“Dig: An Archaeology of Spielberg’s ‘Jurassic Park’”, Fifth International Symposium on Electronic Art Proceedings, Helsinki, August, Helsinki, World Wide Web, http://isea.com.uqam.ca, 1994.

Machines in the Garden Spielberg’s Jurassic Park

“We live in the archeological ruins of that new world that never was. If we knew where to dig, who knows what we might find?”
Martin Cruz Smith, Red Square, 1992 (pp92-93)


Jurassic Park is undoubtably one of the biggest box office successes of all time. In its first three weeks in the US it took over $200 million, easily recouping its own monstrous budget of $150 million and making up for its unusually lengthy production schedule. It perfectly illustrates the logic of major film events that have become a central feature of the new Hollywood system. As pure spectacle, Jurassic Park marshals a number of popular discourses, converging them upon the body of technologically reanimated dinosaurs in the space of an edenic theme park. Its huge audiences can be attributed to a massive globally-coordinated advertising campaign that mobilised a number of adjacent fields of technology and entertainment.

Intensifying and perfecting the marketing and promotional strategies that Spielberg pioneered with earlier films (such as Jaws, ET, and Indiana Jones), Jurassic Park targets a ready-made audience that seems eager to feed on the hype generated for the film. Short-circuiting even bad word of mouth, Jurassic Park was a must-see film that recouped its money before even the slightest criticism could jeopardise its chances of box office success.

As such, it is an exemplary instance of how the industrial entertainment complex functions in the latter part of the twentieth century. It is an extraordinary assemblage of effects, techniques and ploys that have their origins outside the usual instrumentalities of the cinema. The film is characterised by the same precision in locating and satisfying consumers that has been developed in advertising, theme parks and shopping malls alike. It is a central point in a system of consumption that replicates itself across a number of increasingly integrated though geographically discontinuous spaces.

In order to properly understand the cultural and technological significance of Jurassic Park it is necessary to look at its origins in a number of nineteenth and twentieth century forms that are often excluded from cinema studies. As Carolyn Marvin has argued in her book on the development of electric communication, “the introduction of new media is a special historical occasion when patterns anchored in older media that have provided the stable currency of social exchange are reexamined, challenged, and defeated.” Moreover, the early history of mechanical and electric forms of communication is less the result of “technical efficiencies in communication than a series of arenas for negotiating issues crucial to the conduct of social life… Here, the focus of communication is shifted from the instrument to the drama in which existing groups perpetually negotiate power, authority, representation and knowledge… New media intrude on these negotiations by providing new platforms on which old groups confront each other.”

The purpose of this paper is to uncover some of these negotiations, platforms and conflicts, to dig around the body of the film a little, to perform an archaeology of its surrounding and underlying sites. Like palaeontologist Dr Grant and the Costa Rican amber miner at the start of the, we’re all diggers when it comes to Jurassic Park.

Adjacent Attractions

It can be argued that JP is a heightened, breakthrough achievement in the construction of entertainment machines that mimic contemporary spaces of consumption. Its spatialised kinetic fiction represents a part of a landscape of consumption that is mirrored across a number of planes. JP mimics the structure and organisational principles of the theme park, its collapsing of space and triumph of illusion. More importantly, it represents the perfect form of commercial entertainment for the shopping mall as theme park. The film achieves the same level and order of illusion ordered around the pleasure of “motive” consumers, surrogate shoppers cruising though an escapist cocoon.

Following Margaret Crawford’s historical and critical analysis of the shopping mall, we can say that JP creates its version of second nature in a way which is perfectly in sync with the illusionistic spaces of the shopping mall. “Exaggerating the differences between the world outside and the world inside established a basic mall trope: an inverted space whose forbidding exteriors hid paradisiacal interiors.” JP even criticises commerce in order to stimulate it. This is obvious enough. Even more intriguing is the proposition that the film is made so that it too can be seamlessly incorporated into the increasingly interchangeable and interdependent spaces of shopping complexes and them parks. Its lack of narrative coherence and detailing is replaced by a newer spatial ordering that mirrors the same disjunctures of desire, movement, vision and purchase now commonplace in any shopping mall. JP is hence a perfectly integrated product for the functional needs of malls to incorporate suitable recreational services into its space.

The film’s “contrived packaging, obvious manipulation, and mass market imagery” is, like the theme park it is modelled on and shopping mall it is destined to be part of, a particularly vivid instance of cinema as mass-consumption environment. What Crawford says of Disneyland is equally true f JP:

“Theme-park attractions are now commonplace in shopping malls; indeed, the two forms converge” malls routinely entertain, while theme parks function as disguised marketplaces. Both offer controlled and carefully packaged public spaces and pedestrian experiences to auto-dependent suburban families already primed for passive consumption by television… While enclosed shopping malls suspended space, time, and weather, Disneyland went one step further and suspended reality. Any geographic, cultural, or mythical location… could be reconfigured as a setting for entertainment.”

