Category Archives: Filmmakers

“The Mule” misses some merit but meets most of its mission

Clint Eastwood’s films have all been about regret and the old world clashing against the new world. He serves as a wise old sage in many respects, a symbol of past Americana, both great and flawed, and how it crashes against new social norms. In films like “Million Dollar Baby” and “Gran Torino”, his nuanced, simple approach works well and develops strong themes. “The Mule” is not near as successful, but nevertheless has some strong points.

Eastwood plays Earl Stone, a 90-year-old horticulturalist who doesn’t have enough money to pay for his granddaughter’s wedding or his mortgage or any number of other expenses. When he is approached about becoming a drug runner, he jumps at the chance to earn some much needed cash. In time, he becomes the cartel’s top “mule”, driving drugs back and forth from Mexico to Illinois. All the while, DEA agent Colin Bates (Bradley Cooper) investigates him, never suspecting that the man he’s hunting is not a young hoodlum, but a Korean War vet.

The themes of regret, aging and love are strong throughout the film, and they keep it afloat even as some narrative storylines tumble (especially one starring Julio (Ignacio Serricchio), whom we believe to have a part to play in the conclusion but who simply disappears). Its universality keeps it highly accessible.

A devout Republican, it’s a bit hard to stomach some of Eastwood’s conservative underpinnings in the age of Trumpism. Most of the Latinos in the film are depicted as drug dealers, feeding directly into a sinister national narrative. Earl at one point calls an African-American family negroes before being corrected and is amused by a group of dykes on bikes. Granted, he is charmed to be corrected, but the stigma and general theme of new needing to learn from old still feels antiquated.

Narratively, the biggest problem with the film is Earl’s character. He’s rather dumb and naive, not taking care to cover his tracks very well or feeling remorse at being a drug runner. He eats ice cream, sings songs on the radio and pays his granddaughter’s tuition. What he really needed was a stronger conscience. He should feel bad about what it is he is doing and then the story is an examination of his conscience. Will he try to get out? How far is he willing to go? At what point will he break? Instead, Earl is far too eager to just go along with the plan, resulting in a ho-hum narrative that only achieves punch at the conclusion.

Being 88-years-old, who knows if this is last film of the legendary Clint Eastwood. It seemed that “Million Dollar Baby” was the crescendo of his career, then it was “Gran Torino”, then it was “American Sniper.” He appears to be showing no signs of stopping, but each Eastwood film, with its understated examination of basic emotions and penchant for hitting the heart, should be valued just in case.

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“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” a song to Westerns real and mythic

The Coens have crafted dozens of screenplays, directed classic films and won Oscars, WGAs and Golden Globes. Now they venture into the world of online streaming with their first Netflix film, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.”

The film illustrates six tales of the Old West, starting with singing gunslinger Buster Scruggs (Tim Blake Nelson), continuing on with a cowboy trying not to be hanged (James Franco), to a pair of traveling showmen (Liam Neeson and Harry Melling), to an old prospector digging for gold (Tom Waits), to a girl who gets rattled on the prairie (Zoe Kazan) and finishing with an odd group of individuals in a rickety old coach (Jonjo O’Neill, Brendan Gleeson, Saul Rubinek, Tyne Daly, Chelcie Ross).

The different stories never intertwine or have interacting characters, instead serving as a collage that illustrate the themes present in pretty much every Coen brothers film: the wondering of life’s purpose, the corruption of evil, the unpredictability inherent in living and the just rewards of simple good actions.

It is both a celebration and a condemnation of Western stories, the tales of rough riders thrillingly told but with an admission of the failure of their hubris. For every glorious gunfight, there is a sad death scene. For every strike of gold, there’s a harrowing betrayal. For every moment of marital happiness, there’s a sad reminder of the unpredictability of life. For the Coens, one can sense their idolization of the Western, but they incorporate the knowledge of history, bloodshed, backstabbing and cruel ambition. The Western is an inherently American genre, mythmaking in its tales of bravado and open plains, of adventure and glory, but much like America is full of contradictions, the Western is too. Our myths guide our national heritage, but the truth about our past is fraught with inconsistencies.

Though all the different stories belong in the same world and have the same pacing, they are disjointed at times. Some stories are stronger than others and some feel less consequential. And like so many of the Coen’s other films, sometimes they’re just a little too cerebral for their own good.

All in all, “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is another strong chapter in the Coen’s cannon, more a peripheral entry than a starring one. It weaves several personal stories against a grand landscape to give a very balanced yet stylized interpretation of the Old West.

“Roma” a Neorealist Modern Masterpiece

“Roma” is the kind of film cinephiles dream about, a return of sorts to Italian neorealism with its non-professional actors, real-life situations set in extraordinary times and simple shots utilizing film composition to illuminate themes. Choreographed in gorgeous black and white, “Roma” succeeds in being an experience in and of itself, a vital artifact of the human experience that feels as timely as it is historical.

Written, photographed and directed by Alfonso Cuaron, the film tells the story of a middle-class family in Mexico City during the 1970s, a time of great social upheaval. Children Tono (Diego Cortina Autrey), Paco (Carlos Peralta), Pepe (Marco Graf), Sofi (Daniela Demesa), mother Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and father Antonio (Fernando Grediaga) live a stable existence as events falter around them. But the film really focuses on their housemaid, Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). Distant from her own mother, she is both a member of the family and a subordinate. When her boyfriend Fermin (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) gets her pregnant, Cleo faces a long journey of finding some sort of peace and preparation for the future.

The film does a great job of illustrating different class structures and by extension a history of colonialism and societal power. Impoverished, undervalued youth rebel, as is the case with Fermin. The film doesn’t really illustrate what exactly it is Fermin and his gang want, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s the dynamics of the situation that will always breed discontent. In addition, the powerlessness of women is a central subject of the film. Cleo and Sofia are abused by the men in their lives, with Antonio dumping Sofia for a mistress and Fermin abusing Cleo for getting pregnant. Sofia even tells Cleo that women are alone in this world, blamed for the problems of men and desperate to find comfort. These social dynamics are omnipresent throughout the story and give it added heft.

