Every film fan has that movie (or movies) that made them fall in love with movies in the first place. There are several important films in my life for different various reasons (Star Wars is obviously one of those movies). But reflecting deeper on my life, there is one movie that I think is most responsible for my love of movies, and that is Steven Spielberg’s, Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park is not only a movie that I loved and watched over and over again as a child but it was a movie that made me take a step further. Jurassic Park had an effect on me that I wasn’t aware of. I was in such awe of the movie through its brilliant techniques in special effects and outstanding entertainment it made me want to know how it was made. I would watch the Making Of Jurassic Park documentary as many times as I watched the movie taking in the almost magician like the quality of filmmaking. Jurassic Park is the movie that made me appreciate filmmaking. With Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom coming out in just a few months I thought there would be no better time to talk about my favorite movie of all time, Jurassic Park.
Is Jurassic Park my favorite movie of all time? Most of the time. When asked the question of what is your favorite movie of all time, I normally give one of two answers. To borrow (and paraphrase) a comparison that Roger Ebert made when talking about the 1933 King Kong and Citizen Kane, on good days my favorite movie is The Godfather. The Godfather to me is the best example of dramatic storytelling in film. However, on bad days my favorite movie is Jurassic Park. This isn’t because I think Jurassic Park is a bad movie, on the contrary, I think it represents the best that summer blockbuster filmmaking has to offer and what all summer blockbusters should strive towards. Summer blockbusters are as important as any other type of movie and Jurassic Park is among the very best of them.
Of course, movies you love as a kid don’t always hold up when you watch it as an adult. One could make the argument that my enjoyment of this is in part because of what it did for my life. There might be a nugget of truth to that but I think Jurassic Park is one of those films that works not just as a four-year-old kid but as an adult. Every time I watch Jurassic Park I still appreciate it and find more to love than I did the last time.
I’m not going to waste much time in this review going over a brief description of the plot of Jurassic Park. The tale of a theme park gone wrong and Dinosaurs brought back to life has been among the most widely seen movies of all time, so there’s no need to break down the story here. What I do want to write about is how screenwriters Michael Crichton and David Koepp are able to pen a story about Dinosaurs that is populated with both wonderful characters and brains. This would have been very easy to make a simple adventure movie where a bunch of nobodies go to a park and get picked off by Dinosaurs one by one (as some of the future movies would be about). Under the guidance of director Steven Spielberg, the movie is about a man playing God and whether nature will condone that. This has many ethical questions of science on his mind throughout the movie and about man’s place in nature. This isn’t anything new that science fiction hasn’t explored before. However, back in the 1950s a lot of science fiction movies explored the dangers of the atomic warfare but not many films did it as exceptionally as Gojira did. The same is true about Jurassic Park.
Populating the movie is a group of really talented actors. Jurassic Park has a distinct lack of established A-list stars, it doesn’t need it, it has the Dinosaurs. In the absence of that, Spielberg enlists the work of excellent actors that feel like everyday people thrust in an extreme situation. Sam Neil plays Dr. Alan Grant and has a similar feel that Roy Schneider did in Spielberg’s other great blockbuster, Jaws. Jeff Goldblum would be immortalized for his work as the smooth as silk scientist Dr. Ian Malcom. The movie’s biggest stars were a young Samuel L. Jackson (just before he broke out into a massive star) and Wayne Knight (he was on Seinfeld at the time). Laura Dern brings class and believability to the role of Dr. Elliot Sadler. David Attenborough perfectly plays John Hammond, the obsessed inventor that just wants to bring joy to the world but has trouble seeing past his childlike ambition. The characters are given enough characterization in order to be fully fleshed characters and they made enough of an effect on the story to not make them feel like a bunch of good-looking people running around and screaming. Even the child actors are quite good (Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards) and play really well with Sam Neil.
Some of the most interesting scenes in the movie is when Spielberg has them interacting with one another. Given that this movie actually only has fifteen minutes wortDinosaurs the human characters have to work in order to maintain our interest in the movie. The conversation over lunch about the ethics of bringing Dinosaurs back is among the best in the movie. Another one is the juxtaposition of Hammond sitting alone eating dinner with his Dinosaurs toys sitting just out of his reach, perfectly summarizing how distant yet close his dream really is and only for Elliot Sadler to vocalize that to him. There is thought present throughout these conversations that also allow for audience involvement and interpretation.
