Jurassic Park Beat Sheet
Tom Reed and Cory Milles collaborated on this magnificent and insightful beat sheet. Cory begins with this intro:
Jurassic Park is one of my favorite films of all time. No matter how many times I see it, I still feel like a kid again. I remember seeing the movie for the first time, experiencing the new surround sound that was so loud it shook the seats. From the opening scene, I was on the edge of my seat. I loved everything about it: the story, the suspense, the sound, the special effects…
Actually, I think that the special effects in this movie still rival those in some of the newer films. Back when Jurassic Park came out, CGI was somewhat new, and the artists went to great lengths to ensure its realism. Today, twenty years later, it still looks real. And it’s still scary.
The musical score from Jurassic Park was the first soundtrack I bought. Instantly, I fell in love with movie music. In fact, my iPod is 100% movie scores. But Jurassic Park did not just introduce me to the world of movie music; it introduced me to the worlds of reading and writing. After seeing the film, I was encouraged to read the book, and I fell in love with it. The story, both on paper and on film, encapsulates the excitement I strive to create for my readers. It taught me how a good story is put together and what kind of experience it leaves with the audience.
The 20th Anniversary re-release of the movie offered a chance to really dig deep into the story, to understand why it works by looking at it through the lens of the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet. In fact, Tom Reed and I began to collaborate on it, sending massive e-mails back and forth discussing the different beats and appreciating the subtleties. I gained a whole new appreciation and excitement for the movie by discussing it with him.
Initially, I wondered if there truly was a single All Is Lost moment. I also noticed how the Debate and Set-Up continued to overlap seamlessly throughout. Our conversation and collaboration became so big that Tom started writing down his thoughts at a deeper level. Reading through them, I was amazed at his depth of analysis. It truly gave the movie the justice it deserved. Instantly, I knew that this was exactly what should be posted on the blog, a culmination of our conversations and observations.
The writing is wholly Tom’s; I only wish I had the ability to dig as deep as he does! His thoughts on this classic Monster in the House story gave me a newer appreciation for my favorite movie, once again reminding me what a great story it is and why it works so well. Enjoy!
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by: Michael Crichton and David Koepp
Jurassic Park is one of the most successful films ever made. It is a classic Monster in the House story and occupies the 20th position in the All-Time Box Office List (Adjusted for Inflation), though it is likely to creep up the list with today’s re-release. Only two MITH films have been more popular, one of which was also directed by Steven Spielberg – that would be Jaws which occupies the 7th position in the All-Time Box Office list. The other is The Exorcist at number 9. As Blake pointed out, MITH is one of the most powerful genres because there’s nothing more primal than running for your life from a monster, especially a slavering reptilian demon brought back to life by miraculous but misguided science.
In honor of the re-release of Jurassic Park in 3D, Cory and I decided to see how it looks from a Snyderian perspective. Just as we expected, it holds remarkably close to the form, but it also departs from it in interesting ways, making it a rewarding case study and an important reminder of how every story follows its own unique course. Analyzing it deepened our appreciation for the film and we hope reading this does the same for you.
OPENING IMAGE (00:00 – 03:24):
A dark jungle rustles with the low growl of a powerful creature. A group of armed men watch apprehensively, guns locked and loaded. But it’s not a creature that emerges, it’s a forklift holding aloft a cage. The brilliance of the Opening Image is that it captures the film’s essence immediately: the primordial jungle is disturbed by the technology of modern man. This is the premise of the film. Opening Image foreshadowing is rarely this seamless. By the end of the scene the genre is also clearly established. A terrifying MONSTER breaks out of the crate and kills one of the men, though the exact kind of Monster remains a tantalizing mystery.
SET-UP (03:25 – 08:58):
The Set-Up is a study in efficiency. Because of the vicious attack, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), the creator of Jurassic Park, now has nervous investors. Genarro, the lawyer representing them, travels to an amber mine to discuss the problem with Hammond, but the quixotic billionaire has already left. Gennaro complains to the mine foreman just as an important discovery is made: a piece of amber with a large mosquito entombed inside. Just why it is valuable is another tantalizing mystery (05:17).
We move to Montana where Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), a famous paleontologist, and his girlfriend Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), a paleobotanist, are excavating a dinosaur skeleton. We don’t know it yet, but the skeleton they’re working on is the species Velociraptor. Excavating dinosaur bones is the only means we modern humans have of learning about these prehistoric creatures, and Grant and Ellie are experts. This is the status quo, ‘life before’ Jurassic Park – a man in a hat using a brush to scrape away dirt from a fossil to gain knowledge. Mankind’s means of learning about dinosaurs, and the personal experience of them, is about to change radically.
The first suggestion of change is through the use of high-tech (more seamless foreshadowing). Grant and Ellie are called away to watch a computerized apparatus detect dinosaur bones underground using sonar. Here we learn that Grant “hates computers” and has issues with technology in general. He’s something of a throwback, which perhaps explains his interest in the distant past. But the machine works and another Velociraptor skeleton is located. We witness Grant’s love and command of his profession as he looks at the image on the computer screen and points out the similarities between ‘raptors’ and modern birds, but a skeptical kid scoffs that a raptor “isn’t scary” and “looks more like a six-foot turkey.”
This raises Grant’s professional hackles, and also his dislike for children. He proceeds to take grisly pleasure in describing exactly how a trio of raptors would hunt down and eat the kid alive, which succeeds in deeply unnerving the little fellah. Hardly Saving the Cat, we get instead both a demonstration of Grant’s professional expertise and a demonstration of his flaw, one of the Six Things That Need Fixing in his life, as we soon learn that Ellie wants kids and he doesn’t. Sorting this out will be Grant’s emotional and spiritual journey. At this point he appears to value dinosaurs more than children. By the end he will learn otherwise, and that will be done through the B Story.
Grant’s speech also shows the filmmaker playing with the language of cinema. While Grant spins his story about the most dangerous ‘predatory bird’ ever to have lived (Velociraptor means “bird of prey”), we hear the screeching of a hawk — a bird of prey. The past and present echo off each other, a motif that will happen repeatedly. It’s subtle to the point of being subliminal, but it’s there by design. Furthermore, Grant’s description of the raptor hunting strategy precisely describes how the character of Muldoon (who we haven’t met yet) will meet his end in the climax, more seamless foreshadowing. All of this is done with astonishing efficiency and a perverse sense of humor – the filmmaking team’s particular brand of Fun & Games.
THEME STATED (08:59 – 09:09):
Grant ends his speech about raptors with a very simple idea: “Try to show a little respect.” In other words, don’t underestimate dinosaurs, especially raptors. Later we will discover this is the very thing that Hammond and his enterprise have failed to do. The kid doesn’t know any better; Hammond (and his ilk) should. The primary SIN of Jurassic Park is human arrogance, hubris, and that’s exactly what the theme stated references, though for now, invisibly, just as it should be.
CATALYST (09:40 – 13:11):
A helicopter arrives disrupting the dig site. An angry Grant and Ellie discover an old man inside their dusty trailer opening a bottle of champagne. To their surprise, it’s Hammond, one of their most generous benefactors. As research scientists they rely solely on donations such as his, which is another one of the Six Things that Need Fixing in their lives – they’re perpetually underfunded. Hammond apologizes for his dramatic entrance (an entrance in keeping with his larger-than-life personality) and reveals the problem he has with his latest “biological preserve” on an island off Costa Rica: he needs their professional assessment of its viability to appease his anxious backers.
“Why us?” asks Grant. Hammond evades the question, prolonging the mystery. Grant and Ellie decline his offer, but when he promises to fund their research for another three years it addresses their ongoing need and they accept and toast their good fortune (or is it?) with a glass of champagne.
Standard storytelling teaching (including the BS2) tells us that the protagonist should have the primary story problem that needs solving and/or the desire that propels the story forward. That’s not the case here unless you consider Hammond the protagonist, and most people do not. It’s a significant departure from form, then, for Grant (and Ellie) to simply be along for the ride at this point, helping to solve the need of another. But telling the story this way accomplishes a couple of things. First, it gives Grant and Ellie underdog (cat?) status. It’s kind of hard to relate to a billionaire, after all. Second, since they know nothing about the mysteries of Jurassic Park, they embody the point of view of the audience who will come to learn about the park through them. We will all be initiated together.
CATALYST #2 (13:12 – 15:15):
Dennis Nedry, a Jurassic Park insider, makes a deal with a man representing a rival genetic technology firm. The man gives Nedry $750,000 and promises $50,000 more for every “viable embryo,” totaling $1.5MM if Nedry gets “all fifteen species” off the island. Industrial espionage is afoot, and we’re left to wonder what kind of embryos could possibly be worth so much. The SIN of greed is implicit in this transaction, but is made explicit when Nedry, after gorging on a meal when the bag man has eaten nothing, expects the other guy to pick up the check. “Don’t get cheap on me, Dodgson. That was Hammond’s mistake.” Nedry’s SIN will play a crucial role in letting the Monsters into the house. Greedy pissants will ever vex the plans of great dreamers (and everybody else).
MORE SET-UP (15:16 – 19:01):
Now that the MONSTER and SIN(s) have been established, it’s time to enter THE HOUSE, and we do that in a spectacular fashion via jet helicopter to Hammond’s headquarters, Isla Nublar. Assembled in the helo are Hammond, Grant, Ellie, Gennaro, and the final member of the team, famous mathematician (er, “chaotician”), Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). Though there’s Fun & Games aplenty in this film, Malcolm is as close to a character of comic relief as we come. Hammond describes him as “suffering from a deplorable excess of personality,” and he is indeed quirky and clever and has some of the wittiest lines. But he’s no fool; despite his playfulness, which first manifests in a provocative interest in Ellie, he’s the most serious voice of caution in the debate looming ahead.
The approach to Jurassic Park requires crossing a series of gateways and thresholds, befitting a Mysterious Island/Lost World locale; first the moat (the ocean), then the walls (the knife-like ridges and valleys of Isla Nublar), through precipitous wind shear and an electrified fence charged with 10K volts (why 10K? Isn’t that overkill? – more mystery), all to a heroic theme by composer John Williams called “Journey to the Island,” which seems to say there is nothing Man can’t accomplish. It evokes the excitement of testing and pushing through barriers, which suggests both Adventure and Hubris. Musical foreshadowing.
DEBATE (19:02 – 19:31):
As they make for the visitor’s center in two Jeeps, Gennaro asks Hammond about the “full 50 miles of perimeter fence” and the “motion sensor tracking systems,” all of which, assures Hammond, have been put in place. Gennaro reminds Hammond that “this isn’t a weekend excursion, this is a serious investigation into the stability of the island and I can shut you down in 48 hours.” Hammond responds, “In 48 hours I’ll be accepting your apology.” This frames the nature of the debate to come: Hammond on one side, supremely confident in his creation, Gennaro and the others arrayed against him, waiting to be convinced. The debate itself hasn’t begun yet, though; until Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm (and the audience) know exactly what they’re dealing with, all is preamble. By now, however, the stage has been set. Let the wonder, awe, and debate (in that order) begin.
BREAK INTO TWO (PRECURSOR) (19:51 – 22:47):
Though we didn’t know it then, passing through the electrified fence was when we entered the ‘upside-down/funhouse mirror’ world of Jurassic Park where dinosaurs and man coexist. Grant suddenly sees something and by his flabbergasted reaction in extreme close-up we know it rocks his world. He forces Ellie to look, she’s equally overcome, and they climb out of the Jeep for their first ‘close encounter of the dinosaur kind.’ A living, breathing, flesh and blood Brachiosaurus thunders past, towering over them as it nibbles from the treetops while the main theme to Jurassic Park soars on the soundtrack, underscoring the emotional reaction of the scientists: wonder and awe.
Steven Spielberg is known for delivering wonder and awe better than any filmmaker, and he’s never been more successful than this moment. All elements converge – premise, writing, acting, dialogue, staging, music, and breathtaking special effects (especially for its time, though it completely holds up even by today’s standards) – in a scene that magnificently pays off the primary mystery that has been so carefully sustained since the film started, that being, “What is Jurassic Park?”
Now we know. It’s a place where dinosaurs have somehow been brought miraculously to life. As Blake said, all stories are about Transformation, and this story has Transformation encoded in its DNA right from the premise. And the nature and magnitude of the Transformation is so great it provides insight into Hammond’s confidence: he knows that no one will be immune to the primal power of seeing these long extinct creatures walk again, especially the team he has brought to endorse it.
MORE SET-UP/MORE DEBATE/FUN & GAMES (22:48 – 38:04):
No filmmaker could have maintained the tension generated by the unanswered questions for much longer, which is why this Break into Two beat happens relatively early, at minute 22. This forced the preceding structure beats to come fast and furious, giving the first section of the film a tremendous pace. It can now afford to slow down, and it does just a bit, by side-stepping a full Break into Two and presenting the debate.
Emotionally, it’s still gliding on the wonder generated by the previous scene felt by the entire team. Grant and Ellie are beside themselves with excitement and filled with questions. But ironically, it’s the antagonistic lawyer Gennaro who undergoes the greatest change, and it’s immediate: “We’re going to make a fortune with this place!” From this point forward “the blood-sucking lawyer” is Hammond’s biggest supporter. Not only is this a Transformation, but his shift in attitude taps directly into the already established sin of greed. More importantly, it puts Hammond firmly in charge going into the Debate. He feels he has the upper hand and he relishes taking center stage.
