The War Game (1965)

Winner of the 1966 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, Peter Watkins’ The War Game was never broadcast by the BBC when it was produced for the Wednesday Play series the previous year. Deemed too unsettling for audiences, it was eventually transmitted in 1985 (a year after the broadcast of Threads amid escalating nuclear tensions) to mark 40 years since the bombing of Hiroshima. Comparisons with Threads are inevitable, and although both films attack similar specific targets, they use markedly different techniques to do so.

A documentary voice is employed by both films, but where Threads allowed its terrifying speculations to unfold as a drama, The War Game comes from a more detached, factual perspective. Threads’ occasional stark captions have their role filled here by an authoritative narrator, one that would be as much at home in a Protect & Survive film. We are led through events by this single guiding voice, and the effect of hearing it underscore the action in contemporary Britain (and occasional illustrative diagrams) is similar to that of a newscast.  A crisis is imposed onto everyday reality through one of the most familiar formats to viewers at home.

Those viewers at home can also see themselves reflected in the vox pops that are interspersed throughout the film, offering opinions on the issues, informed or otherwise, and it is these that allow The War Game to take a different path to that taken by Threads decades later. With no single main character, we see a picture painted of wider societal views, and the film can also take the opportunity to break away and offer a clearer international context. Interviews in Britain cut away to scenes of unrest in Berlin – the flashpoint of a worsening crisis. Hypotheses are offered as to the US President and Soviet Premier’s motivations and actions that would lead to a nuclear attack on Britain. The divide between the leaders who would destroy and the people who would be destroyed is stark – a total disconnection.

While this approach creates a contrast with Threads, which largely gives a domestic view, the recipients of The War Game’s criticism are just the same. Narrator and talking heads alike expose the inadequate measures on the part of the government to prepare and protect the public. Safety manuals are overpriced, and people on the street largely ignorant of what to do in the event of an attack, while privilege is shown in some cases to lead to selfishness bordering on paranoia. One of the only people we meet in the film with the means to build a shelter for his family also shows off the shotgun he will use to ensure no one else tries to get in with them. When the attack comes (with just the same horror and dread felt in Threads), all are equally powerless.

After the impact is when these interviews with the public become most significant, as the attitudes on display prior to the bombing in Kent are demolished by the grim reality now facing the people who held them. Before, we saw people casually admitting they would like to see retaliation to any attack, and similar devastation inflicted on another country, not to mention residents’ reluctance to take in evacuated families on our own soil (“Are they coloured?”). In the aftermath, violent crowds grow. Citizens and police kill each other in riots. The narrator comments on Mrs Joyce Fisher, a housewife from Gravesend, as she pilfers armfuls of food retrieved from murdered officers. The scenes of civil unrest in Berlin that viewers might like to imagine could never happen here are shown to duplicate themselves all too easily in Britain.

Prejudices and preoccupations erode in the turmoil never foreseen by those who held them. A film that started with the blasé comments of detached adults on a potential apocalypse ends with parents frightened for their children, and the children themselves saying weakly, “We don’t want to be nothing.” Silent Night plays at the close of the film over scenes of destitution, following graphic descriptions and depictions of melted eyeballs, burned and blinded children, police officers shooting dead those beyond medical help, mass cremations to prevent disease and executions of relatives trying to retrieve bodies.

The imagery is as gruesome as that used in Threads – it is ultimately the ideas behind them that hold the real power. It doesn’t surprise me that the BBC withheld it at the time, although not especially a decision I sympathise with. The War Game is a very unsettling piece of television for a nation that had had questions asked in Parliament about Nigel Kneale’s Nineteen Eighty-Four adaptation only the previous decade. While it was also fortunately mistaken in its prediction that the scenes shown in the film would have happened by 1980, its message is powerfully grim and, as Threads demonstrated twenty years on, still resonates. Tensions diminished slightly in the 1970s, but rose again. Today, they seem to have done so once more, and the people are once again in thrall to the whims of leaders unaccountable to us in other countries. 53 years on, the fear remains of what could be.

