FRANCHISE REWIND: Jurassic Park (1993)

Jurassic Park, 1993 (Sam Neill) Universal Pictures

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

I don’t know why we didn’t get around to seeing Jurassic Park in its original run. Maybe I was working, but I did eventually get down to the second-run Cineplex Worldwide Plaza in Hell’s Kitchen. This was a fantastic, clean theater with six screens showing second-run movies for two bucks a ticket! It was a paradise for movie lovers. I think it was August or September when we finally got down to the Cineplex to see Jurassic Park (in DTS, no less) and it was incredible to watch.

Initial impressions were that Spielberg’s Hook didn’t fare so well, and he had taken a turn somewhere down the road after Always, and wanted to get back into kid’s movies because he was in danger of becoming irrelevant. 1993 would represent a massive comeback, first with Jurassic Park, and later with Schindler’s List. He made a movie for kids and a movie for adults in the same year. This is every filmmaker’s dream (even if they don’t care to admit it); to be able to appeal to two different demographics.

Based on the book (“inspired by” would be more accurate) by Michael Crichton, we’ve taken dinosaurs (through cloning) and turned them into an amusement park attraction. You don’t need to read the book or see the movie to figure out what will happen. This is a classic Crichton technology-run-amok story, but Spielberg strips it down (much as he did with Jaws) to the basics. Paleontologist power couple, Sam Neill and Laura Dern, along with self-described “Chaotician” Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) are given a tour/demonstration of Richard Attenborough’s “Jurassic Park,” a nature preserve and wildlife park set up for the exhibition of previously-extinct dinosaurs.

On paper, it sounds incredible. Also on paper, I would put better gates and fences in and not have the park so completely dependent on computers in order to operate. Crichton hates computers! You can already identify the potential problems before they occur. The problem with “Jurassic Park” isn’t the dinosaurs or the scientists. The problem with “Jurassic Park” is disgruntled computer programmer, Newman—I mean, Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight). Nedry engages in a little espionage, stealing dinosaur DNA and selling it to the competition (I can’t believe there’s competition).

In order to do so, he must shut down the park, which causes all the installed security to go haywire leaving the group (including Hammond’s two grandchildren) at the mercy of raging T. Rexes and intrepid Velociraptors. If Nedry had not been attacked and killed by a Dilophosaurus, I would have asked for his resignation. The movie became iconic, featuring scenes of dinosaurs rampaging, narrow escapes, and shots burned into the pop culture consciousness.

It was the first movie to use CGI in a consistent and dependable fashion, but the effects succeed more in their relationships with physical space and interplay with actors. Physical models were created and then used 1:1 with computer-constructed models. The more impressive shots in the movie, for me, are the T. rex attacking the vehicles, smashing through a jeep sunroof, and chewing on tires. You believe it when you see the kids screaming. It’s an astonishing scene that has no right to be as scary as it is (because of the dinosaur contrivance) but it works beautifully.

The velociraptors are quite impressive as well, but they take on a bigger role in the second movie, The Lost World. There were some interesting criticisms at the time of Jurassic Park’s release. Spielberg’s over-reliance on the visual effects over story; the opposite of Jaws in that Spielberg waited for a long time before revealing the shark, but if Spielberg had gotten what he wanted with that movie, we would’ve seen the shark a lot sooner. He had to play the psychological angle because the shark was not working. It turned out to be the best decision Spielberg had ever made in his career. We learn two valuable lessons with Jurassic Park: don’t show the shark, and don’t hire irresponsible computer programmers!

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