Before its release, nothing had roared quite as loudly as Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993). The film broke incredible boundaries and delivered something an audience were yet to see so convincingly on-screen, with impressive spectacle that even holds up to modern standards. Perhaps just as impressive as the film was the enormous sum of money it made in the box office – over one billion dollars all-time gross worldwide. While significant money and thought went into the production of the film, significant money and thought also went into the marketing of the film. Peeling away the dinosaurs and the spectacle that emerges from them reveals a Hollywood blockbuster machine chugging away, conjuring up money and fuelling the industrialisation of film. This essay will explore the argument that Jurassic Park is but a feature-length advertisement for branded merchandise and analyse the extraordinary methods within the film’s marketing process; expanding upon this, it will explore the idea that Jurassic Park and other such blockbusters are purely acquisitive and whether any art shines through in the finished product
From the early 1960s, newcomer filmmakers and seasoned European veterans burst the seams of conventional Hollywood creating fresh and incredible pieces of art for film lovers to enjoy, becoming Hollywood’s own ‘auteurs’. Dubbed the Hollywood Renaissance or the ‘American New Wave’, film, at least in Hollywood, had taken a turn for the better. 1975, however, to some marks the unfortunate decline of the Renaissance. This specific year holds significance due to the release of a pair of directly comparable films; November marks the release of Miloš Forman’s One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, regarded as one of the greatest films of all time according to the AFI (Afi.com). The film follows an in-depth narrative circling an interesting new character that Hollywood had rarely explored before and was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” as it was archived in 1993 in the U.S. National Film Registry for preservation (Cs.cmu.edu). Despite being so highly acclaimed, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’s one-hundred and eight million total domestic gross was trumped by the earlier Spielberg’s Jaws’ two-hundred and sixty million dollars – which also essentially doubled this number thanks to foreign markets (Boxofficemojo.com). This direct comparable is important to consider, due to it perfectly conveying the discrepancy between ‘quality’ and profit in the movie industry, highlighting the importance of spectacle and marketing, and highlighting the power of the release date. From Jaws, Hollywood learned a new way to make films and money and the importance of the spectacle re-emerged from its grave in film history. On top of this, Hollywood had now learned a new time to release films; executives were worried that due to nice weather, no-one would want to visit the cinema during the summer. It wasn’t until the June 20th release of Jaws that Hollywood grasped the potential of summer releases, where children and adults alike had free time to spend at the cinema. In his book Blockbuster (2004), Shone demonstrates this point eloquently by compiling quotes from Jaws itself:
If you want a trenchant analysis of Jawsmania… our best bet has always been to check out Jaws itself. It’s all there, up on the screen – the hysteria bleeding into the hoopla, the hoopla into hype…“We need summer dollars,” pleads the mayor… “We depend on the summer crowds for our very lives. You yell ‘shark’ and we got a panic on our hands on the 4th of July.” Which is when Dreyfuss delivers his great speech. “What we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine. It’s really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim, eat and make little sharks.” For those who care to see it, there was an allegory there for what was about to happen in Hollywood…
At this point in Hollywood, things began to teeter as the industry was slapped with realisation about the money making opportunities of more Jawses. Spielberg bolstered this notion with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), proving once again that the scale of the film, the spectacle, makes the money. It goes without saying the phenomenal impact of Star Wars (Lucas, 1977) on this opinion. Flipping back to the side of New Hollywood ‘auteurs’, came the release of Heaven’s Gate (1980). Heaven’s Gate, while still widely considered an impressive film by Michael Cimino, it is infamous for being an unfortunate flop – wasting over forty million dollars of its forty-four million dollar budget in such a prosperous time for the industry, with blockbusters tearing down box office records with their spectacle. This box office tragedy, many argue heralded the end of Hollywood Auteurism – truly beginning the age of the summer blockbuster. Then came one of the biggest summer blockbusters ever created, Jurassic Park…
Advertising and the culture industry merge technically as well as economically. In both cases the same thing can be seen in innumerable places, and the mechanical repetition of the same culture product has come to be the same as that of the propaganda slogan. In both cases the insistent demand for effectiveness makes technology into psycho-technology, into a procedure for manipulating men. In both cases the standards are the striking yet familiar, the easy yet catchy, the skillful yet simple; the object is to overpower the customer, who is conceived as absent-minded or resistant. (Adorno and Horkheimer, 1944)
The words ‘Welcome to Jurassic Park’ accompanied by an overpowering ensemble of brass and strings mark one of the most spectacular scenes in the history of cinema. Never had an audience seen dinosaurs – or much other computer generated imagery – so vividly integrated into our world. It is undeniably phenomenal to see such a rich display of spectacle, but an underlying argument from many critics is that Jurassic Park holds little more than just that, spectacle. Under scrutiny, seams begin to burst and reveal something arguably just as spectacular in its own right at work: an unsinkable marketing machine – a maker of ‘little sharks’. Jurassic Park from the outset was conceived to be a shared international event – a summer blockbuster phenomenon, to make as big a mark as Star Wars. The over sixty million dollar production budget was not only matched, but exceeded by a sixty-five million dollar marketing campaign (Broeske, 1993). As rightly stated by Marcy Magiera, ‘That phenomenon is no accident. Rather, it’s the culmination of a carefully crafted marketing and merchandising plan set in motion in late 1991 for the movie based on Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel.’ (1994). It is evident even from the simplistic initial teaser trailer that the film relied on secrecy to form hype (Universal Studios, 1992, a). Not a single dinosaur appears in the teaser, and mere glimpses of the creatures appear in the trailers that followed (Universal Studios, 1992, b); this strategy is to reserve the big spectacle exclusively for within the movie theatre, thus inducing further hype. Additionally, Jurassic Park formed promotions with one hundred companies, generating one thousand different products of merchandise (Broeske, 1993). This is where, one could argue, the pinnacle of Jurassic Park’s marketing lies – the sense of identity; the film was more than just a film, it had become a brand.
