CINEMA CLASSICS: Jurassic Park (1993)

Steven Spielberg’s beloved blockbuster franchise has another entry on the way. Is the original a roaring success twenty-two years later?

Who made it?: Steven Spielberg (Director), Michael Crichton, David Koepp (Writers), Kathleen Kennedy, Gerald R. Molen (Producers), Universal Pictures.

Who’s in it?: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight.

Tagline: “An adventure 65 million years in the making.”

IMDb rating: 8.0/10 (Top 250 #230).

Based on the best-selling novel by Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park developed into a critical and commercial smash when released in the summer of 1993, and for good reason. A groundbreaking blockbuster, its a masterpiece of suspense and action, overseen by filmmaking wunderkind Steven Spielberg. Written for the screen by David Koepp and Crichton himself, Jurassic Park remains every bit as potent and enjoyable as it was back in the 90s; an enormously accomplished action-adventure supported by astute direction, glorious photography, pitch-perfect performances, and an overwhelming sense of cinematic escapism.

On a fictional island 100 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, billionaire entrepreneur John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has created the ultimate theme park, a zoo populated with real dinosaurs genetically engineered by a team of scientists. But Hammond’s investors grow anxious about the park after an employee is killed, compelling him to bring in a team of experts to test the experience and deem it safe for the public. Enter palaeontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), palaeobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), as well as lawyer Donald (Martin Ferrero) and Hammond’s grandchildren Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello). The group take off on a self-guided tour of the park, astonished by the prospect of coming face-to-face with animals that have been extinct for millions of years. However, when a hurricane strikes and one of the computer technicians messes with the system, the park is shut down, leaving the guests in the middle of a dinosaur playground with no protection.

Similar to Spielberg’s Jaws, the focus of Jurassic Park is not purely on dino carnage, but more on the narrative and characters. We don’t glimpse our first dinosaur until half an hour has elapsed, and it takes sixty minutes for the actual rampaging to begin. Combined, the dinosaurs only get around fifteen minutes of screen-time in this two-hour picture, as Spielberg predominantly observes the characters dealing with the omnipresent danger of the animals. Furthermore, the script explores the ethics behind the park; Dr. Malcolm quickly recognises the scientific hubris of resurrecting species which nature had selected for extinction. It’s this thought towards intelligent characters, subtext and science lessons which amplifies the value of the film. And yet, while there is plenty of chatter, Jurassic Park is a brisk, agile picture in the hands of Spielberg, who has a perfect grasp on narrative rhythm and cinematic thrills. What’s also surprising is just how comedic the material is, with sharp dialogue (Dr. Malcolm is a wise-cracker) and a smattering of gallows humour (Grant gives a young boy a lesson on how the Velociraptor can rip you apart).

Looking at Jurassic Park two decades later, it’s astonishing how little the movie has dated beyond the computer technology (ah, floppy disks) and a reference to a CD-ROM tour program. Although we’ve come a long way since 1993 in terms of digital effects, the dinos remain just as convincing now as they were back then. One cannot overstate the realism of the creatures on display here. While blockbusters these days primarily rely on CGI, Jurassic Park melds practical animatronics and puppetry with computer animation, and the result is seamless. The dinos look truly alive, with realistic movement and textures, and they carry no trace of artificiality. Indeed, not many movies since have equalled or topped the sheer photorealism of the special effects. The sense of wonderment and discovery is truly sensational.

Although Jurassic Park is family-friendly entertainment with shrewd laughs and a heroic score by John Williams, it is surprisingly dark and violent at times. It carries its PG-13 rating for a reason; Spielberg generates an aura of genuine threat whenever the carnivorous dinosaurs are on-screen, and young kids may find the movie too terrifying. Indeed, Jurassic Park is extraordinarily intense, and it has lost none of its ferocity over the past twenty years. The first appearance of the T-Rex still induces goosebumps, and the animal’s roar is enough to strike terror into the hearts of anyone. Likewise, late set-pieces involving the Raptors are mercilessly intense and edge-of-your-seat. When it comes to white-knuckle intensity, Spielberg is the king. Furthermore, the film is carried by a selection of outstanding performances from an able cast, including Goldblum who earns big laughs as the proverbial wise-cracking cynic. Also worth mentioning is Attenborough, who humanises the role of John Hammond in an effective fashion.

Jurassic Park is one of the masterpieces that Steven Spielberg will forever be remembered for. It’s a borderline perfect adventure picture, a skilfully-assembled blockbuster which has lost none of its ability to amaze and shock. The special effects have not even slightly dated, and it’s easy to appreciate the picture’s sheer intensity, the nuances of Spielberg’s storytelling, and the thematic undercurrents which provides more brain fodder than the average action movie. It’s still one of the very best blockbusters in history.

Best Scene

The T-Rex’s entrance is one of the hallmarks of Spielberg’s career. “Where’s the goat?”

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • William Hurt was offered the role of Dr. Grant, but he turned it down without reading the book or the script. Harrison Ford also turned down the role.
  • Michael Crichton’s agents circulated the book to six studios and directors. Warner Brothers wanted it for Tim Burton to direct while Columbia was planning it for Richard Donner. Fox was also interested and was intending the project for Joe Dante, while Universal wanted ‘Steven Spielberg’ to direct. Crichton was reluctant to submit to a bidding war, He instructed his agents to put a set price on the film rights and he could decide who was more likely to actually get the film made. After interviewing all the prospective directors, he agreed to sell the rights to Universal and Steven Spielberg, who was already his first choice.
  • The glass of water sitting on the dash of the Ford Explorer was made to ripple using a guitar string that was attached to the underside of the dash beneath the glass.
  • The first film to use DTS (now Datasat) digital surround sound.
  • Briefly held the box office record until it was beaten by Titanic.
  • Both the film and the book generated so much interest in dinosaurs that the study of paleontology has had a record increase in students, and interest in general has skyrocketed, and has been at an all-time high ever since.

Also checkout our recent Jurassic Park podcast:

And our video tribute:

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