Jurassic Park (1993)

100 Films’ 100 Favourites #47

An adventure
65 million years in the making.

Country: USA
Language: English
Runtime: 127 minutes
BBFC: PG
MPAA: PG-13

Original Release: 11th June 1993 (USA)
UK Release: 16th July 1993
First Seen: cinema, 1993

Stars
Sam Neill (Dead Calm, Event Horizon)
Laura Dern (Wild at Heart, Inland Empire)
Jeff Goldblum (The Fly, Independence Day)
Richard Attenborough (10 Rillington Place, Miracle on 34th Street)

Director
Steven Spielberg (Jaws, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom)

Screenwriters
Michael Crichton (Westworld, Twister)
David Koepp (Death Becomes Her, Panic Room)

Based on
Jurassic Park, a novel by Michael Crichton.

The Story
Invited to a remote island by an eccentric billionaire, a group of scientists, investors, and children discover he’s managed to clone and resurrect dinosaurs, which he intends to exhibit in his theme park: Dinosaur Land!
…not really — it’s called Jurassic Park. As the visitors tour the park looking at the creatures, a nice two-hour nature documentary unfolds.
…not really — the dinosaurs escape and run amok and people die and it’s basically a horror/disaster movie with giant prehistoric lizards as the killer/natural disaster. Good times.

Our Heroes
Dr Alan Grant and Dr Ellie Sattler are palaeontologists invited to Jurassic Park’s test run by enthusiastic grandfatherly billionaire John Hammond. There’s also Dr Ian Malcolm, a sexy mathematician (oxymoron?), and Hammond’s grandkids, siblings Tim and Lex, who Grant is essentially left to babysit. There’s also a handful of other characters who are essentially dinosaur-food… er, I mean, who are totally going to survive to the end of the movie.

Our Villains
It’s a bit mean to call the dinosaurs villains — they’re just behaving as nature intended. Of course, when uber-predators like Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptors are involved, they’re still the main threat. Their impromptu freedom is all the fault of greedy, traitorous tech geek Dennis Nedry, though.

Best Supporting Character
For what may be the only time in movie history, Samuel L. Jackson is in this movie and isn’t the coolest character. That honour goes to Bob Peck as the park’s badass head ranger, Muldoon.

Memorable Quote
“Don’t move! He can’t see us if we don’t move.” — Dr Alan Grant

Quote Most Likely To Be Used in Everyday Conversation
“Clever girl.” — Muldoon

Memorable Scene
As the newly-arrived visitors drive across the island, Hammond whispers to the driver to stop. Dr Grant idly looks off to the side, and his mouth falls open in shock. He pulls off his hat. He stands. He fumbles to take off his sunglasses, not believing his eyes. Dr Sattler is distracted by a leaf that shouldn’t exist. Grant reaches over to grab her head, turns it to face what he sees. Now she looks shocked, standing and pulling off her glasses. Whatever they’re looking at, it’s big. And only then, as John Williams’ music swells, does Spielberg cut to it: towering over them, a Brachiosaurus — a real, living dinosaur.

Write the Theme Tune…
Some chap named John Williams totally lucked out writing the film’s iconic main theme, which is one of music’s best evocations of the feelings of awe and wonder.

Technical Wizardry
It’s easily overlooked among all the visual antics, but the film’s sound design is incredible, too. Spielberg insisted on all-new sounds being captured throughout (rather than using any library effects) to help ensure the dinosaur roars sounded unique. The T-Rex’s roar was a combination of sounds from dogs, tigers, alligators, elephants, and… penguins.

Truly Special Effect
Spielberg thought about using a combination of animatronics and groundbreaking CGI to create the dinosaurs, but they just resurrected some real ones instead. More seriously, there’s actually only 15 minutes of dinosaur footage in the film. Nine minutes of that is animatronics — despite its fame and influence, just six minutes were created with CGI.

Making of
Spielberg came up with the idea for the famous rippling glass of water when he saw the mirror in his car vibrate because of sound. When the effects team tried to replicate that with water, nobody could do it… but they told Spielberg they could. The night before the effect was to be shot, effects supervisor Michael Lantieri placed a glass of water on a guitar, plucked the strings, and got the desired effect. For the film — where the glass is on a car dashboard, not a musical instrument — guitar strings were attached to the underside of the dashboard. These days you know they’d just do all that with CGI, and this is why older movies are better.

Next time…
Spielberg returned to helm first sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park in 1997, which has its fans, but not that many. Joe Johnston took over for Jurassic Park III, which is less epic than either of is predecessors, and more of a brisk (just 90 minutes long), straightforward action-adventure movie. After many years of aborted plans, the series was revived last year in Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World, which met with incredible financial success and a mixed (though generally favourable) reception. A fifth film, directed by The Impossible’s J.A. Bayona, will be a direct sequel to Jurassic World and is slated for release in 2018.

