defeating the conniving ‘Raptors and smashing through the fossilized remains in the foyer of the centre, a final image re-asserting the vitality and dominance of the natural world in the light of humanity’s feeble attempt to (re)construct it under their control.

The film also houses some clever  meta-cinematic visuals; the visitor’s centre of the park is rife with merchandise to sell to tourists: Jurassic Park branded cups, shirts, lunch-boxes, figures, puzzles, all litter the area. This explicit employment of marketing serves to both commentate on the commodification of spectacle – something the film itself was, with its state-of-the-art special effects, animatronic dinosaurs and use of green-screen – while simultaneously building anticipation and clearing cultural and mental space in the audience for the array of merchandise set to launch with the film. Framed in this way the conversation between Hammond, his lawyer, and Malcolm, serves to explicate the tension the film regards as inherent to itself; it is a spectacle of a film containing a conservative agenda, a sort of perfect candidate to be comfortable marketed and merchandised to the masses.  This is a balance that seems to have been  perfected by Spielberg, who time and time again treads the line between meticulous craft and populist sentiment to the delight of Reese’s Pieces and dinosaur memorabilia enthusiasts everywhere.

2 Responses to “Screening Log #5: Jurassic Park (1993)”
  1. Patrick Allen says:

    Your Screening Logs seem to focus on movies about people running from danger.

    • Ben says:

      I was thinking about how, since coming home, my screening log has consisted of me returning to films or franchises that I enjoyed in my youth and how that was sort of appropriate; your observation is also accurate and maybe plays into the returning home theme as well!

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