Spielberg May Need Geography Lessons

Vargas is a graduate of the USC TV/film production program.

As a Costa Rican, it is rare to see my country portrayed in novels, films or on television. I think the last time it happened was in the 1947 movie "Carnival in Costa Rica" with Cesar Romero. So you can imagine my surprise when I found out, first, that there was a bestseller novel about a dinosaur zoo on an island off Costa Rica, and, second, that Steven Spielberg was going to turn it into a movie. ("Picking Some Big Bones With 'Jurassic,' " Calendar, June 11). After seeing the eagerly anticipated "Jurassic Park," I almost wish he hadn't.

Aside from story and directorial flaws, which mostly stem from deviation from the Michael Crichton novel, the problem that hurt me most was Spielberg's disinterest in portraying my country accurately. His only scene set in an actual Costa Rican town was terribly mistaken: A beach village is shown, with the caption "San Jose, Costa Rica." But San Jose is not a village, it is a city. It is not anywhere near the ocean. It is surrounded by mountains in almost every direction, meaning there are no ocean and palm trees in sight. All the buildings in San Jose are either concrete, wood or adobe, and there are no shacks (with the country's torrential rains, nobody is stupid enough to build one).

It may not seem like a worthy bone to pick with "Jurassic," but for a country that depends so much on tourism, an inaccurate portrayal in a high-profile international blockbuster may cost the country thousands of visitors.

And the background music should have been salsa, cumbia or merengue, not Mexican ranchera (yes, there is a big difference).

The fact that the scene was shot in Hawaii is no excuse. If Spielberg had hired one less computer animator in favor of a Costa Rican consultant he might have learned that the scene he was shooting resembled more the port of Puntarenas than the capital city of San Jose. All he had to do was change the caption and change the background music to one with more tropical flavor. It even would have made more sense, since the book's mainland scenes actually take place in or near Puntarenas.

I should not be surprised though. Latinos have never gotten much respect from Spielberg. From the Mexican opening of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" to the Peruvian opening of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" to the Costa Rican opening of "Jurassic Park," his tendency has been to portray us as backward people. When we're depicted in the United States, he has opted to show us as domestic help, like the housekeeper in "Goonies" (story by Spielberg). Yes, a high percentage of Latinos living in California are maids and gardeners. But what about showing the flip side? "Jurassic Park's" Dr. Gutierrez was eliminated from the movie version.


It may not be too late to change that "San Jose" caption to the more suitable "Puntarenas" for the video release of the film, thereby erasing what may be further embarrassing evidence that this country needs to teach more geography in schools.

Even though filmmakers are free to choose any place in the world as the setting for their movies, they still owe it to the country whose name they are borrowing the courtesy of an accurate depiction.

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