All Hail The T-Rex From Jurassic Park
Over Christmas I was noodling around Facebook when I came across this fun meme (right, below) depicting Mothra, the Xenomorph Queen and the T-Rex as ‘inspiring female characters’. Cue a million nerds like me all LIKING the pic (because, obviously). But when I looked at the thread underneath it was full of … ‘Oh hardy ha, this can’t be true, very funny’ etc etc.
YUP you read that right and NOPE I am not joking! Let’s count the ways the T-Rex is the best, most well-written female lead EVER! Let’s go …
1) She makes a huge entrance
Every gal in demand knows you need to make an entrance … and the T-Rex delivers! She is conspicuous by her absence in that first movie until the second half.
She’s the big attraction, the one we really want to see. After all, who didn’t have a T-Rex in their toy box growing up? I know I did (it was weirdly blue with red spots and also called Mary … which, thinking about it, is an insane name for a dinosaur! Arf).
Spielberg & Koepp do a fantastic job of holding her back, dazzling us with CGI Brachiosaurs and all sorts before we see her. This enables DOP Dean Cundey to do those BRILLIANT shots of the Tyrannosaurus’ hand on the sign not to mention the iconic ripples in the glass of water. Bam!
2) Her intro set piece is OFF THE CHARTS
The Tyrannosaurus’ initial attack on the children’s car – not to mention iconic chase of Ian Malcolm – went down in movie history. Everyone loves it so much that even people who’ve never watched the movie will have seen this clip.
This is NOT because it was the first time we had ever seen a CGI dinosaur (though it was), but because the entire set piece is GENIUS. When Alan Grant yells ‘Ian, FREEZE!’ but he keeps running?? Literal chills … but there’s no time for that, Goldblum gets head-butted into the toilet block AND the lawyer gets chomped. Yessss! MORE: How To Write Action Set Pieces In Your Thriller Screenplay
Not long after the initial attack, the T-Rex chases Robert Muldoon’s jeep when he and Ellie rescue Ian. In a lesser movie, this would have not have been scary because it’s not ‘as bad’ as what happened to the children.
However, Spielberg and Koepp ramp up the tension by having her crashing through the undergrowth. Ian is left behind in the jeep, injured, unable to walk. Though Ian urges them to return to the vehicle, Muldoon and Ellie are just far enough away to be a problem. They manage to get into the jeep just as the Tyrannosaurus appears from the undergrowth. OMG!
But they are not out of the woods yet – literally. Muldoon floors it but Ian is understandably scared of getting eaten when he’s ‘closest’ to the T-Rex. He backs up into the gearstick preventing the vehicle from going faster. This is combined with another iconic shot of the Tyrannosaurus dipping her head to bite …
… but oh thank f*** it’s a shot of the rearview mirror. But she does get another head-butt in, hitting the vehicle. Everybody screams BUT THEN she seems to lose interest and crashes back into the jungle. PHEW!
4) She’s NOT the villain of the piece
It would have been easy to keep Rexy as the villain of the piece. She’s the biggest dinosaur in the park in the first film … so more teeth, more problems amirite???
Nope! After that first night and the initial attacks, there’s a significant change in her behaviour. Rexy is still a threat and an issue, don’t get me wrong. Alan and the children see her chomping on the flocking dinos by the big tree branch, after all.
But we realise, for the first time, Rexy is just hunting. She is not hunting humans on purpose, they’re just there. When she has the choice, she prefers to eat dinosaurs. After all, compared to another big dinosaur, human meat must be like chicken wings in contrast to a big-ass chunk of dino thigh.
This makes Rexy an antagonist, yes – but crucially, NOT a villain in the classic sense. This is backed up by the fact the jeep was too much trouble for her the night before too.
Unlike THE RAPTORS!!!
We’re introduced to the raptor threat at the very beginning in the prologue of that first movie. Muldoon sees the horrifying truth of what they’re capable of as the worker is literally snatched from his grasp. Crucially, we don’t see exactly what happens at this point, but we know it’s BAD.
Throughout the movie Muldoon offers all kinds of commands: ‘Shoot her!’ and ‘They should all be destroyed’.
We are also warned how bad they are by Alan Grant. First, by his monologue using the fossilised raptor claw on the kid at the dig site. Then again when he’s horrified to find himself cradling a baby raptor in his hands at the park laboratory.
Needless to say: none of the warnings about the velociraptors are heeded by Icarus-like owner of the park, John Hammond.
‘The Big One’ aka ‘Clever Girl’ is a classic monster in Jurassic Park. Like the Xenomorph, her cunning is only matched by her hostility. We are left in no doubt she will attack and has the smarts to get away with it. In that sense, she’s like a jack-in-the-box, another great villain / monster trick in Thrillers and Horrors.
So this means the raptors have decided that humans are a handy travel-sized snack. The velociraptors are also a lot smaller than the T-Rex. This accounts for humans being much more filling/delicious to them.
As any dino enthusiast knows, the velociraptors are not even close to ‘realistic’. It’s more likely they are really modelled after Deinonychus, plus we now understand the velociraptor probably had feathers. But frankly, ‘velociraptor’ sounds cooler. Plus AFTER the movie was released the Utahraptor was discovered, which handily is more like the movie version. Sorted!
5) The T-Rex is a SAVIOUR!
It’s no accident that as the threat of the velociraptors is revealed with Muldoon’s death, the T-Rex fades more into the background. We know she is big enough to avoid at this point, plus she is not actively hunting humans, but dinos.
In contrast, the velociraptors ARE hunting humans. We’ve seen them do it to Muldoon, plus we see the bloody aftermath of Mr. Arnold’s severed arm in the electricity station. They have a taste for human meat and they’re after the children next in the iconic kitchen scene.
When our human characters are chased from the computer room to the visitors’ centre roof by the raptors, we are not sure they’re going to survive. Hemmed in on all sides, the adults and the kids have nowhere left to go. What next??
This is where Rexy morphs into the SAVIOUR. After all, what is the only thing that can defeat a raptor?
That’s right: MORE TEETH!! (Expertly echoed in Jurassic World when Claire fetches the T-Rex to go against the Indominus Rex, more in a sec).
Just like Rexy crashes into the paddock by the big tree branch, she ends up crashing into the visitor’s centre. with her iconic roar, she chomps on the first raptor, drawing the others in to attack her. This enables the humans to leg it to another vehicle outside where Hammond is waiting. Grant: ‘I’ve decided not to endorse your park.’ Hammond: ‘So have I.’
Sometimes new writers complain Rexy’s ‘rescue’ is a Deus Ex Machina. It is not. Rexy’s behaviour as both an antagonist AND hero is seeded throughout the entire movie. Whilst she may eat you if you get in her way, she’s not hunting you. She also ambushes the dinosaurs in the paddock, just like she ambushes the raptors in the visitor centre.
That last moment in the visitor’s centre is important for new screenwriters to understand from a craft level. It had viewers punching the air who didn’t even know how screenwriting works, it was THAT good. If we want to write for mass audiences, we need to understand why certain blockbuster moments go down in history.
Also, love or loathe the new Jurassic World movies, they knew how to replicate that killer ending AND take it to the next level. They combine Rexy, the velociraptor Blue and the Momosaurus versus Idominus Rex fantastically.
Rexy throughout the whole franchise is seeded as both a baddy AND a goody
It’s why it was such a massive misstep to kill her off in Jurassic Park 3. It felt like a slap in the face for fans because it WAS. Whilst sometimes heroes die – and this works – Rexy’s premature and sticky end to the Spinosaurus felt unsatisfying.
This is in part because it happens so early on in the movie. Another element is the fact the Spinosaurus, though cool – especially the Peter Pan’s crocodile element when it swallows the satellite phone – was ‘just’ a monster.
It exhibited none of the cunning of the velociraptors. Neither did it have any new skills we hadn’t seen before like flight, such as the pteranodons in the bird cage. The battle was a clash of the Titans, sure … BUT we wanted Rexy to win. She should have won.
Luckily they retcon this in the Jurassic World movies. Rexy is alive again and kicking up trouble wherever she goes.
We both fear AND love Rexy. She is a problem but also a hero. It’s why we cheer when we see her picked up in the helicopter from the island in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. We hate the idea of her being left behind as the island’s volcano blows up.
Most monsters in action adventures, thrillers and horror movies are JUST monsters. We might be asked to feel sorry for them, but they rarely have an arc all their own like Rexy does. But for her arc to be as complex as hers AND to carry it off in multiple movies is fantastic.
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