From this perspective, JP the film, is a form of suspended reality that carefully controls and packages its spaces and event modules in a mythical location, reconfigured for entertainment” just like the JP of the diegesis. The pleasures and dangers it offers are like those of the amusement parks it owes its existence to. Although the major theme of the film is a pulping of the tragic man-meddling-with-nature (a narrative theme), this is ultimately resolved by the formation of a two child family and their right to consume in safety (a property of kinaesthetic entertainment, which still submits to narrative). That the film relies on a fundamental violence and not-so-cheap shock effects is part of the same logic. The thrills are effective, but nonetheless highly contrived rushes of adrenalin and pseudo fear. Like the rush associated with thrill rides and horror movies alike, nothing is fundamentally challenged or deeply effected. All the effects are on the surface of space and motion, not of narrative as we might normally expect.

Towards the end of the film the multi-millionaire entrepreneur John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) ponders the fate of his unmitigated disaster. Three people have been eaten by dinosaurs, the park is in tatters, and the monstrous raptors are still on the loose. “When Disneyland opened in 1956 it was a complete disaster” he argues to Jeff Goldblum. “Yeah, but if something went wrong at least the Pirates of the Carribean wouldn’t eat the visitors!” is Goldblum’s deadpan response. The irony of course is that the audience of JP is just like the Disney audience. The pleasure in terror may be quite visceral, but it can only simulate the flirtation with real danger and threat of death.

Mimetic Amusements

In recent years there has been an increasing interest in film and cultural studies to reassess the rise and evolution of popular entertainments such as the cinema and the amusement park. The development of electronic media and forms of information and entertainment can be seen as part of a more general genealogy of culture. In the words of Lauren Rabinovitz, we can see the evolution of the cinema and theme parks “as mutual sites of pleasurable gazing [which] are doubly articulated in the cinematic process of spectatorship and the mimetic representation of the amusement park ride.” This kind of approach is particularly useful for any critical analysis of mass entertainment forms in the age of electronic and digital reproduction. Jurassic Park spectacularly brings these things together.

In her insightful book on technology, literature and culture in modernist America, Cecelia Tichi refers to the predominance of girders and gears at the turn of the century as part of a broader scenario of cultural change. At this moment the dominant technology was seeking to redefine human roles in relation to nature. Rather than view the modernist literature of people like William Carlos Williams as a reflection of social and ideological change, she insists that their poetry is the machine. “The machine-age text does not contain representations of the machine” it too is the machine… [A] technological revolution is a revolution not only of science and technology but of language, of fiction, and ultimately of poetry.” In a similar fashion we can say that a film like Jurassic Park is not just a reflection of technological change, but that it is a working part of the present industrial entertainment complex. It is not merely a representation of those changes.

Before turning to an archaeology of some of these surrounding discourses in general, and analysing the strategies of the film in detail, it’s worth summarising a few tendencies that the film capitalises upon. As I will argue, these tendencies are not only crucial to its success, but they are also framed by and incorporated into the film itself. Indeed, the fundamental logic of Jurassic Park is one of incorporation and containment. The film is particularly noteworthy as an example of how contemporary commercial forms cannibalise and feed off others. Jurassic Park represents more than a complex moment of contemporary cinema. It is the commercial node around which merchandising, marketing and product tie-ins define the nature of the film itself. In contemporary popular culture, at least at this scale, it’s a case of eat or be eaten.

Jurassic Park, the movie, consumes and processes a number of cultural main courses. One of the most striking aspects of the film however is that it manages to do this without reliance upon a sophisticated narrative, well developed plot, or sustained characters. It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that in Jurassic Park the dinosaurs are indisputably the stars of the film.

This tendency has historical precursors. As Andre Gaudreault and Tom Gunning have argued, the primary motivating force in what they refer to as the early cinema of attractions, had little to do with story. “Such apparently different approaches as the trick film and actuality filmmaking unite in using cinema to present a series of views to audiences, views fascinating because of their illusory power … and exoticism. The cinema of attractions, rather than telling stories, bases itself on film’s ability to show something… [T]his is an exhibitionist cinema, a cinema that displays its visibility, willing to rupture a self-enclosed fictional world to solicit the attention of its spectator.” Far from representing the decay of American cinema, one could convincingly argue that Jurassic Park is the final result of this exhibitionistic tendency of display. Like the magic films of Melies, this kind of filmmaking is “in effect, plotless, a series of transformations strung together with little connection and practically no characterisation.”

In many places it actually seems as though the traditional approach to filmmaking has been thrown out altogether. Hence, Jurassic Park does not lie at the pinnacle of American narrative cinema. In fact it is its nemesis. Jurassic Park is at the height of another tradition which has not been subject to the same degree of critical attention. It’s part of an American kinaesthetic cinema where the ride of the same name actually holds the secrets of the film’s meaning and significance. Many Hollywood movies have offered these elements as part of their spectacle. This is a bodily cinema of shocks and effects, a hyperactive cinema of mainstream attractions. Its primary function is to move the audience through a series of kinetically linked spaces, a filmic architecture and geography of events that is negotiated (we could even say navigated) by the viewer as if on a ride.

Although the film is an adaptation of the novel, the production techniques are anything but writerly. In fact the screenplay was written around the production design of the film. After gaining the rights to the book, production designer Rick Carter supervised the visual adaptation of the Crichton story, working without a script. The storyboard that was developed was assembled from a series of favoured sequences drawn by a team of artists. According to Don Shay and Jody Duncan,

“Spielberg employed storyboards in much the same manner as the early Disney animators” as a means of structuring his storyline and establishing visual framework… Rick Carter…Ed Verreaux, Marty Kline, Tom Cranham, David Lowery, and John Bell worked initially without a script, pulling favoured sequences directly from the… source novel and translating them into visual images… Over a period of months, even years, the storyboards were refined and revised, and even utilised by the screenwriters in developing the final shooting script.”

