Jurassic Park (1993) – Directed by Steven Spielberg – Starring Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, B.D. Wong, and Wayne Knight.
JURASSIC PARK is the quintessential summer blockbuster. Full of great characters, ideas, and story, it’s a highly quotable visual spectacle that leaves you on an emotional high. PARK is both easily consumable and incredibly satisfying.
My favorite scene in the film – and one of my favorite scenes in any film – comes when Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) first arrive on the island. Dr. John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has picked them up at the copter landing spot and is wheeling them towards his big park’s HQ when they see their first dinosaurs. Spielberg masterfully builds to the moment, showing Grant’s eye-popping reaction shot, followed by Sattler’s eye-popping reaction shot, and then finally turning his camera around to show us a massive, magnificent Brachiosaurus eating from the top of a tree. John Williams’ score swells as the camera widens to show more and more dinosaurs moving around a pond. Grant and Sattler’s pure disbelief at what they’re experiencing when they see the dinos for the first time is like a grown up kid seeing everything they’ve always dreamed about in the flesh.
The beauty of this scene and the impact it has on Grant and Sattler always gets to me, and I always well up a bit at this moment. I was one of those kids who loved dinosaurs, who read everything I could about them, who endlessly imagined what it would be like to see one of them. The idea of dinosaurs walking the Earth again is, as an idea, an incredibly powerful one, and is, as an idea, something I wholly embrace.
Whether it’s an idea that should come to pass is, of course, the philosophical question at the heart of JURASSIC PARK.
Spielberg deftly weaves this question into the movie. Much like the Michael Crichton book the film is based on (Crichton gets a co-screenwriting credit alongside David Koepp), it’s Ian Malcolm who gets to pose the toughest questions about the existence of the enterprise, and Malcolm speaks in such a clipped, insightful manner that while his questions are profound, he doesn’t come across as pretentious. Well, okay, he does come off as pretentious, but disarmingly so; Malcolm is the kind of know-it-all jerk that you end up liking because he’s also just self-deprecating enough to make himself not only tolerable, but oddly likable.
Malcolm is completely in love with himself; his entire “rock star” persona is designed to front an image that he’s the coolest guy in the room, and he’s got the smarts to intellectually battle anyone who wants to challenge him.
Hammond has brought Grant, Sattler, and Malcom to his island because a worker was killed during a Velociraptor transporting accident. The island’s insurance company and its investors are worried enough that they know want experts to come in and sign off on the park. Company lawyer Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) joins them, and to Hammond’s surprise it’s Gennaro who sides with Hammond and the three scientists who line up against him after they take a mini-tour and see the birth of a raptor in captivity. Malcolm’s disagreement is philosophical, as he doesn’t think Hammond has earned the power he now wields: “You stood on the shoulders of giants and took the next step.”
It’s a bit of a weak argument, as this is what scientists have been doing for ages. A far more compelling question is raised when he asks Hammond, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
While they don’t spend an inordinate amount of screen time together, Hammond and Grant are set up as dino-loving opposites. Both of the men love the idea of dinosaurs being back, but where Hammond plunges ahead to make that reality a possibility without full recognition or concern for the consequences, Grant sees the inherent danger (both philosophically and physically) in bringing extinct animals back to life.
Hammond urges them to hold off their final judgment until they take the tour, but as further proof that Hammond is just a big kid with a billionaire’s bank account, he thinks it’s a grand idea to invite his grandkids along for the tour. Lex and Tim (Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello) aren’t bad kids, but they’re kids, and Alan Grant doesn’t like kids. So, of course, the film is going to pair Grant with the kids.
Hammond piles the 3 scientists, 2 kids, and 1 laywer into decked-out Ford Explorers and sends them into the park proper. The first stop is the Dilophosaurus area, but they don’t show up. The next stop is the Tyrannosaur paddock, but she doesn’t show up, either. At this point everyone is starting to get frustrated. In the control room, Hammond and engineer Ray Arnold (Samuel L. Jackson) are busy monitoring everything in the park. Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), the computer programmer, is around, too, being a general nuisance. Nedry is planning to steal the dinosaur DNA for a rival company.
