It would take a person of great vision to dream up something like Jurassic Park, and not just as a film or a book. After all, such a person would have to possess not only the resources, both financial and scientific, but the passion to undertake such an endeavor. It is even said by the characters in the Jurassic Park films and books that an one can build a zoo, and for that matter any one can build a theme park with rides. Jurassic Park, and subsequently, Jurassic World, are something else entirely.
This is an idea, one that common sense says is not a good one, and even the experts
brought in to the island to go on a tour of the facility say the same. A person, or in this instance, a corporation is using genetic engineering to bring dinosaurs back from the dead, and use them as amusement park attractions. At the head of this whole endeavor, is that person with great vision, John Hammond, the founder of InGen.
Right from the start, Hammond is a spellbinder, teasing Grant and Ellie with the wonders of his island, telling them, in the film,
“Come on, sit down, sit down…I’ll come right to the point. I like you, both of you. I can tell instantly about people. It’s a gift. I own an island, off the coast of Costa Rica. I’ve leased it from the government and I’ve spent the last five years setting up a kind of biological preserve. Really spectacular, spared no expense. It’ll make the one I’ve got down in Kenya look like a petting zoo. And there’s no doubt, our attractions will drive kids out of their minds… And not just kids. Everyone.”
When they ask what the attractions at the park are, Hammond can only smile and tell them that it is right up there alley. Later on arriving at the island, he continues to play it close to the chest, not telling them anything about the park, except that in 24 hours, he is certain that the lawyer, Donald Generro will be apologizing to him for doubting his park or the safety. Sure enough, when Grant, Settler, and Malcolm see the brachiosaurs, they are mesmerized, just like Hammond had envisioned. He further stuns Grant by nonchalantly mentioning that the park has a T-rex, almost like someone saying they have a dog.
Hammond is quite proud of the creation, and not just because of the dinosaurs that populate the island. The park includes electric jeeps that run along a rail, an advanced security system that used technology that was state of the art for its day, electrified fences running along the park to keep more “dangerous” dinosaurs at bay, and top-notch scientific equipment to help bring the dinosaurs to life. More importantly, his park taps into the zeitgeist of the young and young at heart alike. Hammond knew full well that children, as well as adults loved dinosaurs, and would flock to see these majestic and terrifying prehistoric beasts.
As Hammond boasts in the film Jurassic Park to Grant and Ellie in his sales pitch for this his park that it is,
“The most advanced amusement park in the entire world. And I’m not just talking about rides, you know? Everybody has rides. No, we have made living biological attractions so astounding, that they’ll capture the imaginations of the entire planet. ”
With his pitch, there is clearly something of Walt Disney in John Hammond, this bold visionary who wants to make the impossible happen, and bring everyone’s fondest dreams to life. One could almost picture Hammond, at least in the film, hosting a weekly television show where he enchanted families with exciting wonders. Michael Crichton even described Hammond as sort of a “dark side “of Disney, as though instead of just filling his park with cartoon characters wearing costumes, Hammond fills it with long dead animals. The Disney comparison is fitting Hammond possesses the visionary showmanship on par with the likes of DeMille, Disney, and even Spielberg himself.
Much Hammond’s spell-binding charms in the film version of the story came through his portrayal by the late Scottish actor Richard Attenborough. Spielberg first met Attenborough after Attenborough’s film Gahndi bested Spielberg’s E.T. at the Oscars. Attenborough was surprised, feeling that the Academy made a mistake. He would go on to say that he only made boring films, while Spielberg was a true master , saying that E.T. was a true piece of cinema. The two had struck a friendship, and years later, Spielberg would cast Attenborough as Hammond in Jurassic Park.
It was a fitting choice, as Hammond describes this vision in the Jurassic Park novel,
“ That great sweeping act of imagination which evoked a marvelous park, where children pressed against the fences , wondering at the extraordinary creatures, come alive from their storybooks. Real vision. The ability to see the future. The ability to marshal resources to make the future vision a reality.”