The War Game is available to watch on BBC iPlayer now.

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Peter Fleming on Barry Chuckle

Hi everyone. I‘ve decided to postpone this week’s post in light of the sad news today of Barry Chuckle’s death. He was someone I loved watching, and, as a comic underdog, perhaps the first person on TV that I ever identified with. As such, I have decided to let Peter Fleming, one of the architects of the golden age of British children’s TV, share some of his memories of Barry with us.

Hello there, my friends.

I woke to the very sad news this morning that dear Barry Chuckle (or Elliott to those who knew him best) is no longer with us. As well as his friends and family (most of all Paul), I of course pass my condolences on to the generations of viewers who have just lost a beloved figure from their childhood – as seems to be happening all too often these days.

My own brief memories of meeting and working with Barry are very happy ones. In spite of a long and varied career, I first met both Barry and Paul in 1992 whilst on a walking holiday (it later transpired I had officially gone missing, but let’s not quibble). Going past what appeared a very enchanting Romany caravan, I decided to step in and say hello. The elderly woman within was a fortune teller, and I thought I may as well cross her palm.

After many detailed hours of her telling my future, our conversation was interrupted when Barry burst through the door and told Paul to take off his disguise – I’d been hoodwinked! Though not widely known, it is a fact that Paul would always stay in character while filming, even during breaks, and often for quite some time after recording had wrapped. In this case, the episode had contained several brief scenes in which he posed as a fortune teller and told Barry a false future. (That said, I was stunned in later years by the eerie level of accuracy in Paul’s predictions, often regarding very intimate areas of my life.) Barry clearly sympathised with my plight, having acted out my predicament himself earlier in the day!

I was touched by the calm authority with which he came to my rescue – inherent in being the older brother in real life, no doubt, much as his height and higher voice would lend him better to an underdog persona in the double act. After we had all returned to London and I had been ‘found safe and well’, we stayed in touch, and indeed worked together on one occasion, thanks to a peculiar gift of Barry’s that kept him in gainful employment for many years.

I’d noticed it when we were walking away from the caravan that day, and Barry had tripped and fallen flat on his face. Out of nowhere, the sound of a slide whistle rang through the air, and a metallic clang resounded at the moment of impact. Contrary to the received wisdom that these sounds were added in by an editor for every slapstick fall throughout ChuckleVision’s 22 years, they in fact occurred of their own accord whenever Barry caused himself some piece of physical harm. Neither before nor since have I come across a man with such a natural comic aura.

As a result of this, he would do twice the falling Paul did – who for some reason didn’t emit the same sounds (given his clairvoyant abilities, he could hardly complain). Whenever he was also required to fall, either a shot would have to include both brothers falling in unison, or Barry would have to throw himself to the floor at the exact same moment off camera. It could prove painful, but Barry would always happily give himself over for the sake of the next laugh. I often reflect how odd it is that, for something so unique to the man, children would never imitate that sound as commonly as they would their other popular catchphrases from, “To me… to you”, to “’Ello!”, to “Oh dear, oh dear.”

Barry was often in demand for his remarkable talent, as I say, and I was very proud to hire him as Sound Operator for many moments of physical comedy during my brief stint overseeing Schoolz on Holz (1997-98), which I left in acrimonious circumstances a fortnight in, following a disagreement on the spelling of the title. It was Barry, in that instance, who encouraged me to stay true to my beliefs and take the high road, and I was grateful for his counsel (or ‘counzzel#£#’, as BBC Children’s executives probably spell it nowadays). He stayed on for the duration of the series, but I would never begrudge him that, of course. It was my quarrel, not his, and he had three hungry brothers to feed at home.

Besides his ongoing work with Paul, be it on ChuckleVision, on Channel 5’s recent Chuckle Time, in their regular stage shows or in their unlikely hit singles, Barry found a lot of lucrative opportunities to provide these sound effects for a number of programmes. Quite apart from the joy he brought to so many childhoods, I would hope that part of his legacy will be that anyone watching television in years to come who hears a slide whistle as someone falls down will think of him – it’s quite likely Barry making the noise! Most recently, he had provided voices for the dear departed Peter Firmin’s revived Clangers series, although I understand he had stopped last year under doctor’s orders, owing to the severe bruising voicing so many characters was causing.

As always, in spite of any brief moment of pain or embarrassment, he (and Paul too) was always willing regardless, for the sake of giving to a young audience. True to form, Barry never let the children at home down. I know they and I shall miss him and his presence terribly.

Rest in peace, Barry Chuckle.

Best wishes,

Peter

Chuckle Brothers

The Journey to the Queue

I’ve seen and been part of a number of attempted queues this weekend, witnessing rabbles form by the front doors of a bank at 8.59am, or disparate individuals coalescing into something approaching a formation as they prepared to scramble past each other onto a train or a coach, and it has led me to reflect on our history.

Over the course of my journey yesterday, I considered how queueing, a pure and wonderful manifestation of community and respect practised worldwide, has lately been bizarrely imagined to be peculiarly ‘British’ in some circles. Gradually, it has been made into a rather nauseating and artificial signifier of our national spirit. The sort of thing you can imagine Hugh Grant championing as he stands up to the US President in Love Actually. Or something referenced on a Keep Calm and Carry On mug, used to make a garish commodity out of the darkness of the Second World War.

(On that note, I am interested to find if anyone has made one that has replaced the phrase ‘Keep Calm’ with ‘Fuck Off’ and the phrase ‘Carry On’ with ‘Fuck Off’ as a mark of protest; also whether a series exists that ties in with the Carry On films, i.e. Keep Calm and Carry On Dick.)

It’s enough to put me off the idea of queues, which isn’t the fault of the queues themselves. And our history has shown that an orderly queue is much better than the alternative. Many options were tried out in the long journey for us to catch up with the rest of the world and adopt the queueing system that we would now believe comes so instinctively. For centuries, nobody in Britain could agree what the fairest system was for providing a service to the masses, with the first come first serve model employed by the conventional queue seen as favouring ‘pushers’ or, worse, people who were too keen.

One alternative tried in the 18th century was used in the distribution of food, spices and coffee arriving from abroad. Since these were all new to the nation, people would pay a set amount to receive a sample of something exotic, finding out what exactly it was later. It was decided the best way to give these out was to do so at random. In this system, the person distributing would stand on one spot and spin rapidly. Recipients of goods would form a circle around them and run in the opposite direction. Products were thrown outwards, one by one, in a chaotic but fair fashion. Everyone got something and there could be no accusations of preferential treatment. The only issue was that, thanks to the breathlessness and dizziness, nobody could keep the consumables down, so the system didn’t last long.

Fast forward to the 1950s, when pubs, seeking a more egalitarian way of giving out beer in the age of rationing, would distribute their beer all at once, firing it down a line of customers with the tallest people at the back. The landlord would fire the liquid in a jet through a hose, gradually lowering the angle of trajectory. Taller people would thus be served first, and although this meant shorter drinkers would be stuck with the dregs from the bottom of the barrel, the better quality beer for taller people would be worsened by the long journey through the air – full of anything the jet of ale had caught along the way, for instance dust or large birds. This way, everyone was granted a similarly bad experience, which unfortunately led to a decline in business.

Gradually publicans reverted nationwide to the current system of everyone standing at a bar, with the most assertive customers served first, and the least assertive waiting for up to an hour, growing steadily more anxious at the prospect of being written off by their friends.

Still there was dissatisfaction, going forward to the 1970s, when some institutions such as supermarkets, hospitals and banks had the bright idea of enforcing a queue, but serving those at the back first. This had the unfortunate effect of causing people to start running as far as possible from anyone attempting to give them what they wanted. Those trying to provide food, money or urgently needed medical procedures would then either take advantage of the situation for themselves or have to give chase across open country, leading to many muggings and botched operations.

