A Walk In the “Park”: A Look Back at Jurassic Park (and its sequels) – Part I
Summer of 1993 was a big year for cinema history. It was a turning point for moviegoers when film could push further boundaries with the available technology and transport them to new worlds. From into an action movie or deep into an alternate universe, audiences were given a great opportunity no matter how good or bad these movies got. And then Jurassic Park happened and changed everything.
Now you can have a smart blockbuster and still cram as many action scenes as you wish. The ability to blend practical effects with digital work seamlessly. While smart and unique characters along with a solid story is a constant issue, we still get a rare gem once in a while like last year’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes and my personal favorite Guardians of the Galaxy. But when you really think back, a lot is owed to Jurassic Park for pushing that momentum. Sure, a lot of summer movies before the dino-flick where big hits, but when you really think about it, this Steven Spielberg classic perfected it.
To understand how much this franchise means to me, let me take you back to a time when I was young and into dinosaurs. Everyone at that time was just insane for these prehistoric creatures and we didn’t know why. Some say it was the leftover B-movies of the 1980s, many could point to Don Bluth’s Land Before Time as sparking interest while others say it was the ABC sitcom Dinosaurs. Regardless, I remember being curious about these extinct monsters and wondering how they would have lived back then.
My only view to this was in children’s movies like Land Before Time and We’re Back: A Dinosaur’s Story. There were cartoony with the exception of Land Before Time skewing for drama. But most of what I saw had walking and talking dinosaurs as opposed to the beastly beings I was eager to see. It wasn’t until I was 5 years old that I finally would see the popular dinosaur blockbuster and my mind was blown.
At last, I could finally view these long gone creatures in their primal view and marvel at them. True, it was no kid’s film but I knew at the time it was only a movie considering what I watched for a while. It was a huge change of pace and I always wondered how they were able to use animals that don’t walk the Earth. Well, as I got older and began to appreciate movies, I was amazed to see the technical craft they put into making the film. Keep in mind, CGI was new at the time and the never ending possibilities were growing. In my teen years, I began to appreciate the effort more than the movie and just how the blend between an anamatronic T.Rex and a digital one were edited so seamlessly.
Well, 20 years after seeing this movie for the first time and after a revisit, I can proudly say this is my “Star Wars.” Of course, the space epic holds a place in my heart as much as everyone, but Jurassic Park is to me a movie that really grows with you. As a kid, you wonder at the magic and question how it was done. As a teen, you start to see behind the curtain and appreciate the craft. As an adult, you marvel at not just how well done the special effects hold up but also the characters and story.
I think my favorite character has to be John Hammond played by Richard Attenborough, the elderly tycoon who put together the idea of creating a theme park island full of dinosaurs. Many could argue he is a Scottish Walt Disney that is chasing the dream and even point to Frankenstein as a person who wishes to bring something back to life. Today, I actually see him more as a sane Dr. Moreau. Really think about! A man who crafts these creatures on an island for all to see, he has a set hosts that question the morals of what he is doing and still believes in the idea even his guests think otherwise.
The biggest difference here is that Hammond is not trying to break new ground or is even greedy. My favorite scene I always point to for evidence is when he talks to one of the paleontologists about his feelings for the park and how he once had a fake flea circus in the past. He goes on to explain how his flea circus was mechanical and fooled the kid’s into thinking it was real. It shows a sympathetic side but even a tragic one. No matter how much he wants to give back with something believable, he doesn’t realize the damage in front of his eyes. From extinct creatures in a new world to even placing people in harm’s way, he chases a dream that keeps getting hampered by reality.
Two paleontologists, Alan Grant and Ellen Sattler (Sam Neil and Laura Dern) act as our focus of reality. Like the viewer, we delight in seeing these creatures in awe as much as they convince us the power of seeing a brachiosauraus in front of our eyes. But when we learn how the dinosaurs are crafted thanks to cloning and using frog DNA for missing spots, we start to question John Hammond’s morals along with the disadvantages of dinosaurs in a zoo. And surprisingly, we see all these elements play out from not knowing what type of plants are safe to even understanding the animistic instinct of a T. rex. Even before things get out of control, we already see that things are from a sick Triceratops and worker casualties trying to get the Velociraptors in containment.
The rest of the characters hold up as well with some exceptions. Jeff Goldblum plays a mathematician named Ian Malcolm whose theories range between interesting to questionable when going on about chaos theories. The only thing that makes him entertaining enough is Jeff’s awkward performance as he proposes on theory after another and either laugh how ridiculous they are or at the skeptical nature of the character.
Then, we have Hammond’s grandchildren, Lex and Tim. Yes, I am aware they were in the Michael Chrichton novel this is based from, but both characters are ok. I don’t have a huge qualm with child acting as long as it’s done right. These two have quirks that get used later on from a dinosaur expert and a computer whizz. Though at times, I feel like they are there to attract the kid audience but it still works. Some viewers might be bothered to see two youngsters in danger but they make up for it by having them be smart and not dumb cliches like in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
Honestly, there is so much to talk about this movie that even this blog post can’t do much justice. The dinosaur effects are incredible and still hold up to this day along with key set pieces. The T. Rex attack is classic but my personal favorite has to be when the Velociraptors chase the heroes around the main building. It starts off intense and just builds and builds as we change from one room to another as our leads try to outsmart these clever predators. Bottom line, this movie really knows how to put you on the edge of your seat and engaged at the screen.
Jurassic Park meant a lot to me as a kid and still does as an adult but in a different light. Back then, it was the first movie I can think of that realistically portrayed dinosaurs in their own habitat. No cheesy monster movies and no cartoons. I didn’t care much for the story and plot but found myself enjoying everything around it. A smart decision was having the T. Rex attack and Dennis’ encounter with the Dilaphosaurus play without background musical score. It really adds to the awe factor as we don’t know if we should take this is a mesmerizing moment or quiver with fear on the sofa.
As an adult, it’s almost like returning to your favorite amusement park and reminiscing about the rides you went on while discovering something new. There’s really no reason to keep explaining why I hold this movie so dear to me and is one of my top favorites. We get likable characters, amazing monsters and a unique premise that is cheesy but plausible on the big screen. I loved it as a kid and will cherish more as I grow older. But little did I know…there was more to come…
TO BE CONTINUED!
Posted on June 12, 2015, in Thoughts on Hollywood and Stuff and tagged 1993, Childhood, Dinosaurs, Franchise, Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park, Memoir, Richard Attenborough, Steven Spielberg, T. Rex. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.