Hammond is doing something that could potentially be frightening, and not just because of the animals but the bioethics involved in such an undertaking are staggering. aAt the same time, he has an uncanny ability to enchant, amaze, delight, and thrill from the moment they enter the park. As he shows off his creations he smiles with a twinkle in his eye like Santa Clause delivering presents to children. It may be dangerous, but even that makes it feel like the adventure of a lifetime.
As Bowdoin A. Van Riper notes in Imagining Flight: Aviation and Popular Culture,
“Audiences shake their heads at the folly of using genetic engineering to resurrect Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptors and gasp at the beasts effortless pursuit of the human heroes. The key to the film’s box-office success was not the story or the characters, however, but the dinosaurs themselves. Director Ste(v)en Spielberg portrays John Hammond, his Dr. Frankenstien, as a misguided fool, -but still invites the audience to marvel at his creations.”
Like Dr. Frankenstein, Hammond and his team at InGen, are as Mary Shelley wrote in the novel Frankenstein, regarding the “modern day” alchemists whose work was able to break through the surly bonds of nature, and like a modern day Prometheus, seemingly steal fire from the gods,
“The ancient teachers of this science… promised impossibilities and performed nothing. The modern masters promise very little; they know that metals cannot be transmuted and that the elixir of life is a chimera but these philosophers, whose hands seem only made to dabble in dirt, and their eyes to pore over the microscope or crucible, have indeed performed miracles. They penetrate into the recesses of nature and show how she works in her hiding-places. They ascend into the heavens; they have discovered how the blood circulates, and the nature of the air we breathe. They have acquired new and almost unlimited powers; they can command the thunders of heaven, mimic the earthquake, and even mock the invisible world with its own shadows.”
In order to pull off such a concept as Jurassic Park, someone like Hammond would have to have deep pockets to achieve this impossible dream. In his establishing moments with Dr. Grant and Dr. Settler we learn that John Hammond has actually been one of their largest benefactors, contributing 50,000 dollars a year to their research. He even manages to entice them to come to his park by offering to fund their research for the next three years. While the movie version of John Hammond is a benevolent grandfather, the book version as just as greedy and money grubbing as the lawyer was in the movie. When asked in the book by Dr. Wu why he would build his park instead of use his genius to help humanity, Hammond told him,
“That’s a terrible idea. A very poor use of new technology…Yet, you’ll remember… the original genetic engineering companies, like Genentech and Cetus, were all started to make pharmaceuticals. New drugs for mankind. Noble, noble purpose. Unfortunately, drugs face all kinds of barriers. FDA testing alone takes five to eight years-if you’re lucky. Even worse, there are forces at work in the marketplace. Suppose you make a miracle drug for cancer or heart diseases – as Genentech did .Suppose you now want to charge a thousand dollars or two thousand dollars a dose. You might imagine that is your privilege. After all, you invented the drug, you paid to develop and test it; you should be able to charge whatever you wish. But do you really think that the government will let you do that? No, Henry, they will not. Sick people aren’t going to pay a thousand dollars a dose for needed-medication-they won’t be grateful, they’ll be outraged. Blue Cross isn’t going to pay it. They’ll scream highway robbery. So something will happen. Your patent application will be denied. Your permits will be delayed. Something will force you to see reason — and sell your drug at a lower cost. From a business standpoint, that makes helping mankind a very risky business. Personally, I would never help mankind.”
More shockingly, this iteration of the character wasn’t too worried about his grandkids safety, or anyone else who was lost on the island and only wanted to insure his park opened on time. In many ways, the John Hammond of the book was not that different from Larry Vaughn, the mayor of the town of Amity in Jaws. Mayor Vaughn, despite any warnings to the contrary, refused to listen to reason and shut down the beaches until the shark was caught. Vaughn even reminded Sheriff Brody that Amity was a summer town and needed money from tourism and something like a shark attack would scare off costumers. Vaughn was even willing to claim the rogue shark had been caught and killed so he could rake in the summer money. Even in the wake of a third shark attack, his only concern was trying to find some way to save the summer if they shut down the beaches.