Blake tells us that the Debate step is where the hero gathers information, knowledge, or advice, and that’s exactly what happens here as the team is brought into the visitor’s center and taken on the first leg of the tour. Part of the Promise of the Premise of Jurassic Park is making the concept of dinosaur-making plausible, and that’s done through a brilliant extrapolation of existing science. It’s really the bedrock on which this ‘monster movie’ rests. The challenge to the filmmakers was how to present what is essentially complex exposition in an entertaining way that didn’t stop the story, and they succeeded brilliantly with Fun & Games.
It’s also a kind of Fun & Games that’s rooted in character, specifically Hammond’s character, a jolly, playful visionary very much in touch with his inner child (albeit with an iron will), sort of a Scottish Walt Disney. So the Debate exposition is done in a style that evokes Disneyland as Hammond sits the team down in a small revolving auditorium where they see a film hosted by a folksy animated character called Mr. DNA. The mystery of the mosquito trapped in amber is answered here, as this turns out to be the source of the dinosaur blood that allowed scientists to recreate dino-DNA (with an assist from present-day amphibian blood to fill in the gaps).
From there the team moves on to the hatchery, where they learn that the dino population is strictly controlled by breeding only females, and then they witness the birth of a baby dinosaur. Grant, in another moment of wish-fulfillment fantasy, gets to hold a baby hatchling. This is a Break-into-Two moment, delivering on the ‘best case scenario of the Promise of the Premise’ (man and dinosaurs safely coexisting), until Grant realizes he’s holding a raptor hatchling. “You bred raptors?” Uh-huh. Uh-oh.
We jump back into the Debate at the raptor pen where we meet the Game Warden, Muldoon, while the raptors are being fed with a live steer hoisted in on a crane. Muldoon thinks the raptors “should all be destroyed,” putting him firmly in the naysayer camp of the Debate-in-progress. The team learns from him how fast the raptors are, how smart, how formidable, which is why they’re kept separate. They’re simply too dangerous (foreshadowing). The scene is punctuated by the shredded harness that once held the steer being lifted out of the pen for all to see. “Ready for lunch?” asks Hammond cheerfully, almost blithely. Fun & Games.
The Debate culminates at lunch where all three scientists express deep concern over the inherent dangers posed by the park. Malcolm speaks of the “staggering lack of humility” on display, Ellie of the unpredictability of an extinct ecosystem brought back to life, and Grant, though clearly impressed by the unprecedented scientific achievement, remarks “How can we possibly have the faintest idea of what to expect?” This ends the Debate sequence on a direct reference to the Theme Stated (“try and show a little respect”), the implication being the right amount of respect would have been to never proceed with building the park in the first place.
This movie’s Debate is uncommonly long for a mainstream film, over 15 minutes (actually over 19 minutes if you calculate it from when it actually begins), but it doesn’t feel overlong nor does it stop the story because it’s pulling triple duty: 1) it’s setting up Jurassic Park itself (and so is a kind of Break-Into-Two experience of what’s behind the scenes of JP), 2) it’s providing necessary context for an intelligent moral argument, and 3) the details are fascinating and depicted with both deep emotion and Fun & Games. Structure beats are rarely so concentrated. Jurassic Park totally owns its Debate and is proud of it, as it deserves to be.
B STORY (38:05 – 41:41):
Hammond’s grandchildren Timmy (9) and Lex (12) arrive, commencing the B Story. They are Hammond’s “target audience” and will be accompanying the scientists on the tour. Grant is instantly uncomfortable around them, reminding us of his psychological flaw and his journey of growth to come. Timmy is a precocious motormouth who has read Grant’s book and pesters him with questions, and Lex tells him that Ellie said he should ride with them “because it will be good for you,” which he refuses to do. Two self-driving electric vehicles transport them towards the main gates, Gennaro, Lex, and Timmy in one, Grant, Ellie, and Malcolm in the next. Meanwhile, we learn a storm is on the way – another seamless metaphor for what’s about to unfold.
BREAK INTO TWO (41:42):
The vehicles pass through faux-primitive gates that evoke the classic MITH film from 1933, King Kong. In case anyone missed the visual reference, Malcolm quips, “What do they got in there, King Kong?”, a nice F&G moment. And so another threshold is crossed, this time through a literal gate, the definitive Break into Two. Notice how this is very late from a mainstream storytelling perspective, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the filmmakers got studio notes urging them strongly to get these characters through this gate by page/min 30. But that would have shortchanged the all-important Debate. It would also fail to see how every story is its own exception and strict adherence to form is rarely necessary.
What’s important is that everything prior to this works well both structurally and emotionally, which it does, and that this beat is included, bold and unmistakable, and in the proper order, which it is. In fact, rarely is this beat so visual and literal.
FUN & GAMES (41:43 – 57-56):
The primary Promise of the Premise of JP, as we’ve known all along (this being a MITH movie and marketed as such), is man being chased by ferocious dinosaurs. We might think this would be the very next thing that happens, but no. The filmmaker has his own Fun & Games in store called delayed gratification. He knows to put the audience off guard first. He knows to make them wait, even more. Besides, we’re still in the Promise of the Premise of the Best Case Scenario, living the wish-fulfillment fantasy.
So at first we have excitement over the promise of seeing dinosaurs, then disappointment over them failing to appear, followed by a powerful close encounter as Grant leads the others out of the vehicles to examine an incapacitated Tricerotops attended by another game warden. Grant and Ellie are once again emotionally overcome as they safely touch an adult dinosaur, Grant saying, “She’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” Ellie tries to determine what’s making the dino sick by unflinchingly exploring the prodigious “Trike” droppings, another kind of F&G.
More F&G from a storytelling perspective as long delayed subplots are put in motion. Dennis Nedry is revealed to be the computer genius behind all the integrated systems of the park and he initiates his plan just as the approaching storm forces the tour to be cut short. Ellie separates from the group to help the game warden with the Trike as the rest of them climb back into the vehicles and head back to the visitor’s center. Nedry has disarmed the security systems in order to gain access to the embryo storage chamber and make his escape, but in so doing the tour vehicles lose power and come to a stop in front of the T-Rex paddock just as the electrified fences fall offline.
MIDPOINT (57:57 – 1:03:01):
Blake tells us that the Midpoint is where stakes are raised, time clocks appear, A & B Stories cross and the pace accelerates. He also mentions that, if it’s a “False Defeat” Midpoint, it’s where the hero’s plans fail due to an unforeseen complication. All of this happens at the Midpoint of Jurassic Park. Nedry’s plan fails as he gets lost in the storm, but the more important failure is Hammond’s, and his vain attempt to keep people safe from dinosaurs. Here the filmmakers finally deliver on the Promise of the Premise of any MITH story. Spectacularly. It’s time for this scientific debate film to turn into a relentless action film. In other words, it’s time for the MONSTER to enter the HOUSE.
BAD GUYS CLOSE IN/ALL IS LOST (1:03:02 – 1:10:39):
And what monster appears? Nothing less than the granddaddy of all prehistoric monsters, the biggest, baddest alpha-predator ever to have walked this earth: Tyrannosaurus Rex. T-Rex eats the goat left for it on the other side of the fence, but its attention is drawn to the vehicles as Gennero, petrified, flees and takes refuge in a nearby bathroom shed. This, of course, leaves the children alone as the T-Rex easily breaks through the now powerless fence. When Lex turns on a flashlight T-Rex zeros in on them. It breaks through the plexiglass roof and would surely have eaten the kids had the plexiglass not protected them like a transparent shield.
T-Rex flips over the vehicle and starts viciously attacking the undercarriage. Mud pours in through the broken windows around the kids and Grant finally acts, igniting a flare and waving it to get the dinosaur’s attention as the rain pours down. Then Malcolm does the same thing and T-Rex chases him to the bathroom structure and he’s injured as the structure topples exposing Gennaro sitting on the toilet. There is more than a whiff of death as the lawyer is quickly eaten up whole, the first casualty of the sin of greed (and hubris, of course).
Grant pulls Lex from the overturned vehicle but T-Rex returns. Grant tells her that “he can’t see us if we don’t move,” and they kneel in the mud, completely exposed, holding still as T-Rex searches for them, seemingly blind, its powerful exhale blowing Grant’s hat off his head. It pushes the car to the wall and Grant and Lex are forced to go over, using the broken fence wire as a rope. T-Rex finally pushes the vehicle – with Timmy still inside – over the wall and it barely misses Grant and Lex as it slams into a tree below. The awesome power of T-Rex, and the presence of imminent and ferocious death permeates this entire sequence.
In the control room, Hammond asks Muldoon to retrieve his grandchildren. Ellie joins him. Arnold says to Hammond that he can’t get Jurassic Park back online alone, which is the death of solving the problem without Dennis Nedry.
BAD GUYS CLOSE IN #2/ALL IS LOST #2 (1:10:40 – 1:14:22):
In addition to having an uncommonly long and complex Debate, this film also exceeds the average number of BGCI/AIL scenes. Instead of one, or two, we have four in a row — rewarding the patient viewer with its action-filled Promise of the Premise. The next beat picks up the thread of Nedry’s story as his Jeep slides in the mud and he crashes into the jungle. But the road snakes around in front of him and so he uses the Jeep’s winch to pull free. He’s followed by a little dinosaur that doesn’t seem immediately threatening but we suspect is a Dilophosaurus, the first dino we heard about in the tour, when we learned that it spits poisonous venom that paralyzes and kills its prey. Nedry, a truly contemptible sort, insults the dinosaur but gets spat in the face with the poisonous, paralyzing goo. He takes refuge in the Jeep only to find another Dilo waiting for him. The Jeep jostles and we know it’s the death of Dennis Nedry. The Monster is in the House and Sins will be punished.
BAD GUYS CLOSE IN #3/ALL IS LOST #3 (1:14:23 – 1:18:16):
Grant and a traumatized Lex are at the base of the tree where the vehicle with Timmy is perched. Grant tells her that he has to go help her brother, but she rants (referring to Genarro), “He left us! He left us!” Grant responds, “But that’s not what I’m going to do.” He may not like children much, but he’s going to do all he can to save the kids in his care given the circumstances.
Grant climbs the tree and finds Timmy inside. What’s so interesting about this sequence is that it’s not another dinosaur attack. We just had two back-to-back and there will be more to come, so the genius here is that an opponent and an entire action sequence was developed that has nothing to do with marauding dinos. The opponent is gravity, and the weakness of tree branches. When Grant pulls Timmy from the vehicle it shifts the balance, and as they descend the vehicle breaks through and careens towards them, an altogether unexpected kind of monster. They make it to the bottom and into the cleft between two tree roots just as the car crashes around them. Ingenious. And death narrowly averted. We hear Timmy’s voice: “Well, we’re back in the car again.” Fun & Games!
BAD GUYS CLOSE IN #4/ALL IS LOST #4 (1:18:17 – 1:21:36):
Muldoon and Ellie arrive at the breached T-Rex paddock. They find Malcolm injured and load him onto the Jeep then explore over the wall. They find the destroyed vehicle beneath the tree but no sign of Grant or the kids. Malcolm feels impact tremors and he knows what that means – T-Rex is nearby. Muldoon and Ellie arrive back at the Jeep just as T-Rex emerges through the trees. A spectacular and hair-raising chase ensues as T-Rex almost snatches Malcolm from the Jeep before the Jeep finally pulls away. Once again, death narrowly averted. Malcolm quips, “Think they’ll have that on the tour?” F&G. The T-Rex roars.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL (1:21:37 – 1:24:41):
Lex, Timmy, and Grant hear the T-Rex roar and Grant forces them to take refuge up another tree. Timmy is reluctant, nursing recent bad memories of trees, but Grant knows it’s a safe haven. They find a nook out of T-Rex reach and notice, as the storm clears, a group of Brachiosaurs feeding nearby. They’re singing like whales, and when Grant mimics them it gets their attention. Lex screams, “Don’t! The monsters will overhear!” Grant responds, “They’re not monsters. They’re animals.” At least herbivores are. The meat-eaters are something else, though Grant, ever the scientist, is not one to judge. “They do what they do.”
The kids climb into Grant’s arms and he doesn’t resist, showing some character growth. He finds the raptor claw in his back pocket, the one he used to terrorize the skeptical kid at the dig site. Lex asks him what he and Ellie are going to do if they don’t have to dig up bones anymore? His answer is telling: “I guess we’ll just have to evolve, too.”
Grant is facing no less than the death of his profession as he knows it, yet he doesn’t despair. He’s open to adaptation, a crucial survival tactic. It’s a moment of clarity concerning his professional life. As we pull away, Timmy tells a couple of F&G dinosaur jokes, and Lex asks Grant if he’ll stay awake to protect them. He says he will and tosses the raptor claw away. He’s finished with terrorizing children. Another moment of clarity, this time concerning his personal life. He’s making progress on his inner journey.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL #2 (1:24:42 – 1:28:22):
From the sounds of Brachiosaurs singing we cut to a stuffed Brachiosaur in the visitor’s center gift shop – an F&G scene transition. We see the JP T-shirts, the lunch boxes, all the plush as Ellie finds Hammond eating ice cream in the dining area, music shifting the mood to quiet reflection. Hammond tells Ellie about the first attraction he ever built – a flea circus. It was all an illusion. But with JP he wanted something that wasn’t an illusion. Ellie says it was an illusion that he could ever think he could control nature, recapitulating the Debate.
