Beloved actor, director and humanitarian Richard Attenborough died this week at the age of 90. Given his incredible fame and critical reputation, it’s no surprise tributes are popping up all over the Internet. What’s interesting about these moments in the sun for Attenborough, however, is how few of them are focusing on Jurassic Park, or mentioning it as a throwaway in the ninth paragraph.
We don’t get to choose our legacies. In fact, our legacies don’t always make logical sense. Richard Attenborough was an incredible director. He churned out more than a handful of great films including Gandhi and Chaplin. He also lent his superb acting talents to dozens of great older films like The Great Escape, Brighton Rock, And Then There Were None and 10 Rillington Place. Yet, it’s Jurassic Park that an entire generation of fans will remember him for. And you know what, that’s actually pretty cool.
They say good parts often dry up for actors as they get older. While the best of the best may have been choosing between dozens of projects at any one time during their heyday, once they reach a certain age, work often involves choosing between family comedies and relatively generic supporting turns. And yet, at seventy-years-old, Richard Attenborough found John Hammond, and instead of phoning it in, he created something wonderful.
To me, John Hammond is the most morally complicated and interesting part of Jurassic Park. Rather than his more villainous counterpart in the novel, Richard Attenborough created a loving man who is unrelentingly optimistic. He’s so infatuated with the wonder and the potential beauty with what he’s paid others to create and what it could mean to the world, that he’s all too willing to ignore the potential consequences. He has a moral compass. He cares about things other than money. He’s just too naïve to see six inches in front of his face.
The result is a character that holds Jurassic Park together. It’s a character that prevents the final product from becoming some ludicrous battle between good vs evil or big money vs the little guys. Obviously, Ian Malcolm, Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler get more time in front of the screen, but Hammond is the one that keeps everything together. He’s the film’s secret weapon. And he steals pretty much every scene he’s in…
Richard Attenborough was so much bigger than Jurassic Park. To be perfectly honest, he was better in quite a few other movies too. When you get time, you should really go seek them out. He had a great eye as a director too, but today, you should watch Jurassic Park if that’s the one that means something to you. That’s what I’m doing. For me, he’ll always be John Hammond first, and that’s OK. Because all that matters is we remember Richard Attenborough with smiles on our faces.