This week in the Research Log, we're clocking my favorite movie -- the movie that made me want to make movies -- JURASSIC PARK, which turns 25 this week. As usual, we've watched the movie for the 85th thousandth time and used the Storyclock Notebook to visualize the film's structure in the form of a clock.
Let's Break It Down
- Opening Image: Serious men with guns stare at foggy backlit jungle trees. They're waiting for a raptor delivery. Things don't go great. We can probably assume the rest of this story will play out similar to this.
- Normalcy: Grant and Satler dig up dino bones and talk about how much Grant hates kids.
- Normalcy Disrupted/Herald: Hammond rolls up in the Hammondcopter and invites Grant and Satler to his new park.
- Rational Approach: Everyone goes to Hammond's island, but with big old "we don't wanna be here" attitudes.
- Acceptance and Break Into Act 2: Hammond unveils the Brachiosaurus and blows everyone's minds. Now everyone wants to be there.
- B Story Begins: The kids, Tim and Lex, show up and annoy Grant.
- Trailer Moments/Promise of the Premise: Mr. DNA tells us all about how the dinosaurs were created using mosquitos in amber. We get to watch some dino eggs hatch. Everyone goes on the tour, sneaking off to hang out with one sick Triceratops. Dinosaurs are beautiful and science is magic! But, uh oh, a storm's coming and Nedry's up to something.
- Midpoint/Arrival at Solution: Nedry shuts down the power, letting the dinos loose, starting with the T-Rex. It eats Gennaro, injures Malcolm, and pushes Tim off a cliff.
- Things Get Worse: Nedry's the only one who can get the park back online, but he's Dilophosaurus food. Satler and Muldoon try to find Grant and the kids, but the T-Rex shows up and chases them off. So now Grant and the kids are stuck in the park.
- Hero's Last Resort: Hammond convinces Arnold to shut down the entire system.
- Game Over: Shutting down the system let the raptors loose, which isn't great.
- Breakthrough and Rebirth/Break Into Act 3: Satler gets the power back on, unknowingly electrocuting Tim in the process. The raptors officially arrive on the scene. They kill Muldoon and almost kill Satler.
- Hero Gains Upper Hand: Grant and the kids make it back to the Visitors Center. Grant is reunited with Satler. The kids eat some jello.
- Shadow's Final Push: The raptors show up during jello time and chase the kids into the kitchen. Grant and Satler show up and the raptors chase everybody through the control room, into the vents, and onto the T-Rex skeleton.
- Ultimate Breakthrough: The T-Rex shows up and saves everyone.
- New Normalcy: The kids fall asleep in Grant's arms. He doesn't hate kids anymore.
- Final Image: Grant watches the birds outside the plane window. Dinosaurs, the way nature intended them to be these days.
Stuff That Stood Out To Me
- The ending is a total Deus Ex Machina, but it works for this story
because it's all about man's inability to control naturebecause it's awesome.
- The movie doesn't unleash the raptors until act 3, but it starts talking about them from the very first scene, so by the time they break out, we know in our hearts that this is the worst possible thing that could happen (which is exactly what you want at the end of act 2).
- I could write an entire article about the T-Rex attack scene.
- We don't see a single inch of the T-Rex until this scene. Not an eye, not a foot, not even a sound. Nothing. We even get a scene where we're told we're going to see her, but she doesn't show. This makes this scene all the more satisfying and terrifying.
- The build-up in this scene is so unlike any other scene in this franchise. THE LOST WORLD's T-Rex attack has some build-up, but JURASSIC PARK III and JURASSIC WORLD both just smash us over the head and start running before we've even had time to feel anything. This scene has the cars stopping, Tim finding the night vision goggles, Gennaro seeing the ripples in the water, Lex noticing the goat is missing, the GOAT LEG FALLING ON THE ROOF (so good), the Rex TOUCHING THE FENCE, Gennaro abandoning the kids and running to the bathrooms (boom -- earned death without over-earning it*), the fence cable snapping, the fence beams leaning, AND FINALLY THE T-REX REVEALING ITSELF IN ALL ITS GLORY. But oh hey wait, it's still not time for action, we still have several minutes of the Rex sniffing around the jeeps.
- No music! We are alone out here with this animal and no one is coming to help, not even music to help us know how to feel.
- We get a death in this scene to cement the stakes, and it happens in such an unstylistic, unrushed way. It's not a quick chomp that yanks the character out of frame like a monster would, it stares at Genarro for a moment like an puppy would. So it's all the more terrifying when it just leans down and chomps Gennarro, and then when we don't cut away immediately and we have to watch it swing his body back and forth like a rag doll. Chilling, unnerving, and darkly hilarious.
- This scene, like several in this movie, end with the fate of a character (a CHILD nonetheless) in question. The T-Rex literally pushes the jeep, with Tim in it, OFF A CLIFF. Grant isn't able to save him in this scene. And we don't get to know Tim's fate until THREE SCENES LATER. I think we forget how bold that is. This happens again later with the perimeter fence scene, another brilliant scene that deserves its own write-up.
- Symmetrical Moments: Eggs hatch in the lab/"life finds a way" + eggs hatched in the wild/"life found a way."
- Symmetrical Moments: Hammond and folks eat lunch and talk about controlling nature + Hammond and Ellie eat ice cream and talk about controlling nature.
- Symmetrical Moments: Hammond tells Nedry, "I don't blame people for their mistakes but I do ask that they pay for them" + Nedry pays for his mistakes.
- Symmetrical Moments: Kids arrive and annoy Grant + kids fall asleep in the tree with Grant protecting them.
- Symmetrical Moments: Grant and Ellie talk about how Grant hates kids + the kids fall asleep in Grant's arms and he doesn't hate it.
I was nine when JURASSIC PARK came out. I took every family member I had, one at a time, to see it. This ensured that I saw the movie as many times as possible. Around the 13th time, I realized I was watching the person I brought more than the movie itself, and I was actually taking credit for the experience they were having. "Aren't you enjoying this amazing film I've provided you? You're welcome." This is the feeling I've been chasing ever since, and that made me want to be a filmmaker.
I've clocked this movie a few times over the years. Here's one of the first ones I ever did, where I color-coded scenes for things like Action, Emotion, Philosophy/Theme, etc.:
As you can see, the action doesn't start until exactly midway through, and then it hardly stops from that point on. It knows it's got the goods, and it knows that the anticipation of those goods is worth enjoying.
We created the Storyclock Notebook to help us break movies open like this and understand how and why they make us feel the way they do. The success of JURASSIC PARK is as much about pacing as it is about computer graphics. Studying and understanding how to set things up will only help us as storytellers feel more confident when we knock them down.
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