With all the current hype about Jurassic World, I thought it would be fun to do something I have wanted to do for several years, which is to revisit the franchise-spawning original, Jurassic Park. I was further inspired to watch it with my two oldest kids, who I judged to be the right age to experience it, one a little older now and one a little younger than I was when the movie arrived in 1994.
Unlike many films revisited after a span of years, my opinions and evaluation of this one has stayed essentially unchanged from when I first experienced it as a teenager. The scary sequences, notably the T-rex scenes and the Raptors in the kitchen scene, are still first rate thriller scenes. All of the “science” stuff is goofily dumbed down, and at times seems pointlessly inserted into the film. What, for example, is the purpose of showing that the dinosaurs were able to reproduce? What is the point of mentioning the Lysine contingency, and why was John opposed to it at that point in the story? Basically, the movie is great as long as the characters were not talking, or at least not talking about science.
But the speeches of one character in particular always bothered me a bit from not for the content, but from a stylistic point of view. When I first watched the movie, and even today to a degree, I had an uneasy feeling watching Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Malcolm. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jeff Goldblum, but I didn’t understand his halting and overlapping form of speech. It seemed so out of place with the carefully scripted and performed speeches from most of the other characters. He seemed to be almost improvising his lines, and the stylistic discontinuity made me feel uncomfortable.
Having significantly broadened my experience of film in the intervening years, and in particular, having come to know many of the films of Robert Altman, this makes me feel a lot less uncomfortable. One of the well known traits of Altman’s directorial style is the overlapping and quasi-improvisitorial style of dialogue like that in Goldblum’s performance in Jurassic Park. Goldblum’s first significant role was in Altman’s Nashville, ironically in a character that has no dialogue at all.
It now seems obvious to me that Spielberg likely intended Goldblum’s less controlled performance to be emblematic of his character’s studies of “Chaos theory.” At this point in my movie watching career, I suppose it works well enough.
To slightly stray from the stated topic, it may be no surprise to those that know me that my favorite Goldblum performance is in one of my favorite films, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, where he plays Bill Murray’s professional and romantic rival. Although his turn as a lawyer in Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was a highlight as well. In both those films, his slightly odd, slightly self-conscious mannerisms, seeming to be improvised but actually highly controlled, seamlessly blends into the working style of the odd, self-conscious, and highly controlled Anderson.