Friday at Five: The Art of Conversation Edition

It’s been really hard for me since I lost all my facial features…

Administrators’ Note: To cap off Jurassic Park Week, we thought we would record and then transcribe a conversation revolving around our memories surrounding the movie. It was a grand plan, and we started things off in style at our weekly meeting at TTAF Headquarters by lighting a fire and sipping old-fashioneds. We quickly found that conversations, much like genetically recreated dinosaurs, cannot be easily contained. Instead of a focused dissection of Jurassic Park, we ended up with a sprawling mess that touched on several other movies, stories from our youths, war, and the nature of today’s news media. It wasn’t what we set out to make, but we had a lot of fun doing it, and, ultimately, it serves as a valuable reminder that time should be set aside for meaningful conversation, and that it’s okay to let it take you on a course different than the one you may have planned. What follows is a selection of our discussion. Thanks for reading.

The initial question was, do you remember seeing Jurassic Park for the first time? Pretty soon we arrived at this:

Curtis: I almost wrote something about how Jurassic Park got beat out [a few years later] at the box office by Titanic. The only reason that Titanic beat it out was that millions of twelve year-old boys wanted to see boobs in a PG-13 movie.

Josh: So, boobs beat Tyrannosaurus Rex?

Curtis: Oh, definitely. For a twelve year-old boy the only thing that beats dinosaurs is boobs.

Matt: Dinosaurs, guns, boobs.

Curtis: I mean, that’s why I went to see it.

Josh: Maybe if Billy Zane had been in Jurassic Park, that could’ve tipped it, ‘cause, I gotta be honest: Billy Zane’s a pretty big draw.

Curtis: Was Billy Zane in Titanic?

Josh: He’s the mean, abusive husband.

Curtis: I mean, I’m not joking when I say I went to see it ‘cause of boobs, so [laughing] I don’t remember.

Matt: I went to see Titanic on a date. Seventh grade. My sister drove us, and my grandmother was in the car, and they stayed to watch the movie.

Drew: Nice.

Matt: And so I’m on a date with a girl –

Curtis: Who was the girl, Matt?

Matt: ****** ******. I’m watching Titanic, and four rows behind me are my sister and my grandmother, so, like –

Curtis. Boobs.

Matt: Yeah. Watching Titanic, and we get to the scene where it’s just… boobs.

Curtis: That’s the first thing I thought about when they said movie was coming out in 3D: what’s that gonna look like?

Matt: You get to that scene, with your seventh grade girlfriend and your sister and grandmother sitting behind you –

Josh: But it wasn’t like going to see American Pie with your grandmother.

Matt: No, no. But still.

Curtis: You knew that was going to be in the movie, right?

Matt: Well, yeah.

Curtis: ‘Cause I remember being, like, totally aware that there were going to be boobs in this PG-13 movie.

Matt: But I didn’t go see it – that wasn’t – it was more like, the girl I was with wanted to go see Titanic and I was in seventh grade so I went with her.

Josh: Well that stayed in theaters for so long that I didn’t see it – it came out in December – until the next summer, after that school year had ended. But I remember people talking about that, and if a guy said, ‘Oh, I like that movie,’ it would be, inevitably, ‘Yeah, I know why you liked it,’ but I hadn’t seen it and word hadn’t gotten around, so I was like, ‘Why? Why did they like it?’ By the time I went to see it, it was old news. But it was, for whatever reason, the one movie with nudity you could go see and it was okay because, you know, ‘it’s classy.’

Curtis: I remember there were girls who went to see that movie fifteen or twenty times.

Drew: He totally could’ve fit on that little piece of wood she was on.

Curtis: She kept saying, “I’ll never let go,” and she let go. She’s totally a liar.

Drew: There was a website that drew out the piece of wood she was on, and there was room for one and a-half more people.

Matt: Speaking of awkward movie dates, if it weren’t for an awkward movie date, I wouldn’t have been a Harry Potter fan. I was ridiculously opposed to Harry Potter. Had no interest whatsoever, and I got tricked into going to see it. I thought we were going to watch Ali or some other movie that was out at the same time.

Drew: You know who I saw Titanic with?

Curtis: ****** ******.

Drew: No. Well, maybe. No?

Matt: Pretty good guess.

Drew: It was, somehow, ****** was with us.

Curtis: I saw it with ****** too.

Drew: And he snuck in, like, a whole value meal from Arby’s. In ****** ******’s purse, he put the fries, the drink, everything in her purse.

Josh: He swears to this day that he just laughed the whole time. That’s his defense for ever seeing Titanic in theaters.

Curtis: Me, and him, and ****** ****** saw it, and we laughed the whole time. There were girls, like, crying all around us, just bawling their eyes out, and that guy falls off and hits the propeller. We were cracking up.

Josh: I’m telling you, that scene was included in that movie purely to get guys to see it. ‘I gotta find out more about this propeller guy.’

Drew: That was awesome.

Josh: CGI’s greatest achievement. I remember seeing Twister for the first time, but I don’t remember seeing Jurassic Park in theaters. It was pretty close, right? ’94, ’95? For whatever reason, we were at a friend’s house, and, I guess, when you’re young, you don’t realize that ten o’ clock movies exist. You usually go to see movies during the day, when you’re really young. I remember it was like nine o’ clock and my parents were like, “We’re going to see a movie.” I was like, at what weird theater are they still showing movies this late? Oh, all of them. I think back on it now and wonder if that was an appropriate movie for me to see. Same with Jurassic Park. Watching the T-Rex pick up the lawyer and sling him around. How was I not more scarred by this movie?

Curtis: I don’t remember the first time I saw [Jurassic Park]. I just remember I had to read the book, like the full Michael Crichton book, before I was allowed to see it.

Matt: I remember seeing it the first time. I didn’t see it in theaters, but I had gone down to Atlanta. My sister was in marching band and they were in some competition, and, at the time, my uncle lived in Atlanta. You know how everyone has that one “rich uncle?” He was the one. He works for an insurance company or whatever. It was not only my first experience with Jurassic Park, but my first experience with a big screen TV and surround sound. The whole home theater –

Curtis: It was the first movie ever made in DTS.

Matt: At the time, I thought, man, this guy is rich, and the room with his TV, the whole, awkwardly shaped room had a big screen TV and two La-Z-Boys, with surround sound speakers behind the La-Z-Boys. My cousin and I, we went into this room and watched Jurassic Park, and they turned all the lights off and we sat in these two big La-Z-Boys. It just blew my mind. It was kind of funny, because several years later he was living in Cincinnati, and when we were in college we went over to help him move some stuff out, and he had that same big screen TV that when I was eight I thought was 103 inches –

Curtis: It was probably 32.

Matt: One of those really old ones that was really deep where it had to project, and it just seemed so outdated when I saw it all that time later. That was my first surround sound, lights off movie. I was terrified.

The Conversation abruptly turned to a movie that made a huge impression on us from the very first viewing…

Drew: I remember the first time I saw Saving Private Ryan. I forget what year that came out –

Josh: ’98.

Drew: So I was thirteen, and I saw it on vacation in Florida with my whole family, and there were lots of old guys there. I remember after the movie, all these gray hairs sitting there, just weeping. My dad was crying too because his dad was in World War II and was on that beach the day after D-Day.

Josh: Wow.

Drew: My dad was a mess. He sat in the theater for probably thirty minutes afterward just bawling.

Curtis: We did the same thing. We saw it on vacation. It was a rainy day in Florida and we went and saw it. There were a bunch of old men wearing their uniforms.

Josh: Yeah, that movie kind of got like a, I mean, obviously it got a reputation after, but even leading up to the release and immediately after, they were saying – veterans were coming out and saying, ‘This is first time we’ve ever seen something that comes close to the realism of what happened there. But like, there were lots of people actually cautioning people, not against seeing it, but preparing yourself and understanding that this is not The Sands of Iwo Jima and John Wayne. It’s very much –

Drew: Especially that first thirty minutes.

Josh: Oh, yeah. The D-Day scene is still… talk about seeing something on surround sound. If you’re seeing that in a theater, the sound editing and the way everything was put together, it almost becomes claustrophobic.It’s almost like tunnel vision.

Matt: I remember, because we were old enough at the time, to like, not just remember the movie, but I remember the news media surrounding it. It wasn’t politically driven or any sort of critique of the movie, but just saying, seriously, this is realistic.

Drew: I had anxiety about the first thirty minutes, from what I’d read about it.

Curtis: It was a big deal for my parents, like, ‘Are we gonna take our kids to see this movie.’ I was probably thirteen, fourteen when it came out.

Drew: It was like a decision that families made. ‘Are we gonna let our twelve year-old see this.’

Josh: Because it’s important.

