The Art of the Reveal

It’s a familiar formula: at least a half hour of tantalizing hints to build suspense and create anticipation. Then comes the reveal: your first look at the monster. First, give the audience evidence of its existence so their imaginations can have a workout. Second, make sure the reveal is visually satisfying, or it will seem anticlimactic. Some of the best examples come from the Jurassic Park series.

It’s hard to beat the T. rex in the first Jurassic Park directed by Steven Spielberg in 1993. After a non-reveal with a goat as bait in broad daylight, we are eventually treated to a stalled tourist vehicle in a tropical thunderstorm. We hear ponderous, almost subliminal footsteps and the water in a clear cup vibrates in synchrony. Then a teenage girls asks, “Where’s the goat?” and its bloody remains hit the windshield. The camera pans above the car to give us our first look at what we all came to see, and the T. rex breaks through the fence and out onto the road. The climax of the reveal, a full frontal roar above the storm, is then followed by breathless action sequences. And, of course, someone dies, prompting my label of this kind of movie as a “chomp ‘n stomp”.

One more example is offered by the mother and father T. rex in The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997; also directed by Steven Spielberg). This is saying quite a bit since we already know what they are going to look like. An environmental activist and an animal behaviorist carry a wounded T. rex baby back to their research trailer. Alarmed, Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) arranges to have his daughter and himself hoisted above the treetops in an observation cage. Something huge and unseen disturbs the foliage below, and flocks of birds take to flight. Inside the trailer, two enormous heads appear in the windows on either side. As the activist and the scientist work feverishly to splint the baby’s broken leg and carry their patient toward the door, we again hear heavy footsteps as the heads move to keep the baby in sight. Then there is more breathless action, and someone dies. Spielberg really gets his visuals right.

Add some more ingredients to those mentioned so far in this and the last five posts. A compelling plot and a high concept make a good monster story into a great one. And good acting always helps. Yeah, right. We all go to a monster movie for the acting.