Complicating everything (and excellently raising the level of tension in the film), is an approaching storm that has narly everyone working on the island exiting on a departing boat. The storm creates several positives for the film. First, it gets all of the non-essential (to the plot) characters off the island. Second, it raises the tension by creating a sense of foreboding before things go awry with the dinosaurs, and third, it creates one heck of a massive rain storm to make the first night’s action sequences even more dramatic.
Before that storm hits, however, we’ve got a really powerful scene with a sick Triceratops. Bored with the tour, everyone ends up piling out of the Explorers when they see the sick dino. Grant leads the way to the animal, and it’s a fantastic scene for several reasons. It gives us a one-to-one, physical interaction between man and dinosaur, which allows us to fully grasp how big these animals are as well as feel that they’re real creatures and not just beautiful CGI renderings. Like Grant, the Triceratops was always my favorite as a kid, too. The sequence also shows us the scientists in action, and narratively serves to split Sattler from Grant.
With Sattler sticking behind to help with the Triceratops, Grant, Malcolm, the kids, and the lawyer head back to the Explorers. On their way back to HQ, Nedry shuts the power off, which stalls the vehicles. While they’re waiting for the power to come back on, the Tyrannosaur shows up and gives us the film’s signature action sequence as the T-Rex takes on the two Explorers.
It is a magical sequence as the T-Rex sniffs and nudges and roars outside the kids’ Explorer. The kids are too scared to keep still, which gets the T-Rex to attack their Explorer to get at them, and forces Grant and Malcolm to get out of their Explorer to help. It’s as iconic a sequence as you’ll find in a popcorn flick, and every bit as good as Spielberg’s best and most iconic moments in Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jaws.
By the end of this first encounter with the T-Rex, Gennaro is dead, Malcolm is severely injured, and Grant, Lex, and Tim have fled deeper into the park.
Kids can often be so annoying that they ruin a film like this with all their shrieking and wailing and stupidity, but Lex and Tim make fine additions to JURASSIC PARK, and provide a strong narrative arc for Grant. It’s a bit simplistic to think he can go from hating kids to loving kids over the course of a day running away from dinosaurs, but Spielberg doesn’t shove it in our faces. The growth comes naturally over the course of the film, and Lex and Tim prove capable of taking care of themselves.
The film is full of great action sequences beyond the initial T-Rex sequence: Nedry vs. the Dilophosaurus, Muldoon (Bob Peck) vs. the Velociraptors, the kids vs. the Velociraptors, and the T-Rex vs. the Velociraptors. There’s also some less violent moments, too, such as when Grant and the kids wind up in the middle of a Gallimimus stampede. All of the dinosaurs are gorgeous to look at and it’s somewhat surprising that 19 years after the film hit the theaters (God I’m getting old), the dinosaurs still look every bit as incredible as they first did. I bet I’ve listened to John Williams score to this film more than I’ve listened to his Star Wars score, as the main JURASSIC PARK theme is every bit as good as the Star Wars theme, but even more uplifting.
JURASSIC PARK is a magnificent movie, as close to cinematic perfection as you can get. Breathtaking, action-packed, funny, full of great characters, great music, and a simple, but satisfying horror story, JURASSIC PARK is one of the most-watched films in my collection. Every time I watch it I get sucked into it all over again. I’ve always loved dinosaurs but they’re special to my childhood more than my adulthood. Just the idea that there were these massive creatures roaming the Earth millions upon millions of years before humans was fascinating, as was the idea (as cheeky as it might sound now) that dinosaurs were nowhere in the Bible. Dinosaurs offered an alternative narrative of the history of the planet that we were learning at Sunday morning mass and in CCD classes. Loving them led to learning about them, and learning about them led to questions about God and church and the history of life itself. As a kid, of course, this manifests as the tried-and-true, “Why are there no dinosaurs in the Bible?” question, but not getting a satisfactory answer led to more questions and more questions and the idea that what I was being taught was perhaps not the truth.
But really, I liked dinosaurs because they were big and awesome and cool-looking, and more than anything else I’ve ever seen, JURASSIC PARK recaptures that sense of wonder.
JURASSIC PARK Review Index