The image sequence, design and effects come before the traditional script.

The Reality of Effects

It should be no surprise then that computer graphics form one of the film’s most hyped components. The seamless insistence of the computer models match the live action perfectly. As if to demonstrate the tyranny of special effects in cinema, the film takes the opportunity to model 3D dinosaurs as its cue to visually verify what has previously been the subject of scientific imagination. If we are to believe the journalism, “the fantasy is so compelling that we can imagine live dinosaurs in our world.”

Special effects supervisor Dennis Muren goes even further: “Everyone’s seen hundreds of dinosaur movies, but actually, they’ve never seen a dinosaur before… When you get to the level of imagery that’s never seemed realistic before, it transcends everything.” How could audiences possibly leave the cinema without being totally convinced that dinosaurs do exist, despite the fact they disappeared from the face of the earth 65 million years ago?

This is, supposedy, what dinosaurs are like. Their status as historically extinct species is annihilated by the mechanism of cinematic effects. That these creatures can be seen to be re-animated from the edges of science fiction-cum-fact only adds to the believability and veracity of images that no longer have a referent in the real.

Stephen Jay Gould’s comments in this regard are absolutely correct. Although science fiction is based on the idea of making what is impossible by today’s technological achievements possible, Jurassic Park is founded on a categroical error. When we say “that a particular jistorical item” like a dinosaur species” can’t be recovered, we are invoking a different and truly inlutable brand of impossibility. If all information about a hisorical event has been lost, then it just isn’t there anymore and the event cannot be reconstructed.”

This is not exactly news, but it does represent a zenith point in the evolution of the image-sound effect. In classic film theory terms we might have said that Jurassic Park cleverly orchestrates its reality effect through profoundly artificial means. In today’s language we could more properly say that Jurassic Park demonstrates the victory of the reality of effects. More significantly than the tagline for the veracity of Superman’s SFX” “You really will believe a man can fly”" Jurassic Park presents living, breathing, walking, fighting, eating dinosaurs with astounding phenomenological veracity. Not only do we believe that dinosaurs can exist, we can see them in all their physiological complexity as well. Hence all the gags about dinosaur shit that run through the movie.

All of the effects of Jurassic Park converge on the site of the park, located in grand Hollywood tradition “somewhere off the coast of Costa Rica”. That we get no map (save for an animated 3D island, floating in the middle of an unnamed ocean) or explanation (besides the brief subtitles) is of no great importance. The audience is already completely familiar with the terrain of the film by other means. To stretch the metaphor a little, the ground of Jurassic Park is not geographic, or even historiographic. It’s cultural. We could summarise some of these influences in the following manner:

1. Machine in the Garden: the history of gardens, amusement parks, theme parks
2. Artificial Nature: popular science: artificial life, cloning, complexity, chaos
3. Publicity Machines: pre-publicity: promotions, tie-ins, packaging
4. Monsters and Dinosaur cults: history of horror sci-fi films
5. Motor Rides
6. Containment: meta-narrative, repetition, reduplication
7. Sonic Booms: sound as organising principle
8. Spectacle: the reality of effects

Each of these elements precedes and informs the film. They are systematically exploited and threaded into the fabric of the Jurassic Park phenomenon. Jurassic Park is nothing more than the sum total of its parts, cleverly erasing the boundaries between filmic inside and cultural outside. Commercial life and entertainment are rendered indistinguishable. It’s not just that the film has the occasional self-referential dig at itself. Narrative structure has been replaced by a strategy of doubling, repetition, reduplication, incorporation and containment.

The film is nothing other than a seamless pasting together of what we could anachronistically call its own textual effects combined with reproducible effects of a larger external culture. In short, Jurassic Park digs itself out of the graveyard of popular culture only to reanimate itself in equally cannibalistic terms. The film is inextricably linked to its historical conditions of emergence and enveloping cultural contexts.

1. The Machine in the Garden

In his Sight and Sound criticism of Jurassic Park, Peter Wollen quotes Michael Sorkin on the significance of Crystal Palace after it was moved from its original site for the World Exposition to Sydenham in 1851. The Palace itself was a paean to the ideals of engineering that modelled itself after the designs of nature. Paxton is said to have thought of the iron girder structure after observing giant Brazillian waterlilies. The great nineteenth century palaeontologist Richard Owen surrounded the palace with life-size models of dinosaurs, which became a popular tourist attraction. “Not only was it laid out like a great cathedral, with nave and transept, but it was also the largest greenhouse ever built, its interior filled with greenery as well as goods, a climate-controlled reconciliation of Arcadia and industry, a garden for machines.”

