There are very few films in the world that capture the imagination quite like Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. Based on the novel by Michael Chrichton, written in 1990, Jurassic Park takes everything that kids find wondrous and amazing about dinosaurs and mixes those things with all of the terror of a ’90s horror film. In fact, it’s widely debated today exactly what genre Jurassic Park falls into. Some say it’s an action/adventure film and others say that, at its core, the film is horror. Genre aside, what started out as magical film about the return of dinosaurs has now turned into a billion dollar movie franchise that has spawned sequels, video games, toys, and even theme park attractions. Looking back at it all, one can’t help but to wonder . . . what is it that makes this franchise continue to reach people nearly thirty years after it started. On the surface, the film appears to be quite simple, but beneath the fun of people running from dinosaurs, there’s a lot more to it.
When Michael Chrichton’s book was released in 1990, I don’t think he had any idea what it would become nearly thirty years later. After all, it was written with a singular question in mind: Just because we can do something, does it mean we should? This is a point continuously made by one of the film’s main protagonists and mathematician, Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum), whose Chaos Theory sounds like paranoia until everything starts going wrong. Let’s start at the beginning though. Jurassic Park at its core is a cautionary tale about the dangers of science and genetic engineering. When philanthropist John Hammond opens a theme park on an island, things don’t go exactly according to plan. This theme park of his isn’t a theme park in the same vein as Disneyland, Six Flags, Knotts Berry Farm, etc. At a regular theme park, the attractions are fun and somewhat harmless. At John Hammond’s theme park, the attractions are terrifying . . . and they can eat you. John Hammond’s theme park is a zoo of sorts, except instead of lions and tigers, he has living, breathing dinosaurs. What could go wrong?
The answer to that is simple . . . everything.
While moving one of the velociraptors into its pin, a worker loses his life. Naturally there’s a lawsuit, and this is where the movie starts. In order to make his investors feel better, John Hammond needs to have three experts sign off on the park. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Hammond coaxes paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and botanist (Ellie Sattler) onto his island of death and terror. Sure it’s magical at first, but when they discover how it all happens, they start to wonder about a few things, mainly, what happens when these dinosaurs start to mate. The chief engineer of the park (B.D. Wong) swears they can’t do it, because they’re all female. This is where Dr. Ian Malcom’s Chaos Theory comes into play. As he so eloquently puts it, “life finds a way.” It turns out, the dinosaur DNA is mixed with that of frogs, who have the ability to change their gender. You can do the math from there.
When the park’s head programmer, Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) decides to sell Hammond’s secrets to a competing company, what starts out as a magical weekend for Grant and Sattler turns into a bloody nightmare. During Grant, Sattler, and Malcom’s tour/safari, Nedry shuts off the security systems to the park in order to give him a window to steal the dinosaur embryos and escape. He shoves them all into a Barbasol canister that doubles as a refrigerator and makes his escape. Unfortunately, due to a storm, he doesn’t get far before meeting his end at the teeth of a Dilophosaurus (the one that spits). With the systems off line, the dinosaurs are free to exit their cages, sending the pace of the film from a magical walk to a horrifying sprint.
There’s not a lot that can be said about Jurassic Park that hasn’t already been said over and over again during the past thirty (nearly) years, but when I look back at it, I ask myself what exactly makes it so special. The story is predictable, the effects are practical, and the acting and dialogue – while great – aren’t Oscar worthy. If this film were to be released today, critics would probably not see anything special about it. Again, what makes this film so special. The answer is simple . . . everything. Even today, when I watch this movie, and the John Williams soundtrack starts play as the jeeps drive over the hill and we see our first glimpse of dinosaurs, I get goose bumps all up and down my arms. When Ian Malcom is sitting in the back of the jeep as they flee from the T-Rex, I find myself moving the edge of my seat. When Hammond’s grandkids are in the kitchen, trying to escape from the velociraptors, my heart beats so fast I can hear it. And let’s not forget about Samuel L. Jackson’s, Ray Arnold and his infamous line “hold on to your butts.” What is special about this film . . . everything about it is special. The soundtrack is fantastic, the acting is vivid and memorable, the effects still hold up well even today, and the way the film ends brings you this sense of peace and closure that I have never felt while watching anything. Again, if this movie were to be judged by modern critics, it wouldn’t be anything special, and not just because modern film critics are whiney film snobs, but also because Jurassic Park is absolutely a product of the time it was made in . . . and those times were beautiful.
Every kid at some point in their lives develops a fascination with dinosaurs. How could you not? Lizards and snakes are cool, but imagine lizards and snakes that are the size of houses and eat people. What’s not to be fascinated by? In addition to that, the movie was marketed really well. I remember being a kid and having to save up my money so I could buy all of the toys. I had Jurassic Park clothes, Jurassic Park video games, I even begged my parents to buy any box of cereal that had a Jurassic Park picture on it so that I could win tickets to the movie. This was also the first movie I ever watched from start to finish with my dad. That being said, it is a very special film to me.
While Jurassic Park doesn’t exactly run page for page with the novel (there are quite a few big differences), Steven Spielberg and the good folks over at Universal crafted a timeless and beautiful film that presented an original idea that captured the imagination of kids and adults all over the world, and it continues to do it even today. Though Jurassic Park: The Lost World and Jurassic Park III weren’t as magical as the original, Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom have managed to bring an entirely new generation into the fold. I think the late Michael Chrichton would be proud of the legacy he’s left behind. With another film in set to release at some point in the next couple of years, this is a franchise that shows no sign of slowing down. Why should it? In the words of the great Ian Malcom, “must run faster.”
Reviewed by: Josh Pederson
Directed by: Steven Spielberg