Movies That Everyone Should See: “Jurassic Park”

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For some unexplained reason, most children are fascinated by dinosaurs at some point. I’d be willing to wager that if we were to poll the citizens of the country under 7 years old, paleontologist would be the top answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Perhaps it’s the fact that dinosaurs stir the imagination. Maybe it’s the fact that now we would consider them monsters, but once, they were the dominant species on earth. Whatever the reason, dinosaurs have always held a special place in our hearts, due in part to the fact that so many of us were passionate about them when we were young.

With apologies to any movie which featured dinosaurs previously – In 1993 Steven Spielberg brought them to life on the big screen for the first time.

“It was very important to me to be a kid when directing Jurassic park… because I, like most kids, one of my first longest words was triceratops, stegosaurus. My dad would always take me to see the dinosaurs in Philadelphia at the Franklin institute of technology, there was a natural history museum there with dinosaur bones. And so I made that movie really as a youngster, remembering how much fun it was to imagine with such yearning that some day wouldn’t it be great to run into a dinosaur and meet up with one without being eaten by it. And I just remember making the movie with that philosophy. For everybody that had ever wondered and had been fascinated with that whole era of the dinosaur. I wanted to make a movie for all those dinosaur lovers.”

- Steven Spielberg

“Jurassic Park” began as a novel by Michael Crichton (1990). Crichton had often incorporated science elements in his book, and wanted to explore the possibility of bringing dinosaurs back to life via cloning. He wondered, however, who would pay for this super expensive research and technology, as without a commercial application, the science itself wouldn’t justify the cost. What he came up with was the concept of an entertainment attraction / biological preserve… a cross between a zoo and an amusement park.

“Jurassic Park”.

The novel was an enormous success, and the property was a hot commodity in Hollywood before it even went to press. Crichton was asking $1.5 million up front and a cut of the gross, and still there was no shortage of interested parties. Warner Bros. (Tim Burton), Sony (Richard Donner), and 20th Century Fox (Joe Dante) all made bids, but in May 1990, Crichton sold to Universal Studios, with Steven Spielberg attached to direct.

The scientific aspect of Crichton’s novel fascinated Spielberg – he didn’t want the movie to just be another monster movie. With Crichton onboard as a screenwriter, they attempted to keep the science elements of the film – paleontology, genetic engineering, chaos theory, etc. – present, but accessible for audiences. They found very clever ways of doing so, including integrating an introductory video into the Jurassic Park tour that broke down the cloning process without having it stand out as exposition. It made sense that there would be such a thing, it felt very authentic.

And authenticity – believability – would be crucial to the film, if it was to succeed.

Especially in regards to the dinosaurs.

The biggest challenge of making the movie would be to bring the Dinosaurs to the screen realistically. If audiences didn’t buy into the dinosaurs, they wouldn’t buy into the movie. In retrospect, the movie is now hailed as a watershed moment in the use of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI), as the technology was utilized in this film to a degree it never had been previously.

But CGI wasn’t initially the plan.

“Jurassic Park” actually sits at the junction of several types of movie making technologies.

Initially, the plan for the dinosaurs was to do as much shooting as possible via animatronics (fully sized robotic dinosaurs), and then supplement as necessary with stop motion technology (a lineage that dates back pre-“King Kong”). Computer animators from ILM were on board, but were only tasked with assisting the animatronics and stop motion teams in coming up with dinosaur movement and sequences.

Work began with extensive concept drawings, construction of scale models, and eventually proceeding to the fully sized final dinosaurs. The Dilophosaurus, Velociraptors, Brachiosaurus, Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex all had (at least) portions of their sequences created via animatronics. In fact, the only dinosaurs prominently featured in the film which did not have animatronics were the flock of Gallimimus. Stan Winston’s animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex stood 20 feet (6.1 m) tall, weighed 13,000 pounds (5,900 kg), and was 40 feet (12 m) long. It was a complicated piece of machinery. Winston kept his creations moving even when they were still. Breathing, looking, shifting… it enforced the effect that the creatures were alive. The complicated systems necessitated animatronic puppeteers. They actually did rehearsals to sync their performances correctly in order to make the dinosaurs move and react as the scenes called for.

As work proceeded, however, the ILM team placed a call to Spielberg that would change the course of the movie. They were confident they could animate a realistic dinosaur onscreen. A dinosaur the audience would believe in. Tests were put together – with impressive results.

