Spectacle and Visual Effects: Black Panther VS Infinity War

In ‘Space, Place, Spectacle’, Andrew Higson defines two interweaving concepts – narrative and spectacle – that, he argues, push and pull against each other; a conflict that is a prominent factor in the fundamental experience of cinema.

Narrative – in part, the sense of something lacking, installing a desire to explore, to find out what is missing, to move onto a new scene, and the possibility of achieving what is desired… And spectacle – the spectator confronted by an image which is so fascinating that it seems complete; no longer the desire to move on, no longer the sense of something lacking. (1984: 3)

The conflict of spectacle and narrative at times can be extremely effective in enveloping an audience into a film’s world and story, with the spectacular elements supplementing the narrative and ultimately providing a deeper experience. Other times, spectacular elements may be distracting or overbearing, ultimately compromising the importance of the narrative and taking the audience out of the film’s constructed world. Particularly in an age of visual effects and computer generated imagery, cinema has unlocked the potential to tell fantastic stories that were once thought to be impossible. The advent of these technologies have become a fundamental part in elevating cinematic spectacle to bold new extremes. This essay will explore the concept of spectacle in modern film; the ways in which visual effects have become a vehicle to generate the spectacular, as in the case of Back to the Future Part II (Zemeckis, 1989) and Transformers: Age of Extinction (Bay, 2014); and finally directly comparing the ways in which the Russo Brothers’ Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther (2018) both use spectacle in an attempt to expand their cinematic worlds and weighing up how effective each film is in doing so.

Spectacle and Visual Effects

The importance of spectacle in cinema has been present since its advent – part of the pull of cinema is its potential to completely wow an audience. The writing of Tom Gunning surrounding the ‘cinema of attractions’ explores the fixation on spectacle in some of the earliest days of cinema – which he specifies as 1896-1907. He describes this age as ‘an exhibitionist cinema’, in that ‘it is a cinema that bases itself on… its ability to show something’ going on to explain it as ‘a cinema that displays its visibility, willing to rupture a self-enclosed fictional world for a chance to solicit the attention of the spectator’ (1984: 382). Gunning’s description of this era is particularly applicable to understanding the roots of spectacle within modern cinema. In the advent of cinema, grabbing the audience’ attention played a key role in lifting moving pictures into prominence and forming the foundations of the industry that exists today; in creating spectacular images that stunned spectators, early filmmakers formed markets of audiences hungry to see what more cinema could do – hungry for cinema that was bigger and better. In many ways, this idea is still at least partially prominent in modern cinema, though metamorphosed into something new. Modern blockbusters and studio films strive to hook audiences by promising the ‘biggest’ and ‘best’, just as in the cinema of attractions, though instead of the audience’s hunger to be wowed by the raw medium and apparatus itself (the ability to display moving images), modern cinema’s ubiquity and cultural prominence has evolved this desire into a desire to see unique methods of storytelling, but also to see entirely new, unique – and previously impossible – stories; audiences now understand the fundamentals of the medium and industry that has formed, and strive to see how the technology can be adapted and used in new ways, as opposed to in the cinema of attractions, where audiences (and filmmakers) were barely beginning to understand film. This metamorphosis of what is still essentially the cinema of attractions forms the foundation for spectacle in modern film.

Technology has been an important factor in generating spectacle since the cinema of attractions. As aforementioned, the initial invention of the apparatus of film and its capabilities were spectacular in and of themselves, but as audiences grew familiar to its principles, technological advances to further film’s abilities became spectacular. The films of Georges Méliès, for example, emphasised spectacle, generated by adapting and developing the technology available. Méliès saw film as a tool to further his illusions and in focusing on that, drove technological and logical advancements in the field through experimentation. In modern cinema, the very same drive exists, but for new reasons. Generally, modern cinema accepts narrative primacy in films as the default – already directly contrasting the attitude Méliès took. As Gunning translates in ‘Cinema of Attractions’, Méliès intended to present spectacle, with narrative as an afterthought to highlight the spectacle:

As for the scenario, the “fable,” or “tale,” I only consider it at the end. I can state that the scenario constructed in this manner has no importance, since I use it merely as a pretext for the “stage effects,” the “tricks,” or for a nicely arranged tableau. (1984: 382)

Since 1907, it could be argued that generally, a shift has occurred, in which the dialectic of narrative and spectacle has inverted; that generally spectacle is now the addition to highlight the narrative, or at least to in some way expand the cinematic world the filmmaker is presenting. In Art, Image and Spectacle, Isaacs discusses the work of James Cameron in a similar way to Gunning of Méliès:

