Alan N. Shapiro, Visiting Professor in Transdisciplinary Design, Folkwang University of the Arts, Essen, Germany

Blog and project archive about transdisciplinary design, media theory and creative coding

“Jurassic Park” (film): Newman Eaten by a Dilophosaurus, by Alan N. Shapiro

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Steven Spielberg’s stated goal for the film Jurassic Park (1993) is to achieve what he calls “total realism.” He wants to make cinema coincide with the real. This is a symptomatic fantasy that Jean Baudrillard diagnoses in The Evil Demon of Images as “cinema attempting to abolish itself in the absolute of reality.”1 The self-erasing act of celluloid penitence might also be called the absolution of cinema. What Spielberg in his capacity as commentator on his own work does not grasp is that total realism equals total simulation. This is the paradoxical law of imitation (Rex Butler) – the more you try to make something a copy of something else, the less in fact it will resemble it, and the more it will resemble only itself. By trying to make a perfect reproduction of something, you obliterate that thing which was the referent, and create your own artefact – a simulacrum that refers only to itself. The process renders both original and copy into simulations. Making an exact replica at the Las Vegas Venetian Hotel of Venice, Italy’s walkways, footbridges, portici, houses, canals, gondolas and gondeliers transforms the real “endangered city” of Venice into an artificial paradise. The will to total realism gives rise to what Baudrillard calls the “accomplished or excessive form” of over-elaboration of the real that ironically endangers reality by bringing it to completion.

To read Baudrillard seriously is to break with the American taboo on thinking about the damage done to reality by the media (a second degree of ecological destruction). It is to see the reciprocal infiltration between media such as film or TV and reality. Reality has itself become a media – one supplementary digital track of the ubiquitous multimedia entertainment system that is Consumer Society. Alan Cholodenko points out that Steven Spielberg, in his actual practice as filmmaker, is himself a Baudrillardian who choreographs the thoroughgoing mutual contamination between once separate terms like technology and life or cinema and world.2 The director of Jaws (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) engages in a fatal strategy of overturning the ingenuous hyper-realism declared in his own programmatic statements. In Jurassic Park, live action and cartoon animation invade each other. The distinction between educational museum and entertaining theme park implodes into edutainment. Chaos theory plays havoc with the best laid scientific plans. The majestic tycoon who “spared no expense” in building the attraction to end all attractions gets bitten hard by a disgruntled underpaid technology contractor. The world as we know it gets cinema-tized. Reality gets information-ized, virtual-ized, cultural-ized, aesthetic-ized, media-tized, and terror-ized. The collective body that we proclaim to be under siege by outside terrorists is in fact invisibly sickened by the metastasis of cancerous cells that we have roused from within. We are held hostage by the previously divided instances of the modernist real which have fled their own specificity and gone viral. Consider the conduct and fate of the obese Telecomputer Man Dennis Nedry – in Baudrillard’s terms a classic figure of the transpolitical. The software developer, junk food-consuming slob, and code encryption expert Nedry is angry at Jurassic Park boss John Hammond – played by Richard Attenborough – over an infelicitous financial agreement that Hammond regards as “irreversible.” The character played by the actor (Wayne Knight) who played Newman (1992-1998) in the TV sitcom Seinfeld holds Jurassic Park hostage – and is in turn himself held hostage – by a computer virus. After he brings the Park’s electronic security systems down and crashes his getaway car, “Newman” is eaten by a Dilophosauraus.

In Jurassic Park, a disclaimer similar to Baudrillard’s epigraph for the opening section of the book America entitled “Vanishing Point” is made. It is inscribed at the bottom of the Park-touring vehicle’s sideview mirror in which we see the image of the hard-charging, jaws-exhibiting tyrannosaur, threatening to devour the Jeep’s terrified passengers. The irrepressible dinosaur brought back to life by excavated DNA code, seen in a mirror that does less than mimetically reflect, uncovers the optical blind spot or chaotic strange attractor of cumulative bodies of scientific knowledge like paleontology or genetics. Chaos theoretician Ian Malcolm – played by Jeff Goldblum – warns early against the arrogance of the Jurassic genetic scientists who believe that they can reanimate the dead as living simulations yet keep things under control. According to chaos theory, ignoring the implications of reality’s non-masterable nature as underscored by the sciences of complexity and uncertainty – and instead practicing “normal science” – unleashes dangerous reality perturbations (Star Trek Basic Principle #9).Complex systems are more likely than traditional systems to undergo changes in the mode of catastrophe (Star Trek Basic Principle #15).In the dominant culture of constituted subjectivity and representation/simulation, what prevails is the wish for an exact mirror or no mirror at all. For Alan Cholodenko, the mirror rendering the menacing T-Rex visible as she attacks from the rear is the inexact mirror of literature, the uncanny mirror of psychoanalysis, the animatic mirror of animation, the virtual mirror of film-becoming-total-realism, the real-time mirror of speed and the traveling shot, and the mirror as Object, Strange Attractor, or Revenging Crystal.

NOTES

1 – Jean Baudrillard, The Evil Demon of Images (Sydney: Power Publications, 1988); p.34.

2 – Alan Cholodenko, “’OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR’: The Virtual Reality of Jurassic Park and Jean Baudrillard,“ in Jean Baudrillard: Art and Artefact (edited by Nicholas Zurbrugg) (Sydney: Power Publications, 1991). Also online at the

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