' Cinema Romantico: 5 Favorite Jurassic Park Characters/Performances

Thursday, June 11, 2015

5 Favorite Jurassic Park Characters/Performances

The fourth installment of “Jurassic Park” opens this weekend twenty-two years after the first, proving no Hollywood well is ever dry and that mankind’s hubris is unstoppable. It’s fashionable, of course, to crack jokes about how the people in the “Jurassic Park” movies don’t learn their lessons and just keep on setting themselves up to be eaten by more dinosaurs, and, frankly, this is all nonsense. Do these people not exist in the world? This world? The one we’re all existing in right now? Once they figure out how to clone dinosaur DNA there’ll be a real Jurassic World setting up shop right next door to Sea World in fifteen minutes. Parents will take their kids to see velociraptors through plexiglass while simultaneously warning them about nitrates in hotdogs. You know it. I know it. We all know it. 

Anyway, despite their obvious focus on dinosaurs, what intrigued me most about the “Jurassic” films were their characters. Or, perhaps I should say, their performances. Or, perhaps I should say, the characters and performances working in harmony. Because for all their effects, it’s the distinct little bits of characterization filtered through actorly tics that intrigue me the most. You can have the ripple in the water glass, I’ll have the…well, you’ll see.

Honorable Mentions: Laura Dern as Ellie Sattler in “Jurassic Park”: not a great character, but a performance the typically quirky Dern still outfits with interesting bits of body language and reactions. Sam Neill in “Jurassic Park III”, a performance that nicely exuded the same weary professionalism of the movie itself.

5 Favorite Jurassic Park Characters/Performances

5. Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm, The Lost World

4. Pete Postlethwaite as Roland Tembo, The Lost World

A big game hunter who lends out his services solely for the once-in-ten-thousand lifetimes chance to bag a T-Rex, Tembo easily could have starred in his own “Jurassic Park” spinoff, a psychological “White Hunter/Black Heart” with dinosaurs. Indeed, among all the scientific, or thereabouts, characters parading through “Jurassic Park” premises, he’s apparently the only one raised with a philosophical background. We know this because he recites speeches about the “chap” that climbed Everest, and so forth. He’s also the only one who seems to genuinely grasp the actual situation. If Goldblum plays as if it's all dumb, the late great Postlethwaite plays as if it's all real, and that's just a little bit harder of an achievement.

3. Samuel L. Jackson as Ray Arnold, Jurassic Park

Jackson would, only a year later, begin his rise to acting’s foremost foul-mouthed yeller, a man who chewed up monologues and spit them out, an entertaining over-actor with outside voice to spare. Yet as Jurassic Park’s chain-smoking chief engineer, he’s merely an over-worked, stressed-out employee who mostly just grumbles and mumbles, turning lines like “We have all the problems of a major theme park and a major zoo and the computer's not even on its feet yet” into exhausted art. He’s the one “Jurassic Park” character that could have fit right into “Office Space.”

2. Bob Peck as Robert Muldoon, Jurassic Park

The first time I saw this movie as a precocious teen, I think the park’s game warden barely made an impression. Years later, soured by age, my idealism extinguished, I adored the dude. “They were testing the fences for weaknesses, systematically,” he says of the dinos in an early sequence. “They remember.” And the spin Peck puts on those words, man oh man, you know that he knows they’re all gonna get it. He’s not Jurassic Park’s resident game warden; he’s its resident fatalist. 

1. Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park

It’s so nice to know that such an idiosyncratic performance could exist in a movie that roped in so much bank. In some ways, his chaotician, cracking wise while simultaneously pointing out mankind’s hubristic folly all while being “on the lookout for a future ex-Mrs. Malcolm” in the midst of taking swigs from his flask, was a Jurassic-era precursor to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. The dinosaurs are rad, man, but years-later re-watches of Spielberg’s blockbuster reveal that once Goldblum’s character is moved aside, the movie stops being as interesting. He’s not just there to call these men playing god on the carpet; he’s there to M.C. between rounds of exposition and action set pieces. In 1993, my favorite moment was the glass of water. In 2015, my favorite moment is Ian Malcolm sitting by himself talking to himself. “That’s chaos theory.”

1 comment:

Alex Withrow said...

YES to all. Postlethwaite is such a badass in The Lost World, and Peck's "SHOOOOOOT HEEEERRR" if forever ingrained in my memory from childhood. But, of course, Goldblum has to top. Love that scene of him talking to himself.