An Adventure 65 Million Years in the Making
Jurassic Park is directed by Steven Spielberg and is based on the 1990 novel of the same name by Michael Crichton, who also served as a screenwriter. The film stars Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, B.D. Wong, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight, Joseph Mazzello, and Ariana Richards. It is the first installment in the Jurassic Park franchise and won over twenty awards, which included three Academy Awards for its visual effects and sound design.
1993. What a year for Mr. Steven Spielberg. 1993 was the year of not one, but two of the beloved director's finest works: the popcorn, special effects entertainment experience of a lifetime Jurassic Park and the hard-hitting, historical depiction of the Holocaust Schindler's List. Schindler's List is a review for another day, and with a fifth Jurassic Park film on its way, it's as good of a time as ever for me to go back and give Jurassic Park a full viewing for the first time since I was, I'm gonna say since I was 10 or 11. After all, if people didn't love and adore Jurassic Park back in 1993 and never let the film go on to be the highest grossing film of all time until the release of 1997's Titanic, why would you even entertain the thought of Jurassic Park getting a whopping four sequels and counting, with one of those sequels getting an even larger box office gross than Jurassic Park?
I have not come here to sing a song of praise for the movie's achievements in CGI and animatronics; there are more than enough people out there who have seen the movie and will tell you, "The dinosaurs look so cool!" What I will do in this review is tell you that while Jurassic Park is still great and hasn't lost an ounce of its entertainment value 25 years later, it maybe isn't as good as you think it is, especially when sitting next to Jaws, Spielberg's other "monster" movie that is almost impossible to ignore when discussing Jurassic Park. Jaws dwarfs Jurassic Park's thrills a little bit, because Jaws instills into us a very realistic sense of terror while maintaining its status as an interesting character study and a thrilling piece of popcorn cinema. Jurassic Park, meanwhile, does a masterful job in the popcorn cinema department, but is a little lacking in character development and in generating pure terror, mostly because we all understand that sharks are very real and capable of making headlines here in 2018, while dinosaurs going extinct 65 million years ago means we don't need to be fearful that a T-Rex may eat us for lunch the next time we go on a bike ride.
I will assume you've seen the movie and know the plot, but for those of you who may not have seen it yet (if so, I highly encourage you to go and see the film the next chance you get), I'll mention it here: Industrialist John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) and his company, InGen, have successfully found a way to clone dinosaurs from dinosaur DNA found in mosquitoes that had been preserved in amber. The cloned dinosaurs are put inside a theme park called Jurassic Park on the Costa Rican island Isla Nublar. However, potential investors for the park demand that experts visit the island and ensure that it is safe for any and all visitors. Invited to the island are paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and chaos theorist Iam Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), all of whom are overwhelmed by the site of the living, breathing dinosaurs. The group is joined on their park tour by Hammond's grandchildren, Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello) Murphy.
The tour turns out to be a disappointment, with most of the dinosaurs failing to make an appearance. A tropical storm hits the island during the tour, and just as the storm is arriving, Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), the park's top computer programmer, deactivates the parks's security system in order to go and steal some of the valuable dinosaur embryos (in hopes of selling the embryos to one of Hammond's business rivals). The dinosaurs are able to escape with the power out and the security system down, and the tour group must now find a way to get to safety and avoid being eaten by the T-Rex or any of the other meat-eating dinosaurs.
- It's amazing how the CGI in Jurassic Park, a movie now 25 years old, looks tons better than the CGI in a large portion of action/adventure/sci-fi films today. Seeing the effects in a movie like this one makes me scratch my head and wonder, even with more advanced technology since this movie's initial release, how is it that there are still so many big-budget CGI-spectacles coming out today that look like they were shot over the weekend? There's no longer a true love for the craft, a love for the process of trying to make some giant, monstrous creature(s) look as scary and as realistic as can be. Thankfully there is always solace looking back and watching a movie like Jurassic Park, because it serves as a reminder that there was a time when the effort put into special effects by filmmakers was clear as day and shined through the cinema screen. Jurassic Park was an example of how CGI can enhance a movie, and not always detract from it.
- That T-Rex. Spielberg knew you wanted a T-Rex, and you better believe he gives you one. Every scene the T-Rex is in is the best part of the movie.
- Jurassic Park also keeps up a sense of humor to ensure that the movie is always fun, with a lot of the most memorable lines coming from Mr. Jeff Goldblum. You know the ones I'm talking about.
- Now then, what in the world is making me say that Jurassic Park isn't as good as everyone thinks it is? The answer is that the movie is weighed down by cynicism, cynicism that deflates the sense of awe and the general amazement that the movie should be overflowing with. The extent of the movie's wonder is the scene where the group first sees the dinosaurs, specifically a Brachiosaurus. In scenes that immediately follow, the group shows a skeptical attitude towards John Hammond, his work, and all of his hopes for what Jurassic Park could be. Dr. Malcolm criticizes Hammond's controlled breeding method (we are told all of the dinosaurs are female), stating the method will inevitably break down. Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler question the ethics behind the dinosaur cloning, and argue that man and dinosaurs cannot co-exist.
The park turning out to be a failure is no surprise. How else would a movie with dinosaurs be a summer popcorn blockbuster? The problem here is that the wonder behind seeing the dinosaurs turns to cynicism in the blink of an eye, with the eventual dinosaur outbreak not having the level of heartbreak that would come had the character's not turned to skepticism so quickly. Dr. Grant and Dr. Settler could have spent more time being overwhelmed by what John Hammond offers them, desiring to see as many of the dinosaurs as possible because Jurassic Park is a dream come true for them and their work. As the movie progresses, the two could slowly turn to skepticism as they keep thinking over everything they've seen, and it finally dawns on them that the park won't work. John Hammond could have remained in a stubborn state of denial throughout the movie, even as the park is falling apart around him. By the end of the movie, however, he would see how his vision ended in disaster, hence, the heartbreak that the movie leaves on the table. What the cynicism does is soften the blow of the park's collapse, turning the second half of the movie into a pure fight for survival, as opposed to a fight for survival where our characters come to think deeper about how dinosaurs would exist in the human world, something that would fuel character development and the suspense.
I'll tell you what though, cynicism or not, there's no denying that Jurassic Park has established itself as not just a dinosaur movie, but the dinosaur movie. Steven Spielberg has put together an entertaining popcorn film that is still loads better than the summer junk that has been put out there in recent years. The fact that there are still Jurassic Park/World movies being made today should tell you just how much people were fascinated by seeing these dinosaurs on screen back in 1993, and that Jurassic Park was that big of a deal. Like, almost Star Wars level-big deal. And while this franchise would develop a series of problems as it went along with its sequels, we will always have Jurassic Park to remind us why we started to love watching dinosaurs on screen and why they are titans of summer popcorn cinema.
Recommend? Yes. I'd recommend you watch it right away if you haven't seen it yet, because it's that popular.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: