John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), the founder and CEO of bioengineering company InGen, has created a theme park named Jurassic Park on the island of Isla Nublar that is populated with cloned dinosaurs. After a park worker is killed by a Velociraptor, the worried park investors demand that experts take a tour of the park to ensure its safety. The investors’ attorney Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) invites mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and Hammond invites paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern).
At first everyone is stricken with awe, as anyone else would naturally be, by what Hammond has put together, but the tour doesn’t go as planned, and is cut short. If that’s not enough, after Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight), a disgruntled park employee bribed by a corporate rival to steal dinosaur embryos, deactivates the park’s security system, those left stranded on the tour due to the power outage are faced with a terrifying fight for survival as the dinosaurs break free.
Seinfeld would like to point out that it’s all Newman’s fault too.
To put director Steven Spielberg’s greatness in perspective, Jurassic Park was the second best film of his to be released in 1993 (the top honor goes to Best Picture/Best Director winner Schindler’s List).
No one can deny the spectacle that Jurassic Park brings. Is it really all that surprising coming from a filmmaker who gave us Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. beforehand? But in all honesty, this film’s greatness is a bit overrated. I’m always puzzled when people trash The Lost World and Jurassic Park III as dumb monster flicks, ’cause what exactly do they make of this film? At the end of the day, this is nothing more than a monster flick, and one that isn’t the second coming of Jaws. The difference between the two is easy: The stars of Jaws are three compelling characters and the shark is the supporting role; the stars of Jurassic Park are clearly the dinosaurs while the characters play second fiddle.
As a “second-tier” Spielberg film, it lacks the character development of Jaws, the emotional resonance of E.T. and both the narrative and iconic protagonist of Raiders of the Lost Ark (in fairness, tough acts to follow). But hold your fire, J-Park fans, ’cause it speaks incredibly well of Spielberg’s craft that even his second-tier features films this entertaining.
I mean, I’d recommend this just for John Williams’s score alone.
See, straightforward monster flicks aren’t inherently sucky; just the sucky ones are… obviously. I’ll go back to what Roger Ebert once said again, “It’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it.” Even though this is pretty much one escape from a predator scene, followed by another escape from another predator scene, with a couple “This is why you shouldn’t play God!” speeches in between, who better than Spielberg to show us exactly the way he’d do it? As a child, watching the T-Rex escape from its enclosure was the stuff of nightmares. Having re-watched it again recently, the perfectly-paced tension that builds during its escape is still palpable, and what can be comparable to Jaws here is the way Spielberg conjures up terror in the hearts and minds of moviegoers even before the T-Rex appears onscreen. Water ripples in a plastic cup (achieved by plucking guitar strings installed inside the car) have never looked more frightening.
I like to think the Spielberg that gave us Chrissie’s death and Indy’s raid of the Peruvian temple would give a big thumbs up to this film’s big moneymaker moment that proves just how right Ian Malcolm is all the time.
As I said up above, the true stars here are the dinosaurs and Jurassic Park doesn’t disappoint in any way there. Combining CGI with practical effects, Spielberg brought on makeup effects legend Stan Winston for the animatronic dinosaurs, Phil Tippett for the go motion dinosaurs on long shots, Michael Lantieri (who came up with the water ripple effect) for on-set effects and Dennis Muren of Industrial Light & Magic for the CGI creatures. All four won Academy Awards for their work, and it can’t get any clearer as to why. This film served as a milestone for visual effects in the early ’90s, and to this day, the dinosaur designs and all the details, big and small, put into each of them still hold up.
The characters represent your typical survival film tropes, all with predictable outcomes. We know that when Dr. Grant mentions at the beginning how he doesn’t like kids, by the end of the film he’s gonna do all but adopt Timmy and Lex. Kids in a monster flick, of course, means the T-Rex has found its first victims, and the attorney is such a stereotypical weasel that he might as well walk around with a big “EAT ME!” label stamped on his forehead for all the dinosaurs to read.
If you can buy into the premise, then literate dinosaurs shouldn’t be that hard to accept either.
So Crichton’s not going for fresh and original here (he and co-writer David Koepp made a number of changes to various characters from his novel). Obvious tropes or not, it’s a great cast and they all serve their roles really well. Out of the all the characters, the two most interesting are Hammond and Malcolm. Hammond (played with great Shakespearean gusto by the late Richard Attenborough) has the strongest arc, which is best shown in a quieter scene shared with Laura Dern meant to humanize the eccentric opportunist. Malcolm, the wise-cracking voice of reason, isn’t really an interesting character so much as it’s what the always entertaining Jeff Goldblum brings to the role.
No one has, can, nor ever will utter a string of “uhs”, “uh-huhs” and “yeahs” as perfectly and as Goldblum-y as Goldblum.
The ethical questions raised in Jurassic Park aren’t as deep as the film tries to make them out to be, but Steven Spielberg nevertheless elevates the wow factor, with the aid of a talented cast and award-winning effects work from ILM, in ways very few filmmakers, if any, are able to do. It may not be on the same plateau as his greatest adventures, but this is still a fun and exciting man vs. beast thrill ride that proves even after nearly 20 years since the success of Jaws, Spielberg hasn’t lost his touch in delivering the goods.