The collision of the machine with the garden has a prehistory that leads up until the establishment of the idea of parks. Unlike the park, the garden has primarily been considered as a site for the creation of nature. That is to say the garden is not a wild edenic state that mimics some essential organic order. Instead, it has been conceived (across a number of cultures) as a way of representing human relations in natural forms. Often, as in the case of formal gardens, this invokes a subservience of the natural to the human order. Out of the perceptual order of the garden” of sight, sound, touch and motion” would invariably emerge the sense of human dominion. Louis XIV’s garden of Versailles (built by Andre de Notre), Alexander Pope’s elegiac English gardens, Japanese rock gardens, or the Mogul glory of the Taj Mahal all work to symbolise or allegorise cultural life in earthly terms. Their political and social messages could be seen as models of a codified and hence ultimately sensible world.

The advent of the park brought about a somewhat different conception of nature and the organisation of the landscape. The idea of the park is more closely tied to notions of preservation and wilderness that were emerging at the end of the 19th century. The park would re-establish and preserve what was deemed to be disappearing. With the advent of increasingly destructive and faster forms of transport, the nature strip connecting road and city to nature becomes all important.

Like Paxton’s Crystal Palace, the park would become the obvious conclusion of such technological curiosities as the winter garden. According to American video artist Dan Graham, “the meditative, private garden was replaced by the public botanical garden-museum and became a place for mass entertainment and a temporary refuge from everyday life.” Furthermore, they functioned ” as a way of employing technology to create a more ideal structure as a socialist, bucolic antidote to the capitalist city.”

“Versailles served literally as a theatrical backdrop for a continuous show that incorporated and demonstrated the power of the king.” Today’s theme park provides an illusory backdrop for the functioning of a different kind of power.

The garden of Jurassic Park calls to mind a discrepancy between what Erwin Panofsky calls “the supernatural perfection of an imaginary environment and the natural limitations of human life as it is”. Along with Leo Marx, whose germinal work The Machine in the Garden has informed more than a few of the ideas in this paper, let us agree that what “begins as a conventional tribute to the pleasures of withdrawal from the world” a simple pleasure fantasy” is transformed by the interruption of the machine into a far more complex state of mind.” This is especially true, and even more complex when the machines are manufactured biological organisms, pure artifice, yet perfect simulations of dangerous life from another age.

2. Artificial Nature

“All that is living is an artefact. Nature is a simulacrum. Nature is a wild, primitive, savage world, but in this world only the appearance is taken on by the machine in the utopian play.” Louis Marin

The same inverse laws of logic apply with the development of computer animation and special effects. The ground breaking nature of both in Jurassic Park has nothing to do with humans becoming better controllers of the machines. In fact, the opposite is true. Most of the ‘unmachine-like’ SFX are actually the result of complex computer based processes. For instance, the key sequence where we see a pack of dinosaurs “flocking” is not animated in traditional cell and key-frame fashion. The ‘realistic’ flocking effect is actually more closely tied to developments made in biology and mathematics. Commonly referred to as artificial life, or a-life for short, this new discipline takes the powerful advances made in studies in complexity and applies them to the modelling of biological forms and environments. Speaking of how animators and scientists model such behaviour and motion by way of computer animation modules called “boids”, Christopher Langton explains the process:

“The modeller can specify the manner in which the individual Boids will respond to local events or conditions. The global behaviour of the aggregate of boids is strictly an emergent phenomenon, none of the rules for the individual Boids depends on global information.”

This kind of modelling and computing procedure which takes its cue from John von Neuman’s concept of cellular automata, captures the flavour of what goes on in natural biological phenomenon. It is primarily a dynamic modelling system that produces an emergent behaviour that is only programmed at the local level.

Complex, dynamic behaviour (such as the apparent flocking) can be generated by a small number of simple rules. Most importantly for this discussion, the emergent behaviour is not exactly predictable. The recursive process of algorithmic calculation determines the final result. In simple terms, the animator does not ‘draw’ each movement in a complex group action. Instead, the individual animation elements are assigned a small number of behavioural parameters, which produces seemingly complex patterns when applied over a large number of units.

Similar approaches are taken in the creation of textures, shapes and transformations which are utilised in Jurassic Park. The most natural looking textures and actions are best achieved through what is often perceived as the most unnatural of processes.

The work of biologists Przemyslaw Prusinkieicz and Aristid Lindenmayer has also found a variety of applications in the convergence of computer graphics and biological visualisation. Their mathematical models of biological structures and processes can be used to model natural organic phenomena in “realistic” ways, using L-systems and reaction diffusion processes. As Karl Sims has recently commented, “many of these natural processes can be performed in simulation on computers. As more and more powerful computers continue to be built, we can expect many intriguing and complex artificial results to emerge… Whether the emerging virtual entities will qualify for the category of ‘life’ or not, is the subject of some debate, but in either case these simulated life-like processes give us new methods for the creation of complexity.”

The inimitable Jeff Goldblum (playing chaologist Ian Malcolm) puts it this way: “God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man, man destroys god. Man creates dinosaurs.” But it’s Laura Dern (as palaeontologist Ellie Sattler) who gets the last word: “Dinosaurs eat man. Women inherits the earth.”

3. Publicity Machines
The pre-publicity
Promotions, tie-ins and packaging

The film spends more than “a little time with its target audience”, as John Hammond ironically says about halfway through the film. I don’t have time here to dwell on this today. Given that most will be familiar with the enormous amount of packaging, marketing and promotion that has surrounded the film, let’s just not that the film cleverly contains the consumer object within its own fiction. More than a hundred licensees have produced Jurassic Park merchandising, most of it aimed at the family market. “Along with the box office, all those T-shirt and mugs and key tags and toys are, after all, the fuel that drives both enterprises, real film and imaginary theme park … video games, action figures and play sets, breakfast cereal and hamburger promotions, plush toys, magnets, story books, lunch boxes, pencils and, of course [the] ride at Universal Studio’s very own theme parks in California and Florida.”