I locate Cameron’s aesthetic orientation at the intersection of the two competing interests of the High Concept film. The auteurist vision subsists in the attempt to “invent cinema”, to make cinema new through the exponentially advancing technologies of the spectacle… For Cameron vision is more than a medium for the conveyance of “reality.” The special effect is never purely mimetic, but transformative. (2011: 91)

The drive that Isaacs argues Cameron plays a part in pioneering is extremely comparable to Méliès’ drive to adapt technology to further his illusions, however Cameron intends to adapt technology to further his narratives and expand the boundaries of the cinematic world he creates; Isaacs goes on to mention Cameron’s use of vision in The Terminator, allowing the audience to peer through the eyes of the Terminator himself  – a tactic which not only creates great spectacle, but also arguably assists the audience in understanding the world and narrative at a deeper level. The scenes create a sense of tangibility – that this character is real, alive and ‘thinking’ – presenting a believability which supplements the film’s narrative and immerses spectators into the world of the film. Cameron’s principles are held by many modern filmmakers: that technology can create spectacle that can be used to enrich the narrative of the film – it is here that visual effects have become a vehicle for the spectacular.

A reliance on visual effects to generate spectacle in film emerges from the successes of in-camera special effects created through experimentation in the age of the cinema of attractions, such as the illusions of Méliès, and their refinement and adaptation through to the sixties and seventies onwards. Scenes like Moses parting the Red Sea in The Ten Commandments (DeMille, 1956) and almost countless scenes in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) proved that narratives could be heightened by intense, spectacular effects, whilst also connoting a potential for entirely believable new narrative universes, grounded in complete fantasy but at extreme new levels of realism or believability – a potential that was eventually exploited by the fantastic settings, creatures and vehicles, all made possible through visual effects in Star Wars (Lucas, 1977). Due to these massive advances in visual effects technologies, filmmakers like George Lucas had paved the way for the technology to be used by many to many different extremes in order to expand the narrative world of their films. Some films use extreme visual effects to generate gratuitous spectacle that still becomes the forefront over narrative and does not serve any other purpose than to wow, similarly to the ways the cinema of attractions used this spectacle. This is obvious in the case of an almost infamous example: Michael Bay’s Transformers series, which seems to pride itself on compromising narrative depth for the sake of spectacular action sequences with each release. In Transformers: Age of Extinction (2017), a pivotal fight between Optimus Prime and an ancient legendary warrior is continuously interrupted by spectacular slow motion punches, enormous explosions and a dragon-dinosaur transformer breathing fire at nothing. Angela Ndalianis eloquently describes this calibre of spectacle as ‘an invitation [that] is extended to us to marvel at the speed, special effects, camera work, and ability the cinema has to extract from us a sense of wonder when confronted with these effects’ (2000). While undoubtedly spectacular, and however impressive a feat of CGI, the scene’s spectacular interludes pause the narrative briefly, just to forefront the effects.

Conversely, an important example of how effective the inclusion of spectacular visual effects, even at relatively subtle levels can supplement a narrative is in the case of Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future Trilogy – though perhaps most notably in Back to the Future Part II (1989). As with many contemporary blockbusters, spectacular visual and special effects are abundant in Back to the Future Part II, some are eye-catching moments of intensified spectacle (hoverboards, skyways and parodic CGI sharks), but some are relatively subtle illusions that intend to be unquestioned or unseen, whilst still maintaining spectacle – these effects are the quintessential example of how spectacle can supplement a narrative. Using miniatures and compositing tricks, the Delorean in this installment of the trilogy is given the ability to fly – an effect which, at the time of release, is not unfamiliar. This being said, in one sequence during the film, when Marty and Doc drop a fainted Jennifer home in 1985, virtuosic compositing and visual effects are used to seamlessly blend composite footage of a miniature and footage of the real, practical Delorean. The Delorean comes in to land in front of Jennifer’s house visualised by an animated miniature composited over an empty background plate, shot using motion control. The take then continues as the miniature Delorean is slightly obscured by a street lamp, hiding a split screen that unveils a second motion control take, featuring the practical, full size Delorean on set on the other side of the post; in one seamless take, the Delorean flies into shot, touches down and drives to the porch for the car door to open and Einstein to step out. This moment is extremely spectacular – it is a feat of visual effects, pushing the bar for motion control cinematography of the time and is an impressive moment – yet it entirely revolves around being ‘invisible’ to the audience. What this presents is an antithesis of Gunning’s ‘exhibitionist cinema’ – this moment is an example of where arguably extreme spectacle is used exclusively to supplement the narrative, in an attempt to avoid audiences questioning the technical apparatus of the film. The effect itself is unquestionably spectacular, yet the seamlessness of it immerses the audience into the world of the film, as opposed to taking them out of the world to ‘show something’, as Gunning states of the cinema of attractions. Bob Gale, producer of Back to the Future Part II explains that this was the intention behind the effects of the film:

