Here we are back again, ladies and gentlemen, talking about the high class horror/fantasy/science fiction/pop-culture phenomenon that is Jurassic Park. This is one of the few films directed by Steven Spielberg that so many have torn apart because of its numerous mistakes, not the least of which is that dinosaurs aren’t real… I’m kidding. They’re just dead.
ANYWAY, when this movie dropped in theaters in 1993, I felt like the only person in the world who didn’t get to see it IN theaters. For months, it felt like this big event I was missing out on. All of these other movies and TV shows were making references and jokes and I was out of the loop. It wasn’t until it hit home video that I first saw bits of the film outside of a trailer. I happened to be at my best friend’s house, and someone had bought the VHS. So I watched some of it on their big screen TV. I don’t remember watching it all for whatever reason, but at least I got a “big screen” experience. After that, I’m not sure when I actually first sat down and really watched the film. It’s just kinda been there for 30 years.
I was aware of the book by Michael Crichton but I’d never read it. And still haven’t to this day. I had heard about the numerous differences between the book and movie. But that didn’t surprise me. If you’ve ever read Jaws and watched the movie, then it’s not a shocker. Sometimes it’s a good idea to stray from the source material. The novel Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle is nothing like the film, and I would argue the film is far superior. While I can’t speak as to whether or not it is or isn’t better than its source material, there seems to be more talk about the film than the book so… one might say it is! I mean we’re talking about a film directed by Steven Spielberg during his prime.
All the pieces were there. Great story idea. Great cast. Great director. Great composer. And the promise of mind-blowing special effects unlike the world had ever seen. And for my money, it delivered on all of those promises, especially in the effect department. This film showed the world what computer generated imagery was capable of. Before this, we saw glimpses, the first instance being in the 1985 film Young Sherlock Holmes where a knight made of stained-glass attacks a priest. The next big leap came in James Cameron’s classic sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day where the method was utilized to great effect to create a full character for more than one scene. ILM was one of the biggest innovators regarding special effects at the time and when they were tasked to develop the effects for Jurassic Park, the first approach was the obvious one: stop-motion.
Phil Tippet, who had proven himself as an amazing successor to the likes of Ray Harryhausen, was tapped to bring the dinosaurs to life using stop-motion animation, or should I say “go-motion” since that was a technique he developed on the film Dragonslayer. However, Dennis Muren of Industrial Lights and Magic was convinced that CGI would be the way to go. CGI was not the go-to tool in the early 90s, so convincing the filmmakers that this was going to work was part of the process.
Starting with a walking skeletal structure of a T-Rex, it wowed the suits at Universal to allow them to create a proof-of-concept, meaning that they give you money to blow their socks off. That footage had skin textures, exterior lighting and even an added layer of muscles over the skeleton for added realism. If I told you that this footage did not impress those same suits, you’d be flabbergasted. Which is why I’m going to tell you that it TOTALLY impressed them, and it’s why they won an Oscar for their hard work. Unfortunately, as Phil Tippett put it, this made his art form extinct.
Let’s talk cast. Upon seeing this film, I cannot say that I was at all familiar with any of the known actors. I know NOW that the main cast had careers before this. I was just personally unfamiliar with them. Sam Neill played a very capable Alan Grant. I’m sure these days we’d get a Chris Pratt-type in the role or something. Funny enough, Kurt Russell who PLAYED Chris Pratt’s father in Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 was initially considered for Alan Grant, but he wanted all the money. But that money was for the dinosaurs. Plus, Russell is an action-hero-type, and I liked that Neill wasn’t. It makes the character of Alan Grant more believable.
Laura Dern was a face I recognized but couldn’t place. Was it because she reminded me of her father, actor Bruce Dern, the only actor in Hollywood to kill John Wayne in a movie? Possibly. But doubtful since he’s a rat-looking sumbitch and she’s easy on the eyes. He is a great actor though. No, it was most likely because, growing up, I had watched the film Mask many times. Not THE Mask with Jim Carrey but Mask with singer turned actress Cher, the vocal tones of Sam Elliott, and everyone’s favorite Marty McFly, Eric Stoltz who played Rocky Dennis. I was going to go into immense detail about this film, but I suppose I should talk about Jurassic Park.
The kids, Lex and Tim, were also actors that looked familiar. Arianna Richardson had been in Tremors a few years prior. Another bloody good film, if I may say so. And Joseph Mazzello was in Radio Flyer with Elijah Wood. So I vaguely remembered them. Richard Attenborough was not a face I was familiar with but his name and presence alone exuded a man of great importance. Solid casting in my book.
Wayne Knight was perfectly cast as Nedry. Most people remember him as Newman from Seinfeld, and equating the two is not difficult. I feel like I remembered him prior to this film, but even looking over his filmography, nothing clicked. Basic Instinct maybe? I know. I know. I was only 12. But a curious twelve-year-old. One with a desire to understand women and… other matters. But we’re getting off-topic again.
Samuel L. Jackson was someone I definitely knew prior to this film. While this was around the time his star was prominently rising, one of my favorite scenes in a movie came from 1988’s Eddie Murphy vehicle, Coming to America, where Jackson held up McDowell’s restaurant. Just in a small scene like that, his presence was dynamite. Same goes for this movie. He’s a bit more reserved but electric in every scene.
Jeff Goldblum. What can I say about this beautiful man that the world hasn’t already said about him? I paid attention to him from this film on because of his magnetic personality and his very unique line delivery. No other actor talks like Goldblum. Many want to. But no one will ever compare. Even my impression, no matter how hard I try, can match it. He’s the biggest highlight outside of the dinosaur spectacle.
Let’s talk dinosaurs! I have to admit that even though the effects work of today far surpasses what they did here, it still holds up for the most part. It’s impressive knowing that the believability of it all is still intact. Every design is mostly on point, with some liberties taken. It’s difficult to know what a real dinosaur ACTUALLY looked like, if there ever was such thing, but for whatever reason, reptilian seems to work in its favor. Wouldn’t it be weird if they weren’t even bird-like either? Like maybe they were some freakish platypus-type creatures? That would intrigue me more honestly. But I digress.
How about that John Williams score? It’s as memorable as most of his scores are. Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Superman, Jaws. Look at that! I brought it back around to something I mentioned earlier. And while we’re at it go, just to show he’s had a gift early on, go listen to the composition for the main titles for the John Wayne film the Cowboys and tell me that’s not catchy! Bringing it around a second time because THAT’s the movie with Bruce Dern, Laura Dern’s father, scored by John Williams… yeah! How about them connections?!
I’m not sure what I can say about the film that other people haven’t already said within this very podcast. I have enjoyed it for many years and will rewatch all of them every so often when the mood strikes me. Speilberg’s name may not have the sheen that it used to, but this was made during his golden period. If you can overlook the numerous continuity errors, which I do, it’s a great film that’s a ton of fun. Movies like this are rare these days. Not much spectacle left in the cinema.