4. Monsters and Dinosaur cults

Similarly, let’s quickly gloss over some of the film’s connections to other cinematic forays into the world of dinosaurs, nature and machines out of control.

Crichton and Spielberg have tackled many of the issues presented in Jurassic Park before, and they have no hesitation referencing their earlier works. Perhaps this is excusable given the degree to which many of these films have already pervaded popular consciousness. As many reviewers have noted, Jurassic Park is a reprise to Jaws, the first of Spielberg’s monster suspense machines to invade popular airwaves and theatres. Close Encounters was also groundbreaking in its use of special effects, and well remembered for its soppy sentimentality hidden behind a blur of bright lights and B grade sci fi. There are also more than a few references to Raiders of the Lost Ark, with its runaway rolling rock that threatens to plough Indiana Jones into the spiky ground. In Jurassic Park the trashed For Explorer follows Dr Grant (Sam Neill) and weeny Tim (Joseph Mazello) from the top of a tree” the unlikely spot where it has precariously come to rest” to the ground in three hair-raising straight-at-the-camera style motions.

Crichton’s Westworld is probably even closer to Jurassic Park, thematically speaking. Its tale of an off-planet amusement/theme park where “nothing can go wrong” is decidedly seventies in its narrative of dysfunction and alienation. Many of the ideas that come to fruition in the novel Jurassic Park are certainly also present in this film, but there are none of the shock kinaesthetic effects that mark Jurassic Park off from other similar films. In Westworld the maniacal robot lies disguised beneath the outer shell of Yul Brynner, whereas in Jurassic Park the technophobic impulse is given flesh by the illusions of computer animation and special effects. To many, Spielberg’s contribution is the last word on the subject of dinosaurs, paying tribute to the lost world sub-genre along the way.

We could also, very quickly, note the technological and social impact King Kong (1933) had in its day. [We could also mention Willis H. O'Brien's special effects work on Kong, Ray Harryhausen's stop motion FX in The Valley of Gwangi (1969), or even Roger Corman's Jurassic Park cash-in, Carnosaur (1993).] The list of other dino films that precede Jurassic Park and confers pop-cult preknowledge status upon our most recent non-latex inventions could include the following: Dinosaurs (1960), When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1971), The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953), Baby (1983), The Land That Time Forgot (1974), The Land Unknown (1957), Land Before Time (1988), Planet of the Dinosaurs (1978) or any of the Godzilla cycle (starting in 1954).

5. Motor Rides

As Kim Newman has put it, the “narrative motor of Jurassic Park is the overlap of irreconcilable agendas: the creation and ultimate failure of the theme park requires the input of caring palaeontologists, wide-eyed children, Frankensteinian genetic engineers, chaos doomsayers, ‘bloodsucking lawyers’, ferocious predators and a fatherly multi-millionaire. Similarly conflicted and contrasting motives power the conversion of Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel into an ‘event’ movie by Steven Spielberg. The stresses between the plot and the circumstances of its depiction are what make this blockbuster at once all-but-infallible entertainment and a demonstration of its character Ian Malcolm’s theory that things go wrong exponentially. ”

[Vivian Sobchack on the phenomenology of film experience. ]

Scott Bukhatman: “The genre of science fiction often exhibits its spectatorial excess in the form of the special effect, which is especially effective at bringing narrative to a temporary and spectacular halt. Effects are exhibitionistic rather than voyeuristic” in other words, they are designed to be seen. Science fiction participates in the presentational mode through the prevalence of optical effects that re-integrate the spatiality of the spectacle with the ‘actual’ spatiality of the theatre to create a phenomenologically significant experience.”

Jurassic Park enacts a number of prevalent fears and anxieties of the speeding juggernaut of technological society. How far should technology go, and how much has it run off the rails altogether? Life itself is now created by the monstrous power of humans and computer machines. And of course, everything goes wrong. It is a direct expression of the pastoralist idealism so incisively dealt with by Leo Marx. Quoting Thoreau’s famous maxim on the deadly fatalism of the invading machine, the railway is cast as an instrument of oppression: “We do not ride upon the railroad; it rides upon us”. From the perspective of Walden pond, the machine can only bring catastrophe and discordance to edenic states.

Jurassic Park also meshes neatly into the emerging media (if we can call it that) of immersive cinema environments, which are a cross between amusement park rides, special venue cinema, and limited passenger motion based cinemas. Starting with the international expositions of the World’s Fairs, a vast array of experimental communicative and technological forms were showcased to awe-inspired audiences. Among the technologies making a debut at the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 were both the Ferris Wheel and Muybridge’s flickering pictures of trotting horses. Though both these technologies emerged around the same time and under similar conditions, they have not yet converged into a viable mass entertainment form, despite the predictions of the seers of hi-tech developments. Both thrill rides and cinema have developed into multimillion dollar business, their “cross pollination, however, is a relatively recent development.” The resulting entertainment form is commonly referred to as the ‘special venue film’. These attractions have mostly thrived in theme parks, tourist attractions and trade fairs. However, there is an increasing tendency however, for entertainment of this kind to be developed with the shopping mall and multiplex in mind. Jurasic Park can be seen as part of the developing adjacent field of entertainments which reduplicate the spatialised consumption required by the shopping mall into the structure of the film and its promotional attachments.

