The Story Geeks’ blogger Ashley Pauls responds with her own take on the questions discussed in the podcast.
1. This movie shows up on a lot of “best of” lists. What does this movie mean to you?
I’m not surprised this movie is a favorite of many geeks and movie fans. It works on a surface level as a fun blockbuster; seeing dinosaurs on the big screen brings out the kid in all of us. However, there are also some deeper themes at work here, which is why I think the movie has aged as well as it has — and continues to remain so popular. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it; as cool as it sounds, is bringing dinosaurs back really a good idea? (The films seem to indicate that no, it really isn’t.) We see what happens when human arrogance results in the breakdown of park security and leads to a rather harrowing adventure for our heroes.
Although it didn’t *quite* make my recent top 10 geek films list for the Story Geeks, “Jurassic Park” is still one of my favorites, and I always enjoy watching it whenever I get a chance.
2. The idea of genetic engineering, this incredibly powerful scientific achievement, is immediately taken by John Hammond and turned into an attraction. He literally takes the ability to create real, living dinosaurs, and he turns it into an amusement park. That seems like such an American thing to do. What value do amusement parks hold? Why are they a part of Americana?
I’m actually not a huge amusement park fan, with the exception of Disney World/Land. (It doesn’t matter how old you are — that place truly is magical, and even visiting it for the first time at the age of 28, it lived up to the hype.) 😉
But I can definitely see the appeal of the amusement park experience: the rides, the guilty-pleasure junk food, the music, the blur of activity, and all the sights, sounds, and smells. It offers a chance to escape to a giant playground for a day. Especially as a kid, it seems like a transcendent experience, even if as an adult you’re focused more on the sun beating down on you, the high-priced concessions, and the fact that some of the rides now give you nausea. 😉
Amusement parks seek to mass-produce excitement and wonder for the widest possible audience; sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t. The best parks, like Disney, really do transport you to another world and are, to me, well worth the price of admission. The problem with Jurassic Park is that it seeks to commercialize something that really shouldn’t be commercialized — genuinely dangerous dinosaurs — and puts people’s safety at risk for the sake of profit.
3. John Hammond is driven by this business endeavor. He wants to see his dream become a reality. It’s almost like a more modern version of Walt Disney. How do you think his drive is helping or hurting him, particularly as it relates to the very serious and potentially dangerous aspects of Jurassic Park?
John Hammond is a really fascinating character. He definitely sees himself as a visionary, but sometimes he lets his imagination take precedence over reality, and that puts people at risk.
We need dreamers in this world — people who are willing to take risks to make their “big ideas” happen. However, sometimes a person’s vision can end up becoming this negative force that drives them onwards long after they should have slowed down or even stopped.
Hammond is so determined to introduce Jurassic Park to the world that he doesn’t really stop and fully examine the potential dangers and security threats that could be created by his park. Although it’s easy to sit back and judge him as we watch this film, there are plenty of real-life examples of people like John Hammond who don’t think about the consequences of their ideas.
4. Jeff Goldblum’s character, Ian Malcolm, says, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they COULD, they never stopped to think if they SHOULD.” Should ethics play a role in science, or is science amoral?
I believe ethics should play a role in EVERY field of study, and science is no exception. It’s important to have standards that guide our actions and help us evaluate our decisions.
That quote from Dr. Malcolm perfectly captures the theme of the “Jurassic Park” franchise, and really, it should be a question we all ask ourselves every day. “Why am I doing this? Should I do this?” Just because something is possible does not mean that it is ethical.
We shouldn’t necessarily be afraid to take risks and make bold hypotheses, because great scientific discoveries have come from scientists who were willing to experiment bravely. Yet at the same time, we have to think about the consequences of our actions and how we may impact others. John Hammond didn’t care as much as he should have about what ethical compromises he was making, and other people ended up paying the price.
5. Piggy-backing off that question, the same could be said for animal rights and our environment. What ethical obligations do we have to the animal kingdom and our environment? Does Hammond go too far, and if so, how?
I also believe that we have a responsibility to be good stewards of this planet, and that means treating our surroundings with respect. This includes major things like treating animals with kindness and smaller things like not throwing trash out the window as we drive down the highway. Maybe someday far in the future, we’ll set up a colony on the moon or Mars, but for right now, this planet is all we have, and we need to be mindful of that fact.
However, I think Hammond goes too far by messing with things beyond his control and upsetting the balance in nature. There’s more than a little arrogance in his thought that he can bring back dinosaurs and keep them under control. He ends up opening a proverbial Pandora’s Box that leads to dinosaurs being weaponized in later films.
6. Dennis Nedry, one the computer programmers for Jurassic Park, causes the ultimate breakdown in park systems — which plunges the park into chaos — because he wants to sell Jurassic Park’s secrets to a third party. Similarly, in “Jurassic World,” we see several human errors and mistakes that release the Indominus Rex and that result in chaos. Ian Malcolm’s character, as a chaostician, believes that chaos will ALWAYS impact controlled systems, and that pits his worldview as opposing John Hammond’s, because Hammond believes he can build a controlled system that’s safe. Who do you side with and why?
I mean, I’m always #TeamJeffGoldblum. 😉 But more seriously, I think that no matter how hard we as humans try, we’ll never be able to completely control our surroundings. We can make what seem like perfect plans, where every detail has been well thought out, and then something unexpected can still pop up and throw a wrench in the whole operation, as the saying goes.