The film puts its subjects at a distance compositionally, with long shot pans and tilts utilized by the camera and lots of action happening in the frame. It acts as a static eye almost, making us feel as if we are peering into the lives of the story. Keeping this distance between us and the subjects prevents us from empathizing with them in the traditional way. While we feel for their stories, we also are put in the position of judging all the characters as if set on a wide canvas, an omnipresent god as it were.

Water is present throughout the story as a metaphor for the unpredictability of life. Cleo uses it to clean the driveway of the family, but is afraid to swim. When she is pregnant, she tries to drink some ale but it is pushed out of her hands. Only when a couple of children are close to drowning does Cleo venture against some turbulent waves and conquers the water. It is after this baptism of sorts that she reveals her sorrow and regret.

“Roma” has a distinct autobiographical feel. Cuaron himself was one of the boys in the story, the film dedicated to his nanny, Libo, and the viewer can sense that he loved her as a surrogate mother, sister and girlfriend. The movie feels dreamlike at times and frighteningly real at others. It’s both a testament to the power of memory and its ability to be distorted.

The ending of the film is vague, and you can’t help but wonder if things really are different at the end. Perhaps the family has recognized Cleo for the love they all share. Or perhaps she will always be their housekeeper first and family member second. Whatever interpretation is taken from “Roma”, one can’t help but stand back and see a film meticulously made, full of interesting ideas, underrepresented lives shown new light and a timeless tale meant to be experienced.

Hollywood has a bad case of Marvelitis

There was a time when hype was built up for a great movie experience. All cinephiles can remember that excitement for the motion picture event of the year. There was Jaws in 1975. There was Jurassic Park in 1993. There was Star Wars: The Phantom Menace in 1999. The was The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 2001. There was Avatar in 2009.

The world was given glimmers of the promise of truly breathtaking filmmaking leading up to the release of each of these films. People rushed to the cinemas to see something that became more than a movie, it was a global phenomenon, something that changed the way we think about film culturally. Where has that gone?

For studios, it’s no longer about one film anymore. It’s about franchises. Why put all of your eggs into one basket when you can have multiple baskets? And it has drained the creativity and ingenuity out of the Hollywood marketplace.

The tentpole film is dead for the moment. It can always come back. It probably will at some point. But one film is no longer enough for studios right now. It’s the franchise that rules.

The term is called Marvelitis. It started with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The characters of Iron Man, Captain America and Thor were each given their own separate films before joining up in a mash-up Avengers film (2012). Then the list of characters expanded and more individual films were made before they all joined up again in a second Avengers film (2015). And more characters will be given their own films and more team-ups will come together, an ever expanding universe. And not only have the films become successful, but there is now a need to see all the films in order to stay up in the continuity of the overall story, and the more entries into the MCU, the more opportunities for merchandising. Ever going. On and on.

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And studios are now copying Marvel’s success. The Justice League, the Transformers, the Ghostbusters, the Men in Black, 21 Jump Street, Star Wars. As long as a studio has a hot franchise (or in some cases even not so hot), it can create its own series of films and hook viewers into a continuum storyline in order to suck as much profit as it can out of a franchise’s bone marrow.

The problem then is that nothing of much substance happens in the films. When drastic things happen in the plot, the story is closer to its end. In order to stretch out the story as much as possible, dramatic things have to be delayed, which leads to far less interesting stories. The results are watered down films where not a lot happens.

And the effect on the audience is a dilution of substance. We are not as emotionally engaged anymore because we know certain characters are “safe.” Captain America is not going to die because he is signed on for three more films. And even when characters die, they often come back, further diminishing the effect of death in film. The dramatic stakes are immediately lessened based on the cinematic universe approach.

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Audiences will tire of this approach eventually. There are already box office signals that the ruse of milking profit and franchises for all their worth is fading. It will take a few years still, but it will happen. Will the movie event of the year film come back at that point? Perhaps. A true emotive film experience is not built up over a series of watered down movies, but over true emotional change in the life circumstances of characters, full of love and loss and hope and desire. The movie events of year’s past had those qualities in spades in addition to advances in technology and breathtaking thrills. They can’t be back soon enough.

 

Horror Movie Classics: The Shining

It is well known that Stephen King dislikes Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of The Shining. It takes the bare bones of King’s literary structure and adds many new elements and fundamentally changes the plot as well. For King, it’s not an adaptation of his novel, but a complete bastardization. But for Kubrick, his source materials were always just an initial blueprint. In essence, he has given us another version of a classic story. Looking strictly at Kubrick’s work by itself, there has never been a grander, more cerebral horror film.

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) is managing a ski lodge and hotel called the Overlook for the winter months with his family, wife Wendy (Shelley Duvalle) and son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Isolated in the freezing snow, things start to go very wrong for Jack and Danny. Ghosts begin to appear and Jack begins drinking again. Danny, with his gift of “shining” (the ability to communicate over the astral plane), is particularly unnerved by the strange beings who have never left the Overlook. It all culminates in the complete breakdown of Jack who attempts to butcher his family, egged on by the vicious spirits in the hotel.

The setting of the large, ominous hotel against the ghastly white snow is awe-inspiring. The location is as much a character in the film as Nicholson is, and the scope adds greatly to the film.

Kubrick utilizes all cinematic technique to tell the story: the tracking camera, the pan, the tilt, subliminal imagery, vibrant hues, sound (including the importance of silence), musical score, acting, movement within the frame, three-dimensional space and managing the audience’s expectations.