Impressive enough for Spielberg to entrust them with the process

They didn’t lay off the stop motion team, however. Instead they found a way to incorporate them into the development. Due to the prohibitive costs involved in CGI, unpolished stop motion sequences were produced as a sort of animated storyboarding – an intermediate step in order to fully map out the scenes prior to developing them with CGI. Stop motion sequences were done to lay out the most famous scenes in the film, including the T. Rex attack on the jeeps and the Velociraptor attack in the kitchen.

The CGI was created in layers, they created skeletal frames in order to arrange the sequence, and then an unfinished layer of animation in order to get a rough feel of the look. If satisfied, they proceeded with rendering the details. In spite of the impressive test results, the CGI was still a leap of faith for Spielberg and the producers… they had to trust the computer animation would work into the scenes they had already filmed. Shooting had wrapped and Spielberg had already moved on to “Schindler’s List” by the time the visual effects were completed.

Of course, the results turned out to be spectacular. After layering in the sound effects (dolphins and walruses for the Velociraptors, lions and elephants for the T. Rex), “Jurassic Park” had succeeded in creating life-like dinosaurs. Believable creatures. They could have gone to waste, however, if the rest of the movie hadn’t lived up to its end of the bargain.

That’s not an issue with Steven Spielberg at the helm. “Jurassic Park” contains some of the most memorable action sequences ever filmed.

The Tyrannosaurus Rex attack on the tour jeeps is probably the most memorable. With the rain pouring down, the massive monster snaps through its fencing and approaches the two jeeps. Then it proceeds to try to eat the children within. Watching it nudge, stomp, and try to insert its snout into the jeep is a series of cleverly designed “edge of your seat” moments. Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum’s characters are able to momentarily distract the creature (Allowing it to feed – on the lawyer, LOL) but before you know it, it’s right back after the jeep, pushing it over the edge of a steep cliff, and causing Alan Grant and the Hammond grandkids a whole new set of problems.

It’s a scene so engrossing that I swear, it took audiences 10 years to realize, “Hey wait a minute, how come they’re on the edge of a cliff all of a sudden? Wasn’t there just a goat there?” :D

Of course, that scene isn’t the only memorable action sequence in Jurassic Park. The T. Rex also notably chases the jeep that Ellie and Mr. Muldoon come in to try to rescue everyone. Running after a speeding vehicle, crashing through downed trees… it’s an impressive, adrenaline charged sequence as well.

But there are those that would say that the T. Rex isn’t even the primary “villain” of “Jurassic Park”… that that honor goes to the Velociraptors.

Like most of us, Steven Spielberg hadn’t even heard of Velociraptors prior to reading “Jurassic Park”. Crichton’s research for his novel began their path into the public eye. What they provided were dinosaurs that could be terrifying, yet fit through the halls and doors of the command center. Their hypothesized intellectual advancement gave the film a foil that wasn’t simply a big dumb beast. These were lethal, knowing killers. Hunters. Animal assassins. The kitchen sequence where two of them stalk the Hammond kids is yet another legendary “Jurassic Park” action sequence.

It’s simply one of the greatest action movies of all time. The intoxicatingly realistic dinosaurs are perfectly complimented by fantastically scripted action set pieces. It’s all accompanied by brilliant sound effects work and yet another memorable, sweeping, majestic John Williams score. The elements all work together in conjunction to give the audience a thrill ride of an experience… at one moment they can be lost in the awe and wonder of dinosaurs once again walking the Earth, the next, completely terrified for the characters as they’re menaced by monsters.

But the movie also features a phenomenal, completely credible story. Even though a lot of the science is actually impossible, audiences are able to buy into it wholeheartedly. Who can’t imagine a greedy corporation rushing to profit from a technology, regardless of the risk? “Jurassic Park” dabbles in themes of science’s reach exceeding its grasp, and the illusion of order in our world…

Spielberg assembled an extraordinary cast for the film. Child actors Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards were able to deliver everything they were called on to do. Wayne Knight and Samuel L Jackson are perfect supporting characters as the man you love to hate and the man you love to root for. Laura Dern and Sam Neill conveyed the wonder and awe of scientists whose dreams miraculously come true, with Neill having the added role of the reluctant protector whose heart eventually softens. Jeff Goldblum’s “rock star” Chaos-theorist delivers smarm and snark, but also lightens the tone of the film by delivering most of the movie’s comedic lines. And veteran actor Richard Attenborough can break your heart with his portrayal of a man who slowly comes to realize his reach for greatness has actually been a descent into madness.