Such practice was still occasionally employed in the years that followed, coming to a final stop in 1987, when a Buckingham Palace function adopted it for the line of visitors meeting the Queen. Everyone wanting to be the first to grasp the Royal hand charged out of the premises with little decorum. Her Majesty, keen to greet them, stalked them out of the grounds at speed, running on all fours like a gazelle, and proceeded to chase them around Hyde Park for several hours. Onlookers mistook this for a hunt, and it took many years of careful PR to ensure the public that the Queen did not regularly stalk and eat her subjects – that was Princess Margaret.

In the midst of this media storm, it was decreed that the entire nation would henceforth commence queueing in the way we automatically advocate today. The notion of forming an orderly queue as a characteristically British trait is a fantasy, put forward as part of a rather grotesque propaganda exercise, and as such should be treated with the contempt it deserves.

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Peter Fleming in Beverley

Hi everyone! I’m away this week so have handed over writing duties over to Peter Fleming, one of the architects of the golden age of British children’s TV, to tell us about a visit to Beverley yesterday. Take it away, Peter!

Hello, there!

Well now, I had never visited Beverley before, but I must say I had a remarkable day, seeing a lot of things that reminded me of various times and incidents from throughout my long career. At first, I felt some trepidation arriving on my little raft and stepping out of Beverley beck. Almost immediately, I saw this sign on the way to the inn where I was meant to be giving my little talk:

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It instils a certain sense of caution when it appears that a town has pre-emptively named a scandal after you. As it happens, I needn’t have worried, as the talk was very well received. Largely addressed it to an 89 year-old girl in the front row, who I later realised I had misheard telling me she was 8 and a half. But when you get to my age, you find little surprises you, so I tried to take it in my stride that I was speaking to a woman accompanied by parents who looked far younger than she’d told me she was.

Regardless, a good time was had by all, in spite of the latter portion of my talk being drowned out by a peal from the bells of Beverley Minster, a local religious establishment not to be confused with the rather dreadful actress who played the eponymous character in my 1966 series Mrs Pobjoy Finds the Cellar. Decades on, it seems I can still rely on a Beverley Minster to sabotage my work. In a fit of nostalgia, I decided to visit the minster once my talk was over. Perhaps I could relive the memories of old Beverley, who was also deeply religious, as a matter of fact. Indeed, that was one of the problems of working with her, as she insisted on changing her every other line for The Lord’s Prayer, which really was very irritating, wreaked havoc with the storyline.

Stepping inside, I was quite surprised to find it so heavily populated on a Saturday, but all became clear when, standing in the aisle, I heard the familiar sound of an organ playing Here Comes the Bride. Looking to my right, I noticed a radiant young woman in a white dress walking directly towards me, and in a state of panic, I turned and pelted out of the building, which put me rather in mind of my second wedding. Although admittedly, the roles were reversed this time.

Rushing back onto the street, I suddenly fell foul of the paintings adorning all the walls and fences of the town. Looking to my side, I was confronted with a chilling reminder of the children’s home where I spent so much of my youth and adulthood.

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Every mealtime, I’d sit down on one side of the table and everybody else would instantly move to the other as one. A most unsettling experience. There was about the same amount of conversation, too.

Keen to move on, I thought I might be safe from further reminders if I sought the cover of the marketplace. Amid the hustle and bustle, perhaps I would find suitable distractions from the harsh memories so far unearthed. Alas, the road signs conspired against me once more, as this street corner forced me to remember the endless hearings and disputes in the wake of my short-lived 1974 series, Farmer Giles’ Popping Birds.

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Further on, the town looked determined simply to insult me directly.

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It was with some relief that I came across an ice cream van, and was able to put the £4 the audience at my talk had given me to some purpose. A cone of mint choc chip was always a staple of my boyhood, as I expect was revealed by 1964’s The Spider’s Ice Cream Parlour. (“Eight for the price of one! Flies welcome too… Won’t you come on in…?”) At last, able to sit down quietly on a bench, watching the world go by, cone in hand, I felt a sense of calm wash over me, and I grew rather taken with the town. The little stalls, the families enjoying the sunshine. It was enough to make one feel rather young again. Then, looking over, I found my mind cast back to a much happier memory, seeing a shop that appeared to have been named after my 1968 programme about a tuck shop in a public school.

