The monster movie has been a fixture of cinema since the Golden Age of film in the 1930’s. From King Kong scaling the top of the Empire State Building, to the monster of Frankenstein being chased by angry villagers, to Dracula seducing his prey, to more modern monsters in human flesh like Norman Bates, Jack Torrence, Pennywise the Clown, and the Joker, these creatures have shocked us, thrilled us, and in the case of Kong, brought us to tears. One other fixture for the monster movie, along with the creature, is a beautiful woman who is being chased by the monster.
Even Spielberg’s Jaws was not immune to this trend as the film opens with the beautiful
blond swimmer, Chrissy, getting eaten by the Shark. Other women in the film play either a passive role, such as Sheriff Brody’s wife, Ellen, who tends to sit on the side lines, or in the case of Mrs. Kittner, who’s son is eaten by the shark, slaps Brody in the face for allowing people to go swimming despite him following orders from the mayor to not close the beach. Then in the late 70s thanks to Princess Leia in Star Wars, and Ellen Ripley in Alien, the women began to fight back against the monsters who chased them.
These two characters had a tremendous impact on women in science fiction and horror films that would follow. This is especially true of the character of the paleobotonist Dr. Ellie Sattler in the film Jurassic Park. Not only was she strong, confident, and intelligent, she marked a change in the damsel in a Spielberg film. As Lester Freidman notes in Citizen Spielberg,
“In fashioning the character of Dr. Ellie Sattler, Spielberg attempts to depict a woman who combines professionalism and maternalism; she has a successful career and wants a family. …Ellie remains a relatively feisty and dynamic character throughout Jurassic Park…Like the vast majority of female heroines in monster movies, Sattler spends much time screaming and crying in the best Faye Wray tradition. But she remains far more active than most of the frenzied women in these movies who serve mainly as helpless sacrifices needing masculine rescue, as frail victims ( often in scanty underwear) perishing in the first act, or as raving hysterics shrieking their way through vents. Ellie Sattler is a powerful and aggressive heroine who represents a distinct improvement over most female figures in horror movies and within Spielberg’s other productions. ”
Among the many key distinctions of Ellie Slater, versus Ellen Brody, Marion Ravenwood, or Willie Scott, is Dr. Sattler, like her counterpart Dr. Grant, is actually a respected expert in her field. Hammond doesn’t offer to have her come with just for luggage or because they have an extra seat in the helicopter. Ellie’s field of study is actually a specialized branch of paleontology, known as Paleobotony. Most assume that paleontologist only dig up dinosaur bones but the field is much more robust than that.
As Dr. N. Gary Lane notes in a brochure on paleontology, archived on the official website for The Falls of the Ohio State Park,
“There are several broad categories of paleontologists, depending on what kind of fossils they study. Generally, we can say that paleontologists study animal fossils, plant fossils, or microfossils. Microfossils are tiny fossils, either plants or animals, which can be seen only with a microscope. Some are so small that they require an electron microscope to be clearly visible. Micropaleontologists study microfossils. Microfossils are often very abundant and may occur by the millions in a small piece of rock. Many microfossils were once plankton, one-celled creatures that floated in ancient oceans. Others are the pollen of long-extinct plants. Scientists who study fossil pollen are called palynologists. Those who study larger fossil plants – wood, leaves, flowers, and seeds – are called paleobotanists.”
As Jeremy Puthumana noted for Yale Scientific, noted in “Paleobotany: Fossilized Plant Remains Give Insights to Global Climate Balance” that also examined the research of real-life paleobotonist Leo Hickey, even said that to most a flower is seen as a simple accessory. However, the field of paleobotony not only examines extinct plants, but the overall environment that dinosaurs may have lived in, and even note the staggering implications it can have on Earth today, among these implications,
“At the end of the Cretaceous Period about 65 million years ago, a large asteroid impacted the earth, most likely causing the catastrophic mass extinction of the dinosaurs. Because the climate was drastically altered for a long period of time, this event also impacted the plant community on a global scale. Hickey’s research on fossil sediments from the period, which contain plant remains of leaves and other organs, show an enormous loss of plant diversity that correlates with the changes in climate….Hickey and his assistants took samples from a closely spaced set of localities in rock from western North Dakota that corresponded to the age of the asteroid impact, and analyzed the material to determine how a variety of plants responded to the changes in environment. The evidence left in succeeding layers of rock and sediment shows that it took the earth five to seven million years for plant abundance to recover to pre-asteroid levels…While this discovery may seem appropriate only as a minor note in the long history of plants on earth, the truth is that a nuclear “winter” caused by a full-scale nuclear war could produce similar conditions to those at the end of the Cretaceous Period…Hickey notes that the asteroid produced an effect of 100,000 Hiroshima-sized bombs. If countries armed with warheads began launching nuclear missiles at each other, the climate would likely soon deteriorate such that a large majority of plants and animals would become extinct. Considering that it took the earth five to seven million years to recover from the previous impact, we would be in for a long winter – one we might not survive.
