Jurassic Park

All this week, Film School Rejects presents a daily dose of our favorite articles from the archive. Originally published in May 2011, Scott Beggs explains the allure of one of our favorites of all-time…

“The lack of humility before nature that’s being displayed here, uh…staggers me.”

After building a theme park populated by dinosaurs, eccentric old billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) invites two top dino-scientists (Sam Neill and Laura Dern), a rock star chaos theory expert (Jeff Goldblum), and his grandchildren to come check it out. Fortunately for everyone involved, a horrible security breach unleashes the dinosaurs, and their lives are all terribly threatened.

Why We Love It

I’m 9-years old sitting in a packed theater ready to see, for the first time in my life, dinosaurs on a giant screen. Sure, I’d seen Harryhausen’s prehistoric creatures at home on television, but this was different. I was on the edge of my seat before the film even began and clenching the armrests throughout the entire run time. In some ways, I wish that I could go back to before I’d seen the movie – to experience that type of excitement again, one that gets washed away after the images have danced around in your head. It’s pure, childlike, cinematic bliss.

I got to see Jurassic Park at just the right age. It’s a film that’s perfect for persons 9 to 90, but I think there’s something special about seeing it before you’re even a decade old. Everything in your world is already magical enough, you’re still learning about how things work on a basic level, and then all of the sudden someone tells you there’s going to be dinosaurs on screen. Flippin’ dinosaurs? What more could a science-camp-attending fifth grader want out of life?

And oh how real those dinosaurs looked.

The moment that Dr. Grant looks up out of the Jeep and he (and we) get to see the awesome sight of a grazing Brachiosaurus followed by the full expanse of sprawling extinct life roaming around the marsh. The blend of minimal CGI with Stan Winston’s practical creations perfects the illusion that Speilberg took a film crew in a time machine to the Cretaceous. That’s the kind of moment film was invented for.

It turns out there’s a lot of moments like that in Jurassic Park. There’s also a lot of quotable lines. In fact, there’s so many that no one will watch the movie with me because I insist on shouting “Dodgson! We’ve got Dodgson here!” and “Tim! No, Tim!” when I should be silently watching in awe. These lines come from a full stock of brilliant characters that are brought to life by a fantastic cast. It’s rare in a movie where every single character is memorable, but even the quarry foreman at the beginning of the movie leaves us with, “You’ll never get Grant out of Montana. He’s like me: a digger.” Memorable lines from side characters. Who knew.

First, there’s Grant. A hero in an older sense of the word who stands up for what he believes in and protects the innocent at all costs. Yet, he’s made completely human by his failings. He’s also made human by a clear romantic connection to Dr. Sadler that’s never fully fleshed out, keeping a cliche love story out of an action/adventure film. Sadler herself is warm and strong – a member of a short list of well-rounded, strong female characters in recent film history. She’s written incredibly well, and Laura Dern nails the part, delivering lines like “We can discuss gender roles in crisis scenarios when I get back,” in response to Hammond’s faux chivalry in such a way that we don’t even realize it’s a fairly progressive concept.

And  then there’s Malcolm. Has there ever been a better character? Maybe, but he’s up there at the top. The guy is always looking for the future ex-Mrs. Malcolm, struts around despite being a total nerd, and is the only person at the beginning that sees the island for what it is. He also gives us nuggets of truth to take home with us. Because of him, I know that life finds a way and that I should wash my hands after having them elbow-deep in a pile of Triceratops feces.

Even the kids aren’t that horrible. Usually a film with children is automatically hobbled, but here are a couple of children that are both accurately portrayed (as annoying wastes of space that are putting more lives at risk because they can barely take care of themselves) and as endearing (and by “endearing,” I mean “not totally, epically annoying). In fact, as the children get used to the constant rush of running for their lives, they take part in one of the scariest enclosed-space chase scenes I’ve seen, tearfully eluding two very clever raptors in the kitchen.

Hammond is great. Muldoon is great. Ray “Hold on to your butts” Arnold is cool with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. Hell, even Nedry is a great character even if it’s more fun than it should be to see him covered with poisonous dino-spit.

They all populate a world that is breath-taking and brilliantly, beautifully shot. The tender human moments are followed up by riveting scenes of giant teeth ripping through human flesh and the world’s best predators stalking their prey. The dinosaurs, as epic as they are, are also utterly scary. Having the raptors be the main villains instead of the T-Rex was a stroke of genius for Crichton, and it’s great to see the action and the horror elements of a story like this taken seriously. It’s a dangerous world, and it’s treated with all the weight that it should bring. It could have easily been campy, but instead, it’s damned terrifying.

Plus, all that terror is accompanied by a triumphant, moving, creepy score by John Williams. Yet again he’s created an iconic score and main theme for an iconic movie. Just try not to let it get stuck in your head.

All of these elements come together to make one of my favorite movies, a movie that’s worthy of intense praise, a movie that will most definitely stand the test of time as a classic. Master craftsmen coming together with a strong story that should resonate with audiences of all ages.

But it definitely helps if you’re 9-years old. For most, it’s a fantastic movie. For a kid, it’s transformative.

Moment We Fell In Love

Like all Movies We Love, there are a ton of memorable scenes. I’m tempted to choose the scene where Grant lies on top of the injured Trike and rises up and down with its breathing. It’s a touching moment that shows the wonder and respect and joy he feels for these things he’s studied for so long but never imagined he’d get to see or interact with. There’s also the T-Rex attack (or even the water ripple scene preceding it). Tim flying off the electric fence. The herd flocking this way. The introductory video (“Hello, John!” “Well, hello, John!”). The list goes on.

But out of these, I chose a very small moment that happens just after Grant leads young Lex (Hammond’s granddaughter) down the ledge after the initial T-Rex attack while a Jeep dangles overhead. They get to the ground, and she frantically hyperventilates, “He left us!” – clearly shocked that the bloodsucking lawyer would run for safety while innocent children were in danger.

Grant steadies her shoulder, looks her dead in the eye and says, “But that’s not…what I’m gonna do.”

Even after saving everyone and proving his wits and strength, it’s the first sign we get that proves Grant as a total bad ass. Pants-shittingly frightening dinosaurs are attacking them, and he is resolute in the dedication to make sure those children get safely back to their grandfather. He’s unwavering and shows the kind of confidence that calms Lex down and makes the audience believe that he might just get everyone off the island alive.

Final Thoughts

This movie is just so nearly perfect that it’s hard to comprehend. It doesn’t even really look all that dated upon my 29th viewing. I will say that it deviates a ton from the book, but for something like this story it seems necessary – or like it worked out pretty damned good irregardless. The story, the lines, the characters, the acting, the camera work, the score, the effects, the tone, the pacing. It’s all done so well and woven together to make an action film with brains, a science-fiction film with humor, and a character study with dinosaurs eating people. Genius.

Read more from our Movies We Love series


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