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
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
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

    C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Full Stack Developer (.NET 4.0, ASP.NET, MVC, Ajax, WCF,SQL)

    £55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Full Stack ...

    AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

    £450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

    Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

    £450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve