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Murphy’s Law, Horror and Dennis Nedry in Jurassic Park

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines chaos as ‘the inherent unpredictability in the behaviour of a complex natural system’. This mathematic idea is at the heart of Jurassic Park; whether it be the imperfections of the skin, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings or the mistaken comprehension of the most awesome power the world has ever seen, the very boundaries of control prognosticate inevitable mayhem. Like Dr Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) says in the film: ‘You see? The tyrannosaur doesn’t obey set patterns or park schedules. The essence of Chaos.’

Based on Michael Crichton’s best-seller, Steven Spielberg’s mega-blockbuster is actually more concerned with the theory of Murphy’s law, which professes the adage: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” It was popularised in Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi galaxy-spanner Interstellar – Matthew McConaughey’s character explains: ‘Murphy’s law doesn’t mean something bad will happen. What it means is whatever can happen, will happen.’

The ins-and-outs are, obviously, more intricate. The epigram’s origins are murky at best; though the concept is intrinsic to the human experience. How many times have you heard of something ‘being too good to be true’? Well, the opening of the 1993 film is quintessential to this theory – we open with Bob Peck’s Muldoon shepherding a mysterious creature on a wild night on Isla Nublar. The dinosaur, remaining unseen, tries to escape and kills one of the workers. The only difference between this and a sceptic’s outlook would be the amount of death inflicted; the sequence is a scary, albeit thrilling, premonition of Murphy’s law in effect.

Horror, intrigue and excitement are the three central emotional components of Spielberg’s dino-classic. His love of discovery – as witnessed previously with Indiana Jones – shines through our introduction to Sam Neill’s Alan Grant and Laura Dern’s Ellie Sattler, as archaic tech reveals a velociraptor fossil, before Alan eloquently describes the creature’s methods of killing to an obnoxious little boy (“You’re alive when they start to eat you”).

 

While the more gruesome, less PG-rated details from the novel are trimmed, the movie’s mastery of the malevolent is utterly delectable: the devastating suspense of the impact tremors (arguably just as iconic as E.T’s moonlit bike ride); the fully-fledged terror of the T-Rex escape; the cowering doom of the velociraptor hunt in the kitchen (with direction that surely inspired Contact’s famed mirror shot in 1997).

The most underrated moment of horror is the demise of Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight). Funnily enough, Dennis does not fit into the construct of chaos, for he is a saboteur. James A. Yorke, a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Maryland explained the theory only accounts for the unexpected consequences of the park’s ‘rape of the natural world’ – for example, the revelation that the dinosaurs learned to mate after initially being designed as exclusively female.

Dennis, though, is a product of Murphy’s law. John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) founded a huge theme park, built upon the foundations of hundreds of staff with extraordinary scientific abilities. Not only is it likely to have one bad apple amidst the bowl, but a worker was always going to succumb to the temptation of a third party’s corrupt offer – hence Dennis’ turn to the dark side.

After stealing dinosaur embryos for another organisation, he orchestrates an escape via jeep to a boat waiting at the island’s harbour. As a tropical storm rages on, Dennis’ vehicle skids off the road into a ditch. In an effort to get going again, he exits the jeep into the surrounding wildland – and what does he come across? A young dilophosaurus.

 

 

There are a few of things to note about this initially innocent encounter. Firstly a dilophosaurus doesn’t have the extravagant frill as seen in the movie, nor is there any real-life fossil evidence that it spit poison. (This actually links into one of the film’s greatest achievements, and issues. The designs of the dinosaurs take major artistic liberties – for example, velociraptors actually had feathers, but Jurassic Park’s interpretation has transcended history for toy dinosaurs ever since.)

Secondly, the tease of the dilophosaurus’ venomous spray is linked to a little screenwriting trick that could be considered an offshoot of the ‘whatever could happen, will happen’ adage – Chekhov’s gun. The shorthand is that nothing in a film is coincidental – for example, in Shaun of the Dead, Shaun and Ed argue about whether the rifle hanging above the bar in The Winchester is real. Eventually, the gun is used, and the mystery is solved. So, from the second we’re told about the creature’s ability to maim its prey, you can bet on the viewer experiencing it.

Finally, it’s deliciously wicked. The way the creature sizes up Dennis, following him and tilting its head like a needy puppy, is immensely playful. The change of tone comes when the creature exposes its frill, hissing violently before spitting black poison in Dennis’ face. He escapes to his jeep, letting out a breath of relief before turning round to find the dilophosaurus in the car. Inevitably, it mauls and devours Dennis in a blur of blood – watching it is a horrifying and cathartic treat. Murphy’s law for you, folks.

The sequence is at the heart of one of Mark Bell’s designs for Zavvi’s Primal Collection – a selection of Jurassic Park-inspired merchandise, featuring many, many terrific tops and t-shirts. At their recent launch, JumpCut Online got a glimpse of the team’s love for the film, and their new collection is a great celebration of a seminal thrill ride. Perfect for the wardrobe of any franchise fan, be a clever girl and check them out now – and spare no expense.

Thank you to Zavvi for inviting us along! Check out some photos from the launch below.

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