His iron will asserts itself and he tells her that every mistake is correctable. He’s facing the death of his dream, but unlike Grant, he’s unwilling to evolve. He hasn’t yet learned the lesson of Jurassic Park, the lesson of respect. He stubbornly refuses a moment of clarity, so denies himself life-preserving character growth. This is F&G foreshadowing, essentially a misdirect. We’re led to believe it’s too late for this sinner to repent, that Hammond is doomed. But since he’s not motivated by greed (his intentions were good, after all), he will have another chance to save himself.
MORE FUN & GAMES (1:28:23 – 1:31:26):
Grant and the kids are awakened by a Brachiosaurus feeding on the branches around their feet. Lex is terrified but Grant calms her, and Timmy does, too, by telling her it’s a “Veggiesaurus.” Grant feeds it some branches and everyone gets to pet it. Now even the kids get to experience the Promise of the Premise of the Best Case Scenario, the wonder and awe of dinosaurs in the flesh and up close.
As for Grant, he learns he can love dinosaurs and children equally, and share his love for the former with the latter. It’s not one or the other, it’s a new third way. It’s Synthesis — punctuated by an F&G moment when the Brachiosaur sneezes on Lex, covering her in dino snot. Not life threatening, but pretty gross. Timmy says, cheerfully, “God bless you!” Dinosaurs deserve God’s blessing, too.
Trekking through the forest Grant discovers some dinosaur eggs, proof that the dinos are breeding. Timmy says that he thought all the dinos were girls, and here we get to see the hero do what he does best, and in Grant’s case, it’s using his scientific knowledge of dinosaurs to solve this perplexing mystery. He tells them it must have been the use of amphibian DNA to fill in the gene sequence gaps that allowed this to happen, because some African frogs have been known to spontaneously change sex in a single-sex environment. He’s overwhelmed with the realization that natural biology creates its own miracles, and he has new appreciation for Malcolm’s assertion heard earlier that “life will find a way.”
BREAK INTO THREE (1:31:27 – 1:35:40):
This structure beat always concerns a bold new idea put into action, and the radical idea here, championed by Hammond, is to shut down all of the park’s computer systems in order to purge Nedry’s virus and reset the system. Arnold opposes it (there’s always somebody opposing every bold idea, right?), but Hammond knows it’s the only chance they have of regaining control of the park. It works, except that the main circuit breakers were tripped as a result, so a new mission is required: a foray to the maintenance shed to manually reset them. Arnold volunteers as Hammond insists the others, which include Ellie, Malcolm, and Muldoon, join him in the emergency bunker.
Blake also tells us that here the A and B Stories cross, and so we cut to Grant and the kids trekking across an open field on their way back to the visitor’s center. They are swarmed by a herd of Gallimimus, ostrich/antelope-like dinos that are moving, Grant marvels, “just like a flock of birds.” Suddenly the T-Rex crashes through some trees, gobbling down a Gallimimus right in front of the awestruck humans. Lex is horrified, Timmy’s in awe, and Grant, ever the scientist, is fascinated by how it moves and eats just like a bird. Grant would probably sit happily behind the collapsed tree where they’re taking cover content to watch the T-Rex for hours, living his paleontologist’s dream, but he has kids to protect so they beat a hasty retreat.
Gathering the Team (1:35:49):
In the emergency bunker, Arnold has not returned, forcing Ellie and Muldoon to take on the mission of turning the breakers back on. Muldoon grabs a high-powered weapon and Ellie a walkie-talkie headset so Hammond can take her through finding the breaker boxes, all working as a team. Once they’re outside, Muldoon discovers the raptor pen breached, and he sees raptor tracks leading into the jungle. This man, an experienced game warden who’s rattled by absolutely nothing, is clearly nervous. So begins the Finale of Jurassic Park, which could aptly be titled ‘Man vs. Raptor.’ It also begins a 20-minute sequence of relentless action.
Storming the Castle (1:38:00):
Ellie sees the power shed, but Muldoon, staring unblinkingly into the tangle of palms, stops her. “We’re being hunted.” All the information we’ve learned about the danger posed by raptors dances in our heads as Muldoon says, “I’ve got her. Run! Now!” Ellie dashes for the maintenance shed and enters, breathless. Castle stormed.
Meanwhile, Grant and the kids approach one of the 30-foot-tall electric fences, over which they’ll have to climb to get back to the visitor’s center, another castle to storm. The fence appears to be offline, but when Grant grabs it and screams, the kids are terrified. That is, until he smiles impishly. Clearly he hasn’t completely shaken his perverse sense of humor, but this time it’s playful, not malicious. Lex is not amused; Timmy loves it. F&G. Even here.
Ellie makes her way towards the breakers and into the horror movie genre as she travels down dark cement corridors and into creepy dead ends. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s inside a “haunted house” where monsters lurk. As Grant leads the kids over the fence, Ellie succeeds in finding the breakers and is instructed by Hammond how to prime and reset them. What’s truly masterful about this sequence is that it’s another case (like Timmy being caught in the tree) where the real threat is not posed by dinosaurs.
Ironically, the bold plan to bring Jurassic Park back online is at this moment life threatening to anyone on the perimeter fence, once power surges back through it. Ellie’s actions may spell the doom of her lover and Hammond’s grandchildren, another case where technology wielded blindly is potentially fatal, seamlessly linking this action to the theme. An added narrative bonus is how all stories converge here in a very tight story web, leaving out none of the main characters. Act III narrative concentration at its best.
High Tower Surprise (1:43:26):
I interpret the High Tower Surprise as a success for the forces of antagonism, usually in the form of a reversal or surprise, which almost always means a dire setback for the hero(s). Looking at things in Snyderian terms, what we have during this sequence is a series of high-octane HTSes in a row. It’s the roller coaster, the ever-escalating thrill ride. First, Ellie engages the breakers while Timmy is still on the fence. He’s electrified and blown backward into Grant’s arms and stops breathing — a harrowing HTS moment as villainous fate strikes down a child.
Ellie, meanwhile, is thrilled to see the lights in the shed blink back on, but her exultation turns to horror as a raptor claws at her through electrical wiring. From this point forward Jurassic Park fully delivers on all the conventions of the MITH genre, starting here with the staple of a solitary woman trapped by a monster in a haunted house. Arnold’s bloody arm falls on her, evidence of his death by raptor, and she barely makes it out of the shed with a reptilian demon on her heels. She succeeds in closing the door behind her, but will that be enough to contain it?
