WHEN: 3:00pm EST, July 19th, 2013
WHERE: In my apartment in Portland, ME
FORMAT: DVD on a 24” Philips CRT television
MENTAL STATE: Tired.
Why the hell would you bring children to an untested island full of dinosaurs? There is absolutely no good reason. Unless you’re a screenwriter, of course. Then they can be a handy tool to manipulate the audience’s emotions, raise the stakes, and provide someone that younger audiences can relate to. Hence, we find Hammond’s grandchildren rounding out Jurassic Park‘s cast. I’ve discussed how Lex may not be the most effective character ever, but what about Tim? What purpose does he serve in the film? Is it important that he keep falling off of things? Why is he dressed like a young Alan Grant?
He’ll be threatening kids with raptor claws in no time.
SIDESTEP DINOSAUR TALKING POINTS:
Alright, so you’re making a movie about dinosaurs that takes place modern day. You have a lot of plot to get through and a finite amount of time. Unfortunately for you, dinosaurs come with a lot of baggage: How did they go extinct? Was it a giant meteor? Did they turn into birds? What was up with that whole Brontosaurus/Apatosaurus thing? Wow, those ones with the long necks sure look scary, do they eat people?
THOSE AREN’T PLOT-RELEVANT QUESTIONS. STOP ASKING THEM.
Geez, it’d be convenient if we had someone with a dinosaur book running around spouting out dinosaur fun facts to address those issues for us. But what motivation could one possibly have to babble incessantly?
Wait, kids don’t need any motivation to talk all damn day!
Actually, the writers even gave Tim a good reason to gab it up: his hero worship of Grant (but we’ll get to that later).
By having Tim spout out dinosaur talking points, the movie sidesteps having to actually deal with them. Some members of the audience might be wondering if the big long-necked dinosaurs are those Brontosauruses they’re always hearing about. It would take a good deal of time to explain that, no, they aren’t. Brontosaurus never existed. But it’s not really necessary to go into that. Just have Tim say, “Hey, those are Brontosauruses, I mean, Brachiosauruses” and the topic is covered.
Likewise, the topic of extinction and all the questions surrounding it are swept away by Tim’s incessant questions to Grant. Also, by identifying which dinosaurs don’t have to be feared to Lex, many a theatergoer was saved from answering the same question for a confused child/grandparent.
RAISE THE STAKES:
Even in a dinosaur movie, dinosaurs can’t be eating people all the time. That would be crazy. And expensive. Crazy expensive. But if you bill a film as a thriller, and all you have are a big Rex attack, a Dilophosaur hork, and a handful of Raptor murders, your two hours is going to be a little sparse on chills.
People Talking in a Car: The Movie just doesn’t get butts in seats.
An easy solution is to add some non-dinosaur related peril. Generally, however, when dinosaurs aren’t around, adults do an acceptable job of not getting themselves killed. If they’re stuck in a tree, they climb down. If they’re stuck on a fence, they climb down. Children, however, get crushed by cars…
And it causes us great concern, because if a grown-up gets into a non-dinosaur-related accident, meh, it’s their own fault. If a kid does, holy shit, are they okay?
I’m not sure why Lex couldn’t get crushed or electrocuted. Probably because she’s a girl, and it would be too horrible to see a female in such a condition of danger. Something, something, something, sexism.
GIVE GRANT A KID HE CAN CONNECT WITH:
Alan Grant is a grumpy old curmudgeon whose destiny, over the course of the film, is to take on the symbolic role of fatherhood. But hanging out with a couple of kids for several hours isn’t going to cut it. Tim’s shenanigans (as seen above) give Grant a chance to show some heroism. But what sets Tim apart is the fact that he’s a little Grant waiting to happen.
Deeds of derring-do aside, it’s when Tim is talking about the Brachiosauruses that Grant really begins to connect with the kid. He realizes that he and Tim share some interests, and that with a little guidance, Tim could grow into a grumpy old curmudgeon himself one day.
This (like most points in a well-written script) is no coincidence. Tim was designed to wheedle his way into the paleontologist’s heart. He’s smart. He’s plucky. He’s well-read in the subject that fascinates Grant more than any other. Hell, he even wears similar clothes:
“We’ll look ridiculous if we both show up to the Denim and ‘Kerchief Convention dressed the same!”
One wonders if Lex would be a stronger character if she had spent more of the film trying to impress Dr. Sattler. Perhaps this parallel between Grant and Tim implies that the child Grant is really warming up to is the child inside his own heart… aw.
In the end, he likes Tim enough to give him a truly terrifying nickname.
Meet “Big Tim the Human Piece of Toast!”
Compared with Lex’s failings as a character, Tim is wildly successful. He serves the script by helping dodge off-topic dino trivia. He provides tense situations to fill out the running time. And he helps Grant come to terms with children. Pretty good for a slightly burnt walking bread monstrosity.