Jurassic Park (1993)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenwriters: Michael Crichton, David Koepp
Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello, Wayne Knight, Samuel L. Jackson
Jurassic Park stomped onto the big screen thirty years ago and became an instant classic, loved by adults and children alike. It was the highest-grossing film of all time until Titanic cruised into the top spot four years later. Jurassic Park’s setting, humour, John Williams score, all-star cast, and larger-than-life characters made it an unforgettable story. One that boasts the rare accolade of being better than the book it’s based on.
John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has built a wildlife park with a difference. Its inhabitants are bona fide dinosaurs. After an incident with a park ‘attraction’, Hammond needs the safety of the park verified. So, before its grand public opening, he invites respected experts in the field, Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Dr Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to have a look around. Oh, and his grandchildren naturally. Immediately, things go wrong. It turns out you can control a T-rex about as well as you can a hurricane.
Casting the much-beloved Richard Attenborough as John Hammond was an inspired choice. Hammond is a man seemingly passionate about furthering science and it’s easy to believe that this is his only goal when you look into the kind, open face of the iconic actor. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Hammond is obsessed rather than passionate, to the degree that he would risk his own grandchildren’s lives. He is a man so full of ego and the idea of his own legacy that he is blind to his failings.
The three experts, Drs Grant, Sattler, and Malcolm, are the driving force of the plot. Their childlike wonder reflecting our same reactions. Grant’s interactions with the children (Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello) is where a lot of the humour comes from, and Malcolm’s complete incredulity at what is happening is the injection of scepticism that pushes Hammond and the scientists into making more ridiculous decisions. Ellie Sattler is an icon. Whip smart, defending feminism, rocking sensible hiking boots, and willing to go elbow deep in triceratops turd in the pursuit of answers. An icon.
Jurassic Park is not a film about dinosaurs, it’s about these characters and what they come to represent thematically. It is a film about human hubris, about our species’ need to conquer and control. Then it is a film about resolve and humility in the face of mistake and human error. It is a film where nature’s awesome power wins as all the humans can do is retreat hastily into the sunset.
While the T-rex is a formidable foe, and the iconic logo of the franchise, the velociraptors are also worthy adversaries for this ensemble of plucky human characters. A herd of clever girls, if you will. The intrigue lay so heavily with these animals that it is the raptors who play major parts in four of the five subsequent films. Director Steven Spielberg and author Michael Crichton weren’t so interested in an accurate depiction of a velociraptor – Jurassic Park’s popularity means that the cultural version of them seems so much more likely than the feathery death turkeys they most probably were.
Given how iconic such creatures remain after three decades, it remains noteworthy to acknowledge how dinosaurs are only seen on screen for fourteen minutes of Jurassic Park’s runtime. This is a suspense-building technique that director Steven Spielberg perfected in Jaws. The dinos are always waiting just off screen, which adds a delicious level of anticipation and one hell of a punch when they do take centre stage. Furthering this impact is how the animatronics and CGI have aged just as well as the core message. Those one-hundred and thirteen dinosaur-free minutes also help the film adhere to the PG rating that allowed it to become a family favourite.
While Jurassic Park birthed some pretty terrible films, the original remains a must-see. It left a generation of viewers certain that they could explain chaos theory with a drip of water and confident that if they stood perfectly still, they would never be eaten by a T-rex*. In today’s climate when human action is causing catastrophic ripples through the natural world, and billionaires play fast and loose with the planet’s resources, there are many themes in Jurassic Park that continue to resonate as clearly as a metal ladle clanging on the tiled floor of a velociraptor-strewn kitchen.
Jurassic Park’s descendants lack the magic of the original, which is a cliché-avoiding, character-driven, genre-defining rampage. It is iconic moment after iconic moment.
*Tyrannosaurs actually had impeccable eyesight so official advice for bumping into a T-rex is to run. Fast.