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
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.”
At first glance, there something about Grant that as almost reminiscent of Spielberg’s other seeker of ancient antiquities, Indiana Jones. The two of them even wear a fedora. This is to say nothing of the common error of mistaking anthropologists, paleontologists, and archeologists. However the three fields of studies couldn’t be any different. In A frequently asked question section for the Field Museum’s exhibit Ancient Americans: Understanding Culture, in regards to the difference between the study of archaeology and paleontology,
“Archaeology, a subfield of anthropology, is the scientific study of the human past and present through material remains—the things that people made, used, or modified…In fact, archaeology is the only scientific tool we have that can be used to study people from the past who did not leave written descriptions about their everyday lives.… Paleontology is the study of extinct animals and plants. Oftentimes people confuse paleontology with archaeology, but the two fields of study are very different. Unlike archaeologists who study things made and modified by humans, paleontologists study fossils, or evidence for formerly living animals and plants, including trilobites, dinosaurs, and our own extended human family.”
Further confusion would have abound had Spielberg’s first choice, Harrison Ford, accepted the part. Harrison turned it down as he felt he wasn’t right for the role, and in the long run it was probably for the best. Had audiences seen him in the fedora running from dinosaurs, they would have thought Jurassic Park was an Indiana Jones movie.
The hat that Grant wears is for more than just an attempt to conjure up memories of the famed archaologist for the viewers. As Paleontologist Jack Horner, one of the consultants for both the novels and the films in the Jurassic franchise noted in his book How to Build a Dinosaur,
“I can’t say hats are as precious to paleontologists as they are to Texans, but they can be something of a signature, or talisman… Excavations are never, ever done in the shade. Where there is erosion and exposure, there is inevitable sun, and a hat, which is absolutely necessary, can gather memories and significance.”
Along with the hat, the second most significant item that Grant carries with him is a Velociraptor claw. We see him use the claw as a pointer, and even to scare a kid. He holds on to it through out a good chunk of the movie, showing his love and devotion to dinosaurs, in particular his obsession, raptors. Grant at the dig sight laboring away to uncover a complete velociraptor skeleton. We already get hints that he, like his fossils is a little old fashioned. He doesn’t particularly care for using the latest computers to help assist his dig. He wants to get down in the dirt and gravel and uncover it for himself.
However, even he knows that his profession has to evolve so he is willing to test out the latest technology that uses sonar to send a pulse down to the fossil bed to get an image of the creature. To their delight they have found another complete raptor skeleton, and with the image they have, they now have a better idea how to safely excavate the remains without damaging the priceless bones. They also see some evidence that supports Grant’s latest fury regarding the extinction of dinosaurs.
Grant, ever the educator first, immediately begins to give a lecture on his latest theory on the raptors only to interrupt by a kid who mocks the raptor calling it a big turkey. Grant then proceeds, with the raptor claw in hand to help illustrate some key points to tell the kid that this dinosaur was anything but a giant turkey as he says,
“OK, try to imagine yourself in the Cretaceous Period. You get your first look at this “six foot turkey” as you enter a clearing. He moves like a bird, lightly, bobbing his head. And you keep still because you think that maybe his visual acuity is based on movement like T-Rex – he’ll lose you if you don’t move. But no, not Velociraptor. You stare at him, and he just stares right back. And that’s when the attack comes. Not from the front, but from the side…from the other two raptors you didn’t even know were there. Because Velociraptor’s a pack hunter, you see, he uses coordinated attack patterns and he is out in force today. And he slashes at you with this… A six-inch retractable claw, like a razor, on the middle toe. He doesn’t bother to bite your jugular like a lion, say… no no. He slashes at you here, or here… Or maybe across the belly, spilling your intestines. The point is, you are alive when they start to eat you. So you know, try to show a little respect.”
This scares the kid who runs away as fast as he can. Grant’s assistant, a paleobotonist named Ellie Sattler, informs him if he wanted to scare the kid he could have just pulled a gun and their talk soon reveals one other thing Grant doesn’t like along with computers: Kids. Grant informs Ellie that he finds them noisy, smelly and expensive.
This is a contrast from Grant’s character in the original book, who actually liked kids. As it states in the novel, Jurassic Park,
“It was impossible not to like any group so openly enthusiastic about dinosaurs…Grant used to watch kids in museums as they stared openmouthed at the big skeletons riding above them”
However this character change was made to facilitate Grant’s own growth in the film. Spielberg has tendency to give his characters a flaw that they have to conquer in order to achieve their goal. For Sheriff Brody in Jaws it’s his fear of the water, for Indiana Jones it’s his fear of snakes, and for Grant it’s learning to deal with children.
