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Jeff Goldblum…uh…King of….um….Sci-fi?

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Jeff Goldblum is the king of movie scientists and it’s been way too long since he quipped his way through a Sci-fi blockbuster. Whilst his recent work is excellent, it has been more indie flavoured and it’s a welcome sight to see him again, having all the best lines in the Independence Day: Resurgence Trailer. He is also about to enter the Marvel universe in Thor: Ragnarock.

When an actor slips back into playing a certain genre, it can be seen as a negative decline and a limitation of acting ability. However with Goldblum, in each different sci-fi role he manages to shine. So it’s time to celebrate the chaos theory preaching, teleporting, world saving actor by looking at some of his key sci-fi roles.

The Fly (1986)

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It’s now impossible to even consider anyone other than Jeff Goldblum playing the role of enigmatic teleporting scientist Seth Brundle in David Cronenberg’s 1986 film. However the role almost didn’t go to him at all. After beating John Lithgow and Michael Keaton to the job, the choice of relatively unknown Goldblum wasn’t universally lauded. 20th Century Fox president Larry Gordon called it an “absolutely horrible mistake”. Even the makeup department had reservations, with effects artist Chris Walas telling Cronenberg to “Get somebody with no ears and no bridge of the nose so that way we have a lot more control with the makeup”. Despite the concerns Goldblum delivers a definitive performance as a scientist who invents a teleportation device and while testing it a fly accidentally enters the machine with him. Now transported, his DNA is fused with that of the fly and Seth begins to disastrously change beyond comprehension.

Goldblum simply makes the role his own, using his own eccentricities to bring the character to life. He manages to convey the lack of self-confidence within Seth and it is this loss of self-belief, (being spurned by his love interest) that makes him enter the teleporter in the first place, trying to prove his worth.  It’s an emotional performance, a portrayal of a man ravished by a terrible destructive disease of his own making but it is also a romantic tragedy. In fact Goldblum and Geena Davis, who plays his lover were actually a couple at the time.  Eventually when the metamorphosis is at its height, Goldblum, in 5 hours’ worth of makeup, still shows the real desperation and inevitability of the characters situation. Overall it’s a fantastic performance of an emotional and eventually unhuman scientist.

Jurassic Park (1993)

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Jeff Goldblum was at the forefront of casting for Ian Malcolm, with casting director Janet Hirshenson saying “I read the book and I thought of Jeff Goldblum right away” and whilst other actors read for the part, including Jim Carey, Goldblum was always first choice. On screen he spends his time avoiding death by dinosaur however, during production he had to save his character in more ways than one. During pre-production Spielberg toyed with the idea of combining the characters of Ian Malcolm and Alan Grant (Sam Neill) with Goldblum pleading against, he “even advocated on the spot”. Even when confirmed as a character, the script called for his fate to be sealed between prehistoric teeth. Originally in the T-Rex scene he was due to make a cowardly run to his death but Goldblum again talked Spielberg around  “I said ‘Please Steven’ and we cooked up this other version where I get to be heroic, you know? I thought if I was going to run, that’s a terrible thing to do. You’re going to want to see me die. I’m going to want to see me die.”

It’s clear that Goldblum’s persuasive skill paid off as he is arguably the best character in the film, which spawned the famous laugh, the quotable lines and even the fan art. Ariana Richards who plays Lex in the film said “I think he brought a lot of himself to that character” and again he uses his own quirks to add to the bombastic, self-assured personality of Ian Malcolm. He carries the charm, confidence and self-assuredness whilst playing devil’s advocate against John Hammond’s genetic engineering dreams.  He also a binary opposite to Alan Grant,  Goldblum himself understood the character in this way “He intimates things about himself that imply that he already knew some of the lessons that Sam Neil’s character learns…He accommodates in a very mature and healthy way the contradictions in life.”

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)

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In his role in Invasion of the Body Snatchers Goldblum portrays writer Jack Bellicec. It’s a film that is quintessentially science-fiction and is included here because it shows his early career and how he formed his style within this genre. At this point Goldblum was relatively unknown previously starring in Annie Hall and the Sentinel. Reminiscing about his time on the movie Goldblum said “I had a great time. San Francisco, 1978, doing that movie, he [Director Philip Kaufman] had something specific in mind. There was improvisation a little bit here and there. That was nice”

Jeff plays another outlier here, like his later roles someone that doesn’t fit with the establishment, a writer frustrated at his level of success compared with his peers. The film has quite a large and successful cast including Leonard Nimoy and Donald Sutherland and the biggest compliment to Goldblum is that he is not overshadowed by this.

Independence Day (1996)

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Hot off the heels of Jurassic Park and its sequel, Goldblum was cast in another scientific, yet kick ass role as David Levinson in Independence Day. He was drawn to the script because of his interest in environmentalism saying “I care deeply about the planet, and all the lifeforms on it, including the animals too. And I don’t like anybody coming and messing with it”. The Director Roland Emmerich afforded Goldblum a chance to improvise, including a lot of interactions between him and his father (played by Judd Hirsch). The dialogue in the scene where Goldblum and Will Smith are in the alien fighter downloading the virus was mostly ad-libbed. With one key exception of course, the producers loved Goldblum’s “must go faster” line from Jurassic Park so much that they included it in Independence Day to a reportedly unimpressed Spielberg.

His role here is one of a satellite technician and divorcee, his strength in the flick is in his interactions with other characters which just seem completely natural. He also gets some pretty awesome lines of dialogue. He is a standout character is what is essentially an ensemble piece.

Jeff Goldblum

Sci-fi just seems to suit Jeff Goldblum. There is something different, almost otherworldly about him. He is able to deliver the comedy and quips but can also delve deeper into the emotional and devastating consequences of the extreme situations his characters find themselves in. As for how much he is a lover of science in real life? Well he says “I wish I was as scientific as people think. I mean, my dad was a doctor but, no, sadly, no. I mean, I see where that stuff comes from, and I kind of get a kick out of it, but I’m really not the man to turn to in any kind of medical or astronomical emergency”. Hopefully Independence Day: Resurgence will have us thinking otherwise.

References:

http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Which-Actor-Almost-Landed-Fly-Ahead-Jeff-Goldblum-43275.html
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/interview-jeff-goldblum-youve-got-to-hand-it-to-him-theres-more-than-chaos-theory-at-work-in-jeff-1486363.html
http://www.ew.com/article/2013/04/04/jurassic-park-oral-history
https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2003/jun/06/artsfeatures2
http://www.interviewmagazine.com/film/ariana-richards-jurassic-park#page2
http://www.denofgeek.com/us/movies/jeff-goldblum/233622/jeff-goldblum-interview-grand-budapest-hotel-jurassic-world-and-the-fly
http://www.slashfilm.com/independence-day-resurgence-jeff-goldblum-interview/
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