Companies such as Richard Edlund’s Boss Film, Ubi Iwerks’ Cinetropolis, Imax, Disney, Showscan, Omnimax, Douglas Trumball’s Ridefilm, as well as major studios such as Universal and Warners are developing and marketing theme rides. Many of these capitalise on the success of event films such as Batman, Back to the Future, Terminator II, and The Abyss (exploited in Japan as Terabyss). Douglas Trumball” who brought us the 70mm stargate sequence in 2001, the mothership FX in Close Encounters, the brooding landscape of Bladerunner, and the penultimate immersive cinema film Brainstorm” has been working with this technology for nearly 20 years.

During this time he has concluded that the kind of technologies that his “ride films” depend on are not commercially viable, Trumball has turned to the theme park as the logical venue for his kind of experiential cinema. The 1991 Back to the Future ride was shot in 65mm Omnimax and projected onto an 80 ft dome. “Visitors sit in an eight-passenger DeLorean time travel car as they chase … villain Biff Tannen, who is loose in the Institute of Future Technology and threatening to end the universe.” Sounds familiar.

In order to maintain the exact coordination of the motion base seating and the changes in perspective and sensations of acceleration, practically all of the film is shot in miniature using motion-control photography. More recently this necessity to control the motion of the image to such a high degree has made the use of fully digitally animated ride sequences even more attractive. The spate of virtual roller coaster rides at this year’s SIGGRAPH and Ars Electronica computer graphics festivals provides further evidence of this shift.

Calculated as dollar per minute rides, these machines are being conceived as indoor urban simulation centres” kind of like Disneyland at the shopping mall. According to Trumball “the idea of Ridefilm Theatres is to have a modular unit which is about 30 feet square, with a 15-foot ceiling on it… You can now fit this unit into any existing retail space, like a shopping mall or a multiplex cinema. It would have a 15-passenger motion base, with only one screen and one projector per vehicle.”

This is also the strategy of many of the networked virtual reality game centres, such as the militaristic Battle Tech centre in Chicago. For ten bucks participants get to fight it out in the shelter of a tank simulator for around ten minutes. There are plans to create other less offensive games environments, but to date none have been launched.

Judging from Trumbull’s previous work his approach is far more interesting than any of the VR environments currently available. That could all change very quickly, but when it does, it will probably be along the lines Trumbull has been exploring: “My interest in feature films has always been to try to explore this whole idea of an immersive, humanistic, first person kind of narrative. But with these new technologies and new formats that are being developed in the theme park, I don’t think Hollywood will ever catch up.”

The same technologies mentioned earlier were also utilised in the creation of many of the special effects for Jurassic Park. According to a report in Cinefex, perhaps “the most significant innovation in the T-Rex rig was the use of a motion platform to produce gross body movements… Motion platforms… having been used extensively for flight simulation, as well as in theme park attraction… were designed specifically to move massive weights with speed and accuracy.” Contrary to the way the special effects of Jurassic Park have been popularly presented, the dinosaurs are not the sole creation of computer technologies, as if these images have no material existence. What this shows us is the increasing convergence of mechanical hydrolics, amusement park robotics, computer modelling and the increasing sophistication of tactile feedback mechanisms that are an integral part of the digital cinema process.

Newman is not quite on track when he suggests that Jurassic Park is in love with its monsters. They are mostly not cute (except for the birth scene, the sick mother, and the “veggiesauruses”) and maintain their scare value precisely because of the terror so painstakingly built up from the opening sequence: “While the novel is an Awful Warning with a ‘gosh-wow-dinosaurs!’ undercurrent, the film is quite properly in love with its beasties, both as narrative necessity and as prelude to the inclusion of a Jurassic Park ride on the Universal Studio tour.”

We, the surrogate audience-traveller, get this tour in a different way. As the scientists and bloodsucking account are shown the sites (locked into a motion-based platform no less) the accountant Donald Gennaro asks whether “those are, err auto-erotica?”. “No no no” comes the reply from Hammond, “they’re animatronix”!

As Lauren Rabinovitz has shown in her studies of amusement parks in Chicago at the turn of the century, the mechanised ride offers pleasure “by reversing the usual relations between the body and the machinery in which the person controls and masters the machine.” Not only does the spatial and kinetic organisation of the amusement park change the relation between social groups and the landscape, but it does this through the prevailing ideology of the time. The bodies upon which the effects of the machines were felt were and still are highly specific sexual, racial and economic subjects.

Much of this is achieved through the construction of the park and its arrangement of time and space. It is worth remembering that patterns of leisure and work were profoundly effected by the impact of new mechanical and electric technologies. This may seem like a banality, but the transformation of night to day, the annihilation of space and time, and the reduction of physical labour through the achievements of new technologies cannot be underestimated. Indeed, as far as the amusement park was concerned, the “extravagance and scale of the architecture, the mix and confusion of different scales and details, the bright colours and the mechanical structures that dominated the environment addressed the visitor’s eye through their visual excess and velocity of parts-in-motion”. The white knuckle rides may have dramatised and spectacularised the assaults to the body and natural order that were taking place in the wider culture, but they also functioned to normalise these abrupt “shocks” that were being inscribed on the body in everyday social relations.

