I talked film editing with master Hollywood scene cutter Norman Hollyn for Van Winkle’s. We talked at length about the opening scene of Fellini’s 8 1/2 and the ’80s high school dark comedy Heathers, which Hollyn edited. Click on Joseph Gordon-Levitt to get to the story.
There’s no escaping Jurassic Park. It’s constantly on television. Film writers write endless tributes to and reconsiderations of it.
Writers revisiting Jurassic Park adopt the vocabulary of someone who’s just become a parent or tried ecstasy for the first time, blurting out words like “joy,” “wonder” and “awe.” Devin Faraci, a writer I usually (his gamergate soul searching is a masterpiece of self aware nerdery), calls it “one of the best movies ever” and leads with the sentence fragment “terror and wonder.” The Rotten Tomatoes review pull quotes overflow with ghastly phrases like ” the joy is timeless” and “this movie doesn’t just stand the test of time, it transcends it.”
But if Jurassic Park is what joy feels like, make my life grim forever.
The Absurd and Dull Story it Chooses to Tell
This Santa Claus millionaire lunatic clones dinosaurs and opens a dinosaur theme park on a South American island. The financial backers are worried about the safety so they demand he fly in scientists to inspect the place. While the scientists visit—alongside the lunatic Santa Claus’ grandchildren—a disgruntled computer technician disables the park’s security. Chaos ensues, then everybody escapes on helicopters with a greater regard for family values and a diminished passion for cloning dinosaurs.
Wayne Knight, Newman from Seinfeld, plays the computer technician who sets the chaos in motion. I’m just going to call him “Newman.”
Newman doesn’t have to be in the movie at all. He’s there so the Santa Claus millionaire can be sympathetic by comparison. SCM is a grandfather and wants to bring science to the masses, so he’s a good guy. Newman wants money, betrays SCM and is a fat sweaty mess so he’s a bad guy.
But despite Newman, SCM is still the worst villain in the movie. He resurrected man-eating lizard monsters and skimped on security. Give Newman a bonus and the dinosaurs stay in their cages. Problem solved.
But no, he has to lavish his money on scientists.
And why call in scientists? It’s dumb. You need safety experts, like engineers and maybe cops. Sam Neil and Laura Dern are paleontologist. They dig up and dust off bones. Sometimes they theorize about whether raptors hunt in packs or other boring bullshit. But having them consult on a dinosaur attack is be like trying to stop a war with a gravedigger. If the shareholders were really worried about park security, they wouldn’t demand dinosaur experts. They’d demand security.
A security expert’s first recommendation would be to keep children off the island. And yet SCM—again, the obvious villain of the movie—invites his fucking grandchildren along for a stress test. The secondary villains, even though we never see them onscreen, are the children’s parents. I love my dad but if he asked to bring my daughter to an island full of dinosaurs, that’s a hard no.
Everything That Works in Other Spielberg Films Fails
Jurassic Park thinks it’s fooling people. It doesn’t show dinosaurs for almost a half an hour. A raptor kills a guy and we just see a shaky cage. The main characters don’t know there are dinosaurs on the island when they get there. This information is withheld to allow for big reveal that dinosaurs are in the movie.
Jaws doesn’t show the shark until the end. But Jaws is an entertaining, well-crafted thriller where interesting people do interesting things. It’s not a bunch of Michael Crichton fake scientists sitting around arguing about dinosaurs like Jurassic Park.
The slack pacing doesn’t tamp down the bombast of Spielberg’s favorite music man, though. John Williams’ horns and strings play at blaring volume even during mundane conversations.
If you like watching people look at stuff, this is the movie for you. The dinosaurs’ delayed appearances are heralded by Spielberg’s signature shot: someone looks offscreen in slack jawed bewilderment. It’s ok if you miss the first one, when Sam Neil and his neckerchief see a brontosaurus. The same shot repeats about a half dozen times.
Spielberg made Jurassic Park right after he made Hook. With both plodding middlebrow movies, Spielberg leans heavily on his signature styles. He had to shake off some dust to prepare for his next movie, Schindler’s List, and the “mature” phase of his career that movie brought on. I’m glad that he refilled his mojo to eventually pull off the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. But the shopworn style in Jurassic Park is tedious hackery.
Jurassic Park’s Clothing Palette is Nightmare Puke Pastels
Everybody in the movie dresses like an asshole.
The wardrobe is a dreary sea of ill-fitting linens and pleated khakis. Sam Neil wears a goddamn neckerchief like that’s a thing that’s OK. Laura Dern is dressed for a brownie scout troop leadership summit.
The lawyer wears a pastel colored suit with shorts like he’s Angus fucking Young, topped with a misshapen homburg. The hunter looks like a villain in a Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoon and he’s the only person close to appropriately dressed.
Every Character in the Jurassic Park is Michael Chrichton
The dinosaurs only appear onscreen after 20 minutes of expository gibberish. It’s like having to sit through a boring educational film before getting to ride a roller coaster.Spielberg must have realized that, as he actually has a scene where the characters watch a boring educational cartoon. Despite that awareness, it still takes another excruciating half hour before a dinosaur attacks anyone.