Hammond also refused to own up to any responsibilities in the book, instead blaming others, as he thinks to himself,
“As he thought about it, he concluded that (Dr. Henry)Wu had not really been the man for the job, Wu had obviously been sloppy, too casual with his great undertaking. And Wu had been too preoccupied with making improvements. Instead of making dinosaurs, he had wanted o improve on them. Hammond suspected darkly hat was the reason for the downfall of the park… Also, he had to admit that John Arnold was ill suited for the job of chief engineer. Arnold had impressive credentials, but at this point in his career he was tired, and he was a fretful worrier. He hadn’t been organized, and he had missed things. Important things…In truth neither Wu nor Arnold had the most important characteristic, Hammond decided, the characteristic of vision.”
However, for him to achieve this vision, he must also pay the ultimate price before the end. In sci-fi and horror crucial for the “mad genius” to be hoist on his own petard and killed by his own creation. This is seen as a penance for messing with powers beyond their understanding. As Robert T. Lively notes in his essay “The X-Files and The Science Fiction Gothic” from the book The X-Files and Literature, Unweaving the Story, Unraveling the Lie to Find the Truth that examined what has become known as Science Fiction Gothic,
“Obviously, without scientific experimentation, there can be no SFG ( Science Fiction Gothic). Physics, chemistry, aeronautics, biochemistry, or some form of science must be present to classify the work as an SF Gothic .Science’s theories to define or control the world have always fascinated, yet threatened society. Those scientists who push the bounds of knowledge are often tormented by their discoveries. In the SF Gothic, scientific experimentation creates a type of transgression. Readers familiar with Goethe’s Faust will see the connection between the overweening quest for knowledge and transgression. The Faustian sin of overarching human knowledge became a mainstay of the SF Gothic tradition. In earlier Gothic texts, transgressions were often against God through demon worship, murder, madness, or incest. Transgression in SF Gothic is generally a breaking of the natural order through seeking too much knowledge.”
Thus, in the end, Hammond pays for his transgressions when he is killed by his own creations as he breaks his ankle and as he hobbles away is pecked to death by a breed of small scavenger dinosaurs known as Coptosaurauses, or as they call them for short, the Compys.
While the eccentric billionaire in the book was greedy, snively, and failed to take into account that theme parks do adhere to government safety regulations due to no sane person wanting to pile on a death toll at their attraction, Hammond in the film wanted everything in his park to run smoothly. This lead the celluloid version of Hammond to becomes a much more nuanced and at times likable character. Despite it being filled with deadly animals and plants, you want his vision to succeed. As Spielberg noted in an interview with Empire Magazine:
“John Hammond has Wait Disney’s vision of Utopia for children all over the world, except it doesn’t turn out to be Utopia – it’s not the petting zoo he thought it was going to be… I felt Hammond was a brilliantly written, but patented villain, and I was much more interested in portraying Hammond as a cross between Wait Disney and Ross Perot.”
This is best seen in the movie when the lawyer Generro informs Hammond how much money they could make and that they could charge admission to the park at a thousand or even five thousand dollars a day, Hammond rebukes him, and generously informs him that his park is not meant to cater to only the super rich but everyone on the planet. This fails to take into account the cost of airfare travel, vaccinations for traveling to South America, passports, and the other costs that would go into paying or a trip to Jurassic Park. This is a far cry from the man in the book who said,
“Now…think how different is when you’re making entertainment. Nobody needs entertainment. That’s not a matter for government intervention. If I charge five thousand dollars a day for my park, who is going to stop me? After all, nobody needs to come here. And, far from being highway robbery, a costly price tag actually increases the appeal of the park. A visit becomes a status symbol, and all Americans love that. So do the Japanese, and of course they have far more money.”
Spielberg’s take on the character wants to give the world something more than the mere illusions of Disney. It makes the Hammond of the film a much more of a flawed and tragic character then the version in the book. This is best seen in the movie when Hammond tells Ellie why he conceived the Park in the first place,
“You know the first attraction I ever built when I came down south from Scotland? It was a Flea Circus, Petticoat Lane. Really quite wonderful. We had a wee trapeze, and a merry-go… carousel and a seesaw. They all moved, motorized of course, but people would say they could see the fleas. “Oh, I see the fleas, mummy! Can’t you see the fleas?” Clown fleas and high wire fleas and fleas on parade… But with this place, I wanted to show them something that wasn’t an illusion. Something that was real, something that they could see and touch. An aim not devoid of merit.”