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Misspelled, admittedly, but then one would have to penalise a great deal of useful shops if we were to evaluate just on those terms. Getting to my feet, I went for a more leisurely wander, and came across a delightful thing: a whole street named after a favourite series of mine, from 1967:

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It would have done far better with audiences if windmills hadn’t already been in vogue for some time in the wake of Camberwick Green, I grant you, but it was still a lot of fun to make. You wouldn’t be able to erect 25 windmills in the car park of TV Centre these days, I can tell you! I tried last year for the fiftieth anniversary, turned out the BBC had sold the whole place, though no one had consulted me on it.

Lastly, I braved going into another church, St. Mary’s, a little less full and frightening than the minster. Tiptoeing about, I finally felt at peace. And then, the last and the best surprise the town had in store for me. BBC Television Centre may have gone, but clearly some guardian angel had salvaged from the props department some time previously the original model we used for the whole of The Town Builder Folk in 1971!

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The church, having been donated it, have now put it to splendid use, demonstrating how old buildings like it were originally built! And I have to say, having it installed as a working model for visitors to play with is a much more sensible decision than trying to make 20 ten-minute episodes of television from it. Could only move one direction then back, depending which way you turned the handle, so made for very little variety in terms of storytelling. I’d never seen poor Brian Cant so bored trying to put some life into narrating the damn thing.

I headed back to my raft at the end of the day in a much better state than I might have done, thanks to the wonders and surprises Beverley had offered up to me. One may try not to be surprised in life at my age, by 89 year-old girls or anything else, but I must confess I find it truly striking how many little things can set us on a path down so many different memory lanes.

Best wishes,

Peter

Peter Fleming will be appearing at Green Man Festival on Friday 17th August.

Beverley Laughs continues today at The Tiger Inn, Beverley.

Memories Not of Bristol

There are many times and places of which I have memories that follow clear pathways in my mind, clearly linked by specific events and specific stimuli. The thought of an August 2009 holiday to St. David’s leads me to thoughts of Bat for Lashes’ Two Suns album, and Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest. That music leads me in turn to thoughts of my first visit to Sheffield for a university open day that September, with all of these memories wrapped up in thoughts of the cover artwork for the His Dark Materials books, which I was reading at the time.

In the wake of the national memories happy and dismal formed during the World Cup over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the concept of memory about as much as I usually do – still a heavier amount than a better-adjusted person. It’s easier for us to make connections with each other bonding over our shared memories of specific, big events. But our personal memories have a lot of room for the mundane individual experiences we all live through too. The sort of things we wouldn’t share with others for fear of boring them, and that we’d largely think to discuss only if we were an over-sharer with a blog.

Visiting home this weekend, I stopped off in Bristol Temple Meads, my favourite train station – thanks mainly to childhood memories. Every time I go there, the emotional impression of the city that has built up in my mind over decades washes over me at once, before I’ve even had a chance to leave the platform. But every time this happens, I am also briefly struck by the knowledge that this impression is not especially comprised of any genuine memories I have of Bristol.

My impression of Bristol doesn’t incorporate the various waits at Temple Meads for a train to visit my grandparents in Leeds every half-term, a hot chocolate from AMT Coffee and a sugar waffle from the now-defunct Belgian Waffle Co. kiosk in my hands. Nor does it include the memories formed throughout late 2007, when I arrived into Temple Meads to see multiple bands, every single time listening to In Rainbows. There isn’t room in this impression for my Year 6 visit to @t Bristol either, where I largely ignored what was on display in order to use their internet facilities to view ‘photonovels’ of missing Doctor Who stories on the BBC website – perhaps in that case, the memory has been omitted due to regret.

But whenever I arrive in Bristol Temple Meads, whenever I look out from the platform towards the hillside of multi-coloured houses, whenever I walk past the waterfront, in fact whenever I think of the word Bristol, the impression that forms is founded on just one genuine memory of the place, and of TV programmes I must have watched at a similar time. A childhood visit to Bristol Zoo leads me onto memories of watching the original Creature Comforts short film, along with Stingray and BBC Points West, the local news programme for that region of the UK.