For example, there’s a scene where Jack Torrance, angry, walks down the hallway to the ballroom. The camera moves with him as we are brought into the room, shimmering gold, lit eerily by the glaring barlights that beckon Jack forward. The camera movement helps us relate to him. As Jack sits down at the bar and complains that he’d give anything for a glass of beer, the shot changes to a frontal medium shot. He stares right at the camera, surprising us, and says, “Hello Lloyd. A little slow tonight.” Then he bursts out laughing. As we try to make sense of what we are witnessing, the camera cuts to a bartender, dim eyes, in a red suit that nearly blurs into the background, smiling back at Jack. “Yes it is, Mr. Torrance,” the bartender says. The tracking of Jack so we can relate to him, the sudden change of his environment in lighting and tone, his shocking speech right into camera and the abrupt cut to a ghostly character up the tension and intrigue, and it is done in a way that only a filmmaker who truly understands his craft can orchestrate. A Kubrick film is indeed like an orchestration, all of the elements of cinema playing in unison to deliver an emotional crescendo.

Kubrick revisits the ballroom two more times in the film, each time changing the dynamic. Jack returns later as the ghosts have become more prevalent in the film. The shot starts exactly the same as before, with Jack walking down the hallway past a sign that reads “The Gold Room.” However, we can hear music playing. As Jack enters the room, we find dozens of elegantly dressed patrons, dancing, chatting, a great commotion from years on back, and the music we heard earlier grows louder upon entering and we realize it’s the band. The first scene upped our intrigue into the location, the second has given us a further glimpse into the room’s secrets. At the end of the film, Wendy, searching for Danny and hoping to save him from a homicidal Jack, rushes in to find it covered in cobwebs and skeletons, the true room having revealed itself at last. The buildup in scenes is just one illustration of the care Kubrick put into his stories.

Many have watched The Shining and come out asking the question, “What did it mean?” There’s a great documentary titled Room 237 that goes into a myriad of different fan theories about the true purpose of The Shining. Is it a subliminal confession about how Kubrick shot the faked moon landing footage? Is it a commentary on the genocide of the American Indian? How about Nazism? Some are definitely oddball, but it is worth a viewing. Kubrick was nothing if not one of the smartest, most precise and obsessive filmmakers of all-time.

From my own analysis, I see the film as an investigation into the human mind. All of the characters are separated from humanity in the remote hotel and the social conventions that define them slowly slip away. Faced with isolation, their subconscious begins to percolate to the surface and they epitomize Jungian archetypes. An alcoholic, Jack gives in to his inner rage, becoming the monster that booze creates, unleashing the shadow form of his nature. Wendy, who had tried to control Jack all of her life, is threatened when his shadow (i.e. masculine) form is unleashed and needs to embody the hero part of her nature if she is to survive and save her son. Danny is the observer and in many ways the symbol of the youth they have lost. He sees how the forces at work in the world manipulated his parents and as the center of innocence, Jack despises him because he symbolizes what he has lost with adulthood. The end sequence epitomizes the entire film, a labyrinth in which the characters are lost in their own psyche and chased by a Minotaur.

The Shining is not only a great horror film, but a great film. Kubrick is not so much interested in jump scares or moodiness, but with deep psychological intrigue that illuminates social conditions and themes of loneliness, isolation, love, connection and addiction that will never cease to terrify us. His films demand to be viewed again and again, and every time we watch, we find something new to marvel at.

 

Horror Movie Classics: Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock was looking to make a smaller picture after several larger films (Vertigo in 1958, North by Northwest in 1959), but he probably never suspected that his small-scale horror film would become one of the most iconic films of all time. Starring Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates and Janet Leigh as Marion Crane, Hitchcock created the slasher film and singularly influenced every horror movie that came after it.

Marion is in trouble. She is trapped in a doomed relationship and short on cash. She rashly takes a substantial amount entrusted to her care from work and plans to run away. That’s the first half hour of the film. And yet none of that matters.

She checks into a small motel as she is trying to disappear and runs into an interesting young man, Norman Bates. Norman is troubled by his mother. She calls Norman weak and a poor excuse for a son, and Norman agrees with her. This spooks Marion who realizes that her problems are not that insurmountable. She resolves to return home, but later that night, Mrs. Bates breaks into her room and stabs her to death in the shower. That’s when the real movie begins.

It’s all an elaborate hoax of a first act. Marion is just there to gather some sympathy and interest as we are led into Norman Bates’ world. The mystery of Mrs. Bates then takes hold as Marion’s sister and lover begin to look for her. Who is Mrs. Bates? What is the matter with her? What about Norman? Will they get caught? Do we want them to be caught?

To spoil the surprise of anyone who has not seen the film, Mrs. Bates has been dead for quite some time, killed by Norman. Plagued by guilt, Norman has recreated her personality in his head, having active conversations with her, even dressing up like her and killing anyone who poses a threat to ‘her son’ while keeping her body perfectly embalmed in the mansion.

The infamous shower scene and shocking psychotic twist ending created an instant audience infatuation. Nothing like this had ever been seen before. Even today, it is amazing to experience the twists and turns of the film.

The execution of the story spoke to the artistic possibilities of horror. Hitchcock was a master filmmaker, respected and influential. He used the finest aspects of filmmaking, utilizing depth of field, camera movement, dialogue, story, focus, lighting and all that cinema had to offer to tell stories. His abilities gave what might have been considered a B-film weight and prestige. The shooting is beautiful, the camera action motivated and the editing (particularly during the shower scene) adds visual interest. Psycho proved that horror did not have to be the refuge of the poor studios and specialized audiences, but that it could be a mainstream form of art and entertainment.

Beyond the financial success and shock factor that made the film an instant classic, Psycho has endured today because of its story. Norman Bates is a cultural icon not because he is the villain of the story but because he is so sympathetic. He is good looking, friendly, beat down by his mother and just trying to do the right thing (protect her). He is not a monster, but hidden deep within him, one lurks. It is that duality that makes him so interesting; one part good, one part evil. And as the mystery of what happened to Marion Crane envelops the viewer, we see more and more of ourselves in poor Norman Bates and recognize the potential monster living in ourselves. He represents our innocence and evil, living at the same time, something endlessly fascinating about the human condition.