However, when Ellie points out that the Park is still a big illusion, he firmly states that next time everything will work, that nothing will be automated, and everything will be easy to fix. His persistence that helps him stick with his dream, descends quickly into stubbornness as he does not want to surrender his dream, even when his own grandkids are lost on the island, and could possibly be eaten. Later, he still persists in simply seeing what is happening as nothing more than a glitch like in any other major theme park opening. He even tells Malcolm and Ellie that when Disneyland first opened to the public nothing worked, only for Malcolm to tell him that the only difference is, when the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourist. Those are just robotic figures, these are real live animals brought back from the dead and living in a world they don’t know.
As benevolent as he may seem he can’t grasp that his actions of consequences. Mike Cosper notes in The Stories we Tell: How Movies and TV Long for and Echo the Truth,
“What we see is this common theme: we play God, inventing technology and creating abilities with extraordinary power. But the consequences are disastrous. This theme gets repeated again and again. We distrust ourselves as creators, having an awareness that the long-term consequences of our decisions are unpredictable”
There is also the glaring fact that in his myopic quest to prove his park works, he sent his own grandkids out on a tour of a park filled with dinosaurs that hadn’t been fully completed or tested yet. John Hammond in the book merely sent them along to get the lawyer off his back as he saw it as a personal investment to send his own kin out there, as if to say “look the park is so safe I’d send my own grandkids out there.”
As Lester Friedman notes in Citizen Spielberg,
“Conversely, Hammond functions as another familiar Spielberg character- the unreliable father figure who abandons his familial responsibilities. By putting his grandchildren into danger for commercial expediency, Hammond-and the corporate mentality he embodies-becomes irresponsible and ultimately dangerous figure, despite his considerable appealing qualities…Hammonds dual nature finds an objective correlative in his cane. It highlights his frailty, his need to lean on something sturdy to progress from one place to another. Metaphorically, it represents his scientific endeavors…Most crucially, its head, a prehistoric mosquito sealed in tree sap and encased in glass, visually encapsulates his hubris: attempting to entrap nature and the awesome power of genetics into a seemingly innocuous commercial project designed exclusively for the pleasure and use of mankind. But objects meant to support can break, and those designed for beauty can be used as weapons-sometimes even against those who create and trademark them. Ultimately, the film does not hold Hammond personally responsible for the disasters that occur in Jurassic Park. But he remains guilty of severely underestimating the power he unleashes and, like his nineteenth-century forebear , of not considering the consequences of his actions. Through Victor Frankenstein, we understand how the scientific arrogance of one man can bring death and destruction to many innocent victims; through John Hammond, we contemplate how such presumptuousness, backed by huge corporate resources, can reach devastating proportions far beyond an immediate circle of family and friends to threaten all of us.”
It is perhaps most telling that at the end of the movie, not only does Hammond need a cane to get on the helicopter to safety, but he needs to lean on Dr. Grant. Later as they fly away we see Grant, not Hammond, snuggling up with Tim and Lex, while Hammond can only look at the perfectly preserved mosquito in amber that sits atop his cane, the very thing that started it all, and contemplate and mourn his lost dream.
While Hammond doesn’t die in the film, he still has to pay the price for his actions in the long term. When we see him in The Lost World his company is crumbling. A deleted scene reveals that among other expenditures, they had to pay a combined total of 72.1 Million dollars in wrongful death settlements to the families of Donald Generro, John Arnold, and Robert Muldoon. Hammond himself is having severe health problems, so much so that he is hooked up to hospital equipment. Lawyers and other business associates pick apart his empire, and his nephew, Peter Ludlo, filed a motion to remove Hammond from the position of CEO.
