friday night movie club

The Movie of This Quarantine Summer Is Jurassic Park

Running from dinosaurs, stress-eating ice cream, filing into a theme park even though it means putting lives at risk — who can’t relate? Photo: Amblin/Universal/Kobal/Shutterstock

Every week for the foreseeable future, Vulture will be selecting one film to watch as part of our Friday Night Movie Club. This week’s selection comes from film critic Alison Willmore, who will begin her screening of Jurassic Park on August 7 at 7 p.m. ET. Head to Vulture’s Twitter to catch her live commentary, and look ahead at next week’s movie here.

Last month, a dozen quarantine-weary comedians started collaborating on a Jurassic Park parody account on Twitter. JurassicPark2go wasn’t positioned as speaking on behalf of the 1993 Steven Spielberg movie or its many sequels — the next of which, Jurassic World: Dominion, is currently filming. No, it presented instead as the voice of the disaster-prone theme park itself, offering death-shadowed updates about the daily goings-on. In doing so, it skewered the slangy, chipper first-person approach that’s become the personable mask worn by many a corporation online. “Just had a company-wide meeting. our big new goals are to sell a dinosaur-shaped pretzel and to ‘at last put an end to the hellish carnage,’” went one tweet. “Some people have asked how long the park is closed when someone is eaten. i mean for the person eaten it’s closed forever haha … but for everyone else no closures,” went another.

A faceless company using an intimately conversational, we’re-all-just-getting-by-together tone feels dystopian enough in regular times. When applied to the devastation of the pandemic and the urgency of the protests, it took on a surreally apocalyptic edge, something the account honed in on amid jokes about dino sex and getting canceled. A corporation is not your friend or your family, something that’s felt particularly clear at a time when there’s a push to get back to business as usual despite the country as a whole being nowhere near having the outbreak under control. Midway through July, as Disney prepared itself to reopen its parks despite COVID-19 numbers escalating in Florida and California, it released a much-derided video of masked employees standing at the ready, smizing furiously as they offered up a “Welcome home!” JurassicPark2go responded with its own version that intercut footage of those same masked Disney employees with scenes of carnage from the franchise.

In June, Jurassic Park was No. 1 at the box office again, 27 years after it first came out. It was a COVID-enabled fluke, made possible by no new major movies being released in the theaters that were still open, allowing a catalogue title to preside over a decimated movie landscape like a roaring dino over the ruins of a mint-condition visitor-center lobby. Jurassic Park is turning out to be as much the movie of the summer as we’re going to get in this blockbusterless, locked-down year — and you know, why not? In addition to being an awesomely well-made action film and milestone of computer-generated effects that still hold up incredibly well, Jurassic Park is a movie attesting to just how much a corporation is not a person. It’s a soulless force that might offer up teasing shows of transparency and appealing design choices, but that will trundle right over individuals like a giant, lumbering … you know.

The original Jurassic Park has a few obvious individual villains, all of them cartoonishly marked by greed. There’s Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero), the “blood-sucking lawyer” sent on behalf of the park’s unseen investors, a humorless ghoul of a guy who gets the least dignified death in the movie when he’s eaten while sitting on a toilet. Then there’s Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), the slapstick computer specialist who’s arranged to commit corporate espionage by stealing genetically engineered dinosaur embryos because he feels underpaid for all the work he’s been doing. And yet, the park’s CEO and creator John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), the character who bears the most direct responsibility for everything that goes wrong, gets spared a bloody death at the hands of a previously extinct creature. The others are individuals — Hammond is the park, literally the figure who greets visitors at the start of the video tour, an old man who, beneath the twinkly façade, is a wee bit short on the humanity front.

Hammond doesn’t need to be greedy because he’s already loaded, and he doesn’t hesitate to use his money for leverage, as he does when he persuades Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) to come endorse his project by promising to fund the next three years of their archeological digs. There’s a terrible kind of purity to Hammond’s vision that actually low-key makes him the most frightening figure in the movie, because he can’t relinquish it even when people start getting killed. Hell, someone gets killed in the opening sequence — the employee who gets dragged screaming inside the raptor pen when there’s a loading accident, something that didn’t appear to ruffle Hammond at all. “We are facing a $20 million lawsuit by the family of that worker, and you’re telling me Hammond can’t even be bothered to see me?” Gennaro remarks bitterly in the following scene while talking about safety concerns at the park. “Hammond hates inspections. They slow everything down,” he’s told in response. Inspections! Employee death! Mere speed bumps.

When Jurassic World came out in 2015, there were repeated jokes about how it strained plausibility to have the place reopen after the world was made aware of how nightmarishly wrong things went the first time around. As the Disney parks reopened last month, a sentiment I saw attached to the news online was that people would never question the believability of that premise again. But we didn’t need to wait on the new trilogy to consider how convincing the rush to reopening would be. Hammond proposes it himself toward the end of Jurassic Park, mournfully eating ice cream and telling Ellie — who was recently chased screaming down the road by a T. rex — that he sees what his mistakes were. “Next time,” he says, “it’ll be flawless.” Welcome home!

Jurassic Park is available to stream on Netflix.

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The Movie of This Quarantine Summer Is Jurassic Park