Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!
I have a confession to make: I don’t particularly like Jurassic Park. Sure, Spielberg gets the sense of wonder just right, the visual effects still hold up well, Bob Peck’s death scene is fantastic and it’s got Samuel L. “BAMF” Jackson – but I will take that big, rubbery shark over T. Rex and Friends any day of the week.
Part of that is that I was too old when it came out. I loved dinosaurs as a kid (which kid doesn’t?), but by the time I was 18 they’d lost some of their allure. But that’s not it: my problem with the film is the Spielberg kids. Steven Spielberg did a great job directing children in his early career, and I’d still consider his work with child actors in E.T. brilliant (though that’s also due in no small part to the talent of Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore). Something changed in the early ’90s, though: I think that the director’s Hook is one of the most obnoxious things ever committed to celluloid, and the children in it are a big part of this. Where Elliot and Gertie in E.T. were sentimentalised, they still felt like actual human beings, but early ’90s Spielberg kids were weaponised, cloying tweeness. While the two children in Jurassic Park aren’t that level of bad, and especially Joseph Mazzello had an earnestness that could have worked quite well, the film still suffers for me because Spielberg couldn’t keep himself from making his child characters overly precious and sentimental – and providing them with plot armour, so it was always clear that neither Tim nor Lex were at any risk of becoming a raptor snack.
Compare this with Jaws, where children didn’t have a built-in cheat mode. In Jaws, what happens to a child (RIP Alex Kintner) is horrifying, but it isn’t gratuitous. It helps establish the stakes and the threat that our toothsome mate Bruce poses to the good people of Amity Island. Jurassic Park has that brilliantly crafted raptor scene where Lex tries not to get caught by a raptor, but as much as Spielberg was at his Spielbergian best when he directed the scene, there’s never the slightest shred of doubt that the kids are safe. Safe and annoying.
I might feel different about the film if I’d seen it a few years earlier, or if I hadn’t hated Hook and its child actors so much that they tainted Spielberg brats for years. Jurassic Park would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids.
The Rear-View Mirror will return every Friday, looking further and further into the past. Fasten your seatbelts: it may just be a bumpy ride.