Wednesday, February 28, 2018

A Jurassic Inferno!

I'm unduly excited about this post because it's been a long time coming, like, even before I ever dreamed of starting a blog! Poseidon's Underworld is eight and a half years old now (unbelievable to me, in and of itself.) Before I started it, I was a frequent IMDB user reviewer (of 800 titles.) Before that, I was an obsessive movie watcher and chronicler who had visions of penning a film star guidebook (which basically became irrelevant once IMDB was on its feet) and wrote reviews that simply went into a large binder and no further. The germ for this post came about in 1993, twenty-five years ago, when home computers were still fairly new to many people! I wrote about it first in a letter to a magazine editor back when people still did such things.

1993 was the year that Jurassic Park, about the invention of a theme park with real dinosaurs, hit theaters. It's ground- breaking special effects revolutionized the industry standard and the film quickly became the highest grossing film to date (unseated four years later by Titanic.) Thanks to re-releases and a 3D rendition, it still ranks #26 in the list of highest-grossing films of all time. I went to see it three times in the theater, so captivated was I by it at the time (though I don't know if I've ever so much as referenced it on this site before today!) But upon closer inspection, I began to get a feeling for why I liked it as much as I did, apart from the dinosaurs. There turned out to be a few pointed similarities to another favorite of mine, one which was the top-grossing film of its own year two decades prior.

1974 was the year the world was presented with The Towering Inferno, a ground- breaking co-production between two studios, featuring an all-star cast trapped in a fiery high-rise. The gripping disaster blockbuster soared to the top of the box office that year, raking in nine times what it cost to make (and the budget hadn't been scant to start with!) My adoration of Inferno has been well-documented here over the years. I just watched it on Blu-Ray a week or two ago and, just as happens almost every time I see the nearly 3-hour film, as soon as it's over I have the urge to watch it again! Because I've always been so immersed in it since seeing it in the theater at age seven, its structure is ingrained in my mind.

That's what the crux of this post is about. After seeing Jurassic Park, I began to notice that even though the two films seem, on the surface, to be about as different as night and day, they actually share a lot of commonality. This is likely due, more than anything else, to how simply formulaic Hollywood film-making was and is over its long history. Some of these things are no-brainers, some are a bit of a stretch, but all of it is meant to be just fun. I'm not trying to suggest plagiarism or anything of the kind here. Just pointing out a few of my own deranged thoughts. And away we go!

To begin with, both JP and TI feature music from the near-legendary John Williams. While his music for TI was Oscar-nominated, his score for JP wasn't, though he was hardly crying. He won that year anyway for his other Steven Spielberg movie of 1993, Schindler's List.
In both films, the protagonist is headed to an all-new, landmark project in which he has a vested interest. He arrives by helicopter over a vast expanse of water as rousing, almost heraldic music by John Williams plays along.
Chief protagonist of JP is Sam Neill, who will receive full funding of his archeological dig for five years if he signs off his approval on a staggering, one-of-a-kind park featuring real, cloned dinosaurs. TI has architect Paul Newman, back from the wilderness in time to celebrate the completion of his design, the world's tallest building, located in San Francisco. You'll notice that the men are even wearing basically the same sunglasses!
The settings of both films are completely unique. The island of Isla Nubar in Costa Rica, is crawling with potentially dangerous creatures who cannot be found anywhere else. The Glass Tower of TI is a then-unheard-of 138 stories of office and living space. Before long, it will be crawling with flames at almost every turn.
Both locales have a helipad built-in for aid in access (or, hopefully, departure!)
The man in charge of Jurassic Park is an older, bespectacled gent (Oscar-winning producer and director Richard Attenborough) who is seeing a dream come true. The man in charge of The Glass Tower is an older, bespectacled gent (Oscar-winning actor William Holden) who is also seeing a dream come true.
Both men are proud enough (and unknowing enough) to allow their most cherished family members (in Attenborough's case, his young grandchildren - in Holden's case, his only daughter) to come to the place they've built, even though it may not be completely finished and may contain the potential for danger.
Neill has a longtime girlfriend (Laura Dern) who he has yet to propose to. He (she as well) is dirty and dusty and her shoulder length hair hangs freely. Newman has a long-term girlfriend who he also hasn't proposed to, though he wants her to join him in his next venture. Her shoulder length hair also hangs freely and he is unshaven from being in the woods.
When Dern arrives at the Park and when Dunaway arrives at the party, their shoulder length locks are now done up into a twist and they are sporting earrings. (For obvious reasons, Miss Faye wins in the glamour department!)
To stretch the comparison a tad further, the VERY first time we lay eyes on Dern, she's wearing a hat with the brim turned back. The very first time we see Dunaway, she also is wearing a hat with the brim turned back, but we don't actually get to see it in the movie because of the clever way she is introduced, slunk down in a chair with her back to the camera. Newman removes the hat and tosses it aside before we've glimpsed her, hence the black & white still photo from on set here. As a side note, I think it's a credit to the production that, instead of having her leafing through Life or McCall's or any other magazine, she's looking through Architecture Plus, a periodical which would likely have been found on Newman's character's desk, even though it isn't clearly visible in the movie.
Both settings have cavernous lobbies, with multi-layered entrances. Both are so freshly created that they aren't even entirely finished yet. Workmen are still plastering and painting the visitor's center of Jurassic Park while The Glass Tower has elevators that aren't yet operational and other facets that aren't in complete working order (not to mention equipment and debris lying around here and there.)
Both establishments are kept in operation by a substantial computer system. JP's headquarters is chiefly handled by black technician Samuel L. Jackson who, in a slightly annoying performance to watch, has a cigarette in his mouth about 98-44/100ths of the time. TI's tower is kept in check by a heavily-manned security center, headed by black actor O.J. Simpson. Simpson, who was then practically a national hero thanks to his football career, is slightly annoying to watch now because of what he later evolved into, the less said about that the better... Best to just disengage from that while viewing and try to remember what he once signified. In both movies, the high-tech equipment available lets down the people trapped there time and again.
Jurassic Park has a corrupt computer expert (Wayne Knight) whose personal greed causes the near complete destruction of the facility and the loss of many lives. The Glass Tower has a corrupt executive (Richard Chamberlain) whose personal greed causes the near complete destruction of the facility and the loss of even more lives. Chamberlain has a gluttonous need for money and sex. Knight has a gluttonous need for money... and food. Both men perish in rather gut-churning ways, and due to their own selfishness, paying for their misdeeds in kind.
Both places also have a highly loyal employee on hand who will do whatever possible to help resolve the dilemma before them. JP has Bob Peck while TI has Norman Burton. Both men perish in horrific ways despite their loyalty to the company that employs them. By the way, I just LOVED Bob Peck's meaty thighs in his khaki shorts and was sad to see him go. In the book, his character survived...
Both movies force the people hoping to survive to dig out the original blueprints of the area in question and refer to them for information.
Both movies depict power failure and the negative impact that it has on the proceedings.
Each of the male protagonists is a man who is either unfamiliar with or generally uncomfortable around children, yet must become intimately acquainted with them over the course of the story. Single, childless Neill and Newman both help a young girl descend from a tall height with her clasped firmly to his back.
Jurassic Park has unmanned Ford Explorers, running along a track, whose see-through glass ceilings allow passengers to look up at all the stunning sights of the location. The Glass Tower has unmanned scenic elevators with see-through glass walls that allow passengers to look out at all the stunning sights of the location.
Both of these mechanisms turn into glass-enclosed, potential deathtraps. In JP, the children are terrorized by a T-Rex who butts up against the vehicle, knocking it off its track and pushing the window out of its frame. In TI, the people in the elevator are terrorized by an explosion that knocks the elevator off its track, with one of the windows being pushed out of its frame!
In both films, the children survive perilous adventures (in JP it's the T-Rex attack, in TI it's the blown-out stairwell) only to be rewarded with gobs of dessert and a brief rest. After this, they are faced with even more terrifying experiences! In JP, the children are pursued through a stainless steel kitchen by vicious raptors. In TI, the children are placed in the scenic elevator which is soon blasted off its track and left dangling by a cable many stories in the air.
Both films separate the protagonist for a substantial period of time from his female love interest. In JP, Neill and Dern finally spy each other across a lawn and she runs into his arms for an embrace. In TI, Newman finally makes his way into the Promenade Room, where Dunaway has been trapped, and they fall into an embrace.
Almost needless to say, neither protagonist has any desire to do further business with the developer who brought them to the place. Neill informs Attenborough that he will not be endorsing the park. Newman declines Holden's offer to build more buildings like the tower all over the world. He even goes so far as to suggest that Holden is a de facto murderer out of his neglectful behavior.
Finally, by the time the destructive forces of each film have had their way, there is precious little left of the locale. As the T-Rex continues to demolish the visitor's center, a banner "When Dinosaurs Rule the Earth" falls to the ground. The Glass Tower is both burned and flooded. The Duncan Enterprises motto "We Build For Life" is shown (admittedly earlier than the climax) ironically slipping down and burning.
Were you surprised by any of this or did you find it interesting? Did I make a believer out of you at all? Have I forgotten anything? Look, I made it through the whole thing and never once tried to make a comparison out of the dinosaur bones of Jurassic Park and the premier fossil of The Towering Inferno, Fred Astaire! Ha ha! (Just kidding, we love you, Fred.) I drew these comparisons at a time when the 1970s disaster movie was being derided by many critics and film scholars (something that often holds true still today!) I wanted to make the point that even though people often looked down their noses at the disaster genre or omitted it from film history publications, it was actually still alive and well, but with a little tweaking. And, in due time, Hollywood returned to the disaster genre once more with things like Daylight (1996), Twister (1996), Volcano (1997), Dante's Peak (1997) and others, virtually all of which I loathed. Titanic was different. I enjoyed that one and saw it three times in release, too, though it ultimately was the film that sent me veering away from modern cinema when I realized just how much of it was CGI, a process I now avoid like the plague...


Alan Scott said...

I loved the hair comparison! First FD and LD have their hair down, shoulder length, but then in an upsweep! LOL

ThinkingManNeil said...

"Volcano" with Tommy Lee Jones and Anne Heche was execrable both as a film and as with anything to do with volcanoes. Though it had it's howling errors as well(heating and acidification of "Grandma's" lake in a short span of time, depiction of Hawaiian type basaltic, "fire fountain" eruption and accompanying fluid lava flow during a Plinian andesite or dacite eruption [an explosive, Mt. St. Helens-type eruption producing large quantities of ash], driving a truck over an active lava flow - it'd be instantly immolated by the heat), "Dante's Peak is far more watchable IMO, and it did have a couple of reasonably accurate depictions of volcano related phenomena; namely the debris flow or lahar that sweeps away a bridge with Charles Hallahan and his van on it (there's footage from the 1980 St. Helen's eruption of a similar lahar doing the same thing to a similar bridge, luckily with no one on it), and the depiction of a pyroclastic flow (or "pyroclastic cloud" as Pierce Brosnan's character referred to it). Pyroclastic flows are kinda of the "atomic bomb" in a volcano's arsenal. They're essentially fast moving - 700+ KmH - extremely dense avalanches of hot - 1,000+ degrees centigrade - poisonous gases and semi-molten volcanic sand, ash, tephra, and blocks that can travel remarkably long distances away from the volcanic vent. Pyroclastic flows are fairly common to volcanoes like those of the Cascade Range along the US west coast, and to other stratovolcanoes such as Mt. Mayon, in the Philippines, Japan's Mt. Fuji, Vesuivious in Italy, and Sinabung in Indonesia. Here's some recent video of the collapse of the Plinian eruption column produced by Sinabung late last month, causing large pyroclastic flows to engulf the entire mountain at the column's base and spread out from the vent in every direction, an event that's not that often witnessed...


Gingerguy said...

Yes, I am a believer! I also try to avoid CGI like the plague, and recently saw The Greatest Showman for Hugh Jackman but the effects were my least favorite part. Here I think you picked up on a disaster template, and very cleverly illustrated it by the photo comparisons. This is probably the most recent film covered on your blog?
I love an aerial shot in the opening of any movie but very effective here on both.
Bob Peck is totally hot and noticed him on a recent viewing of JP. I think I saw all of them in theaters including a 3rd that was just sad. I do think the first is much better then the reboot, the technology was jaw dropping then. TI had better star power though.
This was a hoot but also very perceptive Poseidon.

Scooter said...

Really well done. Enjoyed that comparison and hadn't made the connection myself before.

joel65913 said...

This was great fun Poseidon! It might (I said might) get me to watch Jurassic Park again. I've only watched the once in the theatre. It was an okay film and I went to see the sequels (also only one time each) but I've never been fond of Laura Dern and outside October Sky I doubt I've seen anything she's done multiple times.

Anyway back to this who knew there was such a cavalcade of similarities, thanks for pointing them out!

Poseidon3 said...

Alan, glad you got a kick out of the hair.

Gingerguy, believe it or not, my weary bones made it to the theater to see "The Greatest Showman," too! I was prepared to hate it, but liked it quite a bit. I concur that the CGI was not among the things that made it enjoyable. Strangely enough, my favorite aspects were Zac Efron & Zendaya and The Bearded Lady. And, yes, I think that "Jurassic Park" is likely the most recent movie I've covered here beyond a simple mention. Lord knows there are plenty of sites to cover movies from 2000 to the present, so I don't believe I'll be changing my focus anytime soon (not that you were suggesting I do!) ;-)

Scooter, thank you! Glad you enjoyed this.

Joel, I'm happy that I could bring something to your attention that you hadn't already discovered for yourself! You are clearly a very learned moviegoer. I wouldn't say I've ever been over the moon about Laura Dern, partially because she almost always lacked glamour and we all know I like my stars "done up," but I do respect the fact that she has created her own substantial career - and a pretty varied one - out from under the shadow of two well-known parents. It's not something that every young second-generation actor/actress can accomplish. I will also add that whenever I've seen her off-screen, she always seemed like a really nice PERSON, and that I admire as well. Thanks!

Forever1267 said...

I thought I wrote something about this article. But now I don't see it, and now I don't remember what I thought I wrote.

In any event, I did like the article. It's a lot of fun, like these two fun movies. Thank you!

Poseidon3 said...

Thank you very much! Although a couple of trolls / stalkers made it necessary for me to monitor comments, I don't recall seeing anything from you before on this! I generally publish everything, even if I don't agree with it, unless it's something inflammatory or downright weird, which I've had to deal with in recent months. Thanks a lot!