I’m really enjoying writing about themes, but slightly concerned that I’m going to run out of them soon. Also, I’m always talking about the same books, because sometimes I don’t get much time between posts to read new stuff. So, I’m starting a new post about character development, and will be drawing on book and film characters. I’ll alternate the posts every other weekend, but might go to fortnightly if I’m still struggling a bit.
Anyway, onwards with the new feature! (Spoilers, obviously)
Character Development Case Study #1 – Alan Grant (Jurassic Park)
(I’m going off the film here. I’ve read the book, but it was a long time ago, and I don’t remember it all that well.)
Dr Alan Grant is palaeontologist and dinosaur expert, basically bribed by eccentric billionaire John Hammond to endorse Jurassic Park after an accident lead to the death of one of the park workers. His expertise makes him a desirable source of endorsement, and also the inhabitants of the park’s best chance of survival once things start to go horribly wrong.
Grant starts off being motivated by money. It takes a fair amount to persuade him – an all expenses trip to a private island isn’t enough to pull him away from his dig, but his dig financed for three years? It’s more than Grant can resist.
As he arrives on the island and sees the dinosaurs, professional curiosity and personal interest motivate him to find out more about the project. He’s fascinated by what Hammond has managed to achieve, but he’s not blinded – he knows that there are flaws in Hammond’s arrogant plan, and that there are dangers that need to be controlled and assessed. Unlike the lawyer, he isn’t motivated by money any longer – his professional knowledge prevents him from committing to endorsing the park before he’s thoroughly satisfied that it’s safe.
And then when things start to go wrong, survival is Grant’s motivation. But, of course, because he’s the good guy, he isn’t out only for himself. Lost in the jungle with Hammond’s grandchildren, Grant is motivated to keep them safe as well.
Grant starts in the film as a guy who isn’t good at people, particularly children. He terrifies a young boy with stories about velociraptors and, on arriving at the island, finds Lex and Tim, Hammond’s grandchildren, extremely irritating. It’s a source of conflict between him and his love interest, Dr Ellie Sattler, who implies that she would like children.
It’s pretty much typical Spielberg cheesiness to add in the subplot of Grant getting to know and grow fond of Lex and Tim, but it’s also a vital part of why Jurassic Park is such a good film. Because without it, Grant wouldn’t develop as a character at all.
Grant is an expert. He’s the man when it comes to dinosaurs. He knows all there is to know about them, and is able to navigate the dangers of Jurassic Park with relative ease. If he were a full blooded action hero, he would be boring because he would be too competent. He has to suck at something, and the fact that he sucks at kids and ends up having to keep them alive provides a very personal, if rather small scale compared to a T-Rex, source of conflict.
His journey across the island to get back to the others at the visitor’s centre is a personal one as much as a literal one. He grows to understand the children, and even like them. And when he sits in the helicopter evacuating them at the end of the film with his arms round the sleeping kids, you know he’s grown into a better man for his experiences. It’s a small change, but one that helps us go along with him as a character and root for his survival.