By Jonathan Reed
The year is 1990 and unbeknown to Michael Crichton, author of the Sphere and creator of Westworld, he would write a novel that before even being published, would have 4 top Movie Studios entering a bidding war to gain the future film rights. This battle would end with acclaimed director Steven Spielberg acquiring those rights for $1.5 million. The movie, Jurassic Park. It’s legacy, to change the Hollywood blockbuster forever.
Jurassic Park roared onto the silver screen in 1993, smashing every record going, including the biggest. It became the highest grossing movie of all time, a record it held until 1997 with the release of Titanic. It won 3 academy awards for its ground-breaking special effects and is rightly regarded as a pinnacle moment in the development of computer-generated imagery. It has been followed by 4 successful sequels, the most recent being Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
The 25th anniversary of the release of Jurassic Park is quickly approaching and after all those years, why does this movie masterpiece still stun audiences today?
There are so many factors that form the winning concoction of success, the first being one of the most celebrated directors in history. Jurassic Park needed Steven Spielberg. No other director at that time could have created the spectacular visuals that Spielberg so effortlessly crafted. Of the many astounding realisations of Jurassic Park, perhaps the most profound is this. Throughout the entire movie, a movie about Dinosaurs escaping a Theme Park, those said prehistoric beasts only feature for an entire 10 minutes! It is this fact that proves the excellence of this most expert Director. Jurassic Park is a blockbuster that truly is character driven.
The characters make Jurassic Park a human experience amid a blockbuster backdrop. The relationship between Alan Grant, Ian Malcolm, John Hammond and Ellie Sattler ground the movie. Each actor brings a humanity, good and bad allowing the audience to revel in the successes and fear the failures. The actions of Dennis Neadry, played brilliantly by Wayne Knight highlight the differentiating emotion the audience feels. You can’t help but feel some empathy for the man who feels underappreciated trying to find acceptance. Yet, Michael Crichton and David Koepp’s screenplay expertly show the consequences for feeling so. Like a flick of a switch, you change from being empathetic, to cheering as the Dilophosaurus spits its venom into Neadry’s terrified face.
Then comes the music. That iconic score written by the genius, John Williams. The now instantly recognisable tones excite kids across the globe and regress adults back to the time when they first heard it. It is symbiotic with the movie series. Without the score any sequel to Jurassic Park is just another movie about dinosaurs.
Another factor stems from the seemingly effortless visuals. CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) was still in its infancy and up until post-production the Dinosaurs were to appear through stop-motion animation and Stan Winston’s scarily real puppetry. This changed with the work of Industrial Light and Magic. The team managed to create a program that could bring these Dinosaurs to life in a way no-one had ever seen on screen before. The payoff was astronomical. There is no denying that Jurassic Park’s special effects were earth shattering at that time, but what is more profound is even today, some 25 years later, they still rival many modern-day movies.
Who can forget the feeling of seeing a full size 60ft T-Rex rip its way through a fence, standing majestically between two iconic Jeeps and roar ferociously during a rainstorm. It was enough to make a 10-year-old’s heart stop then, and a 26-year-old’s now. The first view of the Brachiosaurus munching on the leaves was played out perfectly. Spielberg almost teased the audience, prolonging the eventual reveal by allowing the actors performances, Sam Neil’s in particular, to drive to the eventual breath-taking moment.
There are many moments in Jurassic Park that have become iconic, from the image of the rippling water gently vibrating as the T-Rex appeared, the Gallimimus stampede, to the nerve shredding kitchen scene where more than once you can feel your heart stop. These historic scenes are enough to ignite the imagination of both kids and adults alike. But there is one which stands out above all. It has no dinosaurs, or even epic, sprawling landscapes. If anything, it is the most quiet, immersive part of the movie.
The conversation between Ellie Sattler and John Hammond as they eat ice-cream in the Theme Park’s Restaurant is a greater show of acting than you’ll ever find. Laura Dern and Richard Attenborough, in that moment prove why they were cast. They naturally feel through the scene, effortlessly pushing through the lines as if they weren’t even scripted. The delivery of each word, each emotion pulls the audience through the devastating realisation of a billionaire businessman, desperately holding onto his dream still becoming a reality. You can almost see the death of Jurassic Park in that moment as Hammond realises his beloved Theme Park isn’t like his Flea Circus: “It’s still an illusion,” as Ellie perfectly puts it.
These scenes show how to make the perfect blockbuster. Have the audience gasp, scream and cheer at the high-octane action sequences, but with the human performances you make the audience believe in the magic. To some, who first saw the movie when they were kids, they wanted to visit Jurassic Park. It was real.
When the T-Rex flings the Velociraptor into the fossil sculpture at the end of the movie you can’t help but cheer. The T-Rex saves the day! It is no longer some CGI concoction of codes and programming, it is flesh, blood and a scary number of teeth. It was beyond cool, it was the coolest. These rare factors are what make Jurassic Park the success is still celebrates today. It’s legacy stands proudly in many arenas, Special Effects, thrills and the munching of lawyers. But above all, Jurassic Park stands the test of time because fundamentally, it is a human experience on the grandest of prehistoric scales. You feel every emotion, every tremor and every bite.
Jurassic Park was 65 million years in the making, and 65 million years from now, it will still excite and entertain audiences across all ages.