Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park remains an innovative, groundbreaking and inspiring classic as it did when it was originally released 25 years ago in June.
Shortly after the incident on Isla Nublar and the quick introduction of lawyer Donald Gennaro, the film really gets going with paleontologists Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and paleobotonist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) digging up a velociraptor in Montana. Their dig is shortly interrupted by a helicopter, which leads to Grant and Sattler learning of John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) request for them to join him on a weekend visit to the island. It’s on the helicopter ride in which mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is introduced. Why exactly a mathematician was needed is still a question to this day but Malcolm delivers some of the film’s best quotes.
The moment when jeeps stop and Dr. Grant looks up remains one of those awe-inspiring moments. The framing and their reactions hit so well. Grant doesn’t look away as he turns Ellie’s face towards the sight of the Brachiosaurus standing in front of their own eyes. It’s only then that we hear Hammond’s classic line, “Welcome to Jurassic Park!”
The tour, now featuring Hammond’s grandchildren Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello), is going well aside from a sick triceratops and two no-shows. It’s not until lead computer programmer, Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), shuts down the security programming in order to steal embryos in order to give them to one of Ingen’s rivals. Bad idea on Nedry’s part with the looming hurricane. He never makes the drop but the damage is done, leaving the likes of chief engineer Ray Arnold (an under-utilized Samuel L. Jackson) to clean up his mess.
With Sattler helping Dr. Harding with the sick triceratops, she’s out of the immediate harm’s way when the power goes out. Grant, Lex, and Tim escape the T-Rex but only after Malcolm ignores Grant’s advice and gets himself injured while Gennaro took the cowardly way out by running to the bathroom, only to become dinner shortly thereafter.
Back in the control room, game warden Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) and Sattler risk their lives near the raptor paddock to turn the power and fences back online. It doesn’t end so well for Muldoon but Sattler saves the day but not before a flinch-worthy moment with a raptor that attacks her as she turns the system on.
Spielberg took a big risk in adapting Michael Crichton’s novel, which Crichton adapted into a screenplay with David Koepp, for the big screen. The visual effects were nowhere near where they needed to be when the project was likely taking shape because they had to invent the technology. This isn’t a monster movie either. Crichton comes up with the idea of dinosaur DNA being stored in mosquitoes trapped in fossilized amber. It’s a legitimate way of bringing the prehistoric creatures back from extinction, Maybe one day, we’ll have the technology to bring back some of the nicer herbivores and avoid a San Diego incident!
As is the case with so many books adapted into film, things get cut. Two scenes that seemed horrific at the time were cut but later found their way into The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3. This is good because it would have been too much for the tone of Jurassic Park. There’s enough carnage already and those scenes would have added onto it.
A lot of credit in the design of the animals and in the script, to an extent, ought to go to paleontologist consultant Jack Horner. It’s because of him that the working theories of the day–such as dinosaurs evolving into birds–made it onto the big screen in 1993. Without him, the science side of the film simply wouldn’t work.
It’s hard to believe that we could live in a universe where Harrison Ford played Grant and Jim Carrey played Malcolm. Ford is just too associated with Indiana Jones and Han Solo to where one can buy into adding Grant into the mix. As it turns out, Neill and Goldblum are absolutely perfect for the roles.
Perhaps what should be celebrated the most about Jurassic Park is that it was the beginning of the end of an era in visual effects and the start of another. The dinosaurs in the film appear by way of animatronics and visual effects. It’s a spectacle to behold in that regard–truly innovative and groundbreaking. The advancement of special effects in Jurassic Park helped pave the way for a change in blockbuster filmmaking. Without the technology that was invented for this film, so many other films might never have seen the day of life. The win at the Oscars for Best Visual Effects is one that speaks for itself as this film stands the test of time.
As far as John Williams’ scores go, his score for Jurassic Park remains one of my favorites. The recurring theme that plays as they are landing on the island and throughout the film is one that I find myself frequently humming. There are a few recurring motifs in the film, which create that sense of awe but also captures the beauty of these majestic creatures long since exinct. Both the “Theme from Jurassic Park” and “Journey to the Island” will go down as some of the best Williams compositions of all time. This man always finds a way to out do himself!
What Spielberg and company did with Jurassic Park was deliver a true classic for the ages. As the film screens across the country, it ought to inspire a new generation of filmmakers and film critics as it did when I first saw it twice in theaters in 1993.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
SCREENWRITER: Michael Crichton and David Koepp
CAST: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, B.D. Wong, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards
A special 25th anniversary screening of Jurassic Park in 35mm was held during the Chicago Critics Film Festival at the Music Box Theatre in May 2018. Universal Pictures opened Jurassic Park in theaters on June 11, 1993.