The raptors continue to prove their awe-inspiring implacableness and astonishing hunting skill. They succeed in killing Muldoon using the very tactics explicated by Grant at the film’s beginning, a decoy in front and attacking from the side (HTS). Then Grant, having successfully revived Timmy, arrives back at the visitor’s center knowing nothing about the loose raptors, which is why he parks the kids at the buffet and goes in search of Ellie. Lex then sees a raptor (actually its shadow through a raptor adorned stained-glass diorama – how F&G!) and she leads Timmy into an industrial-sized kitchen, apparently safe behind a latched door.
The problem is, raptors know how to open doors (HTS). This, of course, means the raptor Ellie left in the maintenance shed will be able to get out, so there will once again be three to contend with (off screen HTS). The one here in the kitchen is joined by its hunting partner, so now two raptors stalk the kids in one of the greatest cat-and-mouse sequences in the history of MITH movies, if not the entire history of movies, a sequence that surely feels like it will end in a gruesome HTS. However, Timmy succeeds in luring one of them inside a walk-in freezer, and as it slips on the icy floor he shuts it inside, sure to lock it in this time. One down, two to go. The other one has fallen while chasing Lex, so the kids have time to retreat to the control room where they join Grant and Ellie.
Secret Weapon/Dig Deep Down (1:53:30):
The control room’s electrical door lock mechanism has not yet been re-engaged via computer, so when the raptor appears it takes the strength of both Grant and Ellie to hold the door against it. That leaves no one to re-engage the system except… Lex, a proud computer hacker! Using her specialized knowledge she digs deep down and finds the controls for locking the mechanism before the raptor breaks through. All are jubilant at subverting what surely would have been an HTS of collective doom. She then brings up all the systems, including the phones. Grant calls Hammond in the emergency bunker: “Mr. Hammond, the phones are working. Now call the mainland and tell them to send the damn helicopters.”
Executing the New Plan (1:55:30):
The path to escape leads to the helo pad. But before Hammond can hang up the phone he hears gunshots. An off-screen HTS forces our team in the control room to climb into the air ducts as the raptor crashes through the bullet-hole weakened security glass. The tight space leads to a grating over construction platforms surrounding the centerpiece of the visitor’s center atrium, a full-scale skeletal mock-up of a T-Rex battling a Brachiosaur. The raptor has not been eluded, however, so everyone is forced to leap onto the flimsy skeletons, which buckle under the weight.
Not only is this an F&G reference to another film featuring a paleontologist, Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby (which also climaxes on a toppling dinosaur skeleton), but it’s also a reoccurrence of the motif of the past echoing against the ‘new present’ as a real raptor terrorizes them while they all spin on loosened sections of dinosaur fossils. The ceiling cables supporting the structure give way and everyone topples to the floor.
Final Twist/Transformation (1:57:16):
When things couldn’t possibly get worse, of course they do: the second raptor (the one that freed itself from the maintenance shed) arrives and our heroes are hemmed in on both sides by raptors — death by raptor now appears unavoidable (imminent HTS!). Just as Raptor One is about to pounce, we have delivered unto us Deus Rex Machina – the T-Rex (employing decidedly raptor-like tactics) strikes from the side and snatches the raptor mid-pounce, making a tasty morsel of it. Raptor Two, focusing on the new threat, jumps upon the T-Rex, allowing our heroes to escape.
Though the last-second appearance of T-Rex is convenient in the extreme, it is so emotionally satisfying that it’s hardly questioned. It is also, as Blake would be quick to point out, a Transformation: T-Rex, the alpha-predator, becomes man’s unwitting protector. As monster vanquishes monster, irony helps bury narrative convenience without a trace.
Hammond and Malcolm arrive in a Jeep to meet them. Grant, demonstrating heroic F&G quipster ability, tells Hammond he has decided “not to endorse your park.” Hammond, in his moment of clarity, responds, “So have I.” Hammond has finally learned his lesson. He has learned respect. As painful as it is, he gives up his dream for the good of all, and survives.
We return to T-Rex, who heaves Raptor Two into what’s left of the skeletons, demolishing them completely. In an absolutely sensational Fun & Games theatrical flourish to the scene and the entire movie, the T-Rex has the last word: it roars in triumph, striking the exact pose, in the exact spot, where its forebears’ skeleton stood moments before, past and present echoing against each other once again as a banner falls, the words clearly visible: “When dinosaurs ruled the earth” – as they do here, now, again.
It’s a colossal moment of Convergence/Synthesis, elevated to mythic heroism by John Williams’ triumphant theme reprising on the soundtrack. Spielberg’s genius as a showman has never been so flamboyantly and yet organically on display. This image also contrasts with the Opening Image, a perfect bookend to the raptor’s eye imprisoned inside the human cage: now we see T-Rex, in all its glory, master of mankind’s flimsy domain. Bravura storytelling. Bravura filmmaking.
FINAL IMAGE (1:58:50 – 2:00:00):
Inside the helo, Hammond wistfully looks upon his amber-topped cane, thinking of how close he came to achieving an impossible dream, and at what cost. This brilliantly brings the story back to its point of origin, the humble prehistoric mosquito that provided the crucial means for the Transformations concocted in Jurassic Park. The kids nestle into Grant’s protective arms, and Ellie approves, sharing a look with her partner that speaks of how far he’s come in his emotional/spiritual B Story journey – proof of Transformation.
Finally, Grant looks through the window and sees birds soaring outside, a magnificent pelican leading the way, and so past and present echo against each other a final time as the flying dinosaur and the flying man, two species accompanying one another on the rocky road of evolution, follow the sunbeam across the ocean towards an uncertain future, together.
- Rachel T.
Thanks, guys, for the great break-down! [i]Jurassic Park[/i] is one of my favorite books of all time, and the movie was inspirational in developing the MITH-Specific Beat Sheet: http://savethecat.informe.com/viewtopic.php?t=4280. I’m looking forward to seeing it again in 3D! :D
- Tom Reed
Hi Rachel. I loved your MITH-Specific Beat Sheet. And your terms are very Snyderian: Show The Sin, The Saboteur, The Nature of the Beast, Lock the Door, Turn off the Lights, Divide and Conquer, Release the Beast, First Blood, A Deal With the Devil, etc. I’m sure Blake applauds from his vantage point. I encourage you to finish it and share it with the community because it’s great work. I saw JP-3D last night and even though I’ve been deeply immersed in it for a couple of weeks, I still saw things I hadn’t before, and it still totally works on every level. That’s the nature of a true classic: endlessly re-experienceable. Thanks for bringing your beat sheet template to my attention.