Pity sad Norman Bates and pity us for we are the same. Who knows when we might snap just like him. While blood and shock brought us into the theater of Psycho, Norman sticks in our mind and never lets us forget the small Hitchcock film that changed cinema forever.

 

“Jurassic Park” Analysis

Story Analysis Description

*Analysis based off work of Robert McKee, Joseph Campbell and Syd Field

*Special thanks to Movieclips for their clips below

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CHARACTERS

Protagonist Alan Grant
Desire Conscious: Finance his dig and discover dinosaurs
Unconscious: Become a parent
Conflict Levels Inner: Fear of evolving
Personal: Dinosaurs, Lex and Tim, Ellie, Malcolm
Extra-Personal: Parenthood, Finance
Character Characterization: Gruff scientist
True Character: Hero
Turn: Caring father figure
John Hammond
Desire Conscious: Finance Jurassic Park
Unconscious:
Conflict Levels Inner: Possible madness
Personal: Gennaro, scientists
Extra-Personal:
Character Characterization: Freewheeling billionaire
True Character:
Turn:
Dennis Nedry
 Desire  Conscious: Make a lot of money by stealing dinosaur embryos
 Unconscious:  
 Conflict Levels  Inner:  
 Personal:  Hammond, Arnold
 Extra-Personal:  –
 Character  Characterization:  Corrupt computer hacker
 True Character:  
 Turn:  
Muldoon
Desire Conscious: Neutralize raptors
Unconscious:
Conflict Levels Inner:
Personal: Velociraptors
Extra-Personal:
Character Characterization: Cunning hunter
True Character:
Turn:
Malcolm
Desire Conscious: Get together with Ellie
Unconscious:
Conflict Levels Inner:
Personal: Ellie, Allan
Extra-Personal:
Character Characterization: Egotistical mathematician
True Character:
Turn:
Gennaro
Desire Conscious: Shut down Jurassic Park
Unconscious:
Conflict Levels Inner:
Personal: Hammond
Extra-Personal:
Character Characterization: Corrupt businessman
True Character:
Turn:
Principle of Antagonism Positive Evolution Pessimistic Ebbing evolution
Negative Stagnation Negation of Negation Tampering with nature
Controlling Idea: Evolution must be a natural process because tampering with nature leads to catastrophe.

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PLOT

Inciting Incident Hammond proposes to Alan and Ellie to come to his island
Act One Climax Alan, Ellie and Malcolm meet the Brachiosaurus
GAP Alan discovers that Hammond is tampering with nature in dangerous ways
Progressive Complications The park malfunctions and Allan is thrust into a parental role
Midpoint The T. Rex eats Gennaro, injures Malcolm and forces Allan to care for Lexi and Tim
Act Two Climax Alan saves Tim after he’s electrocuted
Climax Alan grabs a gun and decides to save Lexi and Tim
Act Three Climax The T. Rex kills the Velociraptors and Alan, Ellie, Lexi and Tim escape
Resolution Alan realizes he’s evolved into a parent

HERO’S JOURNEY

ORDINARY WORLD Alan and Ellie dig up dinosaur bones in the desert
CALL TO ADVENTURE Hammond invites them to his island
REFUSAL OF THE CALL Alan doesn’t get in the car with Lexi or Tim
MEETING THE MENTOR
CROSSING FIRST THRESHOLD Alan saves Lexi and Tim from the T. Rex
TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES Alan teaches Lexi and Tim to feed the Brachiosaurus
APPROACH TO INMOST CAVE Alan leads Lexi and Tim past the Gallimimuses
ORDEAL Alan saves Tim after he is electrocuted
REWARD Alan learns how to be a caring parent
ROAD BACK Alan leads Lexi and Tim back to the visitor center
RESURRECTION Alan puts himself in danger to save Lexi and Tim from the Velociraptors
RETURN WITH ELIXIR Lexi and Tim sleep on Alan’s shoulders on the helicopter

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ARCHETYPES

HERO Alan Grant
SHADOW Gennaro, Hammond
MENTOR
ALLY Lexi, Tim, Ian, Ellie
HERALD Hammond
THRESHOLD GUARDIAN T. Rex, Velociraptor
TRICKSTER Dilophosaurus
SHAPESHIFTER Dennis

 

THEMES

Tampering with nature disrupts evolution and creates monsters Hammond is reckless in his pursuit of creating dinosaurs, seeking to impress the world through sheer will, but he does not grasp the will of nature. Tampering with such primordial forces is an affront to the natural world and will result only in catastrophe. Evolution is a subtle act that effects all of us beyond our control. Trying to play God will have consequences.
Money leads to corruption Both Gennaro and Dennis are primarily influenced by money, causing each to act against others and, in essence, nature. Gennaro betrays his borrowers by fully buying into the idea of Jurassic Park to make money. Dennis betrays his employers to steal embryos and sell out. Both actions subliminally are an affront to nature by acquiescing to Hammond’s madness and these choices cost them their lives.