 

We take [the effects] for granted. The story is the most important part of the film, and if the audience is involved with that story, the effects are there to enhance that enjoyment and make the story more believable, not to call attention to themselves… What we tried to do was make sure these effects are so tightly incorporated into the story, no one will question how they were done until they’re driving home from the movie. (1989)

Unlike other blockbusters of the time, spectacular elements are employed into the film specifically to serve the narrative and not just to exist as they are. The advancements made in technology to allow for these spectacular effects and elements were not driven by a necessity for eye-catching moments, but driven by the desire to supplement the narrative. These two different ways in which films use spectacular visual effects to prioritise and elevate either spectacle or narrative will serve as the foundation for comparison between spectacle’s usage in Marvel’s Black Panther (Coogler, 2018) and Avengers: Infinity War (A. and J. Russo, 2018) and its effect on their narratives.

 

Black Panther and Infinity War

Coogler’s Black Panther, like most entries into the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, heavily relies on spectacle and visual effects as a vehicle to generate this spectacle. Throughout the film there are many strong examples of the use of spectacle to immerse the viewer and expand the film’s constructed world, supplementing the narrative. One of the film’s biggest strengths is rendering the city of Wakanda in spectacular detail in CGI and digital matte-paintings. In one example, as T’Challa first arrives in Wakanda in a flying vehicle, the audience is presented with a flyover of vast African plains occupied by wildlife and people alike, who wave at the passing vehicle – to enforce to the audience that these people are real and inhabiting the fictional world. Following this, the ship plunges into the trees and emerges ahead of Wakanda, in all its glory – great skyscrapers tower above the skyline, boats travel up and down the river, districts with individual streets form the city, all occupied by miniscule cars driving, with futuristic trams and hyperloop trains whizzing by alongside them. While this scene of course provides wonderful eye candy for an audience to acknowledge on the surface, the immense subtlety and detail serves a similar purpose to the aforementioned sequence in Back to the Future Part II; the decision to employ spectacle of this kind, in this way convinces the viewer that the world within the film is as real as the world outside the cinema. In an article for the website CityMetric analysing the fictional city, Stephen Jorgenson-Murray eloquently distinguishes Wakanda from other cities in the Marvel Cinematic Universe:

Fictional cities in previous Marvel films… don’t feel like real places at all, but collections of random monuments joined together by unwalkably-wide and sterile open spaces. Wakanda’s capital, the Golden City, seems to have distinct districts and suburbs with a variety of traditional and modern styles, arranged roughly how you’d expect a capital to be – skyscrapers in the centre, high-rise apartments around it, and what look like industrial buildings on its waterfront. In other words, it’s a believable city. (2018)


This inclusion is absolutely integral to the success of Black Panther and plays a huge part in supplementing the narrative. The audience are invited to follow a plot about a battle for the future of an entire nation implicating real world, contemporary racial politics, the consequences of which would not easily be felt without the sheer spectacle of the visualisation of Wakanda; without rendering the civilisation – arguably a character in its own right – in the extreme, spectacular detail the filmmakers chose to include, major character decisions that bear weight due to the grand repercussions against the nation, would lose the impact they require to keep the story believable. The cultural and narrative weight of the film would be undermined without the setting of the film being realistic, believable and applicable to the real world. The use of visual effects to render this detail and create such a cinematic spectacle directly supplements the narrative.

Contrary to this, at many times Black Panther employs spectacle in the same vein as the aforementioned example within Transformers: Age of Extinction. In the climactic battle towards the end of the film, the action is intensified by spectacular moments, aided by visual effects. What begins as armed combat between tribes is exacerbated when a character uses a horn to summon enormous rhinos to aid in their battle. Dan North explains of spectacular visual effects that ‘the first step in rendering an effects sequence consumable as spectacular fodder is to segregate it from the main body of the film’ (2005), an instruction that Black Panther follows: what is an otherwise intense character driven battle implicating all the leaders of the factions that the audience has been introduced to, is temporarily suspended and the audience is distanced from the narrative as the CGI war rhinos emerge from the ground. The rhinos’ gratuitous presence seems to make no difference to the narrative of the battle, providing no real obstacle for the characters aside from a relatively minor set-back to the protagonist, when he is flung through the air at a rock. The inclusion of the rhinos and complete pause of the narrative to showcase them, is left as nothing more than spectacle added for the sake of wowing an audience, at one point even including a slow-motion rhino beat-down, extremely reminiscent of the aforementioned Transformers scene. Sequences like this are incorporated into the film throughout and compromise the narrative just to forefront the spectacle of the visual effects.