- EMILY CARTER
Reading through the FABULOUS JP-analysis, it is obvious that the main characters all have independent stories which allows for the multiple CATALYST and DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL moments. It is like a master class in beats! Thank you.
- Tom Reed
Hi Emily. You bring up a good point. I think you’re right in the sense that there are basically two stories: Hammond’s and Grant’s. Hammond is linked with Jurassic Park itself; there’s sort of a one-to-one correspondence between them; he brought it into being and wants to protect it. The rest of the team all links to Grant. Grant, Ellie, Malcolm (and even Muldoon) all have the same A story — how do we survive Jurassic Park? Hammond’s A story is, how do I perfect it? This puts Hammond basically in the middle and helps create a great deal of tension in a very subtle way. Hammond is so deeply identified with JP that he’s almost delusional, because even after Gennaro and Nedry have been killed, his grandkids are lost in the park and the raptor fences are down, even then he’s talking about how Disneyland didn’t work when it first opened, which is just an absurdly clueless analogy, and Malcolm expresses this in one of the best lines of the movie, the quip about how the pirates in the PotC ride don’t eat the tourists. Both Hammond and Grant have catalysts beats, and both have their dark nights. Ellie and Malcolm share the same catalyst as Grant (brought to the island to evaluate it), and you could argue that they both have their own dark nights, too — they’re both almost eaten by dinosaurs, after all. And of course Muldoon is eaten. There’s no doubt the movie is brilliant in how it includes everyone in numerous ways all the way through. As John Truby would say, it has a very “tight story weave.” That’s putting it mildly. What struck me most when I saw it last night in 3D was how tight the “cinematic weave” is, and by that I mean the way it uses linking transitions to cut from scene to scene across parallel stories to ease the jump. It’s another reason why the movie feels so seamless. Mostly that stuff is not in the script so not the province of the writer; it’s all Spielberg, and it’s genius.
- Cory Milles
I just finished seeing the movie in 3D on the Mega Screen… wow, that was fun. And loud. I was able to look at it with fresh eyes, noticing things Tom pointed out, like the sound of the hawk in the background as Grant talked about raptors. In their trailer, I noticed “funny” dinosaur newsclippings, like “Dinosaurs Found on Mars,” implying that dinosaurs were actually alive. Ha! When it was over, I wanted to watch it again.
Rachel: I love your MITH breakdown. I am currently developing a YA novel that will be MITH, and I plan on using your ideas to help me plan it and make it stronger. Thanks so much!
Emily: I agree with you. Tom does a fabulous job!
- Kevin P
Love the break down! Great to see so many non-standard beat lengths, etc.
Just wanted to point out one of my favorite pieces of imagery from JP – when Malcolm ties together the two ‘female’ ends of his seatbelt to make it work. Perfectly reflects the ‘life finds a way’ theme of the female dinosaurs evolving to reproduce in the wild.
- Tom Reed
Hey Kevin. I LOVE that beat, too and thanks for bringing it up. It’s amazing how that little innocuous action foreshadows one of the biggest thematic ideas in the whole film. One correction, though: it’s not Malcolm who does it, it’s Grant. Grant is the one who’s out-of-step with technology, which this beat demonstrates, but it also demonstrates his adeptness at improvising his own life-saving techniques — of finding a new third way — so the beat quietly whispers that he’ll likely use such abilities to his advantage to survive dangerous circumstances. It communicates all of that in its quiet, playful way. Another example of storytelling beats that are kind of awesome in how multi-layered they are.
- Rachel T.
Tom, Cory, thank you so much for the encouragement! Cory, I’m glad you find it useful. And Tom, I will definitely go back and expand on it. Now that I’ve done a couple more of these, I can see how much there is still to add! :D
I’ll add that the kid at the beginning of the movie is a reflection of Dennis Nedry. To me, this is Nedry as a child both in looks and attitude…
“That doesn’t look very scary…more like a six foot turkey”
…the kid has as much respect here as Nedry does in the forest later on:
“Stick..stick stupid! Ehh, no wonder you’re extinct!”
Dr. Grant even foreshadows Nedry’s demise:
“The point is, you are alive when they start to eat you.”
- Tom Reed
I hadn’t connected those dots. I think you’re absolutely right. Outstanding insight.
“It is also, as Blake would be quick to point out, a Transformation: T-Rex, the alpha-predator, becomes man’s unwitting protector. As monster vanquishes monster, irony helps bury narrative convenience without a trace.”
Narrative convenience — or in other words, the Deus Ex Machina ending.
Couple things to say here.
1) What is the point of shoehorning a “structure” system into a flawed film? Shouldn’t your structure be creating perfect movies? (I love Jurassic Park–but it has a very, very Deus Ex Machina ending–and the book doesn’t).
And if your structure isn’t about creating perfect films, then what’s the point?
2) If you’re going to be revisionist about this, please get your own jargon correct.
There is no Transformation. The T-Rex isn’t consciously changing its mind about anything. It is just doing what it does–eating shit.
This analysis would be like saying when Bond is cornered by some villain, about to be thrown into a shark tank, and reverses the roles, tossing another nameless henchman into the shark tank–the shark ate the henchman instead of Bond out of a change of heart.
Very imaginative way to try and make a rigid structure fit where it doesn’t.
NOTE: I do agree that the dino on dino action helps bury this “narrative convenience.” But so does the T-Rex cool factor. In fact, isn’t the dino on dino action just playing to that cool factor?
3) And let’s just say for argument’s sake, the T-Rex did in fact change its mind (for no apparent reason). It suddenly thought to itself, “You know, that Alan Grant, he’s one cool dude.”
The T-Rex inexplicably stepping in to save the day is absolutely no different than Athena stepping in smacking the hand of mean old Ares for playing so rough with the poor little protagonists throughout the entire film/play — You know, the literal definition of Deus Ex Machina.
So you argue that this structure can create Deus Ex Machina. Uh, not sure that’s a selling point.
Wouldn’t you have a stronger argument if you took a film with a structure that doesn’t fit your guide and show where it went off course? Perhaps, how your methodology could have fixed the film or made it better?
Wouldn’t that be a better solution than trying to ham-fist it on where it doesn’t fit?
- Arran Arctic
I would disagree with James’s description of ‘Jurassic Park’ as “a flawed film” based on the ending alone (which is blatant deus-ex-machina in action. No excuses). The film has been so good up to this point, the random T-Rex appearance doesn’t really upset us that much.
What I would like to hear a response to is, to quote James again, the “shoehorning of a “structure” system” into a film that clearly doesn’t follow it.
Put simply; since Jurassic Park doesn’t follow the BS2 structure, but still works as a highly successful and entertaining movie (we all love it, right?!), then why bother trying to twist the BS2 to make a round peg fit a square hole?
