ActorsStarring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Samuel L. Jackson, BD Wong, Wayne Knight, Gerald R. Molen, Miguel Sandoval, Cameron Thor, Christopher John Fields, Greg Burson, Whit Hertford, Dean Cundey, Jophery C. Brown, Tom Mishler, Adrian Escober, Richard Kiley, Brad M. Bucklin, Laura Burnett, Gary Rodriguez, Brian Smrz, Robert 'Bobby Z' Zajonc
A wealthy entrepreneur secretly creates a theme park featuring living dinosaurs drawn from prehistoric DNA. Before opening day, he invites a team of experts and his two eager grandchildren to experience the park and help calm anxious investors. However, the park is anything but amusing as the security systems go off-line and the dinosaurs escape.
In 1931, Universal Studios and James Whale delivered Frankenstein, a horrific tale of science playing God. In 1933, RKO and Merian C. Cooper unleashed King Kong, giving depression era film-goers a look into a mysterious island filled with prehistoric beasts. Decades later in 1993, Steven Spielberg and Michael Crichton, two of the premiere fantasists of the era, teamed to fuse the themes of Frankenstein and Kong into one film. Adapting Crichton’s novel and using state of the art special effects, the two brought dinosaurs back from dead. The result: Jurassic Park was one of the biggest genre hits of the 1990’s.
The script by author Crichton and screenwriter David Koepp loosely follows Crichton’s original novel. We open to a tense scene, where a park worker is slain by one of the captive velociraptors. The company’s lawyers now having concerns about the park, brings in a group of scientists who are whisked away to this tropical island, in hopes that their expert opinions will quell any misgivings. Unfortunately for our heroes, but fortunely for monster fans…things go awry and the dinosaurs bust free of their pens. Leading to some exciting and occasionally frightening moments.
With it’s plot about an amusement park filled with cloned dinosaurs, it would be easy to write off Jurassic Park as a pulpy monster movie. On a surface level, that’s what it is and it’s perfectly fine to view as such and nothing more. But the tales tie to Frankensteinian themes add a darker center to it’s candy coating.
A perfect example of this layed approach to the story is billionare showman, John Hammond. Ably played by the late Richard Attenborough, he’s a likable old dandy, who seems harmless enough, if a bit eccentric. Closer inspection however, reveals a ruthless capitalist who doesn’t regard human life high enough until it’s too late. He might not be the one who ressurected the dinosaurs, but he bankrolled it. He might as well be a mad scientist.
It’s mad science that is very much of it’s time, of course. The ’90’s were a time where environmental concerns were starting to finally become mainstream. As was the public’s interest in genetic engineering. Don’t forget that a mere three years later, the world was introduced to Dolly, the cloned sheep. When Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldbulm, dressed like Johnny Cash) talks about the “rape of the natural world” it feels real. If you were a pre-teen kid at the time, the film’s pseudo-science seemed like it just might be possible.
The reality of the stituation is greatly helped by the fact the cast is filled with good actors. Aside from the aforementioned Attenborough and Goldman, we are also given Sam Neil and Laura Dern as a pair of dinosaur experts. Neil’s Dr. Alan Grant is a bit of a grouch and has no issue frightening small kids. This being a Spielberg movie, he grows a heart over the course of the picture. Dern’s paleobotanist, Ellie Sattler, is a more lovable rat off the bat, but also gets her fair share of the action hero moments. A sort of kindler, gentler, Ripely for the 1990’s.
The supporting cast is great as well. Standouts being Seinfield’s Wayne Knight as the Park’s crooked computer programmer and Samuel L. Jackson as a chain smoking engineer. A lot of the film’s humor comes from the offbeat secondary characters, but because good actors were cast, they never feel like cardboard cutouts. So when people start dying, their deaths matter.
The real stars of Jurassic Park are of course, the dinosaurs. A lot of noise has been made over the last several decades since the film’s release about ILM’s computer generated monsters. They are very impressive and actually hold up better than many recent CGI effects. But in reality the movie isn’t crammed to the gills with CGI dinosaurs. There is only a mere four minutes of computer effects in Jurassic Park. Much of the heavy lifting goes to Stan Winston Studios and their amazing animatronic creations. The mixture of the two crafts creates totally believable animals and it’s really sad that we’ve lost that kind of craftmanship since the film industry’s total embrace of computer driven effects. If anything, in the long run Jurassic Park makes a strong case for practical effects still having a place in the cinema world.
Jurassic Park also has a killer score by frequent Spielberg collaberator, John Williams. Ominous when it needs to be, the music at times evokes tribal sounds and even church music. It also delievers heavily on the “ooohs” and “awws” when a gee-whiz sense of wonder is needed.
Despite a lot of great scares and amazing monsters, Jurassic Park is at its heart an adventure film. But as people often forget, Spielberg does have decent horror chops. This is the guy who gave us Duel and Jaws after all. Jurassic Park has many tense moments of suspense, but also some of the best “jump scares” in cinema history. It’s this simple, but effective approach that keeps the movie from ever feeling cheap or dated in it’s attempts to frighten you.
A lot of people have written about Jurassic Park since it’s intial release. The movie has gone on to become a classic of it’s kind. It’s also one of my favorite films, so I can’t really recommend it enough. If somehow you’ve managed to not see it, I’d suggest renting it the next chance you get. It’s a rare movie that is enjoyable as both pure spectacle or on a more cerebral level. If you have kids that you’re trying to introduce to horror movies, it’s a great starter film. It’s also great if you’re simply a kid at heart.