The staging of train accidents, gravity defying rides, terror go rounds and so on all connect in a very direct way to the accidents that came with the new mechanical forms of mass transportation. As has been amply demonstrated, these new machines exerted real pressure on very real bodies. Paul Virilio and Wolfgang Schivelbusch’s work on war, speed, fatigue and accidents exemplary in this regard.

6. Containment
The film’s “meta-narrative” strategy of repetition and reduplication
children of terror
“An interface is a surface forming a boundary between two regions… Traditional interface design has concerned itself largely with how that screen can present the most effective indication of the program’s scope and functionality… Viewing 3D graphics on a screen is like looking into the ocean from a glass-bottom boat.” Jurassic Park continually presents the world on view to us behind the interface of the screen. Grant’s first experiments are carried out via the technology of the computer depth sounding device, which presents a skeletal image of the raptor on the screen.

The dungeon like control room is fitted out with an array of Silicon Graphics and Macintosh computers that are meant to monitor and control the park. When the hapless crew arrive at the Tourist Centre on the island, they are shuttled to a small theatrette, where they watch an orientation movie that explains how the dinosaurs have been bred. Tourguide John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) is himself contained and redoubled by the film. He is literally “cloned”, on and off-screen. The two specially modified Ford Explorers are fitted out with interactive CD-ROM units. “Just point at the screen and it’ll tell us where to go” exclaims Lex (Ariana Richards) in a fit of childish hacker delight. The cars are themselves modified for their particular brand of safari, with the tops cut our to contain huge perspex sunroofs for viewing.

Halfway through the film these innocent windows on the world are systematically demonised, destroyed or rendered useless. The most visceral moments however are saved for the children. Faced with their first ‘real encounter’ with the terrifyingly loud and monstrous T-Rex, the kids protect themselves behind the safety of the perspex screen. Some protection! Amazingly, the screen does not give behind the force of the chomping T-Rex seen here in widescreen full closeup and heard in deafening DTS dolby surround sound.

The importance of the sound as an organisational device in Jurassic Park is worthy of some attention. The fidelity of the recording and playback of sounds does not figure in the film and its surrounding materials so much as there is a promotion of the idea of being surrounded by sound. The advances of the DTS dolby allow the audience to be enveloped by the motion of the film itself. The foley FX, orchestration and atmospherics all take precedence over the dialogue or any other diegetic principles.

There is a curious connection to some of the comments Leo Marx has made in relation to American literary versions of pastoral. Here, the 19th century domains of nature, peace, harmony and tranquillity are intruded upon by the discordant noise of machines. Not only are they repetitive and non-human, they grate, scream, huff and puff. The machine is noise “incarnate”, and further separates the machine inventions of humankind from the order of idealised “other-than-human” nature.

This might help explain why Jurassic Park is punctuated by a rhythmic intensity of sonic booms. Placed at crucial moments in the temporal unfolding of the film’s space, these threatening sounds are aural markers of monstrous disembodiment. They mark the realm of the nonhuman from the natural realm of nature and humanity unaltered. The dinosaurs are freakish re-creations of beings that were selected by nature for extinction (as Ian Malcolm puts it). They have no right to existence except as a consequence of the meddling of man and his machines.

Unlike Frankensteinian precursors, these monsters are living, breathing, biological beings. More like resurrected and bred zombies (as Wollen points out) these creatures have the dual status of both creature and scientific creation. The roar and thump of the dinosaurs confirms their nonhuman status at the same time that it reminds us of their human/scientific origins. They are more flesh than machine, the creation of genetic engineering unleashed on the world. This in turn heightens their escape from containment, their out of control wanderings and antisocial tendencies to indulge in human consumption!

7. Sonic Booms

A deep sonic boom of a depth charge that reveals the raptor skeleton on the computer screen at the digs in the Badlands. This is as good an example as any of how the film functions as a dense cluster of repetition that gradually creates meaning (not the same as narrative). The screen shows a skeleton, but it is also the site of Dr Grant’s technophobia. (it is worth noting that this skeleton also becomes the film’s logo, plastered on books, magazines, chewing gum, lunchboxes, and sides of vehicles in and out of the film.) The sound is paired to the iconic skeleton motif that informs the entire film.

Every time Grant touches a machine something goes wrong. One of the assistants comments that soon the depth charge computer graphic technique will be so accurate that they won’t have to bother digging at all. “Where’s the fun in that” Grant replies. The boom also acts to silence the crowd that gathers around the computer graphic representation. Except for a young kid who unadvisedly suggests that the deadly raptor looks more like an six foot turkey. This is the cue for Grant to engage in the first act of many kiddie terror scenes. Taking a sharp raptor claw in his hands, he proceeds to demonstrate how the beast would attack and devour its prey, while the victim was still alive.