The genuine memories of Bristol listed above form no pathway in my mind like those of St. David’s and Sheffield. But my memories of watching TV about an hour away from Bristol absolutely do. Creature Comforts is at least a product of a Bristol company, and I suspect watching it may have made me keener to visit Bristol Zoo at the same time, but I’ve no guarantee of that. Seeing Bristol covered on Points West makes enough sense of that aspect too, but Stingray’s only possible claim to a place in my impression of Bristol would lie in me having potentially watched a repeat of an episode after an edition of Points West. Again, there’s no guarantee of this, as my memory of such things is less precise. So far as I can make out, Stingray has nothing to do with Bristol, yet, like these other programmes that can easily be watched anywhere else, it shines through more clearly in my thoughts of the city than pretty much any of the times I have actually spent there.

I have loved Bristol every time I’ve visited it, thanks in no small part to my cheating memory, but I remain hopeful that one day I might even come to appreciate it on its own terms.

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The Even More Beautiful Game

In spite of my brothers’ attempts, I never got fully swept up by football as a child. The France ’98 World Cup is admittedly a great memory, as is singing Three Lions over and over again, so I’m delighted that that song has been coming home along with the football lately. Like so many people, I am delighted to have begun enjoying the football again over the last few weeks.

It’s amazing the change the World Cup has helped create, in tandem with the weather, in not just the mood of the country but its future. Soft Brexit is entirely down to Gareth Southgate, and I won’t accept any arguments to the contrary. And, now that they’ve been knocked out, it seems increasingly likely that Russia is finally going to own up about all the poisonings too.

But I realise not everyone has yet succumbed to the fever, so to help them enjoy the sport more, I have been coming up with a few possible changes to the format to make things a little less predictable, and a little more entertaining for newcomers. I have emailed them off to FIFA, and am hopeful that some, if not all, will be implemented before the end of the tournament.

  • Before kick-off, one player on the pitch is selected at random, and for the duration of the match is given a gun. It can be fired only once, and can be used at the player’s discretion at any point in the match.
  • One half of the pitch is a massive treadmill, in constant motion, but changing direction at regular intervals. Debate rages as to whether it’s better to be defending this half of the pitch first, or to change ends onto it after 45 minutes.
  • As well as a standard 90-minute football match, the game also operates as a 90-minute bleep test. Any player still in the game at full-time gains three goals for their team.
  • Decided by coin toss, the ball can be replaced at half-time with a wolf.
  • Before the match can start, the ball must be located. It is placed within one of twenty-two identical sealed boxes, one per player. The referee guides one player through the process of elimination that will determine whether the match can begin. FIFA occasionally ring in throughout this process to offer various numbers of goals to the player’s team, in exchange for differing portions of the ball.
  • Teams are democratically elected. The public will largely still vote for the most gifted players, but an added element of jeopardy comes with the possibility of online campaigns to put contestants from Love Island or Alan Bennett in the squad.
  • Match takes place alongside a much louder open-mic night also taking place within in the stadium that has attracted a significantly larger crowd.
  • Regardless of what score is reached at the end of each match, the points inevitably go to England, whether they’re playing or not, due to the fact that it is indeed coming home.

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Gender and Family in Jurassic Park and The Lost World

Now that I’ve finally seen Jurassic Park (1993) and The Lost World (1997), I might as well use it as an excuse to write about film once again on this blog – it feels long enough since I last did, after all. The two films are enormous fun, and fertile grounds for a discussion of gender too (what ever isn’t?). Both contain (admittedly too few) interesting, active roles for its female characters. But they also have a clear conservative streak when it comes to attributes ascribed to different genders, and how the relationships between those are used to present and enforce Hollywood values.