Matt: Let’s sit around the kitchen table and have a discussion about this movie before we go see it.

Drew: And most of the time, you probably had a grandparent who was a veteran.

Curtis: My grandfather was in it.

Josh: We got a certificate after my grandfather passed away in 1994 or ’95. He had served in the Pacific Theater, and it was signed by Bill Clinton. It was like, ‘We recognize his military service,’ but we didn’t get it until he passed away. I still have it in a frame. His last name was Williams, and he was one of two guys were not allowed to board the USS Indianapolis.

Curtis: The one that crashed.

Josh: It was torpedoed, I think. Very few people survived; a lot of the people who ended up in the water were eaten by sharks. But the only reason he wasn’t on there was because his name came at the end of the alphabet, so my mom will tell stories about how if she ever complained about not getting to do stuff first because of her last name, her dad got really upset. But [Saving Private Ryan] is a movie they will show on Memorial Day weekend or around Veteran’s Day, on network TV, in primetime, unedited. And that says something, that, culturally, we’ve accepted that this movie is important enough in terms of what it conveys, that we’re not going to cut anything out. As a function of our historical understanding of this event, it is important to convey this without taking anything away from it.

Drew: The cool thing about it is that there’s a whole story wrapped up in, like you said, the historical context. Putting those characters into this bigger narrative, it’s brilliant.

Curtis: I’m not much of a purist when it comes to baseball and crap like that, but you know they always talk about World War II’s generation being ‘The Greatest Generation.’ Danielle and I went to the history museum in Cincinnati once and there’s a whole section on World War II, and we were walking around. We’d been in there for maybe fifteen or thirty minutes, and they’ve got all these live-size pictures of guys in World War II. I was like, Danielle, this is going to sound really gay, but these guys are incredible. Not only are they in the middle of France or Germany fighting, every one of these guys looks like an Abercrombie model. I distinctly remember this one picture of a guy who’s sitting there, he’s got no shoes on because their boots had worn out, they’d been marching through France, I think it was, through the snow. He literally looked like an Abercrombie model. He’s got a cigarette hanging out of one corner of his mouth. They really were better than us, and I have no problem admitting that.

Josh: Well, that movie’s one of the first instances I can remember of seeing, not just a war movie, but anything like Air Force One that pits America as the good guy, but has this very dark, like the scene where Adam Goldberg’s character get stabbed in the chest. You’re watching that, and it’s a one on one fight in a World War II movie with an American and a German, so you know how this is going to end, right? I mean, if it was any other movie, it feels like, he would’ve fought him off long enough to, just at the last second, and you get to that moment where the tide should turn, but it doesn’t. And he’s shooshing him as he pushes the knife in – it makes you feel totally vulnerable. It disarms you as you’re watching this movie where things are not going to go as you expected.

Curtis: It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the movie, but isn’t that the guy who dies because the other guy wouldn’t shoot him?

Drew: Yeah.

Josh: The interpreter, right?

Drew: Yeah, and it’s like a forty year-old man versus this probably, like twenty year-old kid, which kind of shows the reality of it. I couldn’t watch that scene. Still can’t watch it.

Curtis: I remember hating that guy that didn’t shoot him.

Drew: Upham.

Matt: But it shows the power that movies, at their best, can have. At least three of us here have read a little bit of N.T. Wright’s book [laughter].

Curtis: I still haven’t finished the last chapter.

Matt: Evil and the Justice of God. We had talked several weeks ago about how we have no real way to actually picture evil, so we kind of avoid it, and when it confronts us, we’re kind of surprised by it or we don’t have a way –

Curtis: Immature responses to it.

Matt: No response to it, and that’s one of the things where on the news, it would say: Warning! But not in a negative way. It wasn’t saying this movie is bad for your kids; it was saying, hey, this movie is so realistic, it might upset you, but you need to see it.

Josh: That’s okay.

Matt: Yeah, and it was the first time in my memory of seeing that overall discussion where families have to sit down and say, ‘We’re okay with you watching this movie, because it’s not just graphic for graphic’s sake. Or gory for effect. But because it presents a reality that you need to know about, however awful that reality is.