During its initial theatrical run, “Jurassic Park” grossed $914 million worldwide, becoming the biggest box office hit in history (it would be eclipsed four years later by “Titanic”). It rightfully assumed its place amongst the best Steven Spielberg movies, becoming one of the brightest jewels in his crown. It’s undeniably one of the greatest action movies ever made, but even more than that…

It’s a shining example of how movies can bring the imagination to life.

It’s definitely a “Movie That Everyone Should See”.

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66 thoughts on “Movies That Everyone Should See: “Jurassic Park”

  1. At 13, this was probably one of the first action/thriller movies that I saw, and I loved it. The score was another very memorable thing about the movie, even adding to the already wondrous scenes before disaster strikes.

    • Yeah, I saw on the special features that John Williams tried to make the score reminiscent of Cathedral music in order to inspire that sense of awe, and wonder. I think he succeeded. I love that main theme, for sure…

  2. I think I saw JP 6 times in the theater. I’ve read the book 3 times. Also, I got in trouble as a kid for calling a game tip hotline for help with beating the final level of the Sega Genesis JP video game. Yeah, I think I can say that I love this movie! Favorite line: “hold on to your butts.”

    • He says it more than once, too! I thought he just said it once, but its at least twice! LOL

      I didnt get around to updating the blog’s tagline yet, thanks for reminding me. I’m gonna use my favorite line though “You think they’ll have that on the tour?”

  3. This movie always brings me back to when I was a kid but to after seeing the first photo of this post especially did it for me. I remember so vividly playing with those toys! This is one of my top ten movies of all time and I think since Spielberg made it with himself as a kid in mind is why this movie is so effective. Dinosaurs in real life sounds exciting until one tries to eat you. Excellent post!

    • Thanks Rochpikey!

      I wasnt a kid when I saw it, but I did love dinosaurs as a kid, so it really resonated with me. I can totally imagine if I was a kid when this was out, I would have every toy they had out there. LOL :D

      Glad you appreciate the header photo, thought that was a fun one to pick.

  4. This was the film that most people picked when I did a post about what was the first film you remember seeing at the theater. I was a little surprised by how many people loved this film, and how much influence it had on people. Is it possible that Michael Crichton is underated? Hey did you ever see Westworld? thats one of my guilty pleasures lol

    • I have – Yul Brynner, right? I hadn’t even connected that that was Michael Crichton. LOL. It’s been years. You know which one I like actually is “The Andromeda Strain”. I think that’s a pretty cool one, myself.

      Meanwhile, this movie’s popularity doesn’t surprise me… this one is made to go the distance, man.

      • Yeah Crichton sort of went to that well a few times with the adult amusement park run amok. Andromeda is good too, I have not seen that in awhile. Did you ever see that not so good Westworld sequel Futureworld with Peter Fonda? (not by Crichton) lol

  5. I have to go watch this again now…

    I remember imagining that there was a large eye creepily looking into my window after watching this the first time when I was little. Such a great film. Spielberg’s best movies are when he keeps kids in mind.

    Just think, before he made Jurassic Park he was involved with The Land Before Time.

    • “I have to go watch this again now…”

      Mission accomplished! LOL

      I think you have a point there about Spielberg and kids movies… although, I have to say I think the sequel to this movie is one of his worst movies ever. “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” is a mess. Seriously. Not a fan of #2

  6. The theme tune was playing in my head as I was reading your post. Still going now…

    Excellent pick. I remember Jurassic Park being one of the standout cinema experiences of my childhood. And I love that it just hasn’t aged. The combination of the animatronics and CG is astounding and thanks for going into so much detail about the processes they went through!

    I can happily watch this film over and over again. It’ll take me back to my childhood and it’ll always entertain me. This is definitely one the kids will have to see.

    • I think the effects still hold up because they’re pretty much “Maxed out” I mean, there’s little room for improvement, so they’re going to stick around. In a lot of cases where effects dont hold up, it’s a case of – theyre state of the art NOW, but they’re not as good as they could be. I dont know how much better the effects could get here than they were. I mean, there’s some parts here and there but I would feel as though I was nitpicking pointing them out.

