#629) Jurassic Park (1993)
OR “Dino Might”
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Michael Crichton and David Koepp. Based on the novel by Crichton.
Class of 2018
The Plot: Paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and his partner Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) are invited by the wealthy and eccentric John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) to give a safety certification for his unopened Jurassic Park, a theme park showcasing real-life dinosaurs cloned from preserved DNA samples. Joined by mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), the scientists’ tour sparks a debate about the ethics of cloning an extinct species. Meanwhile, disgruntled Hammond employee Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) deactivates the park’s security system to steal dinosaur embryos for a rival company, allowing the dinosaurs to roam beyond their secured paddocks. What follows is some classic Spielberg action with groundbreaking visual effects.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “the epitome of the summer blockbuster”, praising its “skill, flair [and] popcorn-chomping excitement”.
But Does It Really?: Surprisingly, I don’t have a lot to say about “Jurassic Park” other than it’s good, it’s very good. “Jurassic Park” is Spielberg at the height of his power, combining the primal action of “Jaws” with some of the more philosophical themes of his ’80s filmography, while simultaneously pushing the boundaries of film special effects and in doing so changing them forever. 30 years on, “Jurassic Park” has more than left an indelible mark on film history and pop culture, and its inclusion into the NFR was a long time coming.
Shout Outs: Quick references to “King Kong” and “Gertie the Dinosaur“, and keep an eye out of a clip from “Jaws” playing on Nedry’s computer screen. Bonus shout-out: Thanks to the logo of Spielberg’s Amblin company, the last moment of the end credits features E.T.
Everybody Gets One: New Zealand actor Sam Neill was starting to make a name for himself in America when he was cast as Alan Grant mere weeks before shooting began (William Hurt and Harrison Ford had turned it down). Indie darling Laura Dern was Spielberg’s first choice to play Ellie Sattler based on her work in “Smooth Talk” and “Rambling Rose”; “Jurassic Park” was her first major studio film. Director Richard Attenborough returned to acting after a 14 year hiatus to play John Hammond. Attenborough had previously won two Oscars for his 1982 epic “Gandhi”, beating out – among others – Spielberg’s “E.T.”, which even Attenborough conceded was the better movie.
Wow, That’s Dated: Thankfully not too much of this movie feels dated, besides the early ’90s Macintosh computers used throughout. I also love the moment where Lex gets very excited about the Jeep’s touchscreen technology. No 12-year-old would be impressed by that today.
Seriously, Oscars?: The same year Spielberg swept the Oscars with “Schindler’s List“, “Jurassic Park” went three-for-three, winning Best Sound, Sound Effects Editing, and Visual Effects. The Visual Effects recipients delivered one of my favorite Oscar speeches of all time, with all four of them giving their thanks simultaneously at the podium.
- While collaborating on a potential screenplay set in a hospital (which would later evolve into the TV series “ER”), Michael Crichton told Steven Spielberg his idea for a novel based on his screenplay about a grad student who clones a dinosaur (and no, it was not called “Billy and the Cloneasaurus“). By the time “Jurassic Park” was published in November 1990, Universal had bought the film rights with Spielberg set to direct (among those they outbid were directors Tim Burton, Richard Donner, and Joe Dante). Spielberg got “Schindler’s List” greenlight at Universal on the condition he made “Jurassic” first, and he supervised the “Jurassic” post-production via video conferencing while filming “Schindler” in Austria.
- For the film’s dinosaurs, Spielberg turned once again to effects powerhouse ILM, who started creating life-sized animatronics as well as stop-motion models. Originally, computer graphics would be used to enhance the stop-motion dinosaurs, but ILM’s computer animation team believed all the dinosaur model work could be done with computers. A skeptical Spielberg changed his mind upon seeing an early test animation, which also prompted stop-motion supervisor Phil Tippett to declare “I think I just became extinct”, a line that found its way into the final film.
- Spielberg starts things off with his trademark “People Looking Meaningfully at Something Off-Camera”. To quote Liz Lemon, “Oh no, you start with that?” Also, I forgot that the first casualty in this movie is a person of color. Come on Steven. Why don’t you have him wear a red tunic while you’re at it?
- Alan’s first scene is the opposite of a “pet the dog” scene, in which he tells an annoying kid how a raptor would kill him. Just great.
- Newman! Wayne Knight was cast based on his work in “Basic Instinct”, and plays the kind of obnoxious antagonist he excelled at. That being said, I always enjoyed him playing against-type as Officer Don on “3rd Rock from the Sun”.
- I’ve realized I don’t talk a lot about John Williams on this blog, despite chronicling all the major hits of his film career. He’s so good, he falls into that category of “He’s always good”. For “Jurassic Park”, his score perfectly encapsulates the sense of wonder and excitement that would no doubt be present if dinosaurs were to actually reappear. Williams’ music does its job so effectively you just naturally accept it as the emotional truth of the scene.
- If you want to cast an actor who can make scientific mumbo jumbo sound interesting, you could do worse than Jeff Goldblum. His performance here is 90% quirks and stammering, and while it’s a bit distracting, it’s also highly memorable. You can’t say the line “Life finds a way” without emulating Goldblum’s “uh-uh” in the middle.
- “Jurassic Park” is one of the few movies I can think of whose poster logo and font are present within the universe of the movie. And who says corporate synergy ruined the movies?
