|I had no beef with Jurassic World - it's a very fun film!|
I recognize that Stephen Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is a beloved movie that won a lot of awards, and many people have fond memories of seeing it. For those much younger than I, it was a life-changing event, sort of like Star Wars was to me as a kid. But I saw the film as an adult fan of Michael Crichton, having read everything he had written up to that point. Decades later, Crichton’s Jurassic Park remains one of my all-time favorite novels. With the story Crichton wrote, Spielberg had the opportunity to create a truly great film. But instead, for reasons I will never understand, he chose to eliminate one of the single most important elements of any story – the antagonist.
|Perhaps my expectations were too high?|
Every great story needs one, and it’s been that way for thousands of years. Star Wars needed Darth Vader, just like Harry Potter needed Lord Voldemort and Gladiator needed Emperor Commodus. But who plays the antagonist in Spielberg’s Jurassic Park?
It’s certainly not InGen’s archrival, Biosyn, who hired Newman from Seinfeld to steal some embryos. Newman gets eaten halfway through the story, and the Biosyn folks aren’t even on the island. Also, the dinosaurs were going to eventually get loose, despite whatever Biosyn did. Just ask Dr. Ian Malcolm about chaos theory.
|These guys aren't the antagonists of Jurassic Park (or in the new film either).|
It’s not the T-Rex either, as awesome as she was in the film. Or the velociraptors who don’t appear until the third act. Technically, they were all forms of “antagonists” since they stood in the way of the protagonists. But animals rarely make great antagonists. Their motives are never nefarious enough or human enough. Because, after all, they’re animals.
Of course, there are exceptions like in Jaws and Alien. But in those films, the monster is always present, almost from the beginning to the end. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, however, were just minding their own business until the power went out. And once they get free, who can blame them for what they did?
So if the dinosaurs aren’t the true antagonist, which “main” character was to blame for the story’s big problem? (Again, Newman from Seinfeld isn’t it.) Who was standing in the heroes’ way to resolution? In the movie, NO ONE. But that wasn’t the case in the book.
|One of my favorite books of all time!|
Crichton’s novel had a very well-crafted and despicable antagonist who was to blame for the story’s problem. His name was John Hammond. Yes, the man Spielberg portrayed as a Santa Clause-like grandpa. He was never a threat to anyone, just a dotting, old, rich man who regretted putting his grandchildren in harm’s way.
The real John Hammond – the one Crichton created as an essential piece of his story – is a cold and ruthless businessman tinkering with nature like Dr. Frankenstein. When he thinks about his grandchildren, it’s always “those damned kids!” The book’s Hammond is so blinded by greed he can’t see that it’s dangerous to play God, which is exactly what he does by bringing dinosaurs back after so many millions of years. In fact, that’s the entire point of the story.
Here’s a snippet of dialogue from the book’s Hammond that sums up his motives:
“This is our triumph, this park. We have done what we set out to do. And, you remember, our original intent was to use the newly emerging technology of genetic engineering to make money. A lot of money. … If you were going to start a bioengineering company, Henry, what would you do? Would you make products to help mankind, to fight illness and disease? Dear me, no. That’s a terrible idea. A very poor use of new technology.”
In the end, Hammond comes face to face with his own creation: a pack of chicken-sized dinosaurs called compys who promptly devour their creator. Hammond’s demise is symbolic and drives home the book’s theme. If Spielberg’s Hammond had played this same role, the film would have been so much richer and better than what ultimately made it onto the screen.
|Indominus Rex is a true antagonist!|
All this said, I loved seeing the dinosaurs brought to life in Jurassic Park, and it’s clear that the strides Spielberg made in terms of special effects paved the way for more than twenty years of cinema. But when I compare it to the book, the movie falls short.
Fortunately, Jurassic World does not make this same mistake. There is both a human antagonist and a monster antagonist done right. At times, some of the scenes with the monster (a genetically engineered killing machine called Indominus Rex) even reminded me of Alien. They were that well done. It may have taken twenty-two years, but in Jurassic World we finally get a real antagonist. And we come close to getting the story Jurassic Park could have been.
* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes