We have an independent theatre in Ottawa called the Mayfair. Its website bills it as “Ottawa’s home of stuff you won’t see anywhere else,” which is pretty accurate. The Mayfair is both a second-run theatre, showing the occasional movie that was playing in the big chains a couple of months earlier, and a repertory theatre with a focus on classic and cult movies old (they show Rocky Horror monthly) and new (they’re also showing The Room monthly these days). A few months ago they had a Martin Scorsese showcase, this month they’re doing Alfred Hitchcock, and next month it’s a “Cornu-Coppola” as the work of Francis Ford Coppola is revisited. Basically, if you like interesting and/or old movies, it’s excellent to live within a convenient distance of the Mayfair.
Today’s show was a double feature of Steven Spielberg’s two most toothsome thrillers: Jaws — which was released 36 years ago tomorrow! — and Jurassic Park. A staff member explained before the show started that they were showing an old 35mm print of Jaws. The film had obviously not been restored in any way, and the colours in some sections had taken on a pinkish-red tone. I don’t know the technical reason for this, but I’ll have to read up on it. Film preservation is something I’d be interested to learn more about! Jurassic Park was presented with its original DTS sound disc, and it was amazing to hear the difference between that and Jaws‘ older sound technology.
I’d only seen Jaws once before, but I have a lot of love for Jurassic Park and I couldn’t resist what seemed to be a perfectly-matched double feature. Indeed, these two extreme “man vs. huge, terrifying creature with gigantic nasty pointy teeth” stories did go very well together. I have shark fear, so to me just the concept of Jaws is frightening. Spielberg pulls it off so well that I think I’d probably place it in the top five scariest movies I’ve ever seen. At one point while watching today, I literally jumped off my seat — like, I vaulted myself a few inches into the air and didn’t realize it till I felt my butt hit the chair on the way back down. Jurassic Park is also incredibly scary, especially the scene with the T. Rex and the kids in the car. I’ve always thought that was an outstanding sequence, masterfully put together for maximum terror, and watching it today re-confirmed how absolutely petrifying it is. Both movies build a sense of dread from the helplessness of humans facing off against these ancient-seeming creatures — because there’s undoubtedly something about sharks that seems prehistoric — that are huge, smart, pure predators. There’s also a feeling of invasion involved, as though the creatures have violated human space and time: the shark shouldn’t be in the waters near Amity; the dinosaurs, of course, shouldn’t exist at all.
But in Jurassic Park it’s man’s own arrogance that brings the dinosaurs to life. I love a good Frankenstein story and Jurassic Park definitely is one. Jeff Goldblum’s character asks: “What is so great about discovery? It is a violent, penetrative act that scars what it explores. What you call discovery, I call the rape of the natural world.” This recalls Victor Frankenstein’s description of himself as “always having been embued with a fervent longing to penetrate the secrets of nature.” Both Frankenstein and John Hammond violate the natural order, and the consequences of their actions are horrific.
One other thing I appreciated about Jurassic Park on watching it again today: the female characters, paleo-botanist Ellie and pre-teen computer nerd hacker Lex, are kind of great. It’s really been bothering me lately how many movies there are where the woman is just a prop there to be rescued by the guy. I know this has been going on forever, but I’ve found it even more annoying ever since I saw Kick-Ass, with its highly unsatisfying ending where SPOILER! super competent, awesome Hit Girl is deprived of her revenge. Ugh! Repeated exposure to the the trailer for the new Transformers movie — in which the female lead (I assume) never even speaks, but is only shown looking scared — probably hasn’t helped either. I think it’s fair to say Sam Neill’s character is the hero in Jurassic Park, but Ellie and Lex both have moments of excellence. When Lex manages to make the doors lock and prevent them all from being eaten by raptors, it’s a fantastic, empowering moment for a young girl who’s spent much of the movie scared out of her wits, but still manages to think on her feet in a difficult situation.