I am often asked what’s my favourite movie. I usually answer with a well-regarded classic, such as Fargo, The Godfather, or The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. However in full honesty Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993) is probably the one movie that really affected me the most the first time I saw it, despite the fact that, let’s face it, it is not perfect. It makes no sense for an island full of dinosaurs to be nearly evacuated for the weekend, and the science is pretty questionable. Yet maybe because I was around six years old when I first saw it, that movie has left one big dinosaur paw-shaped print in my mind.
In this age of CGI and grand-scale summer movies it is easy to forget what an adrenaline-injection this movie was. Dinosaurs had been featured in movies before, but they mostly looked like giant puppets. Steven Spielberg and the effects wizards at Industrial Light & Magic in collaboration with animatronics by Stan Winston were the first guys who managed to convince you dinosaurs had been brought back from extinction. I was certainly convinced when I first saw the movie in a Quebec movie theatre in the summer of 1993. As the movie has some pretty effective horror scenes, it stuck with me for a long time, but like the rest of the world I fell in love with dinosaurs. Suddenly there were books and TV specials about the film’s revolutionary effects and the dinosaurs they had brought to life. I once went to a museum exhibit where you could pretend to dig out dinosaur bones out of the sand. This wasn’t just another summer blockbuster; it was a cultural event.
Being the smart filmmaker that he is, Spielberg went the slow-boil route before unveiling his new creations. Based on Michael Crichton’s book, Jurassic Park opens with a foreboding sequence where a park worker gets badly killed while game wardens are trying to get a velociraptor, those smart and scary dinos, into its cage. All you see is big crate emerging out of the jungle and the creature’s eye inside, but given what it does to the guy it grabs the viewers knew this was no panda bear.
Another very clever tool was the scientific exposition scene that explains how millionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) managed to clone animals that had been extinct for millions of years and set them up on a Costa Rican island. It’s a theme park, so the tourists will need information before starting the tour. This exposition is given to the team of experts who must assess whether or not the island is safe for tourists. They are a diverse bunch who are in for a hell of a ride.
Dinosaur expert Alan Grant (Sam Neil) and his botanist girlfriend Ellie Satler (Laura Dern) are impressed with the science, but don’t think it is wise for man to revive animals that were naturally wiped out by evolution. Chaos theorist Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) believes there are too many unknown variables and that chaos will ultimately prevail. On the other hand greedy lawyer Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) is only concerned with how much money the park will generate. Well, it was pretty easy to predict how that guy was going to end up. When my brother and I would re-watch the movie on VHS, we would have fun with Gennaro when he said how if in 48 hours the investors are not convinced, he is not convinced and he would shut down the park. We would look at each other and say “in 48 hours, he’s dinosaur poop.”
Thanks to the sabotage of engineer Denis Nedry (Wayne Knight), quite a few characters do end up as dinosaur meals after the park’s fences shut down in the middle of a hurricane that hits the island. Big brachiosaurs had already been revealed early on, but during the sequence when the T-rex breaks out of his fence that was when you knew this was a whole other ball game. It’s a hell of a suspenseful reveal too, with that big thumping coming out of nowhere as the rain is falling outside, the glasses of water vibrating, the two kids wondering what happened to the goat, and then a bloody part of it landing on the jeep’s car. Hold on to your butts kids.
Seeing poor Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards) nearly get crushed by the T-rex and be hunted by the raptors in that also incredibly suspenseful kitchen scene were some the scariest scenes I had seen at the time. Again, I was around six, so I have to say that PG-13 rating was very well-deserved.
Yet no matter how scared I was the first time I saw it, over the years I have kept coming back to the world of Jurassic Park, whether by eventually reading Michael Crichton’s book for a school assignment, getting the entire trilogy on DVD, and re-watching the first movie when it was re-released in 3D in 2013. It scared the living daylights out of me the first time, but man did I have one hell of a ride. Jeff Goldblum lightened the mood with some funny lines (“What do they got in there? King Kong?”), the music by John Williams filled me with wonder as the helicopter flew into the island, and the effects were so great you thought dinosaurs were once again walking the Earth.
Here’s hoping next year’s Jurassic World can measure up to the impact of the original. If not, I can always hop on for another tour in the original park.