Thursday, September 22, 2016

Four Gags In A Hundred Seconds Of Action

You're a film director. You're going to shoot a scene where a man with a broken leg is waiting in the back of a Jeep in the jungle in the rain. His two friends are investigating the possibility that a Tyrannosaurus Rex has escaped from its enclosure. The man in the Jeep hears the noise of an approaching monster. The two friends come running out of the bush and jump into the Jeep. The T Rex chases them. Everybody screams. The T Rex gets real close and almost kills them all. Now what you have to ask yourself is what this scene is setting out to do. Its pretty obvious I think. The scene's purpose is to scare the living daylights out of the audience. And any competent film maker is going to do that. Jurassic Park was made in the early days of CGI and an angry realistic T Rex chasing people was something no audience member had ever seen before. What the scene doesn't seem to suggest is the possibility for any comedy. And yet its very funny. Although Jurassic Park it's not a film I particularly rate I've thought a lot about this 100 second long scene (below). Spielberg's genius, it seems to me, is for inserting comedy into horror or action scenes without allowing the comedy to kill the tone of the scene. That's a pretty hard trick to pull off but he does it in this scene not once, not twice, but four times. Four gags in a hundred seconds: 1) the dialogue at 30 seconds in. 2) the dialogue at 50 seconds in. 3) the great visual gag at 59 seconds. 4) and the famous line at the 94 second mark. I think the bit about the gearstick is also quite funny and thats in the tradition of Hitchcock drawing out the tension and making you smile at the same time. Spielberg's Achilles heal is his toleration of schmaltz and bathos but his gift for comedy in the midst of drama is unmatched by anyone making this kind of film today.