It takes only three colours – red, yellow and white, one minimal drawing – of a fossil, and some blank space – fit for a title to be translated into tens of languages, to create arguably one of the most powerful and recognisable logos ever made. Chip Kidd’s original logo for the original novel of the same name (Crichton, 1991) was so effective in showing so much without showing anything at all (i.e conveying dinosaurs with nothing but the silhouette of a fossil of one), the marketing team for the film used this logo to equal effect. With such a simple image, the film promised so much to the audience. The workings of this logo provided a perfect basis for the workings of the film’s marketing scheme and is almost the quintessential example of the aforementioned ‘striking yet familiar, the easy yet catchy, the skillful yet simple’ Adorno and Horkheimer wrote about forty-seven years earlier. The film’s marketing didn’t stop there, however – it went even further by playing with diegesis. The filmmakers placed the logo diegetically within the world of the film – the park shares the film’s logo. While on the surface this is a mere gimmick, this choice was a monumental and integral part in the strength of the marketing of the film. To immerse the audience in the relatively realistic world of Jurassic Park, the park itself needed merchandise, which the filmmakers put on display within the film. This tactic also epitomises ‘skillful yet simple’, ducking under the thought of the audience, but standing glaringly in full view for every scene this merchandise appears in. Soon after leaving the cinema, viewers would learn the exciting merchandise of the film world was of course also available in the real world. This is arguably the true genius in the marketing of the film, whilst simultaneously being the reason the film itself is harshly criticised when put under scrutiny; with this much thought and care being put into the financial success and promotion of the film, some would argue the film itself is one spectacular feature-length advertisement for the real star of the show – the merchandise, which the film’s genre and appeal lends itself so well to, as Barry Langford explains:
The rise of SF and fantasy moreover offers an obvious showcase for spectacular state- of-the-art technologies of visual, sound and above all special-effects design, the key attractions that provide a summer release with crucial market leverage. The genre is well suited to the construction of simplified, action- oriented narratives with accordingly enhanced worldwide audience appeal, potential for the facile generation of profitable sequels (often, as with the two Jurassic Park sequels (U 1997, 1999), virtual reprises), and ready adaptability into profitable tributary media such as computer games and rides at studio-owned amusement parks. (Langford, 2010)
To say there was not a large-scale industrial capitalisation on this film would be a complete fabrication, as marketing was a huge focus from the get-go of the film’s pre-production. The real discussion comes down to the chicken and the egg of the film – whether the marketing was the primary focus of the film, or whether it came separate, as an additional thought to take advantage of the potential of the tale. Cynically taking all the aforementioned points as reasons for the film being nothing, or close to nothing, but an inventive money making technique puppet-mastered by greedy studios is a fair interpretation that is even further evidenced by the release of the critically acclaimed Schindler’s List (Spielberg, 1993). Releasing the same year, the deep and gritty film was on many occasions implied to be the project Spielberg was more involved in, with post production of Jurassic Park taking more of a back-burner role. Spielberg and George Lucas worked on the post production of the film together, with Spielberg working from Poland while shooting Schindler (Rothman, 1993). It could be argued that Spielberg himself knew of the financial value of the film and needed to release it, where his real passion lay in telling the story of Schindler’s List. Tom Shone agrees with this notion when criticising the film: ‘It doesn’t feel like it has all his enthusiasm, all his energies. As miraculous as some of it still is, it feels a tiny bit like he’s directing it with his left hand.’ (Shone, 2015).