But as a kid and even now, the most exciting and thrilling parts are with the Dinosaurs. Released in 1993, with the combination of practical animatronics by Stan Winston and groundbreaking CGI, it is truly amazing how well this movie holds up today. Spielberg wisely never overuses the Dinosaurs and doesn’t overstep his limitations. This is also because Spielberg is just a smart filmmaker and knows how and when to use the Dinosaurs. The opening scene of a Velociraptor attacking a worker gives you two brief shots of the Velociraptor and then Spielberg pulls back letting the terror of the situation take over with John Williams thrilling score hammering home the threat of the situation. Towards the end, when the Velociraptor is about to break through the glass and threaten our heroes, Grant turns his gun to shoot the Velociraptor. Spielberg could have shown us that moment, but he knows it is a much more terrifying scene if he cuts away to Hammond on the other end of a phone line with gunshots ringing in the background and seeing the look on his horrified face. Spielberg knows when to showcase the Dinosaurs but also when to pull back.
Jurassic Park is not a horror movie like Jaws but it does have some of the most intense sequences he has ever produced. The T-Rex padlock scene is among his best. Slowly Spielberg builds the tension by giving the audience only small clues that something big is coming. The ripples in the water single the arrival of the giant T-Rex, then the scene escalates further by a goat disappearing. Then, the dramatic reveal of the King of the Dinosaurs with the body of the goat falls onto the roof of the Ford Explorer, Spielberg pans up and there is the T-Rex. The scene only continues from there and is ever evolving, always shifting, and moving. It is a true centerpiece of a movie that extends further to a dramatic car chase with the T-Rex right on our heroes’ tails.
Wisely Spielberg gives us moments to breathe and also doesn’t characterize the Dinosaurs as the villains (well except the Velociraptors), the Dinosaurs act as animals. T-Rex coming back as a hero later in the story is one of the best uses of the deus ex machina in film history (I would argue it is the best) which shifts our perception of the once terrifying beast. Spielberg also gives great moments of awe and wonder. The Brachiosaurus scene is still goosebumps-inducing scenes to watch and that’s when you realize you’re not just marveling at special effects you’re marveling at the Dinosaur. The Dinosaurs are special effects but the movie never treats them like that. The movie is never flashy and in an age when being flashy is a norm in blockbuster filmmaker it is refreshing to watch a movie where the animals feel like they have weight and just let the sight of a Dinosaur awe you by virtue of that alone. Spielberg explained that Dinosaurs have the appeal of mythology because they aren’t alive anymore but are more grounded than mythology because they were alive once. That type of mentality is seen throughout this movie. The Dinosaurs are majestic, like something out of mythology but never feel like mythological monsters.
Jurassic Park is clearly a groundbreaking film of special effects but the movie still beloved because it tells a good and thrilling story, and populates the movie with good characters. At the end of the day, the movie would not be remembered as well if it was lacking in a quality story. In the similar way we talk about Toy Story for not just being a technological breakthrough but also a great piece of storytelling, Jurassic Park is in the same conversation. Young Sherlock Holmes was a technological breakthrough as well for one scene but no one talks about the other for any reason but that. The movie takes a solid hour for everything to start going wrong at the park which really helps build the characters and leaves the second hour to be a thrill ride that doesn’t let up.
No review of Jurassic Park would be complete without talking about John Williams now classic score. Williams runs the gambit of emotions from majestic, sad, and thrilling. This movie is great on its own but it really is brought to another level with Williams’s score. Everybody knows the theme from Jurassic Park and can recognize it as it comes on. I always feel like a lot of people underestimate how much of a difference a great musical score can make on a movie and how it can help elevate a movie. I probably would have enjoyed Pacific Rim even more than I did if the movie had a more memorable score. The Jurassic Park score is among Williams’s best.
Jurassic Park is a great piece of blockbuster filmmaking that carries on the tradition of special effects heavy movies like King Kong and Jason and the Argonauts but also brings a grounded more majestic quality with a great sense of awe and wonder. This is a movie with brains, characters, set pieces and groundbreaking visual effects. Jurassic Park has almost everything you could really want in a movie, excitement, scares, and magic. Jurassic Park made me love movies and also made me want to become a filmmaker. That’s the highest compliment I can give it.