Jurassic Park

“Clever Girl”: The Value of Sharing Knowledge in ‘Jurassic Park’

Jurassic Park is my earliest movie memory. I saw it at the Criterion Theater in Bar Harbor, Maine when I was four years old. I sat in the balcony. My memories of that time should be dim, but they aren’t, because my love of that movie was massive and it lasted the whole summer—not to mention the rest of my life. I remember seeing the toys on shelves, the video games, you name it. I even remember buying my first Jurassic Park figure, the electronic screeching Velociraptor. I’ve been a dinosaur kid as far back as I can remember, but Jurassic Park opened up that passion in absolutely massive ways and my love of it kind of defined the decade for me, to a degree. I collected the toys, I watched the film repeatedly on video, I had the games, I read the book for the first time in either second or third grade. And when The Lost World came out, I got to do all of that all over again. That score, the sound of the approaching T-Rex’s heavy footstep, that roar, all of those are sounds that immediately take me back to my childhood. Even more than that, it was a love shared with my dad. He always wanted to take me fishing, camping, kind of hoped I’d get interested in sports, and my focus wasn’t really there. So movies were our thing, they were our common ground, and Jurassic Park was one of his all-time favorites. I even remember him sitting beside me in the theater that summer, saying “Wow” under his breath when the Brachiosaurus appeared for the first time. 

As a kid, though, I was in it for the dinosaurs. I didn’t realize just how brilliant of a movie Jurassic Park was until later. Further, constant viewings as I got older only came to cement it as one of my favorite films of all time, easily. Obviously I wasn’t alone, as it became one of the biggest blockbusters ever made. I think there are a lot of reasons for that. First and foremost, there were the special effects. I think those are probably what are still most talked about to this day. It absolutely revolutionized the use of CGI in movies and I think many would agree that it holds up better than almost anything else from that decade, in that regard. But there’s definitely a reason for that. Jurassic Park holds up so well, in terms of spectacle, because it is one of the few films to perfectly understand the balance between CGI and practical FX. The CGI dinosaurs are believable because you get so much that stunning animatronic work by Stan Winston. In fact, you see the animatronic dinosaurs substantially more than the CGI ones in that film, and many more shots are practically, physically done than most would realize, including that iconic close-up of the T-Rex’s pupil dilating. 

It’s also a Steven Spielberg blockbuster that felt dangerous. That’s obviously discounting the serious dramas he had started to make by that point. In terms of blockbusters, it felt like early Spielberg in that regard. Hook certainly hadn’t felt dangerous, not in the way that Jaws or Raiders had, by any stretch. But Jurassic Park, for all of its wide appeal and sweeping sense of adventure, genuinely felt like anything could happen to anyone, and even if you expected most of these characters to survive, it was hard to say just how intact they’d be. Even still, it is much, much lighter than the novel in that regard. In the book, everything does happen to pretty much everyone, and it’s far more violent than anything the movie could have gotten away with. Whereas the movie is a thrill ride about novelty science run amok, and how corporate mistakes cost real human lives. The book, on the other hand, is a pitch-black horror comedy about theme parks getting their overdue comeuppance. It’s about the ugly underbelly of corporate entertainment, and it is not remotely subtle. It goes for Walt Disney’s throat and bites down hard. Basically, if you imagine this movie if it were directed by Larry Cohen instead of Spielberg, that’s the book. 

Yet even though the film might not have quite the same focus as the book it’s adapted from, it is still a very smart movie, and without a doubt one of the best blockbusters ever made. And I think a great deal of that success, to me, lies in how well the film handles knowledge. Some of it’s very obvious. Everyone can name the most famous line in the movie, where Ian Malcolm lays out his disdain for what John Hammond has created with Jurassic Park, saying “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” This is, after all, about an obscenely costly scientific breakthrough done solely for the purposes of entertainment, with absolutely no other value, that could completely overthrow the ecosystem and that’s if the park went off without a hitch. And we all know that wasn’t the case. The story hinges on a group of experts, the most knowledgable people in their respective fields. They’re being called in to inspect the island, each of them giving their professional opinion on whether or not Jurassic Park is safe to open to the public. 

