Introducing Characters

One of the ideas that came up while we were discussing Jurassic World Dominion this week was the importance of introducing characters. It’s always worth going back to good films and exploring how the most memorable characters made their entrances, and my usual, go-to example is Terminator 2.

First impressions

The first time we see Sarah Connor, she’s doing chin ups in her cell in a secure psychiatric unit. In just a few seconds, we’ve got the idea that she is tough, focused, dangerous, worth being frightened of, and possibly deranged. And these characteristics inform the way she behaves and the choices she makes for the rest of the movie. We know who she is.

Easy riders

Similarly, when John Connor first appears he’s hacking an ATM and riding away with his buddy on a motorbike. We’ve only just met him, but we already know he’s deliquent and off the rails, or at least lacking a moral compass, and he’s resourceful and good with technology. And he can rev a motorbike with attitude. Once again, after just a few seconds we’re already developing an idea of who he is, and although our understanding deepens, these characteristics stay true to him for the rest of the film.

Easy, boy

But turning to Jurassic World Dominion, what does Owen Grady’s first appearance tell us? He’s riding a horse after some dinosaurs, lassoes one of them and pats it on the head. Is he chasing them? Saving them? It looks like he’s a … dinosaur hunter? A dino-cowboy who’s breeding them for meat, maybe? Part of the mounted dino-police? We can see he’s good with a lasso – but we never see him do any rope tricks for the rest of the movie. We know he can ride a horse – but we never see him do that again, either (unless you count the iron horse he guns through Malta later in the picture). What seeds has this scene sown for the rest of the movie? Not many.

The red button or the green one?

In much the same way, Claire Dearing first appears in an animal liberation scene, where she’s releasing illegally housed dinosaurs with a couple of other characters. She’s creeping around with a flashlight and recklessly saving sick creatures. So we know she’s … compassionate? But this compassion doesn’t inform how she behaves for the rest of the film. She doesn’t free any of the captured dinosaurs she finds in Malta, in fact she doesn’t save any other dinosaurs at all, she spends most of her energy hitting them with scaffolding poles or tasering one of them in the eye.

Maybe if Claire’s first appearance showed her doing a little parkour, and demonstrated that she was handy with a taser, we’d spend that scene forming a picture of her that would carry through to the rest of the film, and perhaps anticipate some of the fun that happens later. Let Owen Grady chase a dinosaur on a motorbike in his opening scene, let us watch him do something clever with a tranquiliser dart, then we’d know what his relevant skills are and could look forward to him either using them or struggling with them later. These opening scenes are such a gift to the audience, it’s a shame to waste them.