- The Mr. D.N.A. sequence was created especially for the film as a way for Spielberg to cram in all of the novel’s exposition in the shortest (and most entertaining) way possible. The segment was directed by Bob Kurtz, fresh off his animated opening credits for “City Slickers” and “Honeymoon in Vegas”.
- Remember when you could have an extended ethics debate in the middle of your action movie and still be the biggest moneymaker of the year? Good times.
- Of course, that’s Samuel L. Jackson in one of his final secondary roles before “Pulp Fiction” changed everything. He even has a catchphrase: “Hold onto your butts”, which I’m only now realizing may be a reference to his character’s constant smoking.
- I love that they actually got Richard Kiley to be the on-ride narrator. Truly, no expense was spared.
- Maybe the most amazing feat this movie pulls off: The first major action sequence doesn’t happen until an hour into the movie! The first half of “Jurassic Park” is the equivalent of eating all your vegetables (plot exposition and moral arguments) before getting to gorge yourself on all the dessert you want.
- Shoutout to Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards for being two of the least annoying child actors in film history, and one of the last in a long line of Spielberg’s “kids in peril” trope. Side note: How did I forget that one of the kids is named Timmy? Was Crichton watching “Lassie” on Nick at Nite when he wrote this?
- I know this isn’t a hot take, but man alive those special effects are so damn good. The combination of CG dinosaurs, life-sized animatronics, and stop-motion miniatures is so seamless, there’s a point where you stop guessing how they did it and just accept that dinosaurs are real. A+ to everyone involved.
- Every scene I remember from this movie happens in the second hour. The T-Rex/Jeep chase (“Must go faster”), Goldblum’s weird open-shirt shot, Muldoon’s “Clever girl”, etc. I imagine a lot of kids my age fast-forwarded through the first half of their VHS copies.
- If I may allow myself one nitpick: As a theme park fan I’m upset Hammond says Disneyland opened in 1956 (a factual error also present in the film’s screenplay). That being said, whenever I watch a video essay that begins “When Disneyland opened in July 1955…” I always say “nothing worked” out loud.
- Laura Dern spends most of the movie being amused or scared by her surroundings, but at least she gets to do a little action near the end, and is definitely doing her own stunts in a few shots. Get it, Laura Dern!
- The raptor chase scene in the kitchen is wonderfully thrilling, and highlights the film’s thesis in a nutshell: If dinosaurs were to come back, human survival would rest on our ability to adapt and evolve.
- “Jurassic Park” is the only movie I can think of that ends with a Deus T-Rex Machina. Also, due to the shot of the dinosaur skeleton being destroyed, this movie technically has the same ending as “Bringing Up Baby“.
- Still, not the worst experience I’ve ever had at a theme park.
- “Jurassic Park” opened in June 1993, and by October had surpassed “E.T.” as the highest-grossing film of all time. In the ensuing 30 years, “Jurassic Park” has been celebrated by filmmakers, critics, and audiences as one of the best modern action movies.
- The film’s biggest impact was on the industry’s seemingly overnight switch from optical effects to computers, with every major director seeing the evolution as a chance to let their imagination run wild. Peter Jackson was inspired to consider a film adaptation of “The Lord of the Rings”, Stanley Kubrick revived his pet project “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” (which would, somewhat ironically, ultimately be directed by Spielberg), and George Lucas was convinced the technology could finally bring his “Star Wars” prequel trilogy to life.
- The success of “Jurassic Park” saw a surge in the number of Michael Crichton novels that received film adaptations. Within five years of “Jurassic Park” we got film versions of “Rising Sun”, “Disclosure”, “Congo”, and “Sphere”. Crichton also co-wrote and co-produced the 1996 film “Twister”. Who knew?
- Talks of a “Jurassic Park” sequel (both in book and film form) began immediately after the film’s success. Crichton’s “The Lost World” (his first ever sequel book) was published in September 1995, with Spielberg agreeing to helm the film adaptation shortly thereafter. While a box office hit upon its release in May 1997, critics and audiences (as well as Spielberg in hindsight) weren’t as enthused about “The Lost World”. A third film, 2001’s “Jurassic Park III, saw even more diminishing returns.
- Plans for a fourth “Jurassic Park” languished in development hell for the better part of the 2000s, with Spielberg rejecting draft after draft. By the early 2010s, an idea for a legacy sequel that would serve as the starting point of a new trilogy was greenlit, becoming 2015’s “Jurassic World”. As with the original trilogy, “World” was an instant hit, while its sequels (with increasing amounts of nostalgic fan service) failed to connect.
- Among the “Jurassic Park” spin-offs were the inevitable toys and video games, but my favorite was “Jurassic Park: The Ride” at Universal Studios, which has unfortunately been replaced in California with a “Jurassic World’ layover.
- “Jurassic Park” is also responsible for what has been dubbed “The Jurassic Generation”: the group of kids who became lifelong dinosaur fanatics thanks to the success of this film. Most of my peers are in this group, though I missed out due to my chronic habit of ignoring practically every major trend of my childhood. Hence the classic film blog.
- Did you know that there was a “Jurassic Park” animated series on Netflix? I sure didn’t. “Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous” centers around a group of kids at a dinosaur summer camp where – and you’re not going to believe this – something goes wrong.
- But perhaps the greatest impact the original “Jurassic Park” film has had on our popular culture: Memes! So many memes. Here’s a sampling of some of my favorites.
Further Viewing: Easily one of my top 5 favorite YouTube videos ever has a “Jurassic Park” connection, and it makes me laugh out loud every time.
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