STORYLINES

Alan Grant Evolving
John Hammond’s Madness
Dennis and the Embryos
Ian and Ellie
Gennaro’s Greed
Muldoon and the Velociraptors

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SCENE BREAKDOWN

Scene #1 The Velociraptors are Transferred
Protagonist Muldoon
Desire Load the Raptors safely
Antagonist Velociraptors
TP A raptor breaks free and grabs the gatekeeper
Value Survival
Role Muldoon Inciting Incident: The Raptor attack convinces him that raptors need to be destroyed because they are too dangerous
Analysis The film starts right off with the central theme: man and its inability to control nature. We have man utilizing technology (grids, electricity, lights, gates, tasers), trying to control a creature born out of a lab, the Velociraptor. Man can’t control this beast, resulting in the death of the gatekeeper. Spielberg is able to elevate the relatively simple attack by using his wide skills of cinematic talent, highlighting the hunter/hunted dynamic, the ferocity of the raptors and the most important lesson he learned from Jaws: not seeing the creature is worse than seeing it.
Scene #2 Gennaro at the Dig Site
Protagonist Gennaro
Desire Shut down Hammond’s park
Antagonist Hammond, Rostagno
TP Rostagno tells Gennaro Grant won’t come to the park
Value Money
Role Gennaro Inciting Incident: Shut down Hammond for losing his investor’s money. Hammond Inciting Incident: Get backing to finance his park.
Analysis Gennaro is the first representation of greed and corruption in the film. He doesn’t fit into the natural world he walks through, nervously balancing on his boat, tripping over rocks, bumping his head in the mine. He will view the dinosaurs as a great scheme to make money, displaying a lack of respect for nature.
Scene #3 Alan Dig Site
Protagonist Alan Grant
Desire Find and learn about dinosaurs
Antagonist Kid
TP Grant terrifies the kid who mocks him
Value Parenthood
Role Introduction of Grant
Analysis We are introduced to Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler. Alan is gruff and dedicated to his mission as a paleontologist. Ellie is his better half, trying to help him evolve into a parent, an underlying desire he rejects. We are again introduced to faulty technology as the underground scanner they use is shotty. We also come to understand how informed Alan is, particularly in regards to Velociraptors, knowledge that will help him later in the story.
Scene #4 Hammond Proposes Plan to Alan and Ellie
Protagonist Hammond
Desire Get Alan and Ellie to come to island
Antagonist Alan and Ellie
TP Hammond proposes to fund their dig for three more years and gets them to visit island
Value Finance
Role INCITING INCIDENT: Hammond gets Alan and Ellie to go to his island and the chance to finance his dig for three years. Hammond Act One Climax: Impress group so his park can be financed.
Analysis Hammond serves as a herald to the adventure, bringing both Ellie and Alan to Isla Nublar. His entrance again highlights his disrespect to nature, his helicopter loud and boisterous, nearly destroying the fossils being excavated. And he opens a bottle of champagne, wearing all white, showing his wealth. Alan and Ellie by contrast are dirty and in work clothes. Given the opportunity of wealth to continue funding their dig, they take it without question, again showing the corrupting power of money and greed.
Scene #5 Dennis Paid
Protagonist Dennis
Desire Make money
Antagonist Hammond
TP Dennis takes money
Value Money
Role Dennis Act One Climax, Dennis Inciting Incident Offscreen: Hammond doesn’t pay him enough money, sending him on a course of betrayal.
Analysis Greed and gluttony rear their ugly heads again. Dennis cares only about money, not respecting nature and its power. Consumed by greed, he works to betray Hammond by selling dinosaur embryos. By accepting Dodson’s money, he embarks on his journey.
Scene #6 Helicopter Ride
Protagonist Hammond
Desire Get island financed
Antagonist Gennaro
TP
Value Finance
Role Malcolm Inciting Incident: Attracted to Ellie
Analysis We are introduced to Ian Malcolm, a slightly crazy mathematician who starts his journey by hitting on Ellie, mentioning his concept of “strange attractions.” The helicopter flight is another example of Hammond’s wealth as they zoom across the ocean and through the island mountains. This is Hammond’s gambit, to impress his entourage of Gennaro, Sattler, Malcolm and Grant (GSMG) and to finance the park. And another example of technology not working right, the helicopter landing is bumpy, portending to technology failing the characters at the end. And much has been made of the irony of Grant using two female belt buckles and tying them together, just as how two female dinosaurs will eventually breed.
Scene #7 Gennaro Threatens Hammond
Protagonist Gennaro
Desire Threaten Hammond with shutdown
Antagonist Hammond
TP Gennaro Threatens Hammond
Value Money
Role Gennaro Act One Climax
Analysis Gennaro puts his cards on the table, threatening Hammond and committing to defunding the island for money.
Scene #8 Meeting the Brachiosaurus
Protagonist Hammond
Desire Show his dinosaurs
Antagonist Grant, Sattler, Malcolm, Gennaro (GSMG)
TP They see the dinosaurs
Value Finance
Role ACT ONE CLIMAX
Analysis Grant commits to the journey as he witnesses the rebirth of dinosaurs. In a way, it is his own call to evolve.
Scene #9 Introduction to Sciene
Protagonist Hammond
Desire Show off his science
Antagonist GSMG
TP GSMG break out of restraints
Value Finance
Role Explanation of how Hammond has engineered the impossible
Analysis The characters and the audience learn how Hammond has been able to bring dinosaurs back to life. Hammond is selling his science as foolproof, something Alan, Ellie and Ian have qualms about.
Scene #10 Velociraptor Hatches
Protagonist Malcolm
Desire Question Ethics
Antagonist Hammond, Dr. Wu
TP Malcolm states that life will find a way
Value Morality, Finance
Role Introduction of doubt about playing God
Analysis Malcolm serves as a cautionary voice, warning that what Hammond is doing is dangerous and a disrespect to nature. Hammond is literally playing god, birthing a Velociraptor in his own hands, the others overcome by the power of creation. As Malcolm speaks, the potential for danger grows in their minds.
Scene #11 Velociraptor Cage
Protagonist Alan
Desire Investigate Raptors
Antagonist Hammond
TP
Value Survival
Role Muldoon Rising Action
Analysis Muldoon, hardened by his experience as a hunter and harrowed by the memory of the slain worker, reports on the danger of the Velociraptors. This is yet another example of man trying to control nature in a way he can’t understand. He commits himself to the idea that the raptors should be destroyed.
Scene #12 Sea Bass Lunch
Protagonist GSMG
Desire Caution Hammond
Antagonist Hammond
TP Grant condemns park
Value Morality
Role Gennaro Act Two Climax