In the first film, our hero Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) has a voyage of scientific discovery, but the story also charts his progress as he learns to like children and embrace the idea of having a family. Initially finding children irritating (and I don’t think it’s limited to just those children), he bonds with them through the crisis. In the final shot of him in the film, his arms protectively resting around Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello)’s shoulders, he shares a look with Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), making clear he has become a family man – giving some hope at the end for the family unit the film wants to create.

Grant also therefore distinguishes himself from Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), seen in the first film as more of an alpha-male, a bit of a lothario, the sexiest theorist the world has ever seen. He isn’t seen as one to settle down, which is why he is made more peripheral by his injury as the crisis deepens, having a reduced role in the final scene. It’s telling that in the second film, in which he has become the lead, he now has a family unit around him – the film wants to give its protagonist loved ones to protect. Interestingly though, there’s not the same hint of a nuclear family like that floated by the end of Jurassic Park. The close of The Lost World sees him at home with his girlfriend Dr Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), and his daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester) from another relationship. Not a traditional Hollywood family, and reflecting changing times, but a recognisable family unit nonetheless.

Family as a concept therefore seems feminised in the two films. Dern and Moore’s characters, in spite of their status as emancipated, independent characters, become enforcers of family values. Ellie encourages Alan to spend more time with children, nudging him towards an approximation of a Hollywood ending. Sarah works as an enforcer less directly, such is the less traditional nature of the family unit she forms part of. But her work provides a thematic heart for The Lost World, as she seeks proof that supposed predators like Tyrannosaurus also work as family units – a theory borne out by the plot.

Such things don’t harm or lessen the scientific work of the female characters or their wider contributions to the story, but it does ascribe a duty to the women to give a human side to the work that obsesses the male characters – drawing the men into specific personal roles, away from either alpha-masculinity or from a more single-minded fixation with work, encouraging them to become providers and protectors too.

Masculine roles are only rewarded in the films if they are infused with that sense of personal connection. Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard), The Lost World’s main villain, is coded as effete and unmanly by his wealth and snobbery – cold and concerned largely with money, he is presented as a malign presence, and also a figure of ridicule for his inability to connect on a human level. Unable to encourage the men under his command to move through a dangerous jungle, it takes Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughan), a man’s man, to get them moving. Alpha-masculinity doesn’t reap the greatest rewards in the film, but it is here shown as preferable to a lack of any warmth or human interest.

Going up a generation to examine John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), we can see it takes Sattler in isolation to help him consider the folly of his ways as the film nears its climax, while the men he speaks to in addition remain unable to convince him earlier on. He is protective of his grandchildren, and wishes to build to inspire children, making him a family man of sorts – but there seems little female presence in his life. There certainly isn’t one visible in the film, and the absence of Lex and Tim’s parents thereby serves a purpose beyond giving a surrogate family unit for Grant. It takes a woman’s influence on a man in the world of these films to appreciate genuine human values, and to reap the rewards.

Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite) and his men, for instance, are obsessed with the hunt, with the sport of capturing and killing a dinosaur in The Lost World. There are close bonds between the men, and Tembo surrenders his catch and the associated honour when his male hunting partner is killed – the closest emotional bond he seemingly has. He bows out of the story. Similarly, Muldoon the game warden in Jurassic Park is killed by his more obsessive nature, and by his antagonism with the most prominent female characters in the film I’ve yet to mention: the dinosaurs themselves.

Bred uniformly female (in theory), they are treated as a threat by all the characters generally, but by the sportsmen of the films exclusively. The disparity in numbers of men and women in the films is highly noticeable, but something that could be overlooked is the presentation of the dinosaurs as female villains. When Muldoon is outsmarted by a Velociraptor, his last words are tellingly, “Clever girl” – at which point she kills him, taking the concept of a femme fatale to whole new extremes.

This is only for the dinosaurs to be repositioned as a partial embodiment of family values in the second film, crucially by a woman’s discovery. Working in tandem with them, not in opposition, women show men the error of their ways, offering them a solution that comes, in one way or another, in the form of appreciating family values. In this way, the first two Jurassic Park films serve to reinforce a recognisable form of Hollywood attitudes for their audience.

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