“Welcome to Jurassic Park”
In preparation for Jurassic World, I thought it wise to go back to the original trilogy. Just to get into the mood for dinosaurs on the big screen! It all started with Jurassic Park, way back in 1993. In 1993, I was a wee nipper, and seeing dinosaurs on the big screen was the most amazing thing I’d ever witnessed! However, with my more mature eyes, how does Jurassic Park stand today? Could I relive the childish joy I felt more than twenty years ago? I found out after re-watching it…
The story’s simple, effectively Westworld with dinosaurs. A Scottish millionaire, John Hammond, has created a massive zoo with dinosaurs. After a worker is eaten by one of the dinosaurs, the lawyers get involved. The main lawyer, Donald Gennero, requests independent advice about the park. Hammond recruits mathematician Ian Macolm, palaeontologist Alan Grant and his girlfriend paleobotanist Ellie Satler for said advice. Also along for the tour of the park are his grandchildren, Lex and Tim. Things go wrong, the dinosaurs run wild and chaos (theory?) ensues…
Right from the beginning, as ominous music plays over a scene of bushes moving, there’s tension and excitement in the air. Even at this point, something goes wrong, as a velociraptor manages to eat a worker. “Shoot her,” cries Robert Muldoon, the Park’s gamekeeper (but why just one gamekeeper for a park full of extinct and dangerous creatures?!?!). We don’t actually see much of the dinosaur, just it’s eye, staring coldly into Muldoon’s. No, Steven Spielberg builds up perfectly to our first full-on screen shot of a dino. The advisors are in jeeps, on the way to the visitor’s centre. The drivers stop. Grant looks towards the screen and takes off his glasses, followed by his hat. Wonder etched on his face, he mirrored my face when I saw the magnificent brachiosaurus in full (and I’ve seen this film countless times! And the awe still hits me). Time had been kind to the CGI; it mostly still holds up today, especially our first shot of the brachiosaurus.
“I’m simply saying that life, uh…finds a way”
Of course, the wonder and awe soon turns to terror as the Park’s computer operator, Dennis Nedry, goes rogue and shuts the systems down. The electrified fences go down, letting the dino roam free. Then it’s simply a case of tense action set-piece after tense action set-piece, with some endearing character moments to disperse the set-pieces. With aged eyes, some of the set-pieces don’t make much sense. For example, after Grant saves Tim from the car in the tree, why does the car fall perfectly vertically down? Surely it would fall on its side or something? But for most of the time, the action draws you in and you wait with baited breath for our humans to escape the clutches of the dinosaurs. By the end of the film, I almost had a sweat on, lurching from one scene of unbridled terror to another! Spielberg is at the top of his game here, easily manipulating the audience as he did with Jaws.
I’ve heard people complain that there’s not much else to the film apart from the brilliant action set-pieces. In themselves, they are enough to recommend the film, but the characterization fills in the blanks and gives us characters to care about (for the most part). Alan Grant’s emotional development from a child-hating cynic to a father-like protector for Hammond’s grandchildren is the highlight of the character arcs. Malcolm gives the film a heavy dose of humour, but also a heavy dose of ‘important messages to the audience.” He comments on the “lack of humility before nature” at a discussion before things go wild. “Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should,” he adds. Of course, he’s attacking Hammond more than the scientists employed by Hammond. And while sometimes heavy-handed, he’s the main character who speaks to us with a message.
Hammond’s hubris propels the film along. “Spared no expense” is his motto throughout the film, but his motive in employing Nedry was to run a zoo/theme park with minimal staff. He has one gamekeeper. The department with the most staff seems to be the science department! Even as things get out of control, he still holds hope that something can be salvaged from the wreckage. Firstly, he refuses to try the ‘lysine contingency,’ a way of killing the dinosaurs. Later, in a chat with Satler, he says that “the next time will be flawless.” Keep in mind, at that moment his grandchildren are somewhere in the theme park, possibly dead. It’s only at the end of the film that he seems to come to terms with his mistakes.
Unfortunately, these three characters are given priority over characterisation of the other characters. Satler has a few moments, but apart from running and crying and screaming, she’s not the epitome of empowered female. She serves as “exposition woman” at times, running through lines with speed to tell us something about dinosaurs or plants. The kids are annoying and serve only to be in danger. Muldoon, played by Bob Peck, is criminally underused (but has a great moment towards the end, hunting the velociraptors). Ray Arnold, the park’s chief engineer, smokes a lot and says “hold on to your butts” a few times. But even the lesser-focussed on characters still are involved in the plot.
But those are but a few niggles. For an action-packed blockbuster, characterization of the main characters is a high priority. The film is a landmark in film and many people’s childhoods (my childhood included), it’s a film you can go back to time and time again and find little fault with. The CGI still impresses today (and some of it looks better than the CGI on the early Jurassic World trailers!). The CGI is merged very well with the dinosaur practical effects (The modern film industry almost wholly favours CGI instead of practical effects, but they should look back to Jurassic Park. Don’t over-rely on CGI! Use practical effects when you can!). Jurassic Park is simply brilliant; a thrilling, exciting adventure that you will never forget.
VERDICT: 8/10. A true classic film from the master, Spielberg. It’s a wonder to behold, even if you are on the edge of your seat whilst doing so!