It’s a discovery too staggering to comprehend; the scientists Hammond invites to view the park warn him that it’s likely to spin out of his control fast, and indeed it does, as the dinosaurs begin to rampage. Where’s Ray in all this? At the computer lab, working to patch things back together. Though Jurassic Park is all about spectacle, Ray is the man pulling the levers to get the movie’s dazzling stars in place for their big moments. And when the system fails and the reptiles get loose, he’s the one who gets eaten alive, leaving behind only a severed arm for his coworkers and viewers to remember him by.
When Jackson appeared in Jurassic Park, he was just two years removed from his major breakout role in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, and a year away from his Oscar-nominated work in Pulp Fiction. He was still the kind of well-regarded character actor who could play the tenth lead in an action movie. Jurassic Park is a bombastic film, and Jackson is an actor who can deliver bombast; but as Ray Arnold, he’s mostly resigned and businesslike, losing his cool only at Dennis’s obnoxious “hacker crap.”
In Jurassic Park, practically every character has one scene of pure awe-struck wonder, in which they gaze at a dinosaur in extreme close-up (a technique best known as “Spielberg face”). Ray is one of two cast members who doesn’t register any such delight. The other is Dennis, who shuts down the park’s security system to steal its cloning secrets and sell them to the highest bidder. In Crichton’s tales of future-tech, it’s rarely the actual science that betrays us, but the humans behind it.
As a concept, the dino refuge is a park for the ultra-wealthy, a resort on a remote Costa Rican island that people would pay virtually any price to attend. The idea is a goldmine, so it’s little surprise when Dennis gives in to greed—he later fails at escaping the island and gets devoured by a Dilophosaurus. But in the grand scheme of things, Ray’s death feels much more tragic. He’s a functionary, a man with no avaricious intent, who dies trying to save an inherently ridiculous business. In an effort to get the system back online, Ray reboots the power and journeys into the bowels of the park to flip the circuit breakers.
The fact that Ray doesn’t even get a death scene is the ultimate irony. As a keyboard-tapping computer expert, he has every reason to beg off from going on such a mission, but instead Ray throws on his lab coat and ventures out, no questions asked. Spielberg had intended to film Ray’s demise, but those plans were dashed when Hurricane Iniki ravaged the movie’s location shoot in Kauai, Hawaii, destroying several key sets. So all Ray gets as a send-off is a severed limb; eventually Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) brings the power back, though the park is quickly abandoned.