Analysis More examples of wealth include an expensive lunch, waiters and flashing pictures on the wall of progress and technology. Hammond is completely oblivious to the dangers of nature he is trying to control. Only Gennaro, clinging to greed, sides with him against the caution of Alan, Ellie and Malcolm, altering his goal of defrauding Hammond and committing to profiting off the island. Hammond’s ears are closed to counterarguments against his beloved park, a rock against which the currents of caution have no effect.
Scene #13 Tim and Lexi Arrive
Protagonist Hammond
Desire Use children’s awe to impress GSMG
Antagonist
TP Ellie sees Alan’s fear of children
Value Finance
Role Moral need disrupts Alan’s world
Analysis Alan’s worse nightmare arrives: children. Lexi and Tim pose a return to Alan’s dormant desire to be a parent. He consciously forces down this desire and stands petrified.
Scene #14 Boarding the Cars
Protagonist Tim and Lexi
Desire Connect with Alan
Antagonist Alan
TP Alan brushes off Lexi and Tim
Value Parenthood
Role Alan shrugging off call to evolve
Analysis Tim serves as Alan’s conscience, following him around and asking him to accept him. Alan rejects him, slamming the door in his face. At the moment, we believe Alan won’t do anything for Lexi and Tim and would never put himself out there for them. Malcolm also continues to seek out Ellie.
Scene #15 Headquarters
Protagonist Hammond
Desire Impress GSMG
Antagonist Technology, Dennis
TP Muldoon shuts everyone up
Value Finance
Role Introduction to how rocky things are behind the scenes
Analysis Behind the scenes, Hammond is much more ornery. Battling with technology and Dennis, he voices grievances and bickers. We realize that his charming persona in front of GSMG and his grandchildren is a fake to hide his deep fear and uncertainty.
Scene #16 Tour Starts
Protagonist GSMG
Desire Evaluate park
Antagonist Dinosaurs
TP No dinosaurs show up
Value Finance
Role Further proof of the inability to control nature
Analysis Nature can not be controlled as none of the dinosaurs show up to be shown off to GSMG. The lamest attempts to coax the dinosaurs out are failures, again illustrating how Hammond and InGen don’t understand what they’re handling.
Scene #17 Malcolm Explains Chaos
Protagonist Malcolm
Desire Explain chaos
Antagonist Ellie
TP Ellie jumps out of the car after Alan
Value Love
Role Malcolm continuing pursuit of Ellie
Analysis Malcom moves in on Ellie, unaware that Alan is her partner. His explanation of chaos is laced with sexual undertones, overted more than subverted. For Alan, he is uncomfortable standing up to Malcolm, showing a reticence to fight for her. Chaos theory itself plays out in the plot of the film. As the forces of nature mettle against man’s inclinations, chaos will reign.
Scene #18 Meeting the Triceratops
Protagonist Ellie
Desire Understand the Triceratops
Antagonist Illness
TP Ellie goes to dino droppings
Value Finance
Role The awe of dinosaurs may sway GSMG yet.
Analysis The awe of the park again appears to GSMG. It wows the audience as well, appealing to our childhood wonder, the desire to see and touch a real dinosaur.
Scene #19 Storm Moves In
Protagonist Muldoon
Desire Investigate storm
Antagonist Weather
TP Headquarters decides to stop tour
Value Finance
Role Hammond Act Two Climax: Hammond believes his tour a failure and his park’s future is in doubt.
Analysis Hammond curses the weather, a hindrance in his mind to his ambition, another aspect he can not control.
Scene #20 Dino Droppings
Protagonist Ellie
Desire Determine next course
Antagonist Weather
TP Ellie decides to stay while group goes back to Jeeps
Value Knowledge
Role Separation from Ellie
Analysis The group separates, leaving Malcolm and Alan together. This sets Alan adrift in a way.
Scene #21 Dennis Plans His Heist
Protagonist Dennis
Desire Steal embryos
Antagonist Weather
TP No promises for weather
Value Finance
Role Increased risk for Dennis
Analysis The pressure on Dennis mounts as the storm complicates his plan to steal the embryos. Time is now a factor as the risk increases.
Scene #22 Dennis Puts Plan in Motion
Protagonist Dennis
Desire Steal embryos
Antagonist Weather, Security
TP Dennis shuts down system
Value Finance
Role Dennis works on plan.
Analysis Dennis commits to his plan and moves to get the embryos.
Scene #23 Ian and Alan Talk
Protagonist Alan
Desire Keep Malcolm away from
Antagonist Malcolm
TP Malcolm backs off from Ellie
Value Love
Role Malcolm Act One Climax
Analysis Alan tries to talk to Malcolm, but they don’t have much in common. Alan has seen how Malcolm is flirting with Ellie. He lets Malcolm know about their relationship, ending his pursuit of her.
Scene #24 Dennis Steals the Embryos
Protagonist Dennis
Desire Steal the embryos
Antagonist Hammond, Arnold
TP Dennis gets the embryos
Value Finance
Role Dennis Act Two Climax
Analysis Dennis’ plan seems to be working as he gets the embryos and shuts down the security grid to escape.
Scene #25 The T. Rex Breaks Out
Protagonist Alan
Desire Save Lex and Tim
Antagonist T. Rex
TP Alan uses a flare to save the kids
Value Survival
Role MIDPOINT, Gennaro Act Three Climax
Analysis Nature breaks free fom the constraints of man’s technology. As the park shuts down, the T. Rex emerges from its pen, causing havok. Gennaro is killed for his lack of respect for primal nature, ending his storyline. For every other character, their goal changes. The goal of the evaluation of the park morphs into a need to survive.
Scene #26 Alan Gets the Children Out
Protagonist Alan
Desire Save Lex and Tim
Antagonist T. Rex
TP Alan climbs down into paddock
Value Survival
Role Alan Midpoint
Analysis Alan is faced with a choice: hide in the car and wait or try and save Lex and Tim. He chooses to save the kids, his inner parental instinct taking over. This represents his character midpoint as he changes his goal from avoiding children to saving them.
Scene #27 Headquarters Wonders
Protagonist Arnold
Desire Get the park back online
Antagonist Dennis, Nature
TP Arnold admits he can’t get the park back online without Dennis
Value Survival
Role The stakes deepen
Analysis The repercussions of their actions begin to become apparent to those in headquarters. As the park crumbles around them, Hammond feels the burden of his decision bare down on him.
Scene #28 Dennis and the Dilophosaurus
Protagonist Dennis
Desire Get off the island
Antagonist Weater, Dilophosaurus
TP The Dilophosaurus attacks Dennis
Value Survival
Role Dennis Act Three Climax
Analysis Dennis’ greed becomes his destruction as his disrespect for nature (and the fault of technology symbolized by his car) come to pass. The Dilophosaurus kills him, ending his storyline, and the embros are lost to the mud, a symbol of man’s faulty ambition.
Scene #29 Escaping the Tree
Protagonist Alan
Desire Save Tim
Antagonist Car
TP Alan saves Tim
Value Survival
Role Continual development for Alan