      • At least Messrs Spielberg is smart enough to know he doesn’t have to go back and revisit and remaster the shit out of unlike a certain Lucas..

        Imagine if it had been George, “Oh but this scene could use just one more hilariously comical and not at all accurate baby dinosaur!”

      • Ughck. I can just imagine.

        “Well, what if he doesn’t EAT the Lawyer first? What if the Lawyer like shoots the T Rex with a dinosaur FIRST. Then the T Rex could eat him and it would be ok…”

  7. This is probably a movie everyone HAS seen. Spielberg is my hero for this movie alone. When you talked about it being a watershed movie, I remembered something I heard about how true innovation only comes about when there’s an obstacle to be overcome. In this case the obstacle was to make these dinosaurs look more realistic than what they were getting from stop animation. And voila! What they ended up with was a film that would revolutionize modern special effects.

    You were right about being lost in the awe and wonder, and in fact I think that’s what makes this movie so great. Its not just an action movie, or a monster thriller, in an exploration of what it would be like if this were possible.
    I love this movie possibly more than any other.

    • I hope everyone’s seen it. If not, they better get on it! LOL

      It totally communicates that sense of awe and wonder, absolutely. When they’re looking up at the Brachiasaurs or the flock of Gallimimus… It’s great. I love how Dr Grant still geeks out when theyre stuck in the tree, even though not too long ago he almost got killed by a T Rex. LOL.

      Its a great film, a true classic, and it definitely did revolutionize special effects. I was always amused at how this movie was the first to heavily utilize CGI, yet it took ten years (easily) before we were getting movies regularly whose CGI stood up to this one. LOL.

      Way ahead of the game. WAY ahead.

  8. Fantastic review! For the longest time, no movie has ever been able to come close to the sheer joy and amazement that I felt when I saw this in theaters. And I don’t think it had anything to do with the fact that I was a kid. The pacing and the score and the acting – everything just had me at the edge of my seat. It wasn’t until “The Avengers” that I had that feeling again. It’s really sad, when you think about it, that more movies can’t be that way. This will forever be one of my all-time favorite movies.

    • Thanks Mark!

      You’ve got a point, there are so many sucky movies out there, that movies like this are few and far between. I guess thats why we consider them classics, and hold on to them. We hold ‘em up above other movies even as time goes by.

      You’re right, it had nothing to do with you being a kid, just as me being in love with Star Wars had nothing to do with me being a kid. They were simply masterful movies. Great examples of movie making magic…

  9. Yes! Great choice for a movie that everyone should see. One of the purest adrenaline rides in the movies. And the dinosaurs looked great. I know the sequels aren’t all that good, but it’s a testament to how good the first one was, and how well done the dinosaurs were that people flocked to the sequels anyway.

    • LOL. That’s a very very polite understatement. I dont think either of the sequels were good. I did a lambcast today on the franchise, and one of the things I was saying was I think Jurassic Park 2 is easily one of Spielbergs worst films. Hands down. Just re-watched it this week and its every bit as ludicrous as I remember. Completely substandard.

      Anyways, Yeah, Love 1 though. LOL! :D

  10. This movie is scary to me. Why, you ask? Simple: When I used to watch the Jetson’s and see George talk to Mr. Spacely in the TV, I used to think, “yeah, right!”…….now look at our world!!

    Makes me think a prehistoric mosquito in an ice cube may not be impossible…… Scary!
    :D

  11. Worst film ever made. I can’t get behind this piece of excrement. This is the first time you let me down, Fogs!

  12. Oooh nice post.

    JP is one of, if not my FAVOURITE movie of all time!

    I think people like to see Dinosaurs because we know they once really existed, so it’s not like something made up by the movie creators

    • Yeah, there’s something to that. The “Monsters” we know (Dragons, Godzilla, King Kong, etc) probably all had their basis in the myths and or facts around dinosaurs… so now we think of Dinosaurs as monsters that really existed, even though they came first and actually inspired the monsters. LOL. Forgive my attempt at circular logic.

      • Don’t worry, I understood nothing that you said. I think dragons are the Chinese interpretation of a dinosaur, and Godzilla is just another example of crazy Japanese epicness. King Kong… well, I don’t know, might have to research where that idea came from… :|

      • LOL… I wouldnt bother with it too much. I was just trying to say the were the inspiration for monsters, but then after so many years with monsters, we looked back on Dinosaurs and thought of them as monstrous.

