WHEN: 12:55pm EST, May 11th, 2013
WHERE: In my apartment in Portland, ME
FORMAT: DVD on a 24” Philips CRT television
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: A little tired.
MY LEAST FAVORITE CHARACTER:
I love the characters in Jurassic Park, from Arnold with his butt-holding, to Malcolm with his incomprehensible garble-laugh. Even Rostagno, the amber-digging exposition device, holds a special place in my heart. Yet, there is one who never quite grew on me. She even irritated me at times. Can you guess who? I bet you don’t even need an interactive CD-ROM to tell you. It’s Lex.
Alternating between snarky and screaming, Hammond’s older grandchild has always gotten my goat (pun not intended, but I’ll let it stand). Yet, screaming is perfectly natural on an island full of dinosaurs. What’s wrong? Who is to blame? I don’t have all the answers, but there is one thing I’m sure of…
THE PROBLEM IS NOT ARIANA RICHARDS:
As much as people like to take a dump on actors’ performances, the job is not an easy one. Even if it were, you can’t expect a thirteen-year-old to be Dame Helen Mirren. And frankly, by kid acting standards, Richards is no slouch. I had a chance to watch Grand Tour: Disaster in Time (or Timescape, or The Grand Tour; seriously, this film had a lot of alternate titles) with Bill earlier this year, and at an even younger age, she puts in a fine performance. She’s spunky and likable without her performance feeling forced and corny like so many young actors.
Fun fact: The only title this film wasn’t released under was Lex and Dumber.
Want to see truly bad acting? Go to a junior high school drama festival. Only one kid in ten will be watchable. Of the watchable ones, another tenth will be good. Of those, an even smaller fraction will grow up to be good enough to get an actual acting gig. Yet in Jurassic Park, Richards gives a very nice performance. Look as she goes from calm to eye-bulgingly terrified in seconds:
Vegetarian Jello = Boring
Raptor = Not as boring
Not Oscar-worthy, sure, but good for a kid in a dino flick? You bet.
So if young Ariana isn’t the problem, what is? Well, I have a theory that it stems from a deficiency in the source material, and a mishandled attempt at a remedy.
THERE AREN’T ENOUGH STRONG WOMEN:
Jurassic Park‘s cast of characters is disproportionately male. Unless you count unnamed park employees, Ellie Sattler and Lex Murphy are the only lady-people present for the bulk of the novel. Furthermore, Sattler is a mere grad student, and Lex is a sniveling child. If it’s the nineties and you’re adapting the book into a film, this poses a bit of a problem. If things are kept as they are, your film may be accused of some mild sexism, and rightfully so. Why are there no strong women in this cinematic sausage-fest?
Sorry, Ms. Raptor, you don’t count.
Maybe women hadn’t quite broken the glass ceiling of the dinosaur cloning industry yet. Maybe Crichton meant to make Muldoon a lady, but got drunk and forgot. It doesn’t really matter. The filmmakers were faced with a cast of ten men, most of them geniuses or scientists, and only two women: a grad student, and an 8-year-old. Something had to be done.
Right off the bat, Sattler was upgraded from Grant’s student to his equal, a top expert in her field. It was a great decision. It made her presence on the island entirely justifiable, and it enabled the writers to add a romantic angle that was not present in the book. Wonderful. But what’s to be done about Lex?
In the book, Tim is eleven, and Lex is his baby sister. She’s seven, maybe eight at the oldest. As such, Tim consistently proves himself to be the more reasonable child. As well he might; in terms of maturity, eleven is a lot older than seven. Tim proves himself mildly useful while Lex sits down and cries, actions completely justified by their respective ages. As there is a hoard of other competent men on the island, why not just switch the roles? Make Lex the older child, and Tim the younger. It’s not a bad idea at all. Unless you stop at just switching the ages. Guess what? That’s almost exactly what happened.
As things now stand (going by the age of the actors at the time of shooting), Lex is thirteen and Tim is her little brother at nine. Yet, aside from the added computer skills (which I’ll get to in a moment), the kids retain the same roles they did in the book. Tim is a perceptive child who loves dinosaurs, has read Grant’s book, and has a decent sense of humor. Lex, on the other hand, whines, screams, is easily bored, and is completely clueless about dinosaurs to the point of absurdity. It’s hard to respect a character who looks at a dull-toothed dinosaur, asks if it eats meat, and upon being told that it does not, notes that she likes cows. This is not the right adventure for poor Lex.
That’s more her speed.
Screaming, “He left us, he left us,” after your glorified babysitter leaves makes perfect sense for an eight-year-old. As a thirteen-year-old, it’s just embarrassing. But apparently no one realized this till it was too late.
But she saves the day with computers in the end, right? Well, I suppose so, but all she’s really doing is pointing and clicking on icons, fumbling in the dark till she accidentally sets everything straight. Hardly the skills of the “hacker” which she insufferably claims to be. Tim never makes any such claims in the book. He just fools around with the computer till something works. By making Lex claim an expertise with electronics, they only set her up to look foolish when she doesn’t deliver. But hey, she can identify an interactive CD-ROM. That makes you a hacker, right?
Pictured: Hacking, apparently.
THE UNFORTUNATE END RESULT:
While the reason I have given for the switch is purely speculative, I think I’m on the right track. If that was the reasoning, I agree that giving the movie another strong female character would have been fantastic. Furthermore, I am fully convinced that with the right script, Ariana Richards would have hit the ball right out of the park. But why did we get the result that we did? Why didn’t they give Lex more of Book Tim’s good traits? Were they afraid that the nineties couldn’t handle a teenage girl who could talk intelligently about dinosaurs? Did the concept of a young woman conducting herself admirably under pressure seem too absurd to them? Did they, as makers of a monster movie, have a quota of lady-screams to fill?
The questions just keep on piling up, and poor Lex is none the cooler when the dust clears. Sigh.
OH, BUT HEY:
Lex will always be Lex, but it turns out Ariana Richards has grown up to be a pretty cool adult. She isn’t acting anymore, but she’s a professional painter! You can check out her work here, or even purchase an awesome self-portrait of her as Lex that she created shortly after the film.