I blame Jurassic World: Evolution. I’ve been immersing myself in the creation of dinosaurs and the running of multiple theme parks for weeks on end, which has led to me wanting to revisit the movies from the beginning. Having seen the first three movies multiple times, albeit a long time ago (and being far less familiar with Jurassic Park III than I am with the other movies), I wanted to see if my memories of them held up. The first is the one I’ve seen most often and is also the most memorable for a number of reasons aside from the fact that I’ve watched it a lot over the years (although not for a long time until now!).
It’s difficult now to express exactly how much of an impact Jurassic Park made on cinema and on me in general back in the early 90s. The teaser trailers and advance word helped to build immense hype for the film, which was employing groundbreaking CGI for the cautionary tale of genetically engineered dinosaurs wreaking havoc on an island theme park. The teasers, however, showed very little. A mosquito in amber and an ominous voiceover was enough to sell the concept to moviegoers, it seemed, for quite some time – when photos of shots from the film emerged, alongside short snippets of actual footage, excitement reached fever pitch worldwide.
When it arrived in summer 1993, it was mindblowing. The dinosaurs felt real; alive. They were truly impressive, living and breathing creations that behaved in a way that made them feel like actual animals – albeit deadly ones, in many cases.
Though some of the CGI has dated – the first Brachiosaurus or the herd of Gallimimus as the most obvious examples – and look somewhat blurry, the scenes that use CGI either in darkness, at a distance or to enhance the many brilliant uses of practical dinosaur models and puppets are still incredibly effective. Much of that is due to the detail in the animation – even the Gallimimus, as obviously CG as they are, behave exactly as you’d expect them to. Prior to Jurassic Park, the only other mainstream movie to deploy CGI in such an explicit and repeated way was Terminator 2: Judgment Day, but this was ‘only’ to render metallic morphing effects, not mimic the look of actual – albeit extinct – creatures, which is what made Jurassic Park so impressive in its day. The majority of the dinosaur effects are, however, handled with the aforementioned puppetry and animatronics though – which many people forget – and these are just as effective today as they were in 1993. The sick Triceratops is still as astonishing creation, as an example.
CGI aside, however, there are a few other aspects you won’t be surprised to hear have also aged badly; the computer tech used throughout, though feeling cutting edge at the time, really has dated (even at the time, the ‘It’s a Unix system!’ scene was widely mocked by those in the know though). Samuel L. Jackson’s character is prominently smoking every single time he’s seen – or at least that’s how it feels – and this really hits home just how unusual it is to see characters smoking in films these days (even in period movies where it would have been a common occurrence to see people smoke, it’s very unusual – at least in mainstream cinema).
It’s a slow burner too, which takes time to carefully explain the science behind the creation of the dinosaurs. Some may cite this as a negative – but I love this element and the foreshadowing it brings; younger audiences more used to a swifter pace may not be so keen, however.
Jeff Goldblum’s mathematician/chaos theorist, Dr Ian Malcolm, is a particular delight (partly because, well: it’s Jeff Goldblum dammit); he has a speciality in the area of foreshadowing, followed by multiple ‘I told you so’ lines throughout. He gets the lion’s share of the best lines in general too – with a script that isn’t short of quotable dialogue. Plus, who can forget his bizarre laugh in the scene he’s introduced in, which went viral many, many years after the film was released? He’s a damn treasure, that man.
It’s odd in hindsight to see BD Wong – as geneticist Henry Wu – presented in such a benevolent way, given his status as an outright villain by the time we reach the Jurassic World movies. It does, however, cast his defensiveness on his genetic meddling – when challenged by Dr Malcolm – in an entirely new light.
John Williams is on top form here (though is he ever on anything less than that?) too; his main theme is – and I do use this term a lot, but I promise it’s really appropriate here – iconic, without question.
Spielberg’s direction is – predictably – superb. The tension is ratcheted up expertly in a number of scenes and when all prehistoric hell does break loose, it feels like it doesn’t let up until the end, with chaos ensuing in multiple places at once and each situation brilliantly shot and edited. Every dinosaur feels distinct in its look, sound, behaviour and attack pattern, leading to some brilliantly creative carnage. The T-Rex attack in the rain is full of incredibly tense and scary moments; though I’ve mentioned how effective John Williams’ score is, its absence is equally effective throughout the T-Rex’s first major scene, with the carnage unfolding sans music for the vast majority of the scene. The ripples in the water and the bassy stomp of the T-Rex are an absolute masterstroke here too. It’s still one of the most effective action sequences in cinematic history, in my humble opinion. Sam Neill shouting “IAN – FREEZE!” still gives me goosebumps to this day, as Dr Malcolm heroically distracts the carnivorous animal from the kids in peril.
The Raptor attack in the kitchen is brilliant too, but feels very different in scale and far more confined; again, it’s a masterpiece of direction (and, in a particular moment of genius, misdirection too!).
I saw Jurassic Park on the big screen four times in a variety of different cinemas; I was first in the queue for it on opening night in July 1993, at a cinema that hasn’t existed for many years now (it’s a bingo hall now – smaller scale cinemas mostly going the way of the dinosaur, it seems – especially in London suburbs where the multiplex is king). It blew me away every time. Watching it in 4K on a reasonably sized screen at home, seeing it in full for the first time in maybe 20 years was a great experience; I’m perhaps more forgiving of its shortcomings – that are mostly related to its age and the tech, both in the story and with the effects – than someone younger or less familiar with the film would be, however. There’s a few gaps in logic that rear their head at a few points, too – but these occur during the fast paced final act of the film, and tend to only be things you notice once you’ve seen it as many times as I have.
In general though, it’s still as wonderful a film as it always was, despite being tainted with sequels that are fun at best and awful at worst; the badly titled first sequel – it’s always bothered me that it was called The Lost World: Jurassic Park and not Jurassic Park: The Lost World – has its moments, and I’m a fan of Jurassic World too; however, the less said about the rest of the series, the better.
Jurassic Park itself, however, is filled with wonder and awe, shock and terror (albeit reasonably tame), effects that would go on to shape how movies were made and some absolutely peerless scenes that are still brilliantly exciting, edge of seat stuff. Not bad for a film that’s now approaching its 27th anniversary.
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