To begin with, you'd think that the rather perverse set-up of making a children's movie that you can't take kids to see would be self-sabotaging enough. But no, not when dealing with the mighty Spielberg money machine. Because everything Spielberg touches that has to do with little boys' obsessions (sharks, extraterrestrials, dinosaurs) rakes in billions and is instant fodder for worldwide merchandising (and ad imagery).
Spielberg has an unparalleled aptitude to milk these little-boy fantasies to their theme park, roller-coaster, multi-billion-dollar heights. But he's ambivalent about this talent, because while the kiddie movies are always surefire hits, his grown-up movies have never gotten their due. So this time, he's going to give us a family movie that mean-spiritedly uses children as dino-bait and yet kills off anybody who doesn't have a family.
And nowhere is the hate-it-but-sell-it conflict clearer than in the movie's self-aware dialogue about merchandising, while at the same time it visually promotes the hell out of the very same logo, the T-shirts, the lunchboxes, etc. The anti-merchandising statement is given to chaos theory mathematician Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum in full biker gear (and his own weird black glasses that seem half German filmmaker, half Nana Mouskouri). He explains to John Hammond, Jurassic Park's jolly entrepreneur owner (played by Sir Richard Attenborough), that you just can't will something to happen, no matter how brilliantly developed and computer-generated, without considering the consequences. "You've patented it, packaged it and splashed it on a plastic lunchbox. And now you're selling it," he says (and creating chaos). The camera swoop into the gift shop also includes a shot of the cover of the book of the making of the movie. It gets so inside it's out there.
Goldblum is not the only character who seems to be speaking directly to Spielberg's own conflicts. Laura Dern plays Dr. Ellie Satler, who at 22 is supposed to be the world's foremost paleo-botanist. In the beginning at least, with all those demure hehehe's in the direction of her 45-year-old boyfriend, paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), she seems to be playing June Lockhart. I was a little worried about this transformation from David Lynch character to Lassie's mother, but then again, Spielberg heroines are mostly there to scream, climb ropes and look great in Banana Republic wear. Thankfully, however, by the end, she recovers her movie. And during the blackest hour, she screams at Park-owner Hammond, "But you can't think through this. You have to feel it." This is a speech Spielberg has no doubt heard from several ex-wives and girlfriends.
From there, the movie becomes quite feminist, practically Velociraptor and Louise, as Hammond's granddaughter, the pubescent computer hacker queen, manages to save the day.
Throughout the movie, of course, the tension is underscored by a classic John Williams soundtrack. It's pharmacological music, prozac Muzac: You are programmed to have a mood swing. So in the end, the message seems to be that greed kills. And where, one wonders, does that leave our ever-suffering Steven Spielberg?
Copyright Adweek L.P. (1993)