- Tom Reed
Hi James and Arran. Thanks for chiming in. It may appear that I’m trying to fit a square peg into a round hole in my application of the BS2 because of my extremely liberal interpretation of two of Blake’s key terms, “Transformation” and “Fun and Games.” I admit my interpretation is broader than what Blake describes in his books, but I find a broad interpretation to be more useful in both analysis and the creative process. As for the Deus Ex Machina ending, I believe it is a bonafide Transformation, a huge one, from the perspective of the characters in the scene and certainly the audience. It’s true that the T-Rex isn’t making a conscious choice to change, so it is not an internal, psychological transformation. This is not one of Largo’s sharks deciding not to kill Bond. But the viewer’s perceptions about it change radically in that moment. That’s one kind of Transformation, in my view, and a very powerful (and useful) one. The event is a giant reversal of expectation, but it’s also loaded with irony – the T-Rex saves the heroes unwittingly. It’s accidental. This irony helps sell it, as does the brilliant music and the direction. And yes, the coolness. I should note also that I do not automatically judge Deus Ex Machina as objectively “bad,” despite prevailing attitudes in writing guru circles. What’s bad is Deux Ex Machina that is utterly implausible. To me, they made it plausible. They also pulled it off with panache. Panache counts for a lot. A LOT! It’s a kind of Fun & Games, one of the most important. Now back to the broader question, am I shoehorning Jurassic Park into the BS2? That wasn’t my intention at all. I am very interested to see how films depart from the template, and in what ways, and if those ways help the story or hurt it. I did a blog a few months back on the film FLIGHT and pointed out how it departed from the structure in ways which I thought hurt the film. I feel, however, that Jurassic Park follows the template remarkably closely, with the exception of a prolonged debate (in order to cover all the science) artfully intermingled with Set-Up and Fun & Games. These departures did not hurt the film. They were completely organic and shows the flexibility of the tool. Finally I’d just like to say that the more I work with the BS2 the more invaluable it proves in helping me understand how stories work. Indispensible, really. So I may just get myself a Blake Snyder Club T-Shirt. Cheers.
- Dutch Uncle
While impressed by the detailed analysis, I am *de*pressed by the number of references to being “late” or “out of sequence” or “departing from the template” as compared to a “mainstream” movie. If every dish were the same, there would be no variety of restaurants and no cooking shows; the whole point is often that one can make different-tasting dishes out of pretty much the same core ingredients. I feel the same way about music, books, and movies – yes, even Shakespeare becomes somewhat formulaic, and yes, it has been said that there are only 3 or 4 story plots in the universe, but if everything has to be exactly the same at exactly the same page, where is the novelty and variety of anything new? It seems to me that it is the *variations* on the themes – including all of the expected standards but with different degrees and timings – that make things novel and memorable.
Nobody at Warner Brothers thought “Casablanca” was anything special, but it had something different that has made it a classic. Rather than figure out how it was the same as everything else, one would think the money is in figuring out that special difference.
- Tom Reed
Thanks for your response and I couldn’t agree with you more. As you point out, it’s the thoughtful variations in form that create those “special differences,” what makes things unique, what makes it art. What I was trying to do with the JURASSIC PARK analysis was show how carefully it holds to form (employing all the beats in the appropriate order) while at the same time knowingly departs from it for its own purposes. It’s the writer’s job to know when to do so, and to know the pros and cons of doing so. One of the potential cons is that virtually all material (i.e., scripts) must first pass through an indescribably narrow and forgiving gauntlet of agents and executives, the gatekeepers for material, who (not being creators themselves) are much more concerned with the rules of formula than writers, so in order to pass by them scripts generally need to hew very closely to what is considered standard form. This is the conventional wisdom that rules Hollywood and yes, it’s depressing. Someone with Spielberg’s power doesn’t have to worry about conventional wisdom when it comes getting a greenlight (at least not on JURASSIC PARK), though even with all of his clout LINCOLN was almost made as a TV movie. Is that depressing? Of course. Could CASABLANCA ever be made in the system we find today? Doubtful. Is it true that the studio system makes 90% of their product for 12-18 year-old males and the international audience? You betcha. That’s the world we live in. If you read Blake’s book/s you’ll see how he was trying to help writers craft stories that sell, and that means knowing standard form cold, and the rules of genre, while at the same time he advocated writers to write from the heart, and find something original to say. I think he was all about finding the “special differences” while intelligently navigating the unforgiving pathways of the system. Finally, I just want to say (if it wasn’t clear in my analysis), I’m a giant fan of JURASSIC PARK. I think it’s a classic. I think it totally works on every level, and its departures from form are perfectly calibrated. The point isn’t following form by rote (though some agents and executives might think so), the point is making the form your own. I hope that clarifies my position for you.
The JP ending does violate one of the rules of storytelling as taught to me: the protagonist gets at most one unlikely or impossible coincidence or suspension of disbelief moment, always and only at the beginning of the story. The story will often need such an event — it’s usually the catalyst — or they just sit there in day-to-day life without anything interesting to do or say. Spider-Man without the spider bite? JP without DNA from amber-embedded mosquitoes? But once we’re in the new world created by the improbability or impossibility, that’s it for the protagonists: they’re on their own, with luck and coincidence banished from their side of the story. The antagonists, however, can and do benefit from coincidence and improbabilities. That’s how we pile on the problems for the protagonists. In JP, the T-Rex feels like deus ex machine — but is it really? T-Rex is the main antagonist of the story. If the protagonists escape from the velociraptors on their own, is that a satisfying ending? I think not: we have a lack of resolution for the main antagonist, the T-Rex. So T-Rex had to come back into the story. Spielberg could have had the protagonists run into T-Rex while running away from the velociraptors, and then have the dinosaurs fight it out over who gets the human treats. The humans escape while the dinosaurs fight.
I liked Spielberg’s choice here; more fun, more irony, more cinematic.
For me the reason the “Deus..” ending works, is that it has already been sufficiently, if quite subtly, set up.
– The overall theme is hubris; nature is unpredictable, and uncontrollable, no matter how smart we get. Only in this one case does the unpredictability work in their favor.
– “They’re animals. They do what they do.” This particularly allows for something unpredictable, and in the end good, to happen.
– And maybe best of all, we’ve had “Raptors are smart” repeatedly rammed down our throats. By the end of the film we know what happens to “smart” creatures, right? They get eaten by dumb-ol’ nature in its most elemental form: a T-Rex.
Personally I think it’s a lovely choice, as there’s no other way to keep the T-Rex on top, which is where we’ve known (since we were 9 years old…) is exactly where she belongs.
Leave a Reply Cancel reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
I must say, Tom, you’ve done an amazing job with this. I’m excited to go see this movie again this weekend with the ability to watch it at a whole new level. Thanks!