Since almost the dawn of cinema, moviegoers have been treated to stories of man’s ongoing battle with dinosaurs, which is rather impressive considering that man and dinosaurs were separated by 65 million years, but the quality of these cinematic entries varied greatly from amazing works by Ray Harryhausen to lesser entries with fins glued to the back of some poor iguana, enter Michael Crichton, Steven Spielberg and the wizards at ILM who would not only revolutionize the dinosaur action-adventure genre but the film industry itself.
If you are invited to a theme park designed by Michael Crichton the best advice I can offer is, “Do not go as you will most likely die.” That is just common sense. In 1976 Crichton wrote and directed a science fiction film called Westworld where amusement park guests could live out a variety of fantasies, from the wild west shoot outs to the orgies of Roman World – sadly the movie never let us see that aspect of the park – but as expected things went drastically wrong and the robots in the park soon proceeded to kill the guests. Flash forward to the nineties and Crichton was at it again only this time out it wasn’t robots shooting or stabbing the guests of an amusement park but dinosaurs eating them. I’m not sure which one is worse but, regardless, it just goes to show you that park safety has always been an issue with Crichton.
The concept of Jurassic Park consisted of a wonderful blend of science fiction and that of the classic horror adventure tale with an amusement park showcasing genetically recreated dinosaurs and the following failure of said enterprise due to the mathematical concept of chaos theory, and to say this garnered a little interest in Hollywood would be the understatement of the century as even before Michael Crichton’s book was published several movie studios were vying for the rights until they were eventually acquired by Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment. The basic plot of the book and the movie is that of an industrialist named John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) who has created a theme park of cloned dinosaurs on an island off the Costa Rican coast but due to an “accident” leading to a park employee being mauled by a dinosaur the investors get nervous and requests experts to visit the park to certify its safety.
Note: The dinosaurs in this movie were intended to be done with either large-scale mechanicals or by the traditional method of stop-motion animation but when an enterprising employee at ILM did a CGI run cycle of a dinosaur he changed movie-making forever.
To make those pesky investors happy Hammond enlisted paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), while his lawyer Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) invited mathematician and chaos-theorist Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to round out the team, and when they arrive at the island they are shortly joined by Hammond’s grandkids Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim Murphy (Joseph Mazzello) and once everyone is assembled and after a cute cartoon explanation of how the dinosaurs of the park were created, and the group is sent off on a tour of the park. That almost immediately goes disastrously wrong is expected, as mentioned this is a Michael Crichton park, but it’s not by a pesky computer virus as in Westworld but due to disgruntled and greedy employee Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) who shuts down some of the systems so that he could steal some dino-DNA.
What follows is one of the most exciting adventure films ever brought to the screen, with our cast of characters striving to survive on an island full of man-eating dinosaurs, and with this film, Steven Spielberg and company changed the cinematic landscape forever, with Stan Winston’s amazing full-scale animatronic dinosaurs and Dennis Murren’s breakthrough CGI creations it’s hard to fully grasp the impact this film had on the public and the film industry as a whole. That all said, it’s also one helluva adventure film with Sam Neil, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum fleeing a plethora of prehistoric beasts, that were as awe-inspiring as they were terrifying, and then we also had John William’s fantastic score and sound designs by Gary Rydstrom that were wonderful icing on an already amazing cake.
• During the opening scene at a dig in Montana Doctor Grant says that raptor means “bird of prey” but it’s actually Latin for the word thief. Maybe someone should check his credentials before letting him on the island.
• Ellie notices some previously extinct plants while on tour but this raises the question “How exactly did they bring plants back? Are we to believe they found mosquitos in amber that drank the blood of prehistoric plants?”
• Hammond’s boast that he “Spared no expense” in the construction of the park is quickly contradicted by all the securities that pop up during the course of the movie, in fact, relying on automation instead of human staff is the opposite of sparing expense.
• On the tour they stepped out to visit a sick triceratops but this is a rather pointless plot detour as the reason for its sickness, unlike in the book, is never addressed again.
• Why would almost the entire staff of Jurassic Park be evacuated due to an approaching hurricane but not the guests? You’d think Hammond would at least want his grandkids taken to safety.
• Samuel L. Jacksons continues to prove the adage that it doesn’t pay to be a black man in a horror movie.
• With Grant and the kids lost out in the park Muldoon asks “What about the lysine contingency? We could put that into effect!” which is a contingency plan to prevent the spread of the animals in case they ever get off the island because the animals can’t manufacture the amino acid lysine and unless they’re continually supplied with lysine they’ll slip into a coma and die. But how would this help Grant in the kids? I don’t see starving the dinosaurs being all that useful at this point.
• During the initial encounter with the T-Rex the film makes a big deal about the “impact tremors” a beast of this size makes when it walks but then at the end of the film it arrives to kill the raptors as if it were a dinosaur ninja.
• Alan Grant discovering raptor eggs, revealing that the dinosaurs on the island are breeding despite all precautions, has no actual effect on the plot. In the book, it’s a big deal as it means they don’t have a proper count on how many velociraptors are running around loose but in this movie it’s, at best, a set-up for the sequels.
Overall, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park wasn’t just a groundbreaking moment in history, which it most certainly was, but it was also an incredibly fun adventure tale that kept the viewer on the edge of their collective seats and with a master filmmaker at the helm like Spielberg, along with his wonderfully assembled fantastic cast, it just doesn’t get much better than this, and sure, any film adapted from a book was going to vary some from its source material, Hammond being a kindly grandfather type and not the asshole found in the book, but when caught up in the magic of the tale the plotting issues and scientific inaccuracy are almost secondary to the awe and wonder of what we experience here.
It should be noted that this film kicked off an ever-increasing franchise but none of the sequels have managed to capture the magic and majesty of the first one.
Note: 1993 was certainly an interesting year for Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment as it also saw the release of We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story, a film that was certainly much lighter in tone about its bringing dinosaurs into a modern setting.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Movie Rank - 8.5/10
With Jurassic Park director Steven Spielberg and writer Michael Crichton re-kindled the love of dinosaurs in this epic adventure tale that also changed the cinematic landscape forever.