Everybody remembers Jurassic Park for popularizing the idea of chaos theory. But does anybody remember the context for why it was part of a movie about cloning prehistoric lizard monsters? No. they don’t. Because there is no real reason for its inclusion in the movie other than to show that smart guy scientist Jeff Goldblum is a smart guy who knows stuff about science.
I’ve read a couple of Michael Chrichton books and they all start with scientists assembling and mouthing off to each other in response to an earth shaking crisis or discovery. I’m not a Chrichton expert, but I know he was a weird guy with some strange views. He made climate change advocates villainous scammers in State of Fear and named a baby rapist character for a critical reviewer. Each of his dumb scientist characters are probably figures for some debate had in his head while he was writing. Their dialogue splits the difference between hitting their single character note and the kind of technical exposition I’d imagine IT professionals must find fascinating.
The film feels like four different people giving a lecture at the same time. Then there are some dinosaurs. Bravo, dickweed.
Jurassic Park Killed the Special Effects Movie
I grew up during the golden age of special effects creation porn. When Temple of Doom came out, a half hour TV special detailed the miniatures sets behind the climactic mineshaft chase. I’ve watched hours of footage of Industrial Light and Magic technicians working on spaceships. Watching a special effects blockbuster had a secondary pleasure beyond plot and spectacle. Figuring out how the filmmakers manipulated physical objects in tricky ways to create an effect was a fascinating guessing game.
Jurassic Park’s digital effects team destroyed that game. The answer’s always the same now: some dude typed some stuff into a computer. In a video on making the video’s effects, the film’s special effects computer team seems like artless goons with an inflated sense of their frankly janky-looking work.
And honestly, I don’t think the effects work is all that good. The weird green screen the scene where Sam Neil stands in front of a Brontosaurus is like a 20 second preview of the worst aspects of the Star Wars prequels. Neil and the other actors are obviously walking through an air-conditioned warehouse trying to emote to tennis balls. When the T-Rex busts up the scaffolding Laura Dern and the kids are hanging onto at the end of the movie, it’s like the soccer scene in Bedknobs and Broomsticks.
When I watch Jurassic Park, I don’t see dinosaurs. I see over-caffeinated computer artists coding on a deadline.
Random Notes From Watching Jurassic Park
Ugh. The kids. “Interactive CD Rom.” Hahaha. No.
“Hold on to your butts.” Ugh. Boo. No.
Despite being the first movie to rely on computer-generated imagery, movie has a weird anti-computer bias.
These smug little privileged shits.
After about an hour, the story boarded set pieces start and the movie perks up for a while. Spielberg has some fun with a broken truck.
Then it takes a long break for a poignant speech from mad man Santa Claus.
Whiniest kid in the world.
At least three characters suffer leg injuries in the movie.
The Sole Great Thing About Jurassic Park
Jeff Goldblum. That dude can do no wrong. He’s plays the same character he played in The Fly and Independence Day and gets sidelined after doing the first genuinely heroic act in the plot, but he owns the whole movie.
There’s a cute scene early in the story where Captain America take out a list of pop culture and historical recommendations, ranging from the moon landing to Nirvana (which he parenthetically annotates as “band” to make sure he doesn’t accidentally looks up the Buddhist state of pure enlightenment, I guess). It compresses a lot of the otherwise boring nonsense about Cap being a fish out of water in the present while making and quick jokes and setting up The Falcon as a cool dude capable of picking out some relatively obscure soul music.
But upon reflection, I find it strange that Guns ‘n’ Roses isn’t on that list. Not only is Appetite for Destruction a culturally significant document offering valuable insight about what it was like to live through the 1980s, it specifically mentions Captain America by name.
Captain America’s been torn apart
A court jester with a broken heart
To be a runner take me back to the start
I must be losing my mind, are you blind
I’ll see you at the end of the line
In the universe in which we exist, where Axl Rose penned those lyrics, Captain America is a fictional character. In the Marvel universe he is a real person. That doesn’t mean Axl wouldn’t have included him in the lyrics. As a real world figure, he would still ripe for use as a symbol for America in decline.
And the music would probably not be to the taste of someone from the 1940s. But either would Nirvana, who are on that list. In all seriousness, he might have trouble with Chuck Berry.
Incidentally, this dumb idea led me to this insanely detailed analysis of 1980s Captain America comics. It’s pretty breathtaking.
A couple months ago, I watched Heat and decided Al Pacino is the worst actor in the world. Today, I saw Dog Day Afternoon for the first time. Pacino is so heartbreakingly great in a movie that has him go from stadium broad and jazz club intimate. I don’t know if a performer ever degenerated so dramatically, except for maybe Bob Dylan. Continue reading “Fucking Pacino”
Hey Bro. I am fresh off Moonrise Kingdom and want to shoot a warning shot across your bow.
The film was a trifle but it had its moments. I am sure the cool kids in Brooklyn, Austin, L.A. and London loved it. But you are capable of making a much better movie and at this point in your career you really should have. Continue reading “A Quick Note to Wes Anderson, a Great Filmmaker with a Spotty Track Record and Potential to Make a Masterpiece”