The goal then for Ellie is to study and determine how dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures interact with the environment around them. Thus, while Grant is first to see the Brachiosaurs, Ellie notices a long extinct form of palm tree and quickly begins to study the leaf of the plant. Like Grant she is in awe of the Brachiosaurus, but after seeing the compound closer and what they are doing, begins to raise concerns about the environment of the park itself.
In the book it was much worse than that, when their guide Ed Regis shows them the swimming pool that was designed to spill out into a series of waterfalls and into smaller pools. Regis boasts that the ferns near the pool are authentic to Jurassic period but the sight of those plants does not bode well with her. The narrator notes that Ellie,
“(P)aused to look more closely at the ferns. Yes, it was just as he said: Serenna veriformans, a plant found abundantly in fossils more than two hundred million years old, now common only in the wetlands of Brazil and Colombia. But whoever had decided to lace this particular fern at poolside obviously didn’t know that the spores of veriformans contained a deadly beta-carboline alkaloid. Even touching the attractive green fonds could make you sick, and if a child were to take a mouthful, he would almost certainly die-the toxin was fifty times more poisonous than oleander. ”
Ellie, in fact ends up raising a very valid point that many biologists and bioethicists raise when it comes to real-world implications of using cloning and genetic engineering to bring back extinct species such as woolly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, passenger pigeons, dodo birds and the like.
Conservation biologist Stuart Pimm was quoted in “Bringing Them back to Life” from a 2013 issue of National Geographic that looked at such real world attempts to resurrect extinct animals, or near extinct animals such as the Arabian Oryx that had been returned to a refuge only to be eliminated by poachers, that,
“The history of putting species back after they’ve gone extinct in the wild is fraught with difficulty…We had the animals, and we put them back, and the world wasn’t ready…having the species only solves only a tiny, tiny part of the problem.”
Among the concerns would be the issue of an extinct animals habitat. The world today is vastly different from when many of these species, dinosaur and otherwise, vanished from the face of the earth. Glenn Albrect , director of the Institute for Social Sustainability at Murdoch University in Australia was quoted in “Bringing them Back to Life” as saying,
“Without an environment to put re-created species back into, the whole exercise is futile and a gross waste of money…”
This also raises the question of trying to recreate an extinct eco-system in one that may not be viable. In North America alone there are countless incidences of invasive species that were brought over from other countries, only for the new species to choke out indigenous forms of life. To recreate the ecosystem from the Mesozoic era would be a far greater natural catastrophe.
Here, we see her show concern not only for the plant life, but the animal life as well. While not as renown on the area of dinosaurs as Grant, she is just as knowledgeable about the creatures, even noting with Grant when they see the Brachiosaurs how many of the theories on the creature were proven in that moment. The evidence for her concern for the dinosaurs and their environment later comes into play during their tour when they disembark from their vehicles and discover a very sick dinosaur. The creature is lying on its side, moaning, and in great pain. Ellie quickly began to examine the dinosaurs tongue.
She noticed a breed of West Indian Lilac berry, a type of berry indigenous to the area, that would be foreign to a dinosaur and potentially capable of inducing illness in a dinosaur. Dr. Harding, one of the Park’s veterinarian’s said the dinosaurs didn’t eat the lilac, but Ellie wanted to be sure. She metaphorically rolled up her sleeves, donned rubber gloves and dug through huge piles of dinosaur manure to determine what was making the dinosaur sick. Even Malcolm was impressed about how tenacious she was, but not before joking that she should remember to wash before she eats anything in the movie.
The mystery of what made the dinosaur sick was cut from the final movie, but Ellie, in the book, and in a deleted scene from the film, did some more investigating and found that the dinosaur had deposited gizzard stones, or rocks used to aid in digestion. In the process the dinosaur had inadvertently eaten the berries and in the process got poisoned. In 1993, this put her, along with Ellen Ripley ahead of the curve as far as women in science fiction for another reason. Along with the women of Star Trek, they were women involved in what we would today call STEM focused careers. As Louise Walker noted in “20 Excellent Scientists in mainstream TV and Film” an article that looked at some of the most popular fictional scientists for the website Den of the Geek,
“Ellie Sattler is one of the best scientific role models for people who grew up in the early ’90s. She is shown to be adorably geeky about old plants and dinosaurs and is genuinely fascinated by the park and the technology behind it. She also shows a lot of grit and determination during her ordeal, highlighting that resourcefulness is a strong personality trait in many scientists. She also successfully applies her knowledge to solve mysteries, such as helping to diagnose a sick dinosaur.”