Analysis Alan faces another test of his parental instinct. Lexi begs him not to leave and he needs to convince Tim to get out of the car. Again, the car represents man’s faulty technology, helpless against the power of nature. Alan successfully saves Tim.
Scene #30 Ellie and Muldoon Save Malcolm
Protagonist Ellie and Muldoon
Desire Save Alan, Lex, Tim, Malcolm and Gennaro
Antagonist Dinosaurs
TP Escape T. Rex
Value Survival
Role Deeper stakes as headquarters realizes that Alan, Lexi and Tim are missing and Gennaro is dead
Analysis Ellie and Muldoon come face to face with the power of Hammond’s creations as the T. Rex chases after them and they realize Gennaro is dead.
Scene #31 Alan, Lexi and Tim Sleep in the Tree
Protagonist Alan
Desire Reassure Lex and Tim
Antagonist
TP Alan tosses his Velociraptor claw
Value Parenting
Role Alan development
Analysis Alan ditches his old self symbolically by tossing the Velociraptor claw. His comfort with Lex and Tim as their surrogate father continues to develop.
Scene #32 Petticoat Lane
Protagonist Hammond
Desire Justify actions
Antagonist Ellie
TP Ellie chastises Hammond
Value Justification
Role Hammond Act Three Climax: Hammond realizes his mistake.
Analysis Hammond’s past drives his present, so much so that he may have gone mad. Desperate to regain control, he realizes that his actions have been foolhardy, a fact illuminated by Ellie. His goal changes from searching for control to retrieving his grandchildren.
Scene #33 Brachiosaurus in the Morning
Protagonist Alan
Desire Educate Lex and Tim
Antagonist Lex, Brachiosaurus
TP Petting the Brachiosaurus
Value Parenting
Role Evolution of Alan
Analysis Alan continues his adaptation into a parent by teaching Lex and Tim about dinosaurs.
Scene #34 Dinosaurs Breeding
Protagonist Alan
Desire Discover secret
Antagonist Nature
TP Alan realizes how the dinosaurs are breeding
Value Morality
Role Alan learning the value of Malcolm’s theory
Analysis Alan confirms to himself and to the audience about the versatility and resilience of nature. Malcolm’s theory of chaos has occured on the island as the dinosaurs take over.
Scene #35 Arnold Shuts Down the System
Protagonist Hammond
Desire Get the park back online
Antagonist Arnold
TP Arnold agrees to shut down system
Value Survival
Role Hammond’s goal has changed to saving his grandchildren.
Analysis Hammond is trying to get the park back online, but not to save his idea of the park, but to save his grandchildren, an evolution of his character.
Scene #36 Outflocking the Gallimimus
Protagonist Alan
Desire Escape stampede
Antagonist Gallimimus
TP Duck under tree
Value Survival
Role Alan, Lex and Tim venturing to safety
Analysis Alan, Lex and Tim are tested as they venture back to headquarters, seeking safety.
Scene #37 Going to the Breaker
Protagonist Ellie
Desire Turn the park on
Antagonist Dinosaurs
TP Ellie decides to go to the breaker
Value Survival
Role The stakes deepen
Analysis A new sequence begins as Ellie and Muldoon have to venture out and turn the park back on. This wil test them and their ability to survive.
Scene #38 Ellie Runs to Breaker
Protagonist Ellie
Desire Get to Breaker
Antagonist Velociraptor
TP Ellie makes it to breaker
Value Survival
Role The desperation grows
Analysis Ellie must work to save herself and in so doing, Alan. The escape of the Velociraptors puts greater risk into the mission.
Scene #39 Ellie Turns the Park Back On
Protagonist Ellie
Desire Turn park on
Antagonist Tunnels, Velociraptors
TP Ellie finds the grid and turns it back on
Value Survival
Role Glimmer of hope and fear
Analysis Ellie turns the park back on, but the Velociraptors hunt her. Time is now running out before there is no hope for the survivors.
Scene #40 Tim Electrocuted
Protagonist Alan
Desire Save Tim and Lexi
Antagonist Fence
TP Tim electrocuted
Value Survival
Role Alan, Lex and Tim tested
Analysis Faulty technology proves dangerous to man again as Tim is electrocuted.
Scene #41 Ellie Runs from Velociraptor
Protagonist Ellie
Desire Evade Velociraptor
Antagonist Velociraptor
TP Ellie jams Velociraptor behind door
Value Survival
Role Ellie survives
Analysis The intelligence, speed and ferocity of the Velociraptor is demonstrated as Ellie is hunted. This sets up the final threshold guardian for the group to overcome.
Scene #42 Alan Saves Tim
Protagonist Alan
Desire Save Tim
Antagonist Electric fence
TP Tim wakes up
Value Survival
Role Alan, Lex and Tim tested.
Analysis Alan does everything in his power to save Tim. In marked contrast to his earlier apprehension with children, Alan is now their parent.
Scene #43 Velociraptors Hunt Muldoon
Protagonist Muldoon
Desire Shoot Velociraptor
Antagonist Velociraptor
TP Velociraptors get the jump on Muldoon
Value Survival
Role Muldoon Act Two Climax
Analysis Muldoon enters the ring against the Velociraptor, the one-on-one confrontation he had been dreading. He puts all of his knowledge about the creatures to his own instincts as a hunter. He loses in his contest against the raptors, their wit outsmarting him. This concludes his storyline.
Scene #44 Alan Finds Ellie
Protagonist Alan
Desire Find Ellie
Antagonist Dinosaurs
TP Alan finds Ellie
Value Survival
Role Malcolm Act Two Climax
Analysis Grant and Ellie are reunited, signifying their union as a couple after being apart. After Malcolm budding into their relationship, this concludes that storyline as Ellie chooses Alan.
Scene #45 Velociraptors Hunt Lexi and Tim
Protagonist Lexi and Tim
Desire Escape Velociraptor
Antagonist Velociraptors
TP They lock Velociraptor in freezer
Value Survival
Role Lex and Tim tested
Analysis Lex and Tim are alone, without Alan. Their resourcefulness is tested as they must use the tricks taught to them by Alan to escape the raptors. This is a test of Alan’s parenthood and teaching played out against the raptors.
Scene #46 Lexi Hacks the Park
Protagonist Lexi
Desire Turn the park back on
Antagonist Velociraptors
TP Lexi turns on the door locks
Value Survival
Role A last chance for escape
Analysis Lexi uses her computer skills, hinted at before, to turn the park back on, giving the characters hope as the raptors move in. This is their last chance.
Scene #47 Escaping the Raptors
Protagonist Alan
Desire Escape the Velociraptors
Antagonist Velociraptors
TP The T. Rex saves them
Value Survival
Role ACT THREE CLIMAX
Analysis Alan, Ellie, Lex and Tim must work together, using all of their skills to best the dangerous raptors. The T. Rex, again utilizing the chaos theory of Malcolm, intervenes and inadvertently saves the day. As the final vestiges of the park collapse around them, nature has taken over the island from man’s mettling.
Scene #48 Escaping the Park
Protagonist Alan
Desire Get off the island
Antagonist
TP The helicopter takes off
Value Parenthood
Role Alan’s reward
Analysis As the characters depart, Ellie sees Alan’s growth as a parent, Lex and Tim asleep on his shoulders. He has evolved, just as dinosaurs had evolved into birds.

