There are three things in this world that are considered common knowledge: the sun rises in the east, waffles are better than pancakes, and Jurassic Park is the greatest movie ever made. Directed by some guy named Steven, Jurassic Park took the world by storm in 1993 – bringing dinosaurs back to life with an equal mix of terror, heart, and Dino DNA.
Twenty-three years after its release, Jurassic Park is as popular of an attraction as it’s ever been – with a legacy that has endured two not-very-good sequels and a so-so fourth installment of the franchise. How has it remained prevalent through all of these years, though? In a world occupied by comic book films, movie-goers everywhere yearn still for the park to be great again. Whether or not a future installment of the series will manage to capture the magic of this legendary picture remains to be seen, but we can always look back fondly and reminisce over the things that truly make this dino-pic a special film.
Welcome… to Jurassic Park.
Crichton’s Source Material:
Michael Crichton was one of the greatest writers to ever walk this planet, period. With forays into science fiction, medical fiction, the thriller genre, and even screenplays, Crichton has more than earned his legendary status. Among his most famous of novels is a science fiction cautionary tale about genetic engineering and the danger it presents. That novel, of course, is Jurassic Park.
Originally created as a screenplay by Crichton in 1983, Jurassic Park began as the story of a graduate student who recreates a dinosaur. Eventually reasoning that genetic research is expensive and that “there is no pressing need to create a dinosaur,” Crichton ultimately decided that the recreation of these creatures would stem from the desire to entertain – thus leading to one of the most thrilling pieces of literature ever conceived. Crichton went on to adapt his highly successful novel into a screenplay, along with David Koepp, to be made into a film by Steven Spielberg. While the film varies from the happenings of the novel, Jurassic Park is an endlessly thrilling adventure, and Crichton’s source material is the heart of it all.
Just as Michael Crichton is among the all-time great authors, Steven Spielberg is undoubtedly among the greatest filmmakers. Perhaps the most talented man to ever get behind a camera, Spielberg has given us more unforgettable cinematic masterpieces than any director, probably ever. With films such as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Saving Private Ryan, and a list that goes on and on, Spielberg has proven himself time and again to possess the talent it takes to put magic on the screen for his audience to experience – and I do mean experience. Rarely has Spielberg made a film that does not elicit some sort of emotional response from his viewer – be it the fear of the ocean after witnessing a shark terrorize the citizens of Amity Island in Jaws, or the chills and tears of pure joy every time the bicycles take flight in E.T. the Extra Terrestrial.
The same can be said for his work on Jurassic Park. This is a rare film in that it doesn’t elicit just one response from the viewer. It was meant to thrill, and it surely does that, but there are different elements to this film that make it a truly remarkable accomplishment. Not only are we on the edge of our seats throughout most of the runtime, we spend an equal amount of time in complete awe of what we’re witnessing on screen.
These ARE dinosaurs.
We are introduced to the creatures within the park at the same time as Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler, and our reactions mirror each other’s entirely. The use of animatronics (which I’ll get to soon) played a big role in that as well, but realistic dinosaurs don’t mean shit, quite frankly, if the film around the creations doesn’t know how to make them feel real and alive. Steven Spielberg succeeded in not only making them feel real, but in making them feel magical and terrifying, all at the same time.
The Use of Realistic Animatronics:
If a day comes that I travel to the land of the lost, I fully expect dinosaurs to look like they did in Jurassic Park. With ground-breaking CGI by Industrial Light & Magic and life-sized animatronic dinosaurs built by Stan Winston and his crew, there has never been a robotic creature more life-like than these.
To create these magnificent animals, Steven Spielberg sought the best effects supervisors in Hollywood: Stan Winston, known for his work in the Terminator series, Aliens, the first two Predator films, and Pumpkinhead, was brought on to create the animatronic dinosaurs; Phil Tippett, known for his animation in the original Star Wars trilogy, was hired to create go motion dinosaurs for long shots and was credited in the film as the dinosaur supervisor; Michael Lantieri, who has worked with Spielberg several times, was brought on to supervise the on-set effects; and Dennis Muren of Industrial Light & Magic was recruited to do the digital compositing. Jack Horner, a paleontologist, was also brought on set to help supervise the designs, as Spielberg wanted to portray the dinosaurs as animals rather than monsters. Horner’s involvement in the film led to many discussions and culminated in the entry of the concept that dinosaurs have very little in common with lizards and that they most likely evolved into birds.
The Characters and Performances:
Let’s talk about Dr. Alan Grant for one damn second, please. I didn’t just admire this man as a child, I wanted to actually be him when I grew up. His “no bullshit, I legitimately know more than you” attitude was played to perfection by Sam Neill. Let’s face it, Dr. Grant is a bit of an asshole, but Neill plays him as a lovable asshole who never comes across as pretentious. 23 years have passed and we’re still rooting for this hero.
Laura Dern is fantastic, too, as Dr. Ellie Sattler – a paleobotanist who might actually be smarter than Alan, even. Dern plays Ellie as a caring, mother-like figure – a stark contrast in comparison to Dr. Grant, who hates children. The two of them, though entirely opposite in many aspects, have an interesting, often funny chemistry together that keeps us hoping the pair will reunite after being separated in the park.
The late, great Richard Attenborough is fantastic also as InGen’s billionaire CEO and the creator of the park. He begins the film as a greedy man who will do whatever it takes for the park to be successful, only to have a change of heart as the film moves along. His character’s grandchildren, Tim and Alexis Murphy, portrayed by Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards, respectively, are great in the film as well. Spielberg has a knack for wringing great performances out of children, and Mazzello & Richards knock it out of the park (the Jurassic Park, wink).
As I’ve aged, however, it’s become apparent to me that Jurassic Park is really just a showcase for Jeff Goldblum‘s eccentric nature. Dr. Ian Malcolm, a mathematician and chaos theorist, steals each scene that he’s a part of thanks to Goldbulm’s witty, odd, and charming performance. Goldblum returned to the role a few years later for the film’s sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, this time as the lead character. Speaking of the sequels…
The Terrible Sequels:
The Lost World: Jurassic Park is one of Steven Spielberg’s rare missteps as a director. With an inconsistent tone and a story that’s all over the place, the sequel failed to live up to the standard set by its predecessor, instead making for a mess of a film that is actually kind of boring. Good ol’ JP3 is where things got really messy, however. With a terrible script, countless implausibilities, laughable dialogue, and a talking raptor sequence – not even the return of Alan Grant could save Jurassic Park III from being the low point of a declining franchise. These sequels prove how difficult, and maybe even lucky, it was to make Jurassic Park such an incredible film – which is all the more reason to appreciate everything this movie accomplished.
After a fourteen year hiatus, however, the franchise returned in 2015 with the sequel/reboot Jurassic World. While the fourth installment is far from perfect, it’s quite the improvement over the previous two installments (thanks largely to the on-screen presence of Chris Pratt), and makes me hopeful for the franchise moving forward.
John Williams‘ career speaks for itself. Composing the scores for films such as Jaws, E.T., the Star Wars series, the Indiana Jones films, and the first three films of the Harry Potter franchise, Williams is truly a legend. His theme in Jurassic Park, however, is my favorite of all. The score is as mesmerizing and memorable as the film itself. I implore you to give it a listen. You’ll be humming for weeks.
Jurassic Park is a film that’s meant as much to pop culture as it has meant to me personally. I was two years old when the film was released, and I’ve watched it frequently every year since. Though films and ideas about films are constantly changing, Jurassic Park has survived and thrived, just as all the classics do, and is destined to be remembered as one of the greatest films of our time. Hold on to your butts.