One of my selling points when I started the blog was ”the occasional in-depth analysis of a Jurassic Park movie”. It’s about time I delivered! My JP film of choice is the first one, the biggest hit of 1993 and my 7th favorite film of all time. My focus is its ending. It’s as perfect as endings get, bringing a tall tale of cloned killer dinosaurs to a poignant close.
I’m not talking about the climax, though that is perfection also. No, it’s the subsequent resolution, wherein the surviving characters escape the disaster-struck dino-park in a helicopter. John Hammond, the park’s elderly creator, gazes wistfully at his amber-encased mosquito – the inception and symbol of his now failed dream. The sun sets over the mighty Pacific Ocean. The romantic couple of the cast, paleobotanist Ellie Sattler and paleontologist Alan Grant, notice a flock of pelicans through the window. The elegant birds almost seem intent on accompanying them on the journey home. The credits roll. Not that you could read them, for all the tears.
However, beauty isn’t the scene’s sole accomplishment, nor the reason I’m dedicating a post to it. It also carries a powerful message. John Williams’s music is your first clue. It begins as a piano phrase, then blooms into orchestral grandeur when the birds appear. The same theme plays in the film’s first act, when Grant and Sattler meet the brachiosaurus and are brought to tears. It returns in the middle act, to shots of gift shop shelves teeming with dino-merch. Clearly, it’s meant to be the leitmotif of people’s fascination with dinosaurs. It embodies all the awe and wonder that those majestic beasts inspire. (It’s also the signature music of the franchise, returning in every sequel to prompt unearned goosebumps.) So why play it over the pelicans? Sure, birds are descended from dinosaurs, as Grant theorizes throughout the film, but still: Why have the soundtrack of awe and wonder accompany a flock of fowls?
Simple! Because those fowls are also awe-inspiring; they’re also wonderful. They’re living, breathing creatures who can soar effortlessly through the skies. And they’re only one of the myriad spectacular species that exist on this planet right now. We don’t have to clone dinosaurs. We don’t have to break a thousand technological boundaries just to fashion facsimiles of the past. That’s what Grant realizes. The animals of today are just as fascinating as any extinct reptile. Before you unfollow me, let me clarify that I love dinosaurs. So do you. But the scene isn’t admonishing us for that; it’s merely reminding us that we don’t need dinosaurs. It’s actually quite the achievement in non-verbal storytelling: By substituting dinosaurs for birds, but keeping the music the same, Jurassic Park assures us that we can derive the same wonder from the natural world of our lifetime.
That brings us to what I consider the thematic core of the film: ambition versus humility. (You thought I’d say chaos theory, didn’t you? Well, that’s chaos theory for you!) It’s one of the ageless human dilemmas: Do we change our surroundings to suit our desires, or do we enjoy and respect them the way they are? The stance of humility is represented in the movie by chaotician Ian Malcolm, who’s openly critical of the eponymous theme park. He insists that it defies the natural order of things and will prove impossible to control. The opposing stance of ambition is represented by John Hammond, the aforementioned park founder. He’s spearheading the greatest genetic undertaking in history, and he’s completely confident in its moral and practical viability. Note that the word “represent” in this case doesn’t imply allegory; the characters serve no hidden meaning, only themselves. But they advocate different sides of the thematic conflict. Even the colors of their clothing seem to denote their polarity.
Malcolm is proven right, of course. The park fails, the dinosaurs escape their enclosures, and many lives are gruesomely abbreviated. To be fair, the technical culprit is the greedy computer guy Dennis Nedry, who shuts down the park systems in order to steal dinosaur embryos. But it only snowballs into disaster because of Hammond’s lack of precaution, forethought, and yes, humility before nature. Still, the movie doesn’t condemn ambition. After all, without Hammond’s efforts, we wouldn’t have had the tear-jerking brachiosaur encounter, the heartwarming triceratops scene, or the stunning gallimimus stampede. Moreover, Hammond is an extremely sympathetic character. Cheerful, round-faced, a child at heart – the man is adorable. Malcolm, on the other hand, is a sarcastic, self-important womanizer who sports a hypocritical leather jacket. This makes Jurassic Park a much more effective cautionary tale – you don’t have to be evil to be blinded by ambition. The lawyer Gennaro, however, is both ambitious and a jerk, and he suffers a darkly comical fate for this congruence.
From all this information, we can map the development of the theme throughout the story. The first half of the film demonstrates that ambition isn’t inherently bad; it lives within the most wonderful people, and can produce jaw-dropping beauty. But we gradually learn that Hammond’s ambition is unmitigated by humility. Thus his park eventually fails. The characters pay the price for overambition in the second half, some of them the ultimate price. At the end, those who still breathe have had it up to here with ambition. As if in response, a flock of birds appears to remind them of just how wonderful humility can be. I love that a film as ambitious as Jurassic Park goes out on that message. Any intelligent species has a responsibility to respect the world that spawned it, and will be happier for it, too.
Also, kids are cute. Yeah, that’s a whole other arc: Alan Grant initially doesn’t like kids, but when he’s tasked with escorting Hammond’s two grandchildren unharmed through the dinosaur mayhem, he inevitably bonds with them. I didn’t mention it earlier, but before Grant spots the pelican in the final scene, he glances down at the children resting against his shoulders, then smiles tenderly at Sattler, implying that he wouldn’t mind starting a family with her. It’s a cute subplot that fits snugly into the theme of trust in nature. That is, until it’s undone in Jurassic Park III, where the two have broken up and Grant stays childless. Oh, how I wish I could say that was that sequel’s biggest mistake.