Life Finds A Way: Celebrating the Jurassic Park Franchise #1: Dr. Alan Grant.

When we first meet Dr. Alan Grant in the film Jurassic Park, we have learned form a conversation between InGen’s Lawyer Donald Generro and another paleontologist working in an Amber mine that the company really wants him to come down to the Park on Isla Nublar off of coast of Costa Rica. The company is in serious trouble after a worker was brutally murdered by one of the park’s specimens and the family in question as suing.

If someone like Grant were to come down to the park, give a positive endorsement of what

Dr. Alan Grant

InGen was doing, then investors would have confidence in the project. However, the other paleontologist said that there is no way Hammond would be able to get Grant down to the island. He points out that Grant is, first and foremost a digger. As a paleontologist, his first pursuit will always be the latest and greatest discovery in dinosaur fossils. He is after knowledge, not thrills.

Michael Crichton’s original novel takes this even further, establishing that,

“Grant was a professor of paleontology at the University of Denver, and one of the foremost researchers in the field, but he had never been comfortable with social niceties. He saw himself as an outdoor man, and he knew that all the important work in paleontology was done outdoors, with your hands. Grant had little patience for the academics, for the museum curators, for what he called the Teacup Dinosaur Hunters, and he took some pains to distance himself in dress and behavior from the Teacup Dinosaur Hunters, even delivering his lectures in jeans and sneakers.”

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Coming Soon To This Blog…

How does one possibly follow up a blog series looking at Steven Spielberg’s beloved classic E.T.? Why, with a trip to an island, of course. But not just any island. It’s sort of a biological preserve, filled with creatures that stagger the imaginations of young and old alike.

What island, and what creatures await you, dear readers? Well, have a gander at the video clip bellow.

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I’ll Be Right Here: Celebrating 35 Years of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial: #5: E.T.

In comparison to other movie aliens, E.T. is a bit of an oddity.  While the aliens in Close Encounters are certainly benevolent they retain the sterile and immaculate resemblance to the 50’s stereotype of the grey man. The ones in War of the Worlds are almost a hybrid between the Raptors in Jurassic Park and snakes, and it is more than obvious by their rampant wave of destruction these guys are not out to make friends and influence people. The “squids” in Arrival are inhuman and struggle through their communication barrier with humans. Add to it the paranoia and dreaded they are perceived with this leads to problem upon problems until a near cataclysm. The Xenomorphs and other H.R. Geiger creatures for the Alien franchise are nothing short of the stuff of nightmares , while the aliens of Independence Day have sinister intent written all over them. Even the more comedic aliens of Mars Attacks clearly look like mean spirited jerks before they shoot down a gesture of peace.

E.T., however is warm and friendly, and much of this has to do with his eyes. While the

E.T.

aliens of Close Encounters are benevolent, their faces cross over into the uncanny valley. E.T.’s charm was nothing short of a collaborative effort between director Steven Spielberg, screenwriter Melissa Mathison and production designer extraordinaire Carlo Rambaldi who not only designed E.T., but the aliens in Close Encounters, and helped bring H.R. Geiger’s designs to life in Alien. As Ian Freer noted in the “Genius of Carlo Rambaldi’,

“There was never a literal description of what the title star looked like in Melissa Mathison’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial screenplay, the final character being a fully-fledged collaboration between director and special effects technician. The pre-visualisation process took in the familiar — concept drawings by storyboard artist Ed Verreaux, ten inch tall prototypes sculpted in clay — and the not so familiar (Spielberg cutting and pasting a picture of the chin and nose of a five-day old baby onto the eyes and forehead of an Albert Einstein image to create a mixture of the innocent and the wizened). Yet Rambaldi’s input into the design process was crucial. The technician had a Himalayan cat whose eyes fed into the creature’s peepers.”

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I’ll Be Right Here: Celebrating 35 Years of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial: #4: Mary

In many ways E.T. is not that dissimilar from a modern day fairy tale. The film opens in a

Mary

deep dark forest; there are strange and wonderful creatures, and even a sense of magic throughout the story. Most importantly, as is the case for all great fairy tales, like those by the Grimm Brothers, Hans Christian Andersen, J. M. Berrie, Edith Nesbit, George MacDonald, Lewis Carroll, and C.S. Lewis, E.T. is about the children. Thus adults take more of a supporting role in the story as the children grow up and find their place in the world through the course of their adventures.

The fact that E.T. focuses mainly on children rather than adults is something that makes it so unique. The vast majority of films in Spielberg’s directorial filmography focus mainly on adults. Even if they have children, as is the case for Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,  Jurassic Park, The Lost World, Minority Report, or War of the Worlds, they tend to be supporting players in the story. In fact to date, not including the films he produced like Back to the Future, Gremlins, and Goonies, the only other Steven Spielberg films that focus exclusively on children are Empire of the Sun, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, The Adventures of Tintin, The BFG, and Catch Me If You Can by the virtue that Frank Abagnale, Jr., is barely out of High School when he starts his spree. This is

However, the one thing that sets E.T., and for that matter The Goonies, apart from those other five “child focused films”, or even Back to the Future is that, it never loses sight of the child’s perspective on the story. In Close Encounters, the story is very much from an adult point of view, while the main character in Empire of the Sun is already “Wise Beyond his years” and is forced to grow up even faster in a prison camp, while Frank Abagnale, Jr.’s experiences rob him of a typical childhood.

