This summer we all, and I mean all, went to see Jurassic World, an honestly not great film that went on to massive blockbuster success. Jurassic World had problems galore, but one element people especially disliked involved the prolonged and super-mean death of Zara, Bryce Dallas Howard’s soon-to-be-married assistant-turned-nanny-turned-dinofishpoop.
For those that don’t remember, the death goes like this: Zara, who we don’t know enough to like but certainly have no reason to hate, gets picked up and tossed around by a pteranodons. Eventually, one drops her into the mosasaurus tank where she nearly drowns before getting picked up by another pteranodon. Once airborne again, the giant mosasaurus leaps from the water and swallows her whole. It’s cruel, it’s unusual, and it already got a great Devin Faraci examination here.
But this is not the first strangely mean death of the Jurassic Park franchise. That prize goes to Eddie Carr (played by Richard Schiff) in The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
It’s hard to defend The Lost World as a good movie, but it is a Spielberg film and therefore has excellent sequences regardless of the film surrounding them. The double T-Rex attack offers a perfect example. A lot of goofy stuff gets us there, but once it starts you can’t help but succumb to all the crazy elements Spielberg introduces to build tension and suspense.
Part of that comes with his ability to give you little relaxers within his set pieces. As Jeff Goldblum and Julianne Moore’s trailer dangles over the side of a cliff, that relaxer comes in the form of Eddie Carr, who saves their bacon by attaching the trailer to his SUV’s winch. Unfortunately, while doing so, he gets eaten by the Tyrannosaurs.
Both of them. They pick him out of his car, toss him around a little, and then rip him in half. All onscreen with no cutaways.
While certainly not as egregious as the death in Jurassic World, this kill stings for several reasons. For one, Carr presents himself early on as one of the film’s more likable characters. We’re all into Ian Malcolm, but no one else really comes through as particularly memorable, smart, or cool. Carr on the other hand has characteristics. Namely, he’s a grumpy tech guy with no patience for bullshit from non-tech people. So maybe one characteristic, but it’s way better than Vince Vaughn’s “I’m a cocky photographer” malarky.
This plays into reason number two. When the shit hits the fan, Carr acts heroically, which casts a new shade upon his previous grumpy demeanor. He may slap your hand away from his iPhone 7 prototype, but it turns out he will throw down if you’re ever about to get killed by a dinosaur. He gets in there a saves the day. Even when crouching in his car to avoid being eaten, he still has his foot on the gas pedal in an attempt to give his pals as much time as possible.
And finally, it is super violent. Most of this comes from the way Spielberg lets it play. Watching a guy get ripped in half sounds pretty extreme, but it doesn’t necessarily have to feel that way in execution. There’s a very similar kill in Ron Howard’s Willow, for instance, and it doesn’t seem violent at all, mostly because it happens to a nameless villain, lacks any build up, and cuts away right before anyone has to see half a body dangling from two monster maws.
Carr doesn’t just get an overly violent death. His death creates disappointment because you know you’re not going to see that character again for the rest of the film. It’s not sad like, say, when Spock dies. It’s more like when Bryan Cranston dies early in Godzilla, and you look at who you’re stuck with for the next 90 minutes.
Zara’s violent death in Jurassic World is strange because it’s the kind of fist pumping death normally reserved for villains yet erroneously inflicted upon an innocent character we barely know. Carr’s violent death is strange because it treats a character we actually like as meaningless fodder for T-Rex antics, which gives the impression that we were never intended to get that attached to him in the first place. The power of Richard Schiff.
You have to hand it to Spielberg, though. He’s super great at throwing some harsh shit into his PG-13 family blockbusters. Even during a movie he seemed to check out of while filming (he’s gone on record saying so; I believe he even directed some of it via satellite), he can still sit up straight when he wants to and deliver an out of nowhere, super violent death. Stuff like this is why even his worst films deserve your attention. Sure, The Lost World has a lot of cutesy nonsense, but it also has a guy getting ripped in half during an act of heroism. And if that’s not bad enough for you, I offer yet another strange and unusual death from this film: The dog.