And they are, ultimately, too late. That’s the tragedy, in a nutshell. It’s obvious right from the get-go, as this panel of experts are only being called in after a park employee has been killed. There’s every chance that, had that not happened, Dr. Grant, Malcolm, and Ellie Sattler would never have seen the island otherwise. As genuine as Hammond is about wanting to make peoples’ dreams come true, about wanting to change the world, to just make people happy with this park, he still is only doing this tour because he has to do it. That is, I think, the unsung genius of this movie. It highlights at pretty much every turn that these people’s opinions are valuable and are absolutely necessary, but calling them in this late in the game is a moot point. Jurassic Park would have benefited from their knowledge, had people like Grant, Malcolm and Sattler been consultants from the very beginning, though they—especially Malcolm—would likely have done whatever they could to talk Hammond out of the idea. But now, with everything already in motion, their knowledge can be used for nothing but to save their own lives. 

This is a recurring theme throughout the whole movie, embodied in virtually every character. Not only do characters rely on their knowledge to get them through the situation, especially Dr. Grant, but so many characters die because, for all of their own expertise, they don’t know something that another character does. To me, nothing showcases the value of communication, of sharing knowledge and collaboration between experts better than that. Muldoon is the perfect example. He’s studied predators all over the world, nobody knows dangerous animals like he does. Muldoon knows these raptors better than anyone, but for all his knowledge and for all the time he’s spent with them, he doesn’t know raptors in general and it ultimately gets him killed. When he dies, he is killed in exactly the same way Grant described a raptor attack to a traumatized kid at the beginning of the movie. The raptor you’re seeing is the distraction, the attack comes from the side. If he had known what Grant knew, he would have known what the raptor was doing and he would have lived. But because this communication of knowledge is reactionary, there’s no way for him to know that. So he dies in a situation that Grant surely would have survived if he were in the exact same position. 

Ellie, meanwhile, is constantly pointing out the plant life, and how the Jurassic Park scientists have recreated species without even knowing what they are, not even knowing which ones are toxic or not. She at first suspects that the Triceratops has gotten sick by eating toxic vegetation, because it’s clear to her very early on that nobody has the faintest idea about the varying plant life they’ve engineered here, which could have disastrous consequences even if the park had opened smoothly. 

Then, of course, there is Dennis Nedry. He dies because he knows nothing about dinosaurs. When the Dilophosaurus corners him, he doesn’t even know what species it is. Had he even ever listened to the automated voice of the tour guide outside that enclosure, he would have known to watch out for the dinosaur’s paralyzing venom, but he didn’t. However, the knowledge he does have proves to the most valuable in the entire film. Nedry is planning to sell embryos to a rival company because he feels his knowledge is undervalued, that he’s not being paid enough for the work that he does, and given that the park completely falls apart without him, he might be kind of right in that regard.

Still, he doesn’t get too much credit, as he’s the one who sabotaged the whole computer system in the first place. Even Operations Manager Mr. Arnold doesn’t know how to undo the virus that crashes the system, literally saying that he “cannot get Jurassic Park back online without Dennis Nedry.” The only thing that saves them in the end is Lex’s knowledge of hacking, which has been completely dismissed whenever she’s brought it up. Even as far-fetched a solution as this is, it’s great to see the undervalued kid be the one to save the day. Especially given the fact that Tim seemed to have a leg up on his older sister throughout the whole movie in that he already knew so much about dinosaurs. Lex is the only one who seems utterly helpless, with no knowledge that might help her out of her situation, until she finally has her moment at the end and saves everyone’s lives. 

At the same time, there is also the “life finds a way” message at the heart of Jurassic Park, that nature can’t be controlled, and even the best scientists in the world can’t create an ecosystem from scratch and demand it run exactly the way they see fit, because life is too unpredictable for that. I don’t think that negates the movie’s larger themes on the value of knowledge, but rather balances them out pretty well. 

Jurassic Park remains one of my all-time favorite films and I’d imagine it always will. It’s the best kind of blockbuster, as packed with heart and exceptionally well crafted characters as it is packed with spectacle. So much of its success lies in the way it celebrates the intelligence of its characters while also hammering home the fact that corporations don’t care about that potentially life-saving intelligence until they have to. It’s not an easy feat to get away with in a massive studio tentpole movie, and all the more impressive for it. Jurassic Park is the kind of blockbuster we rarely see any more, one we have rarely even seen since it came out, but a kind that I’d like to believe is not quite yet extinct.

  1. I can’t read the screen. I’m 65 years old and the contrast between the font and the screen is much, much too low.

    Please do something about this. It’s awful. There are color charts available, to define acceptable contrast.

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