June 29, 2018

Watch: How the Screenplay For 'Jurassic Park' Creates Conflict Amongst Its Characters

Here's how 'Jurassic Park' uses its screenplay to do far more than merely showcase dinosaurs. 

Ever since the on-screen introduction of Jurassic Park back in 1993, the franchise's main attraction has been those pesky dinosaurs and the hijinx they get up to on that island where nothing could possibly go wrong

But as this video from Michael Tucker and Lessons from the Screenplay illustrates, what's more important are the way the filmmakers create "interesting characters who are used to explore an important modern theme," presenting what's ultimately more than a typical rollercoaster theme park summer movie. 

The Theme

Quoting from the superb Into the Woods: A Five-Act Journey into Story by John Yorke, Tucker gives the definition of theme: a theory is posited; an argument explored; a conclusion reached. "That, in a nutshell," says Tucker, "is what theme is," continuing, "Subject matter is a static, given. Theme, on the other hand, is an active exploration of an idea."

It's a premise and a question, and in this case, the question is, "Is it a good idea to bring back dangerous creatures just because we can?" and "is everything we call progress actually progress?" 

From the early beginnings of the franchise, author Michael Crichton and screenwriter David Koepp explored this idea through the characters of Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. John Hammond. Grant represents the anti-progress point of view, while Hammond...is the opposite (in Yorke's view, a 'traditionally' successful story is often an argument between two different points-of-view, with the outcome of the story a sort of synthesis of the two, a reconciliation of the dual sides of human nature).

In fact, Hammond is so pro-technology that "even when a worker is killed, his only concern is that it might delay the park's opening." Check out his favorite catchphrase, "No expense spared," remixed for the YouTube age.)

Testing the Theme

Tucker notes that we must find ways of testing the characters. This occurs in Act II of the screenplay when the two are split on opposite sides of the island and confronted with situations that test their beliefs (one skeptical, and the other prepared...to spare no expense.)

The story is therefore structured as an argument between the two sides. Grant's way of handling things, which grows his character in the process by drawing him into an active life-or-death struggle, is aptly illustrated below.

Throughout the second half of the film, Grant is not only forced to get along without technology, but (for added emotional heft) he also has the lives of Hammond's grandchildren in his hands. Hammond is forced to confront the idea that his love of progress has put his loved ones in danger, something he would rather not come to terms with (a classic example of the sunk-cost fallacy) no matter how many expenses have yet to be spared.

And later in the film, Dr. Sattler's character even confronts Hammond, forcing him to elucidate his view, once and for all (note the catchphrase at the end.)

Tucker has tried to show what I think is a very valid and important aspect of narrative storytelling, the sort of storytelling that people tend to respond to, neither treacly or needlessly cynical in its approach. What Yorke points out in his book is that traditional stories often are of arguments that present two diametrically opposed worldviews that are then enabled to duke it out on-screen.

Serving the role of the protagonist, the viewer gets to be a part of the argument, and at the end (if the story is successful) there is a synthesis between the two arguments. After all, this is a kid's movie.

Be sure to check out Tucker's video above and then get a copy of Into the Woods too!     

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