In defence of Jurassic Park, then, it is important to realise the stunning work put into the film. The realism of the combined visual and practical effects contend with modern day effects due to some incredible innovations in filmmaking. While the plot of the film may fall short from the depth and impact of Schindler’s List or even One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, to compare the films is not a fair stance. It could be argued, then, that while being a summer blockbuster, relying on the spectacularity of the film’s visuals and fantastic tale, that the film is a piece of art in its own right; the spectacle of Jurassic Park goes further than ever before, with careful reforging of the source material to appeal to a much wider audience: Keeping the thrills of the novel, whilst dropping most of the violence; keeping the attention to scientific detail the novel holds, whilst simultaneously juggling the hard-to-hate, engaging plots and interesting themes in a comprehensible and easy-to-follow classic cinematic way. One could argue that Jurassic Park was never a fool-proof planned marketing success, as without the film being an engaging, fun and enjoyable one, it wouldn’t have sold to the extent that it did. Even if cinephiles and critics do not hold Jurassic Park as an art piece, the film still was a carefully orchestrated and choreographed piece of media – arguably an art in itself.
To argue that Jurassic Park could have been exclusively made by acquisitive executives who lack the basic knowledge of visual storytelling, that the film could have been made without the vision of Spielberg, the musical prowess of Williams, would simply be false. While Jurassic Park was a marketing goldmine and while the film’s success was down to careful planning, to say anyone could have expected the level of engagement the film captivated worldwide without the art of the film itself is also a complete falsity. And, even if the film was nothing more than a feature-length advertisement for branded merchandise, it should still be credited as a monumental shared international experience, which captivated the minds, hearts and souls of billions of people across the globe; even if it was nothing more than an advert, it was clearly at the very least an incredible one.
Afi.com. AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies. [online] Available at: http://www.afi.com/100Years/movies.aspx [Accessed 20 Feb. 2018].
Boxofficemojo.com. Jaws (1975) – Box Office Mojo. [online] Available at: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=jaws.htm [Accessed 21 Feb. 2018].
Boxofficemojo.com. Jurassic Park Movies at the Box Office – Box Office Mojo. [online] Available at: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/franchises/chart/?view=main&id=jurassicpark.htm&p=.htm [Accessed 20 Feb. 2018].
Boxofficemojo.com. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) – Box Office Mojo. [online] Available at: http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=oneflewoverthecuckoosnest.htm [Accessed 21 Feb. 2018].
Broeske, P. (1993). Promoting ‘Jurassic Park’. Entertainment Weekly. [online] Available at: http://ew.com/article/1993/03/12/promoting-jurassic-park/ [Accessed 21 Feb. 2018].
Crichton, M. (1991). Jurassic Park. Orbit.
Cs.cmu.edu. U.S. National Film Registry — Titles. [online] Available at: http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/Web/Unofficial/Movies/NFR-Titles.html [Accessed 20 Feb. 2018].
Adorno, T. and Horkheimer, M. (1944). The Dialectic of Enlightenment. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford Univ. Press.
Kidd, C. (2012). Designing books is no laughing matter. OK, it is.. [online] Ted.com. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/chip_kidd_designing_books_is_no_laughing_matter_ok_it_is [Accessed 21 Feb. 2018].
Langford, B. (2010). Post-classical Hollywood. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, pp.191-218.
Magiera, M. (1994). The “Jurassic Park” logo is a proud centerpiece for Kellogg and Sega…. [online] Adage.com. Available at: http://adage.com/article/news/jurassic-park-logo-a-proud-centerpiece-kellogg-sega-kenner-learned-insatiable-craving-dino-jurassic-park-s-amazing-story-graphic-promotional-marketer-year-spielberg-mca-put-dream-team-herd-jurassic-licensees-happier/88013/ [Accessed 21 Feb. 2018].
Rothman, M. (1993). ILM beams F/X to Spielberg in Poland. Variety. [online] Available at: http://variety.com/1993/film/news/ilm-beams-f-x-to-spielberg-in-poland-105405/ [Accessed 21 Feb. 2018].
Shone, T. (2004). Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer. New York: Free Press.
Shone, T. (2015). Interviewed In How ‘Jurassic Park’ Changed the DNA of Blockbusters.Vice. [online] Available at: https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/exqxxp/how-jurassic-park-changed-the-dna-of-blockbusters-456 [Accessed 21 Feb. 2018].
Thompson, K. and Bordwell, D. (2002). Film History. 3rd ed. New York (etc.): McGraw Hill, pp.487-488.
Universal Studios (1992):
Jurassic Park (Initial Teaser).
Available at: https://youtu.be/-QMue9j_RKg [Accessed 21 Feb. 2018].
Available at: https://youtu.be/-QMue9j_RKg [Accessed 21 Feb. 2018].
Jurassic Park (Trailer). [image] Available at: https://youtu.be/Bim7RtKXv90 [Accessed 21 Feb. 2018].
Heaven’s Gate. (1980). Directed by M. Cimino. Hollywood: United Artists.
Jaws. (1975). Directed by S. Spielberg. Hollywood: Universal Pictures.
Jurassic Park. (1993). Directed by S. Spielberg. Hollywood: Universal Pictures.
One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. (1975). Directed by M. Forman. Hollywood: United Artists.
Schindler’s List. (1993). Directed by S. Spielberg. Hollywood: Universal Pictures.
Star Wars. (1977). Directed by G. Lucas. Hollywood: 20th Century Fox.