This was also at a time in Spielberg’s life were after E.T. where he honestly thought more about his family and the impact he had on his kids. This is evidenced in his portrayal of Peter Banning AKA the adult Peter Pan in Hook who was too busy as a shark lawyer that he had no time to bother with his kids and almost lost the love of his son to Captain Hook of all people. Grant is also meant to go on a journey to discover that fatherly part of him and it only comes through surviving on the island.
Considering one of the only encounters he appears to have in the film is with a disrespectful kid who mocks the raptor, it’s not to surprising that he would not seem to like children. It would never actually occur to him that they might share the same love an enthusiasm for dinosaurs that he does. He as protective of his finds and his research and when Hammond arrives at the dig site and nearly destroys the work he and his team have been doing, Grant is enraged.
He has every right to be upset with Hammond’s intrusion on the dig site. Dinosaur bones are extremely fragile, and given that the tools they are using to excavate the site our more like those you would see are more of like the instruments dentists, surgeons, and painters would use, this is something that takes a lot of time and finesse to accomplish. Paleontology is not a career for the hyperactive, and bones can’t be recovered with a jackhammer. In fact, the dig site we see Grant and Sattler working on in the film would have taken roughly most of a summer to complete.
When Grant sees that the unannounced visitor is John Hammond, he is willing to spare him a few minutes, especially when Hammond is one of his largest benefactors, donating some 50,000 a year to his digs. In the late 1980s and early 1990s when the book and the film were first released, 50,000 a year would cover two summers worth of digs in the state of Montana. The money goes to secure transportation, gear, equipment, food, supplies, and necessary permits to dig. This is to say nothing of how much it costs for a professional paleontologist to publish a paper on a new dinosaur species and what to name them. As it is noted in the Jurassic World Field Guide,
“The whole process of writing a scientific paper can take a few months to a few years. No profit is ever made ( In fact the author has to pay for the paper to be published. These are called “paper charges” and can be as high as two hundred dollars a page!) Indeed it can cost thousands of dollars in labor, material, and time. So why do we do it? Because paleontologists are also educators.”
This is why he and Ellie are overjoyed when Hammond offers to fund their research for another three years. Based on the money he already contributes it would be very likely that they would have been fully funded until 1999 had all heck not broken loose on Jurassic Park. It’s also part of the reason why in Jurassic Park III, which was set after John Hammond died at the end of the events in The Lost World , we see that Grant’s research is funded by the Museum of the Rockies in Bozeman, Montana. Along with Hammond’s passing, Hammond would have no doubt lost a lot of money on his first investment as well as the incident at Isla Sorna in The Lost World and the chaos that ensued in San Diego when a T-Rex was brought to the main land would have left Dr. Grant needing other benefactors.
In many ways Dr. Grant serves an almost combined role of both Matt Hooper and Sheriff Martin Brody in Jaws. Like Matt Hooper, Grant is a renowned expert in his field of study, which is part of the reason they are called in to begin with. Both are esteemed scientists, with Hooper being an oceanographer, while Grant as a paleontologist. They are also experts on a rather deadly species, sharks and velociraptors respectively.
Like Sheriff Brody, Grant is at his core an every man who is in over his head. While Hooper has sailed before and encountered Sharks, Grant has never actually seen a live dinosaur. When he and the kids are lost on the island, Grant has to try and out think a long dead species in order to survive, while Brody has to head out to sea to hunt the shark, despite quickly getting on the nerves of the more experienced sea-men, Hooper and Quint, due to Brody’s lack of familiarity with a seagoing vessel, and coming off as a klutz.
Much like Brody, Grant is the story’s primary character.
This was actually key to the success of Crichton’s original novel. As Crichton said in “In His Own Words” from his official website,
“I wrote a screenplay about cloning a pterodactyl from fossil DNA in 1983, but the story wasn’t convincing. I worked on it for several years since, trying to make it more credible. Finally I decided on a theme park setting, and wrote a novel from the point of view of a young boy who was present when the dinosaurs escaped. I then sent the book to the usual people who read my first drafts…Over the years, I’ve come to rely on five or six people who read my drafts; generally they have a range of responses. Not this time. They were all in agreement: they hated Jurassic Park…I got angry reactions such as, “Why would you write a book like this?” But when I asked them to explain exactly why they hated it, they couldn’t put their finger on anything in particular. They just hated it, that’s all. Hated every bit of it…I wrote another draft. They hated that one, too. Just as strongly as the one before. Whatever I had done in the latest draft, it hadn’t helped…I wrote another draft, but the result remained the same…Finally one of the readers said that they were irritated with the story because they wanted it to be from an adult point of view, not a kid point of view. They said, “I want this to be a story for me.” Meaning for an adult…So I rewrote it as an adult story…And then everybody liked it.”
