Saturday Night: Horror stalks the stalls

STEVEN SPIELBERG is not a good director in the conventional sense. His characters assume recognisable human attributes only when they are dramatically endangered. He seems unable to represent emotions other than the primitive staples of terror, awe and a sentimental yearning for the nuclear family with its clearly defined relationships.

On the rare occasions when a character drifts towards more complex emotional states, Spielberg seems baffled, and resorts to the crassest manipulation. Inevitably, he uses the same tired old trick: whack up the soundtrack and lean into a monstrous close- up. 'Wow,' exclaims its juvenile subtext, 'this is really intense]'

How often does he do this in Jurassic Park? You work it out. I lost count after about 20 minutes. But all this is so much dino-poop in the long run, because, when he cuts to the chase, Spielberg is peerless.

His genius is for triggering the fight-or-flight response; he has an uncanny knack for isolating and giving form to nameless dread. Subtle emotions expose the limits of his vocabulary, but in the universal language of fear he is fluent and voluble.

Now he speaks of dinosaurs, and not since the earliest days of cinema has primal terror been so eagerly received by so many. Of course, the film's marketing has set new standards in cynicism. But can its success be put down entirely to hype? I think not. Record-breaking audiences have greeted it with a collective sigh of relief, as if grateful for the opportunity to be scared witless by prehistoric reptiles.

This was certainly the case at the late screening last weekend in Leicester Square. Late shows always attract the most unruly and appreciative audiences. While grown-ups, 'serious' film buffs, tourists and dating couples attend the earlier screenings, the midnight slot is the preserve of reprobates, misfits and clubbers, often gang-handed. Like the zombies, vampires and monsters that entertain them, they only come out at night.

Jurassic Park is guaranteed to draw a hard-bitten late-night audience in search of something that goes for the jugular. And the perfect game to play, in such atmospheric surroundings, is Second Guessing.

To play you will need several good friends. Make sure you are sitting in the middle of the group. I, for instance, was seated with Guy and Vivian on my right and Linda and Tony on my left. The trick of it is patience and timing. You must watch carefully and judge the mounting tension. Just when everyone has stiffened, their eyes wide, their jaws open, their breathing fast and shallow, in that instant before claw rips flesh . . . bang] You seize the arm of the person next to you - or better still, on either side - and they jump off their seats with a shriek.

Then - and this is the beauty of it - before they can regain their composure, they turn back to the screen and - bang] - Spielberg lets them have it with both barrels. Oh, what joy]

It occurred to me as we left the cinema that Spielberg is playing exactly the same game, on a much larger scale. Consider the reptilian archetypes, and you see that his epic surely owes as much to the timing of its release as to any marketing strategy.

Rapacious, cold-blooded, savage beasts are pitted against slightly more intelligent and much less aggressive human beings. Through the hubris of mankind, and our arrogant belief in our dominance over nature, these monsters have been given a second crack of the evolutionary whip. If they get the upper hand, we're finished. You don't have to be a deep-dyed millenarian to recognise a peculiarly resonant metaphor; the narrative acts as a lightning rod for the fears and anxieties that will accompany us throughout the last years of this millennium.

Are we ready to leave the horrors of history behind, or will we carry them into the future? Can we confront and control our basest primal instincts? Is our intellect sufficiently developed to power us forward into a new renaissance, or are we doomed to slide irrevocably into a modern version of the Dark Ages?

Then again, maybe it is just entertainment. Perhaps Spielberg is a good director after all, and I'm missing the point. Whatever, the Second Guessing game is always fun. Try it next time you go with friends to see a late-night movie predicated on archetypal dread. Don't worry if you miss Jurassic Park. Before the decade is out, there'll be plenty more where that came from.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Sport
Robin van Persie leaves the field at the King Power Stadium last Sunday
football
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch as John Watson and Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock
tv

Co-creator Mark Gatiss dropped some very intriguing hints ahead of the BBC drama's return next year

News
In this photo illustration, the Twitter logo and hashtag '#Ring!' is displayed on a mobile device as the company announced its initial public offering and debut on the New York Stock Exchange on November 7, 2013 in London, England. Twitter went public on the NYSE opening at USD 26 per share, valuing the company's worth at an estimated USD 18 billion.
news

News
people

London 'needs affordable housing'

Arts and Entertainment
music Band accidentally drops four-letter description at concert
Life and Style
tech
News
peopleIan Thorpe addresses Ricky Martin rumours
Arts and Entertainment
'Africa' will be Angelina Jolie's fifth film as a director
film

Mr and Mrs Smith star admits she's 'never been comfortable on-screen'

Arts and Entertainment
Australia singer Iggy Azalea has been attacked by Eminem in a new rap
music

Singer was ordered not to 'blow her rape whistle' in song 'Vegas'

Extras
indybest
News
Myleene Klass
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Recruitment Genius: Female Support Workers / Carers - From £8.00 per hour

    £8 - £12 per hour: Recruitment Genius: To assist a young family with the care ...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

    £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Executive is required...

    Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

    £55000 - £70000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world lead...

    Argyll Scott International: Commercial Finance Manager

    Negotiable: Argyll Scott International: My client, a world leading services pr...

    Day In a Page

    US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

    Immigration: Obama's final frontier

    The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

    Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

    Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

    You know that headache you’ve got?

    Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

    Scoot commute

    Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
    Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

    The Paul Robeson story

    How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
    10 best satellite navigation systems

    Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

    Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
    Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

    Paul Scholes column

    England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

    Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

    Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
    Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

    Frank Warren column

    Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
    Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

    Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

    Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
    Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

    'How do you carry on? You have to...'

    The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

    Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
    Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

    'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

    Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
    Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

    Sir John Major hits out at theatres

    Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
    Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

    Kicking Barbie's butt

    How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines