I’m at home, texting no one. I’m thinking about nothing. I’m playing the game where I delay by seeing how many double negatives I can’t help but not put in my sentence, you know, the more I think about it, the more I believe the paragon of realist art is the 1993 Hollywood blockbuster Jurassic Park. Recounting a botched attempt to create a theme park of free-roaming dinosaurs cloned from prehistoric DNA, the movie boasts—even now, even after recent developments in CGI and animation—some of the most realistic dinosaur special effects I have ever seen. The reason for this is disarmingly simple. When you see a massive, life-sized Tyrannosaurus rex bounding toward the camera, i.e., toward you, it’s terrifying. It’s terrifying because a large portion of the Jurassic Park production budget went toward building a massive, life-sized animatronic dinosaur that could be filmed just like its reptilian counterpart. Sure, if you pricked it, it wouldn’t have bled, and sure, it might not have been sentient per se, but there’s no doubt that this dinosaur existed, materially. It was no CGI nightmare. You could touch it. It could chase you. In other words, it’s no surprise that Jurassic Park looks realistic. Jurassic Park is realistic because they made a real dinosaur.
Like all objects made true to life, though, there are lots of things wrong with this dinosaur. Jurassic Park is a movie full of bad weather, since the rain heightens the suspense of the dinosaur threat. During shooting, water keeps soaking into the “skin” of the robot T. rex. It slows the dinosaur down. It interferes with its movement. The directors stop filming every five to ten minutes. They have to. They dispatch large crews to dry off this gigantic fake dinosaur, each crew member armed with towels and a hairdryer. They start filming again. Rinse and repeat.
That’s not the worst of it. The robot has one significant flaw. While drying, the robot has a tendency to malfunction: the life-sized dinosaur will, for no reason at all, randomly turn itself on and off. It simply starts moving. It seems to have developed free will, a mind of its own. Its jaws snap. Its head moves from side to side. It becomes common for cast and crew members to scream bloody murder while they’re eating lunch or off camera. The dinosaur glitches while a crew member is doing repairs inside of it. He is almost sheared to death by pieces of grinding metal. He narrowly escapes when his colleagues pry the dinosaur’s jaws open and pull him out of its open mouth.
I really like the dinosaur special effects in Jurassic Park. Part of my pleasure is in knowing the incredible, even life-threatening efforts that have gone into making it seem as though dinosaurs really exist. I really like how the giant machine can function as a real-life dinosaur without actually having to be one. I’m not sure what one is supposed to marvel at here—maybe the mastery of cinematic realism? At the depth of its artistic illusion, at its craft?
I don’t remember the last time I saw the ashtray we made in Brighton Beach, but I think it was right before the breakup. Neither of us was crying, but the touches between us had become rote and glazed, we already knew. It was spring, and the exhaust fan blowing the cigarette ash out your living room window was half broken; it spit back sooty chunks. I was sitting on your lap. Ash all over your pink shirt. The yellowing cigarette stub in my hand. It was all turning my stomach. But I looked down at us on the ashtray, smiling and plump, the plaid of your scarf in its bright primary colors, my hair in two sensible braids, and the way my heart sweetened seemed true.
Whatever, reality can never be objective. I’m not sure what Jurassic Park says about realism, apart from that it’s a prime example of the lengths to which humans will go to prove their authority over the world. I’m not sure what I know but that realism will almost always be betrayed by the skill in the making of it.