This willingness to get “messy” comes in handy later when all heck breaks loose at the park. Ellie volunteered to accompany Muldoon to go and retrieve the other visitors from the park when the T-Rex escaped. Arriving at the location of the vans and search frantically for Grant and the kids when they find a very injured Malcolm buried under the remains of a restroom. Getting him back to the visitor’s center, it’s Ellie who helps apply a tourniquet, and even gives him medical attention. To some it may be a stretch to think that a paleobotonoist would know much about medicine, but when working out on a dig site, they may be hours away from a hospital. It becomes necessary then to be able to administer quick aid to prevent a more severe injury or infection.
It is back at the park, while Malcolm is resting and Hammond invites her to sit down for some ice cream that is melting due to the power outage, where she also voices the greatest moral argument about the park. Hammond told her the story of a flea circus he once had when he first came over from Scotland and vision he had to give park-goers something more than an illusion, something they could see, feel and touch. Something that would require more than feeling but thought. Ellie points out that this is something that can’t be thought through, but they have to feel their way through this situation.
Hammond maintains that next time it will be different and that he will have control of the situation, that’s when she let in to him, acting as his moral conscience.
“You never had control, that’s the illusion! I was overwhelmed by the power of this place. But I made a mistake, too, I didn’t have enough respect for that power and it’s out now. The only thing that matters now are the people we love. Alan and Lex and Tim. John, they’re out there where people are dying.”
Her words stun the world man, who appears even more somber. All three of Hammond’s guests, Grant, Malcolm and Ellie, have tried to get Hammond to see reason, raising their objections to his attraction from various points of view. Grant approaches it from the rational, scientific approach, reminding Hammond of how many eons have separated humans and dinosaurs and how there is no way to predict how things will turn out. Malcolm raises the ethical points of the park, asking if this was something that Hammond should have done. In the end, it is Sattler who gets through him by raising irrefutable emotional points that remind the man that due to his myopic vision that he is missed out on what is truly important.
To some degree her words have some effect on the old man, as he does seem to try harder to work to get the park back up and running, albeit still rationalizing the park’s problems. Ellie continues to demonstrate how strong she is in this moment. Later, when Mr. Arnold, one of the park technicians is taking too long to return from restoring power to the park, Ellie volunteers to go to the patience shed to restore power. Hammond, tries to argue that he should go because he’s a man, which Ellie is disgusted by.
While his gesture is certainly noble, of the two of them at that moment, Ellie stands a better chance of outrunning a dinosaur then the older man. Hammond needs a cane to walk, where as Further, if Hammond got eaten by a dinosaur, as he was in the book, there would be no one with authorization to call in a helicopter, and no one who would know some of the quicker ways out of the bunker and back to the helipad. Ellie going to turn the power back on gives them a stronger chance of surviving.
Guided by Hammond she heads to the maintenance shed and gets the power back on, only to escape from a raptor. While Ellie is certainly strong she does doesn’t bother trying to match her physical strength with the dinosaurs by trying to wrestle them. Her goal, like everyone else is to get away from the dinosaurs as fast as they could.
Despite her penchant for being a scream queen when necessary, in many ways, the stereotypical gender roles are flipped with Grant and Ellie. While Grant becomes a protector and care giver, Ellie, like the T-Rex saving them from the raptors at the films end, is the one to make the rescues. In fact, in the movie she does many of the tasks that the lawyer Donald Generro performs in the original novel, while the movie, Generro was a sniveling money grubbing coward.
As was noted in an article for the National Post entitled “Clever Girls: Is Jurassic Park more feminist than its coming sequel, Jurassic World?” which examined the controversy surrounding the character of Claire in Jurassic World versus the portrayal of Ellie in the original film,
“In the summer of 1993, Steven Spielberg made a blockbuster action flick that didn’t rely on gender stereotypes or resort to hyper-sexualizing its leading lady. As the khaki-clad Dr. Ellie Sattler, Laura Dern analyzes triceratops droppings, cracks jokes and evades raptors even when Samuel L. Jackson can’t. She’s in a romantic relationship with Dr. Alan Grant, played by Sam Neill, but they have separate storylines. At the height of the action, he’s running from the dinosaurs and she’s restoring power to the darkened park.”
She later reunites with Grant and the two work to protect themselves and the children, trying their best to brace the door shut until Lex can get the park’s security systems back on line to lock the door. Were it not for the T-Rex intervening, none of them could have survived to make it to the jeep in the movie and back to the helicopter.
It should be noted that in the book, Grant and Ellie had a vastly different relationship. In the original book, Ellie was a graduate student working with Dr. Grant, nothing more, nothing less. In fact in the book, she was even engaged to a different man, whom Grant described as a nice doctor from Chicago. Grant was also much older than her, and widowed.
Among other things, this relationship upgrade in the film allowed for Ellie to help serve as an instigator and challenger for Grant’s narrative arc. We see early on in the film, that she wants kids, and grant hates them almost as much as he hates computers. When he tells the raptor story to a kid Ellie jokes that if he wanted to scare the child he should have just pulled a gun on him. To which, Grant asks, if she really ants one of those.
Ellie tells him,
“I don’t want that kid, but a breed of child Dr. Grant could be intriguing. I mean, what’s so wrong with kids?
When he lists off the problems with kids, including that they are noisy, messy and expensive, she mocks him, calling him cheep, and his insistence that they smell, is met with a quick dismissal. Later, at the Park, Ellie does everything to help push Lex and Tim on Grant, including encouraging Tim’s hero worship of Grant, and telling Lex to ride with Grant as it would be good for him. Thus, at the end of the movie, when Grant is snuggled up with the kids after surviving the Park together she can’t help but smile at him knowing he has come to understand that kids are not so bad.
However, aside from some occasional banter back and forth , a few meaningful glances, Ellie putting her arm around Grant, and Grant being rather protective when Malcolm asked if she was available, the relationship itself was kept largely chaste, and at a minimum. After all, no one goes to see a movie about dinosaurs and expects to be swept away in a world wind romance on par with that of James Cameron’s Titanic.
None the less, the relationship proved to be memorable to fans and was often the subject for debate. In the novel The Lost World, a character Ed James gives the mysterious “villain” Dogdson, who is trying to steal InGen’s secrets a report on the survivors of the “Incident at Isla Nublar” as they call it. He notes,
“Ellen Sattler Reiman…Botanist, used to be involved with Grant. Now married to a physicist at Berkeley and has a young son and daughter. She lectures half-time at the university. She spends the rest of her time at home…”
In keeping with the book, once Jurassic Park III came around, fans of the films were stunned to see that Grant and Ellie did not end up together. She married a man named Mark who worked with the state department and the two had a son. Despite this, she still had a good friendship with Grant who was a sort of uncle figure to her young son Charlie, or as he called him “The Dinosaur Man”. She even discussed his latest theory on the Raptors. It’s only when he’s discussing his theory that she, and the audience, see any signs of who Grant was before the Park.
As Grant leaves to go make a speech at a university to acquire funding for one of his digs. Deleted material from the movie found in the script reveals that due to Jurassic Park, it is harder for paleontologists like Grant to get funding. No one wants to see dinosaur bones anymore, now that they can see the real thing. As Grant predicted when he first stepped on the Park, he is all but out of a job, and as he told the kids, he would have to evolve too. However, While Ellie could and did, Grant still clings to the old way.
She urges him not to be afraid to change, and reassures him that he is still the best in the field, even if Grant began to himself as a dying breed. Just before he left, in the script, she told him,
“Let me know if I can help, Alan. You’re bad about asking for help, but please ask me. Anything, anytime.”
Later on the island when being attacked by the Spinosaurus, Grant calls Ellie, only to have her son answer and get easily distracted by of all things Barney the Dinosaur. All Ellie can hear is the screams on the other end, and we aren’t told how, or why she is able to figure out where they went. Grant admits to Eric, the boy he came to rescue, when Eric asks who Ellie is when he calls her for help,
“She’s the one person I could always count on. And she’s saved me more times than she realizes. I owe her everything…It’s strikes me now I never told her that.”
Again, Ellie is able to save Grant’s life. Thanks to her connections with the state department, she is able to call in the entire US Marne corps to extract them form the island. Upon seeing them, Grant can only smile and say, “God Bless you, Ellie.” More than just a damsel in distress, or a sidekick, or even a love interest, Ellie is the one who, when the chips are down will do what is necessary to help save her friends from the rampaging dinosaurs, and act as a moral conscience for those that need a good wake up call. Her expertise and skill make her an indispensible to the survival not only of the heroes, but the one to call to question but the dinosaurs as well and how dangerous the recreated eco system could be. As she says in the movie Jurassic Park,
“Well, the question is, how can you know anything about an extinct ecosystem? And therefore, how could you ever assume that you can control it? You have plants in this building that are poisonous; you picked them because they look good. But these are aggressive living things that have no idea what century they’re in, and they’ll defend themselves, violently if necessary.”
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“Clever Girls: Is Jurassic Park More Feminist than Its Coming Sequel, Jurassic World?”National Post, 10 June 2015, nationalpost.com/entertainment/clever-girls-is-jurassic-park-more-feminist-than-its-coming-sequel-jurassic-world.
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1993. Amblin Entertainment/Universal Studios
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