Josh: That’s drawing the line between what the Supreme Court justice who said “I can’t define pornography for you, but I know it when I see it.” Drawing that line between gratuitous violence and something that hits closer to home and something that’s valuable, not because it’s disturbing, but as a necessary byproduct of showing you this, it has the potential to disturb or frustrate or frighten or disgust you even, but you can’t ignore things just because they’re unpleasant. In a history class, if you show somebody pictures of the holocaust, of the bodies being carried out of Auschwitz, will that upset them? I hope it does. I hope it makes them angry or uncomfortable, because if it doesn’t, then you can’t take something from it. It’s like the chemistry of it, a necessary byproduct of the process that gets you from point A to point B, and that point B is empathy and understanding. It’s funny, when I ask students to write anything where evil is involved, they always use Hitler as an example… and I get why… but you need to get beyond – it’s easy to treat him like a cartoon character. Family Guy literally treats him like a cartoon character, where it’s like, ‘we’ll just use him as the “go-to” for that sort of thing’ but there’s a reality to that. This was actually something that seeped into the rest of the world in a very real way. So it’s like what you’re saying about evil, and not really understanding what that means and having an immature understanding of it and therefore an immature reaction to it.

Drew: I know I had a whole new respect for my grandfather after seeing that. Not that I didn’t respect him before, but, you know, he had passed away before I saw it, but he, at the end of his life, was bipolar and had all these issues, and after seeing that, I was kind of like, if that was me seeing that stuff, how would I be?

Josh: It’s a miracle [someone who’s been to war] can function at all, let alone lead a life after that.

Curtis: I think part of it, too, was that that was so necessary. I might be walking on thin ice now, but, like, Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, those are maybe important, but they weren’t – back then, it was, ‘We’ve gotta fight, or we might get taken over.’ That was a legitimate possibility. A lot of guys were pushed to treat it like, ‘This is a job. If we don’t do it, Germany’s going to own our country.

Drew: And it seems so, historical, I guess? At that point, warfare was more modern, it wasn’t like, hand to hand combat or you’re looking at the guy you’re shooting. It was almost like you were watching The Patriot. You’re lining up, redcoats and patriots. You’re coming onto a beach where you know there are machine guns just lining the beach.

Josh: When you look left and right, you know ‘one of us is not making it.’ One of us isn’t even getting to the shore.

Drew: That scene where guys are just puking on the boat and knowing that as soon as that drops, they’re getting hit. It just seemed so weird to me when I saw that this is how war was. You just – here I am, there you are, I’m shooting at you.

The conversation soon veered into the peculiarities of the ways we understand war (or don’t)…

Matt: Did you see the movie Warhorse, another Spielberg-John Williams movie? It’s really interesting. Patrice actually took me to see it and was telling me, her students read the book in fourth grade, that the movie was inspired by. It actually explores that whole thing, right in the middle of that transition. For instance, there’s this one scene where the British army line up this cavalry and they line up in a straight line and run into this camp of Germans, and they think they’re going to with their rifles and bayonets and they go through it all and think they’ve had this huge victory, and then they realize they’ve run into this camp and the Germans have been in disguise and have surrounded them. The book more explores the transition – when you first start this war, this is how war looks: we line up, you line up, we run at each other, we die, to the transition into more modern warfare: we have trenches, we hide, we deceive you. And all from the perspective of this horse, who, at the beginning of this war is an admirable thing – the cavalry is this high-token thing. The horse is like a war hero. But towards the end of the war, it’s just a carrier of cargo, a workhorse. It’s pretty intriguing.

Curtis: Wasn’t there something crazy, like, Russia lost a million people in World War II.

Josh: Yeah, Russia, in World Wars I and II, we fought on Stalin’s side twice. I remember learning that in U.S. History and being like, ‘Wait, that Stalin? The one we put right below Hitler as the most monstrous leader in human history?’

Curtis: And they literally lost a million people, because that’s how you did it then. Whoever’s left with the most people standing.

Josh: I read the Michael Chabon book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and that book is about two cousins in New York in the ‘40s. It’s all about them getting in on the ground floor of the golden age of comic books. The interesting thing about that whole history is that almost all of the superheroes that were created initially were fighting Germans. So it’s like this weird cross between propaganda and this sort of idealized version of the way we wish history could be. We wish that there could be Superman, we wish that there could be some superhero. It was like this cultural dividing line. You talked about the N.T. Wright book and taking evil seriously, and comic books were, in a lot of ways, a response to that. A way of constructing a world where there is a definitive good to fight this definitive evil. We recognize what’s going on in Europe is the manifestation of evil and so how do we cope with that? How do we wrestle and reconcile those ideas, and so you get ‘Truth, Justice, and the American Way,’ this idea of a materialized version of the American will. That’s sort of a fascinating response, because we tell stories as a way to work through our own history. Fighting the Germans was our reason for creating the superhero genre.

Drew: I’ve always thought it was interesting how there’s this honor code within war. It seems to contradict itself, but I remember that scene in Saving Private Ryan where they take that prisoner of war and Tom Hanks is like, ‘He’s a prisoner of war’ or whatever, just that whole thing that you would take this a prisoner rather than just kill this guy who surrenders, but you should shoot him anyway because it’s a war. You’re killing everybody. It’s kind of like The Patriot. Cornwallis has this whole ‘You’re supposed to fight like a gentleman,’ and that was huge back then. And then you have Mel Gibson doing the militia thing, which was seen as playing dirty.

Curtis: There’s an old movie called Johnny Tremain, a black and white movie I used to watch when I was a kid. It was the same way. They were looked down upon because they hid and shot people.

Josh: That is funny, this idea of ‘If you’d found this guy twenty seconds earlier, sneaking around a corner, you would’ve shot him, but instead you found him with his hands in the air, waving a white flag, he’s off limits, and you’re right that this is totally accepted, that this is the way things work. It must make sense when you’re out there, because there has to be some safeguard against doing whatever to whomever, whenever. I guess there have to be some lines drawn.

Drew: But then you have Afghanistan or Iraq, where any civilian can be a threat. That whole honor code is thrown out the window because you don’t know.

Josh: Did you guys see The Hurt Locker?

Drew: Yeah.

Drew: You (talking to Curtis) haven’t seen that? It’s great.

Josh: There’s an interesting phenomenon, which I guess it happened during World War II, where they were making World War II movies as it was still going on, but we started coming out with these movies about Iraq and Afghanistan while those things are still going on –

Matt: While the social memory was still…

Josh: – and no one was seeing them. Even if, critically, it was like, ‘This is a good movie,’ it investigates a lot of the questions and the moral ambiguities and things we’re having to ask ourselves as a society, in terms of dollars, they were not moving tickets, because it’s so fresh and so hotly contested, like ‘I just don’t want to go there right now.’ But The Hurt Locker was one that didn’t draw political lines so much as it looked at things from the soldier’s perspective in a world where you have no idea at any given time, where the enemy is, who the enemy is, what it even looks like to fight against this group you’re dealing with, specifically with guys whose jobs are so tense anyway because they’re disarming bombs.

Finally, the conversation about contemporary wars led us to the state of the news media, and how we are supposed to interpret what we see on “the news:”

Matt: It’s still fear-driven. Both sides ‘If President Obama wins a second election, the world is going to end. If Mitt Romney overtakes President Obama, the world is going to end. It’s so fear-driven and such a clicks-driven thing, they turn so much into a ticking time bomb type of issue.

Curtis: I don’t understand. Whatever news source people want to listen to is fine. I don’t care. But people who get so wrapped up in Fox News or whatever, how do you sleep at night? I know guys who breathe that stuff. If you really think that all this stuff that they’re saying is true, I don’t understand how you sleep at night. I don’t know how you live.

Josh: Because it’s all so terrible.

Matt: Yeah, it’s so fear-driven.

Josh: The best example of this for me is gas prices, because every three or four months there’s a big, week-long cycle of gas price stories. In March, it was, ‘Guys, gas prices this summer are going to hit $4.00 a gallon. By this time next year we could be staring $5.00 a-gallon gas in the face. Gas prices have dropped forty cents since that time.

Matt: But you won’t see an article about that. Gas prices are cheaper than they’ve been in three years, but there’s no article saying, ‘What a relief.’

Josh: Because there are no clicks in that story. It’s like the old Jerry Seinfeld sketch from SNL where he plays a news anchor and says, ‘You’re probably using a product that could kill you at any moment. More on that at five.’ Because we’re going to get you to watch by – and these are not new or groundbreaking thoughts; yes, the news is trying to scare you – but it is disconcerting when people are voting based on this stuff. Or running their lives on this stuff.

Curtis: You’re an old white guy buying guns and security systems because you’re convinced – I know one particular old man who has thought about buying a filtration system for his pool in case it all hit the fan, and he could drink the water from his pool. How do you live like that?

Instead of telling you what to do this weekend like we normally do, how about this: Whatever you watch, whatever you do, and whatever you drink, pair it with a good conversation.

Slainte Mhath

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Categories: Friday At Five, Jurassic Park Week

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