' Cinema Romantico: Shout-Out to the Extra: Jurassic Park Version

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Shout-Out to the Extra: Jurassic Park Version

Shout-Out to the Extra is a sporadic series in which Cinema Romantico shouts out the extras, the background actors, the bit part players, the almost out of your sight line performers who expertly round out our movies with epic blink & you’ll miss it care.

“Jurassic Park”, 1993’s blockbuster box office champ, was notable for its dinosaur special effects, obviously, as well as Jeff Goldblum’s scene-stealing, kooky supporting performance. Yet there was another performance just as memorable as Goldblum’s. No, not Sam Neill, though he was efficiently taciturn, and not Samuel L. Jackson, who chainsmoked with fine verve, but Laura Dern as Dr. Ellie Satler, an underwritten part compared to her male brethren that Dern nonetheless gave so many little bits of actorly flourish, both in scenes and moments where she is featured and on the edge of frames where if you watch close you see she is never not up to something.

I think of when we are introduced to both her and Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant on a paleontological dig in the Badlands of Wyoming, which allows space for us to simultaneously see Grant’s expertise and his dislike for kids when he lectures a particularly precocious young boy on the attack methods of velociraptors. As Neill’s character is about to launch into his soliloquy, Dern, standing at his side, busts out this incredulous grin and says, mostly to herself, “Uh oh, here we go.” Perhaps I’m wrong, but it strikes me as a moment Dern improvised given how its dialed back a little bit on the audio and sort of off to the side of the principal action. And yet it speaks volumes, evoking how this forthcoming lecture is typical for Dr. Grant, and something Dr. Sattler has learned to live with.

Though Dern is a principal cast member, this moment also speaks to the extra’s plight, forced to populate scenes where they are never ever the focal point and yet round them out anyway by always appearing to be engaged with what’s happening in front of them. Like, say, this extra…


She is simply there to provide an audience for Dr. Grant, of course, a homo sapien filling in the frame. And given that this scene was filmed at Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave Desert, which could have been the comfiest day of shooting, it would be easy to forgive an extra for just coasting. This extra does not coast. She is listening to Dr. Grant, by God, even if it might be the 29th take in a row for Neill, hanging on every word and then reacting to whatever those words, like these...


Here in the wake of Dr. Grant explaining just how easily a velociraptor can spill your intestines, the extra exudes less horror than “Golly gee willikers”, a choice I admire. Just like Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler cannot undertake an excavation without a few trusted underlings, a director like Steven Spielberg cannot film a scene of an excavation without a few trusted extras to make it all seem real. When the actual velociraptors show up later they are predominantly at the mercy of animatronics, but this extra is at the mercy of no one’s decisions but her own. Respect.

Pour one out for the extra...


1 comment:

Alex Withrow said...

Oh man, this is priceless. I can't wait to look at all the previous posts in this series.