Like Shakespeare’s King Lear, Hammond was a king with no kingdom, and the two heirs who would be most loyal to him, Tim and Lex, naturally don’t want his empire. However, when a discovery is made on Isla Sorna, or Site B, concerning dinosaurs from in Gen that survived, Hammond calls in Malcolm. Hammond, surprisingly bares no ill will to Malcolm, and the kids are happy to see him.
Here we see Hammond is more repentant for his actions in the first film as he tells Malcolm,
“When you have a lot of time to think, it’s funny who you remember. It’s the people who challenged you. It’s the quality of our opponents that gives our accomplishments meaning. I never told you how sorry I was about what happened after we returned…You were right – – and I was wrong. There! Did you ever think you’d hear me say that? Spectacularly wrong. Instead of observing those animals, I tried to control them. I squandered an opportunity and well still know next to nothing about their lives. Not their lives as man would have them, behind electric fences, but in the wild. Behavior in their natural habitat, the impossible dream of any paleontologist. I could have had it, but I let it slip away. .. Thank God for Site B.”
This is when Malcolm learns about the other island, where the dinosaurs were actually raised before they were put on display on the park. Hammond recruits a reluctant Malcolm and a team of specialists to analyze and catalogue the dinosaurs as they are now behaving like natural dinosaurs, not theme park attractions. However, as should be expected, Hammond’s heir apparent, his nephew Peter Ludlow, decided to make the same mistakes, only this time bringing a T-Rex to the mainland in the city of San Diego which leads to a Godzilla style disaster.
In his last act, a humbled John Hammond made a statement to the press, regarding Site B. It was a statement that could only come from the wisdom of seeing his folly at Isla Nublar. Hammond understood that there were some things that he was just not meant to control. As he said in his statement, at the end of the movie The Lost World,
“It is absolutely imperative that we work with the Costa Rican Department of Biological Preserves to establish a set of rules for the preservation and isolation of that island. These creatures require our absence to survive, not our help. And if we could only step aside and trust in nature, life will find a way.”
Cosper, Mike The Stories we Tell: How Movies and TV Long for and Echo the Truth. Pg. 72. 2014. Crossway. Wheaton, IL.
Crichton, Michael. Jurassic Park.Knopf, New York,NY: 1990. Pgs. 198-99,380. Print.
Friedman, Lester D. Citizen Spielberg. pgs. 137-38.2006. 2010. University of Illinois Pres. Chicago, Il.
Lively, Robert T. “The X-Files and The Science Fiction Gothic ” pgs. 157-158. The X-Files and Literature, Unewaving the Story, Unraveling the Lie to Find the Truth. Sharon R.Yang ed. 2007. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. New Castle, UK.
Sears, Rufus “The Making of Jurassic Park” Empire Magazine issue 50. August 1993. Archived October 24, 2014 “How Jurassic Park became The Biggest Movie of All Time” http://www.empireonline.com/movies/features/making-jurassic-park/ Last Accessed June 5, 2016
Shelley, Mary Frankenstein pg. 27. 1994. Dover Publications. Mineola, NY.
Jaws. Dir. Steven Spielberg. By Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb. Perf. Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, and Murray Hamilton. Zanuck/Brown Productions/Universal Studios. 1975. DVD.
Jurassic Park. Dir. Steven Spielberg. By Michael Crichton and David Koepp. Perf. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sir Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Wayne Knight, B.D. Wong, Samuel L. Jackson, Joseph Mazzello, and Ariana Richards. Amblin Entertainment/Universal Studios. 1993. DVD.
Jurassic Park III. Dir. Joe Johnston. By Peter Buchman, Alexander Pane, and Jim Taylor. Perf. Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, and Laura Dern. Amblin Entertainment/Universal Studio. 2001. DVD.
Van Riper, A. Bowdoin Imagining Flight: Aviation and Popular Culture. Pg. 154. 2004. Texas A&M Press.
1993 Universal Studios/Amblin Entertainment.
This blog is not authorized, endorsed, approved, or affiliated with Universal Studios, Amblin Entertainment or any other parties involved in the creation, development, and ownership of the Jurassic Park franchise. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the views or ownership of the respected owners of Jurassic Park.