To commemorate the release of the reboot of the Jurassic Park franchise this week with Jurassic World, I thought it a perfect excuse (though, any excuse will do) to revisit Steven Spielberg’s prehistoric thriller, Jurassic Park (1993).
Jurassic Park is one of my very favorite films. It blends together excellent filmmaking from the thoughtful Spielberg, an excellent cast, a vibrant and exciting score from John Williams, and the most exhilarating subject matter to grace the silver screen — dinosaurs! In 2015, it’s hard to imagine a time when dinosaurs weren’t regularly represented in media, be it film, television, illustrations in books, etc, but Jurassic Park brought dinosaurs to life in a big way. That is one of the ways the film is so innovative: the filmmakers put in the care and effort to effectively represent dinosaurs on screen which inspired a slew of other filmmakers, documentarians, and artists to represent the long lost world of the dinosaurs. As a four-year-old, seeing Jurassic Park was probably terrifying, but it was also overwhelming to see living, breathing dinosaurs (or so it seemed) right before my eyes. While Jurassic Park is not often praised for its creative and artistic endeavors, outside of the creation of dinosaurs — an idea that irks me that we’ll get to in a second — the film has forever found a special home in the hearts of many around the world for inspiring this state of awe and wonder.
After watching this film over and over again for over ten years, I feel like I am very attune to its various nuances. The film is incredibly thoughtful, dedicating care to delivery of lines, character development, interacting different character personalities, the general verisimilitude of the film, even to the creation of the dinosaur sounds, which are all a frightening conglomeration of various unrelated animals’ calls and roars. While obviously a thriller, Jurassic Park is quite funny. Let’s take a scene from the beginning, where we first meet Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). They paleontological team is using radar to see the velociraptor skeleton in the ground, and for some reason there is a kid at the dig and he makes fun of the velociraptor, saying it looks like a six-foot turkey. Dr. Grant, established in this seven, has a devout respect for the velociraptor, and commences in thoroughly frightening the kid by simulating how a pack of velociraptor would attack him, complete with a velociraptor claw as a visual aide (“The point is…you’re still alive…when they start to eat you.”). That scene itself is funny, to see this grown man scare a kid. Then the scene cuts to another scene where Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler are talking about kids. You get the sense that they may be dating and Dr. Grant frankly expresses just how he dislikes kids. This all may seem unnecessary, or merely an exercise in character development, but all that is established early on so that later, at the Jurassic Park Visitors Center, when John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) introduces their special guests, his grandchildren, the pan to Dr. Grant’s perturbed face is absolutely giggle-worthy and thoroughly explained. Spielberg takes great care in creating and exploring his characters and their personalities.
Another example of Spielberg’s antics is his exploration of dissimilar personalities. Spielberg brings together Dr. Grant, Dr. Sattler, chaos mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Jurassic Park mastermind John Hammond, and the lawyer Mr. Gennaro (Martin Ferrero). There are mostly strong personalities with focused agendas, and things are pretty awkward when they’re put together. Spielberg embraces this awkwardness. Take the helicopter ride to the island. Dr. Malcolm is flirting with Dr. Sattler. Dr. Sattler is trying to distract herself with Dr. Grant. Dr. Grant is having none of the whole trip. Mr. Gennaro is babbling on about his thorough investigation of the park. And Mr. Hammond is being detachedly jovial. Anytime the whole “gang” is together, there’s a strange and unpredictable vibe permeating the entire group. But at one point, I think, Spielberg foreshadows the traits that the characters use later on in the film. Back to the helicopter scene, as they descend to the island, all passengers buckle their seat belts as the landing is pretty turbulent. Dr. Grant somehow has two buckles and can’t find the opposite component, so there’s a bit of chaos that starts. Dr. Malcolm chuckles and watches, which foreshadows his mostly secondary role in the film. Mr. Hammond starts trying to take control of the situation, but halfway through gives up, which illustrates his controlling nature as well as his flighty and flakey nature as well. Dr. Grant tries to ignore all the noise in the chopper and ties the buckles together, showing his tendency to think outside the box and showcases his adaptivity, both of which will serve him later in the film. There’s not much in a Spielberg film that can be taken for granted; he’s always working towards a bigger picture.
Another reason why this film is fantastic is that it’s a true science-fiction film. It tackles the notion of thoughtless scientific innovation, in this case the cloning of dinosaurs, with more preoccupation towards the ability to achieve something without thinking about the ethics surrounding it. While the film also takes on the role of a thriller, it also posits those big questions in the first half of the film — something which the other “Jurassic Park” films do. Jurassic Park: The Lost World and Jurassic Park III are disproportionally more thriller and don’t delve into anything meaningful. Let’s see if Jurassic World can bring balance to the sci-fi/thriller genre once again.