Dr. Malcom is right — there will always be a certain amount of chaos in our world, and we can’t always plan for it. That doesn’t mean we should just give up and embrace the chaos and assume all our plans will end in disaster. As a planner and frequent list-maker, I think there’s still a lot of value in coming up with a good gameplan. 😉 Yet at the same time, it is foolish to assume that we can 100 percent control outside factors. Jurassic Park and Jurassic World both should have included better disaster response planning.
7. Dr. Alan Grant, a paleontologist, shares — very early on in the film — that he doesn’t love kids. And then the story throws him into multiple scenarios where he’s forced to interact with Tim and Lex, Hammond’s grandchildren. This is a film about dinosaurs and theme parks, and yet the character development is around a character who doesn’t like kids. Do you think that’s a critical part of this story, and if so, why?
I don’t know if it’s necessarily a critical part of the story and its overarching themes, but it is a character trait that’s relevant to the plot. It is very interesting to see Dr. Grant take on a protective role once the park descends into chaos.
The decision of whether or not a person wants to have children is a complex one. Some people want to have children, perhaps one or two or perhaps more; other people have chosen not to have any children; and still others want to have children but have not been able to due to circumstances outside their control. And there are many other feelings/responses I haven’t covered here. Dr. Grant not wanting to have kids is okay; Dr. Sattler later choosing to have kids is also okay! People should be treated with respect and understanding for their different choices.
What makes Dr. Grant a hero is that he chooses to protect the kids when they are in danger, because that’s what any good person would do. It isn’t really relevant whether he “likes” them or not; good people look out for each other, and that’s exactly what Dr. Grant does.
8. Steven Spielberg is a master of suspense. And “Jurassic Park” is chock full of suspense. What elements must be present in a story for you to feel like you need to be on the edge of your seat?
I think the key ingredient for successfully building suspense in film is teasing the audience with what’s coming but still maintaining a sense of mystery/uncertainty. For example, while watching “Jurassic Park,” we know dangerous dinos are out there, but we don’t know exactly when or where they’ll show up next. Even if dinosaurs aren’t on-screen at the moment, we fear that they could show up at any time.
The best directors drop hints of what’s to come, allowing the viewer to speculate and become fully engaged with the story. If the director reveals too much, the film won’t feel as suspenseful, because we’ve already guessed what’s going to happen. At the same time, if the director doesn’t cultivate a sense of danger (i.e. a dinosaur just pops up out of nowhere, with no context), the moment won’t be as impactful.
Also, if the film features well-written, sympathetic characters, we’ll be more invested in the story because we’re rooting for them to survive and/or succeed. I like the main characters in “Jurassic Park,” and I don’t want anything bad to happen to them. I get really into films like this because the characters matter to me, and I’m nervous about their fate.
9. The movie doesn’t delve into spirituality much, but one scene does stand out. The lawyer Hammond hires, a guy named Donald Gennaro, is a very weasel-y, spineless character — maybe the least likable character in the film. After the T-Rex appears, he runs out of the car, yells “Jesus,” and then proceeds to sit in the bathroom reciting Hail Marys. And then he gets eaten. What do you think that says us about religion and spirituality?
It’s interesting that Gennaro — a character that doesn’t strike us as overly spiritual earlier in the film — turns to Hail Marys in his final moments. In a film, we never know a character’s thoughts unless they’re spoken, but we can infer how they think/feel based on their actions. We have to ask ourselves just how sincere Gennaro’s prayers may or may not be. Is he a person that regularly prays, or did he just decide to pray when he was facing down a T-Rex? Based on how the film portrays Gennaro, I don’t think we’re really meant to see him as a person with pure motives.
Although the film makers may not have intended it this way, that scene is actually a little convicting for me. As a person of faith, I find myself praying most intently when I’m in trouble or afraid. Really, I should be doing this on a day-to-day basis; I need to rely on God ALL the time, not just when the going gets tough.
10. The main concept of the film, which is explored in many stories (and was mentioned by Anthony on The Story Cauldron podcast), deals with man’s hubris, and the idea that when we attempt to play God, we create disaster instead. Hammond plays the god figure, and we see the result of his hubris. Why does that theme show up in so many stories, and what can we learn from it?
I think this theme shows up in a lot of stories because it’s so applicable to real life. History is full of people who attempted to play God, assuming they knew what was best for the world. This excessive pride and self-confidence not only set them up for a devastating fall, it damaged many other people’s lives as well.
Although we may not have the same level of power as world leaders or even business developers like John Hammond, many of us display hubris on a smaller scale in our day-to-day lives. Maybe we decide to ignore the instructions on a home remodeling project, only to have all the paint flake off or the cement crack because we thought we could skip a few steps to save time. (Watching one DIY video on YouTube always makes you a pro, right?) 🙂 Maybe we ignore a co-worker’s words of caution and end up losing the company money on a failed program. Bad things always happen when we decide that WE ALONE know best, and that we don’t need advice and input from others.
The most important lesson we can learn from John Hammond is to recognize our own hubris (yes, we ALL have it). Once we’ve identified it, we can admit our weaknesses and seek wise counsel from those around us. Friends and family members can help keep us accountable, and in turn we can do the same for them.