The Lovecraftian Horrors of Jurassic Park

Last night I saw Jurassic Park in 3D for the second and final time, and it was just as thrilling and amazing as it was when I first saw it twenty years ago, and just as awesome in 3D as it was when I first saw it that way three weeks ago. Interestingly, rewatching this wonderful film as an adult, and as a writer, made it a slightly different experience at age 32 than it was at age 12. My thoughts:

I still think it’s nearly the perfect film. The effects are amazing because they don’t over-rely on CGI like many recent movies do. The acting is stellar, every part pitch-perfect, right down to realistic reactions to the dinosaurs, especially Laura Dern’s scream as the T-rex bears down on the jeep,  which still causes every hair on my body to stand on end. The music continues to be one of the most inspired scores John Williams has ever written, making my heart swell every time the helicopter flies over the island or when the characters get their first view of the dinosaurs (just listening to this clip while I pasted it into this post made me all teary-eyed).

And of course, there’s my crush on Dr. Ian Malcolm, which I was unsurprised to find is still in full force. You can’t argue with Jeff Goldblum though, he’s a heartthrob for all ages.

Dr. Conveniently Shirtless manages to be sexy despite being injured. That's a skill!

Dr. Conveniently Shirtless will see you now

These are features I admired as a kid and continue to admire as an adult. Of course now, I also notice other aspects of the film, like the three-act structure, and the brilliant way Crichton establishes characters with just a few easy lines of dialogue.

I definitely noticed some troubling things in my adult viewings, however. The movie is rife with silly plot-convenient behavior, like Dr. Grant and the children climbing over the perimeter fence even though the spaces are clearly big enough for the children to fit through (and why would you have spaces that big to begin with, in a park where children might climb through the fence and be eaten by a T-rex?). More irritatingly, there are a few lazy tropes, like Denis Nedry as the Evil Greedy Fat Guy and Dr. Sattler’s sudden blonde ditz moment when discussing Chaos Theory with Dr. Malcolm. This woman is a professional paleobotanist and therefore a certifiable genius, there’s no way this discussion is over her head unless she’s deliberately playing dumb to flirt with him. She’s either the Stupid Blonde or pretending to be a stupid blonde, and both are equally unacceptable. Basically Dr. Sattler is conveniently ditzy for a moment so Malcolm will have an excuse to be a sleaze (characterization) and expound on Chaos Theory (exposition). It’s very forced and frankly, lazy writing.

I'm not a ditz, I just pretend to be one in movies when the plot requires it.

I’m not a ditz, I just pretend to be one in movies when the plot requires someone to ask a stupid question.

Something else I noticed, and the thing that gives this post its title: Jurassic Park is not an action movie. It’s straight-up horror, and, more to the point, Lovecraftian horror. The film takes its time to give us background, characterization, and setting, all building to horrifying revelations, which was precisely the way Lovecraft laid out his most successful horror stories. More pointedly, the story is about the intersection of human science, mathematics, and forces beyond our control. My favorite Lovecraft stories are about men discovering forbidden continents or forbidden mathematics. The characters, like John Hammond, think they can control their discoveries and inventions but in the end, chaos proves too powerful and no one escapes alive or sane. Lovecraft’s horror stories could be taken as cautionary tales, warning the burgeoning post-Victorian scientific community to slow down and ask not whether they can push humanity beyond its current limits, but rather whether it should.

It's hard to be so sexy and so smart.

It’s hard to be so sexy and so smart.

And naturally, just as in a Lovecraftian tale, everyone in Jurassic Park either ends up dead or horribly traumatized (if there wasn’t enough gore and death in the movie for you, check out the book, where even fewer people survive) because they played with forces beyond their control. And I think therein lies my obsession with this movie: the same thing that drives my obsession with Lovecraft. The horror of the unknown, the horror of loss of control, the horror of digging our own graves because we, as a species, are unable to leave Good Enough alone. Curiosity killed the cat…and drove his owner insane.

As a final comment, I want to say that Jurassic Park is one of the few films that I think actually benefited from the 3D treatment. If you missed being chased by a T-rex in all its 3D wonder, don’t worry, people in the know say that in the next five years we’ll all have 3D televisions anyway. So you won’t have to wait another 20 years to have a velociraptor jump right at your face. That…sounds less appealing than it ought to.

SO MUCH CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

SO MUCH CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

I think I’ll go watch The Lost World now.

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