This focus on the child’s perspective is best demonstrated in the unique filming choice that Spielberg employed for E.T. Taking a page from the Tex Avery cartoons he loved as a kid, Spielberg filmed the movie from the waist down. Adult’s also remain largely silent, and when they do speak it’s jargon or garbled. In fact the muted Trombone used to voice Miss Othmar and the other adults in the Charlie Brown specials would not have been out of place in E.T. In any other hands, E.T. would have been nothing more than a forgotten film for the Wonderful World of Disney.

This makes the movie’s ending much more suspenseful. As Damon Wise noted in his write up for the film in British Newspaper The Guardian’s series that looked at the 25 best sci-fi and fantasy films of all time,

“Largely filmed from an adult-waist-height perspective, the film prioritizes this world of children and indulges them in their harmless naivety. So when the mean-minded authorities find out about the presence of E.T., the effects are doubly shocking. The faceless hordes of uniformed, flashlight-toting militia make an intimidating and brutal sight.”

Thus, while adults are present, but they have a minimal role in the film until the very end, save for one: Elliot’s mother, Mary. When we first meet her, she’s in the kitchen of the family house, having finished up with a shower, while her eldest son plays a game with his friends. In these few establishing minutes we get hints at just why she’s one of the only adults to remain in focus throughout the film.

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I’ll Be Right Here: Celebrating 35 Years of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial: #3: Gertie

There is an old adage in Hollywood, first coined by comedian W.C. Fields, that directors should never work with children or animals. Younger kids, like animals, can often have a difficult time following  cues, and can have a hard time memorizing their lines. They can also be very unpredictable, and thus by their very natures, they are uncontrollable.  At the same time, by going with actual children, as was the case of the Peanuts specials, the Harry Potter films, or the first Narnia movie, going with children can also lend a sense of authenticity that might be missing with more polished and seasoned actors.

Steven Spielberg was certainly aware of both the trials and joys of working with children. According to the set diary Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the little grey aliens that came to take away Richard Dreyfuss were so hyper and bouncing off the walls that Spielberg had to yell “Girls, stop disco dancing.” On the other hand, one only need look at the memorable and infectious performances Spielberg got from the likes of Dakota Fanning in War of the Worlds, Haley Joel Osment in A.I., Ariana Richards and Joseph Mozello in Jurassic Park, Christian Bale in Empire of the Sun, Charlie Korsmo and Amber Scott in Hook, and Jonathan Li Quan in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to see that he excelled at getting the best from young actors.

However, where this skill really stood out was the performances of the three young actors

Gertie

in E.T. Each member of this little trio brought something special to the table, and this was all the more evident in the baby of the family, Elliot’s sister Gertie, played by Drew Berrymore. Oddly enough, the youngest member of the family in E.T. would be the first one selected for a part. As Sean Hutchinson noted in “20 Things You Might Not Know About E.T.” for  Mental Floss,

“Getting the right young actors to play the three main young siblings was a paramount problem for Spielberg. The first kid he cast was Drew Barrymore as Gertie, the youngest of the trio. During her audition, the six-year-old Barrymore allegedly told Spielberg that she wasn’t really an actress at all but rather the drummer of a loud and menacing punk rock band called the Purple People Eaters, who painted their faces with makeup for every show and who had played to an arena packed with thousands of people the night before. Spielberg recognized the value of her vivid imagination and she got the part.”

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Talk of Stories When the World Stops Turning

Many times in life we come across a day in which it feels like Newton’s First law of Motion has been rendered null and void and the world as we know it stops in it’s tracks. 16 years ago, we witnessed such an event on the 9-11 attacks. Today, we have watched as hurricanes Harvey and Irma devastate Texas and Florida while forest fires ravage the West Coast. Thanks to our 24 hour news cycle and social media we seem to read about another tragic event in some corner of the world.

It makes it hard to want to post something fun and frivolous to social media. None of us want to seem tone deaf and immune to what is going on around us.  I was wracked with guilt for having posted about having seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey  with some friends of mine in a midnight showing when hours later the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut unfolded.  And just this week I was putting finishing touch on an installment for my E.T. blog series, as news of Hurricane Irma filled the news, causing my fingers to tremble on the “Publish” button as I wondered if it would be in poor taste to continue posting my series when people are fleeing Florida to escape Irma’s wrath and recovering from Hurricane Harvey in Houston.

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No Regrets?

Paging through a High School Year Book inevitably among the many messages from the graduating class you’ll see two words “no regrets.” Whether we are 18, or 88, we all long to live a life filled with “ No regrets.” After all, who wants to go about feeling sad or sorry for themselves. While Charlie Brown and Peter Parker have become legendary because of their regrets , in real life, it doesn’t seem too appealing.

You know what other cliché you see tossed around when a new school year starts? Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken”. I’m sure you all know it by now as it’s been quoted in books and television, and graduation commencements speeches for almost a century, and it probably will continue to do so.On the off chance that you haven’t, heard it, I’ll share it with you. Even if you have, it’s still worth reading again, even if it has been reduced to a greeting card cliché. Continue reading

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