Awards
3 Oscars (Visual Effects, Sound, Sound Effects Editing)
1 BAFTA (Special Effects)
1 BAFTA nomination (Sound)
4 Saturn Awards (Science Fiction Film, Director, Writing, Special Effects)
7 Saturn nominations (Actress (Laura Dern), Supporting Actor (both Jeff Goldblum and Wayne Knight), Performance by a Younger Actor (both Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards), Music, Costumes)
3 MTV Movie Awards nominations (including Best Villain — for the dinosaurs? I don’t know.)
Won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation

What the Critics Said
“As he did in Jaws, Spielberg has crafted a man-vs.-nature masterpiece with admirable logic, darkly funny violence and enthralling state-of-the-art special effects. Watching Jurassic Park, one gets the same feeling of wonderment, glee and old-fashioned fright that moviegoers must have felt 60 years ago when King Kong roared out of the jungle and scaled the Empire State Building. […] We ask for two things from big-budget thrillers like this: Make us believe and make us jump. Jurassic Park delivers on both counts; it’s the best gasp-between-the-giggles movie made since a cocky young director and a clunky Bruce the Shark scared the beach out of us 18 summers ago.” — Steve Persall, Tampa Bay Times
(I want to quote so much of this review, because it’s full of good bits, like how it’s “the most intelligent, pro-feminist adventure movie yet made”; or how “a faithful version of Crichton’s tale would have cost at least twice the film’s $60 million price tag” — a film costing $120 million? Unthinkable!)

Score: 93%

What the Public Say
“We’re kept waiting for the first full shot of a dinosaur, and it’s worth the wait, the little jeep carrying Sam Neill and Laura Dern stopping long enough for them to gawp in helpless wonder at the sight of Brachiosaurs eating. It works for two reasons. One is the reactions of the actors, which only adds to the moment’s sense of authenticity and gravitas. The second is the use of CGI. Jurassic Park was like a great leap forward in special effects technology. Before this, the only way to see dinosaurs on film was the stop-motion animated models shot painstakingly by Ray Harryhausen and his peers. Suddenly, all that was consigned to cinema history thanks to digital effects, work that holds up today because Spielberg knew how to use CGI judiciously rather than too often […] The combination of CGI and puppetry to create the dinosaur looks seamless, and whilst it must have been painstaking to develop and film there’s no doubt it’s great to watch” — Mike, Films on the Box

Verdict

For a certain generation, Star Wars is undeniably the defining cinematic experience. For a more recent one, I guess it’s Harry Potter or something. In between, you have my lot — and as became quite clear with the unexpectedly phenomenal response to Jurassic World this time last year, we have Jurassic Park. It was the first film I ever saw at the cinema, and much of it has been lodged in my memory every since.

That it’s beloved shouldn’t be such a surprise, really: it was huge back in 1993, and is one of only ten films that can lay claim to ever having been The Highest Grossing Movie Of All Time. It wasn’t the first film to employ computer-generated special effects, but by featuring them so prominently it paved the way for further effects breakthroughs. The groundbreaking imagery still holds up today — and when you consider that the effects in some movies out last week are already dated, that’s even more impressive.

It’s certainly not just about the effects, though: it’s a fantastic adventure movie, putting its likeable characters through the ringer in a story that is by turns exciting, funny, scary, and genuinely awe-inspiring.

#48 will be… a roaring rampage of revenge.

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8 thoughts on “Jurassic Park (1993)

  1. I’ve been wanting to rewatch this for quite awhile now (partly because I bought the blu-ray trilogy set cheap a few years ago and it is still sealed up). Reading this just reminds me I should make an effort. Such an ‘event’ movie, wasn’t it? Actually a double-bill with this and Jaws would be illuminating as well as entertaining. God, I really must try that.

    I wonder if what made the film so good was the limitations of CGI back then- your notes regards the dinosaurs accounting for just 15 mins screen-time is exactly the same as how Bruce the Shark forced Spielberg to work harder at making Jaws work through other means. Less is so often more (If only Zack Synder would listen).

    Anyway, can’t fault your 5 stars here. The film isn’t without its faults but yeah, 5 stars all the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d never really thought about its connection with Jaws before, but there’s a definite link there — not only the monster movie aspect, but the effect they both had on the summer blockbuster, etc.

      I think the inability to rely on CGI to just “do anything” is definitely part of its success. Like you say, it’s also why Jaws works; it’s also why Alien works; the list, I suspect, goes on. “Less is more” is a cliché because it’s true, and it’s a lesson that’s increasingly forgotten. That said, Gareth Edwards applied it in his Godzilla and there was a lot of bitching, so sometimes you can’t win.

      Like

      • God yeah, Godzilla- I saw that disc on the shelf the other day and thought that there’s another film ripe for a rewatch. I well recall all that negative rubbish about not seeing Godzilla enough and there not being sufficient action. I’m afraid thats just indicative of the stupid times we live in, and why we get so many stupid overblown movies. Here’s hoping Edwards still gets a chance with the films sequel.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Edwards stepped down from the sequel the other month. Hopefully whoever takes his place is up to the task, though they were already promising to show the monster(s) more even before he left, so…

          Liked by 1 person

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