Jurassic Park (1993)
(for intense science fiction terror, and brief language)
Released: June 11, 1993
Runtime: 127 minutes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sir Richard Attenborough, Samuel L. Jackson, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello, Wayne Knight, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, BD Wong
Nearly twenty years after the Great White frights of Jaws, Steven Spielberg put a bookend on the Golden Age of Blockbusters.
He did so by resurrecting extinct monsters via nascent visual effect technologies, marshaling them in a way that would forever change the industry and what audiences would come to expect and demand.
It’s also the last Spielberg summer blockbuster to completely capture the cultural zeitgeist and to endure as a classic.
Produced in part as a trade-off with Universal when that studio agreed to back the 3+ hour black-and-white Holocaust epic Schindler’s List (and with no movie stars at that), Jurassic Park became one of the biggest hits of the Spielberg’s already-storied career.
In the process, Spielberg once again redefined how movies were made.
Jurassic Park is yet another quintessential summer movie from the guy who defined them. Action, adventure, scares, laughs, awe and wonder, with stuff you’ve literally never seen before. It’s endlessly re-watchable.
Take, for example, the early “Journey To The Island” sequence. It starts with a fun helicopter flight to the Island…
…and peaks with the scientists’ first sight of (along with ours) actual dinosaurs.
This Act I capper is a perfect little capsule of what I want from a popcorn movie: humor, mystery, and anticipation, all with an epic payoff. That scene alone instantly transports me to my Summer Movie Happy Place. Heck, even just hearing that scene’s track from John Williams’ score — another classic — does the trick.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to write about Jurassic Park on its 20th Anniversary when its 3D re-release hit theaters (for Crosswalk.com). What I felt about the movie then remains true now, so you can read those thoughts by clicking here.
But to those thoughts, I feel it’s important to add just how big of a risk Spielberg was taking with this endeavor, from how he and his team pushed the untested limits of visual effects technology to how he tackled the implications of what bringing back dinosaurs would mean.
This may come as a shock to Millennials born in-or-after 1993, but there was a time when dinosaurs were not scary. Before Jurassic Park opened, I remember one friend asking me, with skepticism, “Is this going to be like a Barney thing?”
Adorably depicted in animated features or reduced to pre-school TV caricatures, dinosaurs were not taken seriously. And how could they be? It simply wasn’t possible to make them realistic.
Until Steven Spielberg did.
Directing the team of effects wizards at ILM, Spielberg took the risk to see if they could actually make it work. Truly, it was one of the bigger gambles in movie history.
And after they did, an infinite new world of possibilities opened to filmmakers and audiences.
In fact, there’s a scene early on that directly addresses this “they’re not that scary” perception: at a paleontological dig, a kid snidely dismisses Dr. Alan Grant’s fascination with these creatures, saying “That doesn’t look scary.”
Grant proceeds to put the fear of the Raptor into the boy and, by scene’s end, that kid (who was a surrogate for dubious viewers) helped us to understand that we as viewers weren’t going to be left singing, “I love you / You love me / We’re a happy family!”
Also, by discussing genetic ties to birds and making that a key part of the film’s fabric, Jurassic Park helped to counter the common misnomer that dinosaurs are merely overgrown lizards.
It was popcorn entertainment that served as a culture-wide educational tool, something I’m sure that Spielberg’s particularly proud of (and he should be). That fowl fact also added a shrewd tonal layer, taking our fascination with extinct creatures and making them more real by connecting them to animals we’re familiar with today. That made this sci-fi recognizable, even possible, and it cranked up the film’s tension even further.
As Dr. Grant tells Lex and Tim at one point: “I’ll bet you’ll never look at birds the same way again.”
To Spielberg’s credit, Jurassic Park was as much about the awe that these creatures inspired as it was the terror.
He captured the wonder that they provoked.
When Grant and Sattler become overwhelmed — with mouths agape, and even emotional — it’s a literal breathtaking moment. It’s earned, and felt. These weren’t just monsters. They were magnificent creations.
The rest is history, including two successful sequels and a 14-years-after-the-fact reboot that shattered expectations with a then-record opening weekend that nearly doubled its debut projections. Yet another sequel (Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom) soon followed.
In short, after more than 25 years, the legacy of Jurassic Park is as strong as ever, with visual effects that still hold up with anything we see today. That’s due to the fact that the right filmmaker took the big risk at the right time.
To paraphrase Dr. Ian Malcolm (a.k.a. Jeff Goldblum, the actor who should be in everything): Spielberg found a way.
To watch a fascinating 30-minute detailed presentation about the archetypes and metaphors in Jurassic Park, click here.
- A couple of Spielberg Oners to look for:
- The scene where Dr. Grant and the kids are “negotiating” which Jeeps each of them will be traveling in. You’ll see multiple framings and re-framings within that single 53 second camera move.
- Later in the film, when Grant and the kids are first in the treetop, the whole scene — from a medium to a wide — plays out over a minute and sixteen seconds.
- As a result of how great the dino effects were, several key industry-changing decisions were made, along with collaborations:
- Stan Winston and James Cameron partnered to form Digital Domain, which quickly became one of the world’s premiere VFX houses.
- Stanley Kubrick broached Spielberg about collaborating with him on his pet project A.I.: Artificial Intelligence.
- George Lucas determined that he could finally make the more elaborate Star Wars prequels the way he had always envisioned them.
- Peter Jackson began to pursue making The Lord of the Rings.
- Pre-production began with the assumption that the dinosaurs would be created entirely by animatronic models, not digitally, and would be made by industry legends Stan Winston and Phil Tippett. It wasn’t until pre-production was underway that the possibility of 3D computer animation was first considered. 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day had already made a major digital breakthrough that was first developed on James Cameron’s The Abyss. Spielberg asked Dennis Muren, the VFX artist for T2, to see if he could expand the possibilities of those molten-metal morphing effects. Boy, did he ever.
- (It’s important to note that many live-action models and puppets were still used in Jurassic Park.)
- When Tippett saw Muren’s first submission, he told Spielberg, “I think we’re extinct.” Steven then added that response as a line of dialogue in the film, in an exchange between Ian Malcom and Alan Grant.
- Jurassic Park is based on the novel by Michael Crichton. At the time, Spielberg had also been developing another screenplay with Crichton. It was a medical drama, one inspired by Crichton’s experiences as a young doctor. That film would eventually become the TV series ER.
- At different times, Spielberg tried to get his two Last Crusade leads – Harrison Ford and Sean Connery – to star here as Dr. Alan Grant and John Hammond, respectively. I’m glad they didn’t, er, bite.
- Other directors bid for the right to make Jurassic Park. They included James Cameron, Tim Burton, Richard Donner, and Joe Dante.
- Despite having to contend with an intense hurricane, Jurassic Park’s Hawaiian shoot wrapped 12 days ahead of schedule and on budget. It actually ended up costing more to market ($65 million) than to make ($63 million).