The Russo Brothers’ Avengers: Infinity War, a seemingly generic entry into the MCU, takes a radically new approach to spectacle by introducing the primary antagonist of Thanos. Thanos as a character presents incredible production challenges, due in part to his alien species, but also due to the necessity to make him feel believable. Infinity War intends to partially subvert the conventions of the MCU, treating its villain as a character with depth and motivation and not as just a shallow, evil force lacking in motivation. It could be argued that the film’s narrative follows Thanos’ journey and the obstacles he faces in reaching his goal more than the journey of the Avengers, which is only bolstered by the film’s subversive ending, where Thanos is successful in reaching his goal. What was necessary, then, for the character of Thanos, and by proxy the entire film’s narrative to function, is on the one hand to present his spectacular appearance, with fantastic biology, but equally maintaining the capability to hold as much emotional depth as an ordinary character, so as to be a fully believable character and role in the unfolding story. Thanos in Infinity War attempts to become a balance of spectacle and narrative, providing spectacle whilst being fundamental to the narrative. In the film, Thanos is rendered in arguably unprecedented photoreal CGI with excruciating detail; elaborate muscle systems and physics simulations combined with ultra-high resolution modelling and texturing, and motion capture performance of Josh Brolin create the ultra-realistic antagonist. Absurd attention to detail furthers the illusion, with visual effects teams even including stubble that grows on Thanos’ head as the film progresses.  Hopkins argues that ‘For the viewer to successfully… leave the real world and enter, if only partially, the imaginary cinematic place, the spectacle on screen must resemble at least vaguely the spectacle of everyday life’ (1994). In creating a spectacular CGI character that this closely resembles reality, the filmmakers maintain the spectacular appearance of Thanos, comparable to the aforementioned spectacle in Transformers, whilst also persuading the audience to accept Thanos in the same way that the unquestioned moments of spectacle or ‘invisible’ visual effects function, serving the same purpose as the described moments in Back to the Future Part II; ultimately balancing the inclusion of spectacle whilst avoiding compromising the narrative of the film.

Even with Infinity War’s immense strive for spectacle to assist in immersing the audience in its narrative, the film still is arguably mostly constructed of spectacle. One could argue that despite the attempts of the filmmakers to make Thanos feel realistic enough to supplement their narrative, fundamentally the entire idea of including Thanos in the film was a decision fixated around spectacle over narrative; it is likely that Thanos was selected to be the film’s antagonist due to the spectacle his on screen presence would generate. Additionally, Infinity War is guilty of the same gratuitous inclusion of spectacular elements purely for the sake of showcasing these elements. In the many large scale battles of the film, in order to ‘raise the stakes’ of the battle, the filmmakers introduce spectacle to wow the audience, as opposed to narratively introducing new obstacles for the characters to overcome. In the case of the battle that takes place on the planet Titan, the stakes of the fight never develop or evolve, but to contrast this continuity the filmmakers employ spectacle to intensify the scene. In a moment of sheer, unadulterated spectacle, Thanos tears a moon from its orbit and sends its debris crashing down upon the Avengers. While the sequence serves as immensely visually stimulating material, the narrative repercussions of this action are near non-existent; the Avengers are almost entirely unphased, with the only reaction to the event being a quip from Iron Man. This entire moment serves as nothing more than spectacle, disrupting the narrative, compromising the immersion and jarring the audience out of the constructed world for a moment to gaze in awe at the event itself comparably to Black Panther’s rhinos and Transformers’ dragon.

Overall then, the conflict between spectacle and narrative continues to affect cinema greatly. Filmmakers are able to use spectacle to supplement their narratives as in the case of invisible effects, made up of spectacular detail. Equally, some filmmakers rely on spectacle to intensify elements of their narrative in place of a more narrative driven solution, ultimately compromising their narrative in favour of spectacle. An analysis and comparison of Black Panther and Infinity War reveals the methods contemporary blockbusters use to incorporate spectacle. Both films at times incorporate spectacular elements to immerse their audiences into the worlds they create, whilst at others halting the immersion and exhibiting pure spectacle as is. Despite emerging as a tactic to draw attention to the medium of film in the age of the cinema of attractions, the inclusion of spectacle is arguably still a necessity for modern cinema, as it forms foundations to create new stories; without elements of the spectacular, driven by technological advancements and visual effects, the ability to tell believable yet fantastic stories with believable yet fantastic settings, as in the case of Black Panther, or believable yet fantastic characters, as in the case of Infinity War, would not exist.

 

Thanks to Barry Langford for his incredible insight and thorough feedback.

 

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Monster Marketing, 65 Million Dollars in the Making

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.

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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].

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Universal Studios (1992):

  1. 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].

  2. Jurassic Park (Trailer). [image] Available at: https://youtu.be/Bim7RtKXv90 [Accessed 21 Feb. 2018].

Filmography

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.