        Kind of like how John Carter was the inspiration for a lot of the sci fi stories that made it to the big screen, so that when we finnaly saw John Carter on the big screen it felt redundant. Derivative, when it was really the inspiration

  13. I remember going to see Jurassic Park at the movie theater when I was a kid. To this day, my best theater experience. Great movie and the CGI still looks great to this day. I love Jurassic Park to death!

    • Well, lets hope that winds up being a long time. LOL

      Wanna hear something funny? I dont remember seeing 1 in the theatre other than the fact I loved it. But 2 is a pretty vivid memory for me. I was on vacation at the cape, but went opening weekend anyways, and I just remmeber being so disappointed… eesh.

  14. A remarkable story and production that yielding three films (& a 4th possibly) per Wikipedia cost a combined $230 million and grossed a total $1.9 Trillion- amazing! Spielberg (and Lucas) made this visually captivating, but with Crichton as author and screenwriter, source material matters too which you highlighted in an earlier post.

    http://fogsmoviereviews.com/2012/03/27/tossin-it-out-there-what-do-you-think-about-the-importance-of-source-material/

    I recall a great cast including Goldblum (perfect for a scientist) and as you point out a phenomenal villain in the velociraptor. A memorable dinosaur for many (even a recent acting conservatory graduate I know who lists on resume in other skills a ‘velociraptor impression’). Sensational film; unforgettable; super MTESS.

    John Hammond: “All major theme parks have had delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked!”

    Dr. Ian Malcolm: “But, John. If the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.”
    -Jurassic Park

    • LOL. That’s the quote I wound up going with for the tagline this week… I have fun changing that every week to be a quote I like from whatever the MTESS is…

      It’s a tossup between this and “The Fly” for Goldblum’s finest hour. He’s absolutely great in this part.

      I dont even blame him for JP2. Its on the producers/Spielberg for not getting Sam Neill… I know he probably didnt want to, but it made the whole thing just feel… off.

      • Goldblum’s greatest moment for me is a toss up between Independence Day and Buckaroo Bonzaii. lol

        (Well, the Big Chill really should be in there somewhere too.)

  15. Yeah, 1993 was a pretty good year for Spielberg, huh? Two great movies that are completely different released in the same year by the same director.

    And yes, I’d argue that they are sandwiched between Spielberg’s two worst movies (Hook and Lost World).

    The thing that’s stayed with me (and my wife)… whenever something like a cheesy science documentary comes on we look at each other and say “Dino-DNA!”

    • LOL. “Hello John!” “Oh, Hello, John…” I owe “Hook” a revisit. Like you, I always considered it amongst his worst. Once I started getting involved in movie blogging though, I was surprised to find that flick has fans… So I have to check it out.

      I HAVE revisited JP2 though and it sucks as bad or worse than you rmemeber. Totally agreed, easily one of his worst.

      The 1993 thing is crazy, you’re completely right. On the JP Special Features he was talking about how hard it was for him to shift gears back and forth between the two. He was doing JP post production remotely from Poland while on location filming SL, and he was laughing about how hard it was to shift mindsets between those two flicks. Crazy.

  16. I remember being totally transported to another world watching this movie as a kid, and as an adult I appreciate watching this as a piece of expertly made entertainment defined by Spielberg’s storytelling prowess and masterful craftsmanship. Not everything works– the “God killed the dinosaurs” argument stacked against the pro-cloning stuff is kind of janky, a modern Prometheus yarn that’s just sort of slack– but that’s the best part: even the worst elements don’t stop this from being a great film.

    • I dont even think that that’s that bad. Cloning is advancing, now the Russians and the Koreans are going to try to clone a Mammoth… so I think there is an argument there about what science CAN do and what science SHOULD do.

      Some of the “State of the art technology” around the park is getting dated as hell now. LOL “An interactive CD Rom!!”

      The rest of the movie is just genius, though. The score, the action sequencing, the effects. This is a serious classic.

      • It’s not that the conversation itself is bad, I just think it plays kind of rough here. Could have used some smoothing out. That’s all. And yeah, Jurassic Park dates itself a bunch– just think of where we were then and where we are now.

        Love this movie overall. You’re making me want to watch it right this instant.

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