Thus, it is Grant who becomes the first of the group when they arrive on the island to witness that thanks to the genetic engineering, dinosaurs are walking the earth once again. As the jeep slows down, he removes his glasses and is stunned silent and gentle turns Ellie’s head so she can see what he sees. As the book describes,
“To the south, rising above the palm trees, Grant saw a single trunk with no leaves at all, just a big curving stump. Then the stump moved, and twisted around to face the new arrivals. Grant realized that he was not seeing a tree at all. He was looking at the graceful curving neck of an enormous creature, rising fifty feet into the air…he was looking at a dinosaur.”
Grant is like a kid on Christmas morning as he sees the dinosaur. He and Ellie ramble back and forth as they observe the creatures, seeing for themselves how many of their theories about these creatures have now been proven. He is so overcome with excitement, even more so in the film when he learns from Hammond that the park as a T.rex, that he had trouble breathing and Ellie has to urge him to put his head between his legs to keep from fainting. Then as he looks down into a valley where he sees the Brachiosaurus, as well as Parasaurolophus roaming free in a pond and asks how Hammond did it.
Grant gets his answer, and even gets to hold a baby Velociraptor , even seeing a group of full grown ones in their enclosure . It is perhaps because of this, in seeing a predator that he has studied closely, even using it to frighten children, that he along with Malcolm and Ellie expresses concern about the park. Despite this, he is most disappointed when on the tour, he doesn’t get to see the Diloposaurus, is incredibly gentle towards the sick triceratops, even calling her the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen, and stopping a moment from a safe distance to marvel as the T-Rex east a Galimimus feelings somewhat safe in knowing the Rex has just eaten. When Lex is scared of the Brachiosaurs he reminds her that they are herbivores, and when she says how she doesn’t “care “for the other kind he tells her that they “just do what they do.”
Grant in a way, helps humanize the T.rex and frame her, and the other dinosaurs as something more than just big movie monsters, but grounds them as honest, living, breathing animals. As Tyler Wantuch notes in “Spielberg’s Triad of Doom-From a Shark’s ‘Jaws’ to ‘Jurassic Park’” for Firstshowing.net,
“The Tyrannosaurus Rex is everything Jaws was and also what it wanted to be. It is an oversized, powerful, show stealing creature. His presence is always foreshadowed with distant thunder and hiccupping water, much like Jaws’ two-note crescendo. Once the T-Rex is upon our heroes, we find our heroes have no chance, even weapons could not change this outcome. Instead they must hide, flee, or stay motionless like prey…But this giant monster also seems to have a heart. (S)he is viewed by Dr. Grant as a caged animal, much like King Kong…Dr. Grant states plainly, “A T-Rex doesn’t want to be fed, it wants to hunt.” This sentence explains that Grant views the T-Rex not as a monster but as a living creature. Spielberg supports this again when we see the T-Rex free chasing Gallimimus in a field. The music makes the scene feel natural as if the beast wasn’t so beastly after all. The heroes even stop and admire him as he chomps down on an unlucky dinosaur. Jaws never receives such treatment.”
It is because of how he is able to humanize the “monsters” for the children who have fallen under his care, that he is better able to keep them clam in these circumstances. But more importantly, through the process, Grant ends up seeing that kids are not as bad as he first thought. Between Tim’s enthusiasm for dinosaurs, and noticing how Tim and Lex take interest in the triceratops he is able to strike a common ground with them.
Then, true to a heroes journey, Grant is give his moment to rise to the occasion when Generro abandons the children in one of the vehicles when the power is out and the T-Rex has just broken free and is trying to make a meal out of the jeep. In order to get the kids out, Grant distracts the T-Rex with a flare, only for Malcolm to step in and try to help. While Grant is able to get Lex out, Tim is too far trapped and when the T-Rex returns and sends the jeep over the edge, Grant climbs up a the tree to rescue Tim, but not before assuring a frantic Lex that he won’t abandon them.
Later he leads the children to safety and they find refuse at the top of a huge tree, where Grant promises he will protect the children all night. As Grant tries to find a comfortable spot on their perch, he winces as the raptor claw that he has carried with him the whole time, jabs him. He reaches in his back pocket where Lex asks him what he and Ellie are going to do now when they won’t have to dig up dinosaurs anymore, now that Hammond’s company has brought them back. Grant, admits that he thinks that he is just going to have to evolve to the situation as he casts the claw aside.