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OVERALL

“Jurassic Park” rightfully deserves its place as a classic “monsters” film. Though it is remembered most for its technological advancements, it is the sense of childhood wonder it creates that endears it still today. It perfectly captures the youthful sense of awe each of us would feel if we were to actually see and touch a dinosaur. The respect the film has for that childhood wonder elevates the film beyond simple monster mash.

The dinosaurs are not just monsters that our heroes need to escape from. They are living, breathing creatures, cinematically built up as primordial beasts with intelligence, power and majesty, reverential godlike entities that we can not control. The buildup over the course of the first half of the film, man tampering with nature, unaware of the danger of playing god, fully plays out over the second half of the film as all of man’s preconceptions and safeguards fall by the wayside. There’s a certain amount of glee in seeing the park fail as strange as that is, nature taking its due revenge on people who don’t respect it. The fact that we empathize with characters who are just along for the ride, not responsible for this tampering, gives us a way of caring about their escape. We delight somewhat in seeing Gennaro, Dennis and Muldoon fall because it is their basic flaw of disrespect that causes their demise. Alan, Lexi, Tim, Malcolm and Ellie never committed that sin so we feel sympathy for the situation they are in.

The brunt of technology that Hammond, Dennis, Muldoon and Arnold use to try to control the park is repeatedly referenced as faulty, little clues in the first half hinting at technology being mankind’s tool of control, but nature breaking free of such feeble attempts. It speaks to the sense that evolution is an unstoppable force, tying into Alan’s evolution from selfish paleontologist to caregiver. Accepting evolution then should be mankind’s goal, not trying to impose its will against it.

The film could use some work in terms of the characters and their relationships. Alan, the central character of the film who has an arc, is rather bland. His refusal to evolve into a parent feels kind of shoe-horned into the story to give him some depth and something deeper to do other than try not to be eaten. Perhaps if he and Ellie had tried to have children or couldn’t or there was some reason he felt insecure around them it would tie into the narrative a bit more. But as it happens, Hammond is a much more interesting character: a joyful billionaire who slowly realizes he may have gone mad in his pursuit of creating dinosaurs.

The love triangle between Malcolm, Ellie and Alan is also lacking. It’s just played for a few laughs in the first half, but could have been expanded into more of Alan’s evolution. Perhaps Malcolm is an old boyfriend of Ellie’s that she still has some feelings for. Then Alan’s refusal to have kids and evolve for her would have added weight as she could easily go back to Malcolm who will give her what she wants. But as it plays, Malcolm is more of just an annoyance rather than an integral part of the plot. Cut him out and nothing drastically changes in the plot.

And finally, the ending lacks clear choice. The third act climax should feature the protagonist making a clear choice that illustrates what he has learned over the course of his journey. In this case, that should be Alan, demonstrating his ingenuity. But the film’s ending takes him out of the equation as the T. Rex bursts in and kills the raptors, a deus ex machina, fate saving them rather than Alan. A conclusion that featured Alan saving the day would have been easy enough. Using his smarts as a paleontologist and some piece of knowledge gathered in the park with Lexi and Tim, Alan devises a way to trick the raptors and the Rex and helps everyone escape, proving his mettle as a parent by putting his life on the line to save Lexi and Tim.

Where the film falls in character though, its ability to create awe and build up its action sequences is impeccable, really putting the audience in the park and highlighting its theme to optimal effect.