Each of these simple clusters of meanings and event-images are echoed throughout the film. Together they provide the central organisational principle of the film. David Blair has noted that this metanarrative strategy is part of a complex sequence of references to an external popular culture and a constantly evolving internal cinematic logic. This kind of self-referentiality is not the same as the tendency to allusion that Noel Carrol has noted. Instead, this semiotic ordering and repetition of kinaesthetic image/sound modules is systematically deployed across the film’s surface.

The second sonic boom occurs on the island upon the first sighting of the dinos by the visitors. A third and more cliched use of the device of the boom announces the impending thunder storm which will unleash all the artificial forces of nature.

[Another is heard as the prelude to the first attack of the T-Rex. Coupled also to the ripples in the plastic cups of water and repeated in the puddle and Lex's jelly once back in the safety of the tourist centre. It is also close to the repetition of Dr Grant's bad relation to machines. The Explorers come to a halt. "Hey? What'd I touch now?" complains Grant. Nothing of course. But it's a sure sign of the machine's revenge regardless.]

A different aural assault is reserved for the dinosaurs themselves. Occupying the top end of the sound spectrum, these screeches signal the terrifying cries of monstrous birds capable of tearing a human limb from limb. The opening prelude introduces us to the caged raptor who screams terrifyingly as the gatekeeper is viciously eaten before our eyes.

The same scream recurs immediately after the tour of the facility turns sour. Malcolm comments that “life will not be contained. It smashes through barriers. Life finds a way.” Dr Grant asks in disbelief “You bred raptors?”, and is answered by the scream from the raptor cage. The next echo aurally and visually confirms that this dino life has broken through barriers in the most violent of fashions. The caged raptor demolishes a cow whole” along with most of the aluminium structure that had held it in place! “Anyone for lunch?” is Hammond’s inappropriate reply to the savage display of contained force.

The children scream in terror as they try to escape the shrill ear-piercing screech of the T-Rex, which turns the Explorer the kids occupy into scrap metal. Each close up of the beast brings another scream (either its own or the kids) which surrounds the entire audience from all sides.

8. Spectacle and the Reality of Effects

As Peter Wollen has noted, dinosaurs “have become commodities, fetishised attractions in the Society of the Spectacle.” This may be obvious enough. But Wollen tends to view Jurassic Park as a technological horror film which plays out the breakdown of the safe civilised world engulfed by the wilds of a rioting chaotic nature. Hence the familiar take on horror as the “return of the repressed… some metaphoric digging up of what should stay buried.” He’s closer to the mark I think when he complains that it’s “as if Jurassic Park, the film, was really designed to end up as Jurassic Park, the ride. The strip of film unspooling through the projector is like the single-rail automated people-mover designed to shuttle tourists safely around the park. In both cases the ride turns into a nightmare from which we will emerge safely in the end.”

[Wolfgang Schivelbusch has also given a fabulously detailed and evocative account of how the railway journey changed western perceptions. Not only does our sense of time and space change along with the changes to the railways and its attendant developments, but so too do our notions of landscape, leisure and entertainment.

David Nye's recent history of the electrification of north America gives us another perspective from which to view these technological developments. His sociological study provides ample connections between the culture of everyday life and the evolution of electrical devices. The electric trolley car is most pertinent here. It's eventual replacement of the horse drawn car is not merely an instance of technological determinism, of machines winning out over human power. In fact these trolleys could only succeed once other changes in economies and social perception had been achieved.

As it turns out, the companies who brought electrical power to urban centres would also be in partnership with the makers of the new electric trolley cars. In order to maximise the efficiency of the services, the companies would encourage workers to use the cars on their days off. What better way to spend a hot afternoon than on a breeze generating trolleycar? At the end of the line many enterprising business-people would set up fairs and parks. Many of the scenic railways and rollercoaster attractions were built and managed by the exact same companies that ran the intercity transportation.

Rabinovitz also documents similar attractions, but has more of a critical stance. Writing of Riverview, Chicago's equivalent of Coney Island, she has commented on its geographic seclusion and proximity to the urban centre. " Its general accessibility depended on the 1907 extension of one elevated railway line that opened a station outside Riverview and on free street car service from the terminus of the other elevated railway... Its promise of isolation and separation from the city perpetuated cultural patterns that identified leisure with spatial representations of nature and with tourist travel as opposed to urban civilisation." ]


To conclude, we can say the Jurassic Park draws together a number of popular and effective discourses in a bodily form of cinema. As such, its ideologies and effects succeed in a different fashion from what we might ordinarily expect. The film cannot be explained in auteurist, narrative or even simple ideological terms. It is part of a tendency towards exhibitionist cinema that displays rather than represents its own particular logic of vision, sound and motion. In the same way that it is willing to rupture a self-enclosed fictional world to solicit the attention of its spectator, our criticism should focus upon the disparate conditions that make this brand of cinema as spectacular event possible.

As we have seen, Jurassic Park draws a number of popular discourses into a kinetic cinema of attractions. However, its ideologies and effects succeed in a different fashion from what we might ordinarily expect. The film cannot be explained in auteurist, narrative or even simple ideological terms. It is part of a tendency towards an exhibitionist cinema that displays rather than represents its own particular logic of vision, sound and motion. In the same way that Jurassic Park is willing to rupture a self-enclosed fictional world in order to solicit the participation of its audience, our criticism should similarly focus upon the disparate conditions that make possible this particular brand of cinema-as-spectacular-event.