Lester Friedman notes of this scene in the book Citizen Spielberg,
“If John Hammond functions as the unreliable father figure in Jurassic Park, Dr. Alan Grant evolves into the film’s responsible parent. …Grant takes one last look at the claw, a symbol of his hostility toward children and throws it to the ground, sifting his focus from past enmities to present obligations. Spielberg restates this exact father/children configuration in the last scene when the characters flee from the island, as Sattler smiles approvingly, and Grant, also with a shy smile, accepts his evolution to fatherhood.”
From then on, he is the protector of the children, even taking up a shot gun in order to protect Ellie and the kids from the raptors. However, Grant quickly sees that there is no way for them to fight off the raptors due to their pack mentality. Thanks to a quick and unexpected save by the T.rex, they are able to get out to the jeep were Hammond and Malcolm are waiting. Climbing in the passenger seat Grant informs Hammond that after careful consideration he cannot endorse Jurassic Park.
Then standing on the helipad as Hammond takes one last look at his failed dream, it is Grant who provides the old man with support as he leads him to the safety of the helicopter. While it is true that Ellie smiles at Grant who has accepted his fatherly role, something else about Grant has changed. We won’t see him in The Lost World, and when we do see Grant again on film, it is in Jurassic Park III, he is very different then he was in the first film. He and Ellie are no longer involved in a romantic relationship, and not even really colleges anymore. Despite this, he is still a part of her life, as her son knows him simply as “the dinosaur man”, due to his ability to inform the little boy about all the facts about dinosaurs.
More importantly his passion for dinosaurs seems to have waned. As Eric Kirby , the boy stranded on the Isla Sorna or Site B that Grant has been enlisted to rescue, says in regards to Grant’s books , that he preferred Grants first book to his second, mainly due to Grant actually liking dinosaurs then. Grant is somewhat amused as he informs the boy that he wrote his first book before they tried to eat him.
Despite what he told Lex and Tim how he may just have to evolve too, Grant continued pursuing fossils. He would refuse to answer any questions about Jurassic Park, or the incidents of the Lost World, and only wished to discuss real science. The script reveals some deleted dialogue from the film in which along with the lack of InGen funding views on paleontology had changed drastically now that the world new about both Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna.
As he told Ellie in a deleted bit of dialogue from the script,
“It was never easy, but before Jurassic Park, you could find money. Somewhere. Now fossils are out. Everyone wants to see a real live dinosaur.”
As for the dinosaurs themselves, when a student asked if InGen’s creations didn’t render all his theories moot, Grant is disgusted. In fact as he doesn’t wish to talk about Jurassic Park, Grant shuts down,
“No, and let me be perfectly clear on this point. Dinosaurs lived 65 million years ago. What’s left of them is fossilized in stone the actual scientists spend years to undercover. What John Hammond and InGen created are theme park monsters. Nothing more, nothing less.”
He was quite insistent that nothing on Earth or Heaven would get him to go to Site B. However, when Paul and Amanda Kirby approached Grant and his assistant Billy Brennan about possibly serving as a tour guide for Site B for what they claimed was a site seeing trip for an anniversary, Grant reluctantly agreed as they offered a huge sum of money to fund his digs. Much to say Grant was furious to learn that the Kirby’s lied to him as it was actually a mission to rescue their son who was stranded during a parasailing accident.
It’s Grant’s knowledge that is able to help them as in many cases the people with him this time come across as too stupid to live as they do almost too much to draw attention to themselves. The worst offender is his assistant, Billy who steals some raptor eggs, which causes the raptors to chase after them. Grant is furious when Billy claims that he had good intentions as he figured the eggs would fund their digs, saying that
“With the best intentions!? Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the ‘best intentions.’ You know, as far as I’m concerned, you’re no better than the people who built this place.”
Billy was able to redeem himself in Grant’s eyes by risking his life to save the rest of them form the Pteronadons, and miraculously managed to survive. Yet more importantly, Grant was able to regain his love for dinosaurs as he got to see them once again, and started to see why everyone was so fascinated with the Park that he tried so hard to forget, especially as the dinosaurs were starting to look and act more like natural ones and less like trained circus animals. As he told Eric as they road down a river through site B, one that led Grant past a heard of Brachiasauri, and other dinosaurs that brought back his better memories of his arrival at the original park, when he himself had been that kid in a candy store,
“I have a theory that there’s two kinds of boys. Those who want to be astronomers and those who want to be astronauts… I never understood why anyone would want to go into space. It’s so dangerous. You do one thing wrong and you’re dead. The astronomer — or the paleontologist — get to study these amazing things from a place of complete safety. And truthfully, everything you really need to learn, you can learn it from the ground. The difference between imagining how things might be and seeing how they really are. To be able to touch them…I can blame the people who made this island. But I can’t blame the people who want to see it. To study it… How’s a boy suppose to resist this?”
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