TODAY marks Sam Neill’s 70th birthday. To celebrate this milestone, let us reflect on a scene from the actor’s most iconic movie, Jurassic Park (1993).
The Steven Spielberg classic has gone down as one of Hollywood’s greatest triumphs, both commercially and critically. Jurassic Park stands T-Rex tall as a gold standard of blockbuster filmmaking with CGI that holds up – and in some cases betters – what we see on our screens today.
The art of constructing memorable, heart-pounding and awe-inspiring scenes is bread and butter for Spielberg. On this occasion, I have chosen the dread-filled T-Rex breakout scene (click here to watch) to admire.
This scene sees youngsters Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello) sitting in a car by the park’s broken electronic fence. A thudding sound grows louder as Tim watches, with discernible fear, the water on the dashboard beginning to ripple. Something earth shaking is approaching. Lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferroro), who is in the car supposedly looking after the kids, wakes up and reasons that it might be the power coming back on.
Tim then notices through his night vision binoculars – a reminder that he is just a child in this frightening situation – that the goat has disappeared. ‘Where’s the goat?’ asks Lex. Suddenly a bloody limb drops on the car. The camera pulls back to show a massive T-Rex as it swallows the goat with ease.
We then see a shot of Donald through the car’s bloody window before he abandons his duty and, in sheer terror, runs from the car. He does not last long.
Meanwhile, in a separate car, palaeontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) see Donald running towards the toilets.
‘When you gotta go, you gotta go,’ jokes Ian. We hear the wires of the park’s security fence begin to fly off and a creaking noise as the T-Rex breaks through. The T-Rex, dwarfing the cars and taking up most of the frame, lets out a warning roar.
‘I hate being right all the time,’ says Ian referring to his doubt over the park’s ability to safely contain these pre-historic creatures. Alan leans in to the shot, looking up in amazement at this destructive dinosaur. In his typically calm and matter-of-fact manner, he advises: ‘Keep absolutely still. His vision is based on movement.’ Just the man you want in this dino-crisis.
Not to forget, an important element in this scene is rain. Of course, rain and night-time – obscuring vision – provide the perfect conditions for something bad to happen. The sound of the rain (no score, just natural sounds in the scene) also brings a smoothing tranquillity that contrasts with the shaking footsteps of the T-Rex and the impending chaos.
This scene is Spielberg at the height of his powers. Big eye-catching Hollywood action and emotion handled with precision and attention to detail. It helped produce a film – and performances from Neill and co – that are still cherished by those who saw it in their millions 24 years ago.
Thank you Mr Spielberg. Thank you Mr Neill – and a happy birthday to you.
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