Our Cinematic Autobiography: Jurassic Park
The year was 1993, the season was summer, and like every 10-year-old child, I was desperate to see Steven Spielberg's big damn dinosaur movie. But that's actually not where my lifelong fascination began, as that moment happened months earlier when I saw the first trailer before some other, entirely forgettable film.
I was immediately awed by the slickness of the production values, because for an adolescent, I had probably seen more than my fair share of old-school dinosaur movies where the creatures were usually made from clay and animated with uninspiring stop-motion photographic techniques, and the occasional poorly constructed puppet. Nothing ever looked or felt as real, as having the heft, as when the T-Rex's massive foot settled down in the mud in front of Sam Neill, who was trying to calm a suitably terrified Ariana Richards. It was the first clue that this movie was going be more than just another good time at the picture show. This movie was going to be everything my young self ever wanted. Real people and ostensibly real dinosaurs finally sharing the screen together.
Naturally, being 10 and still mostly reading Calvin & Hobbes, I'd never heard of Jurassic Park or Michael Crichton before that moment, but I instantly had to go to there. Preferably, as soon as possible. Again, being 10, I couldn't very well wait for the movie to come out. I begged my parents to get the novel, and eventually they relented. I read it cover-to-cover in a week, which still feels like quite the feat and was a task accomplished by devouring pages before, during, and after school. It was the first time I'd ever finished a "grown-up" novel, and it's still one of the only books I've read multiple times over the years. I tend not to re-read things as I generally feel my time can be better spent in new literary worlds, but Crichton's tale of scientifically reincarnated dinosaurs had me in its jaws from the word go. I've never really been able to escape. Not that I'd want to. Who would?
By the time the movie roared into theaters on June 13, 1993, I was chomping at the bit. My mother took me on opening weekend, and even though the first scene confounded me and so much from the book was changed, I was enthralled. After all, swapping the ages of the kids, combining two untimely fated characters into one, cutting the baby raptor attack, and letting the gentle old man live were narrative improvements from the text for a summer blockbuster that appeals to literally every demographic. The screenplay by Crichton and then up-and-comer David Koepp was also wittier, as practically every single scene has a memorable line of dialogue, and most have more than that.
As a for instance...
"Shoooooot herrrrr!" "Grant's like me; he's a digger." "The point is, you're alive when they start to eat you." "Dodgson! We got Dodgson here! See? Nobody cares." "I bring scientists, you bring a rock star." "Welcome to Jurassic Park!" "I'm thinking we're out of a job/Don't you mean extinct?" "You bred raptors?" "They remember." "Life finds a way." "What do they got in there, King Kong?" "God creates dinosaurs, God destroys dinosaurs, God creates man, man destroys God, man creates dinosaurs, dinosaurs eat man, woman inherits the Earth." "That is one big pile of shit." "When you gotta go, you gotta go." "Ian freeze!" "What do you call a blind dinosaur's dog? A Doyouthinkhesaurus Rex." "Hold onto your butts." "When the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists." "We'll be fine as long as they don't figure out how to open doors." "Clever girl."
That list just barely scratches the surface of great lines delivered by some of the best actors working then or now. The cleverness of that script very easily makes Jurassic Park the most quotable movie of all time. In the interest of full disclosure, and as some sort of verifiable evidence to prove exactly how much I love this movie, I feel I should hasten to add that every single one of those quotes came off the top of my head and without any research, including the basic chronology of the plot. Of course, that's not too impressive, considering I managed to see the movie six times in its initial theatrical run, as well as several more at the local $1 theater later. I've seen it countless times since then on television, VHS, and DVD. It's something I watch at least once a year for my own edification, but I will watch it at a moment's notice if the opportunity arises. I've never once gotten tired of it, or bored by it; in fact, I only love it more every time I see it.
The most recent was supposed to be this past Tuesday at a local Alamo Drafthouse-like movie theater. Unfortunately, I fell briefly ill and was unable to attend, but I ended up watching it at home on DVD for the umpteenth time. As usual, it was everything I ever wanted out of a cinematic entertainment. And the blending of CGI and animatronic effects is still breathtaking today, perhaps even more impressive because it's never stopped being the standard-bearer for special effects that only improve on, and never detract from, the movie itself.
Despite its mixed bag of reviews (68/100 on Metacritic, 7.9/10 on IMDb, and 90% on Rotten Tomatoes), the movie remains one of the few arguably perfect films. Even if the content isn't your rippling-by-impact-term cup of tea, there isn't a misplaced or ineffective element in Jurassic Park's entire 127 minutes. Every scene advances the plot. Every line defines, or redefines, the characters. No plotlines are dropped, and if there are any plot holes, then they certainly aren't big enough to trip up your enjoyment. Every character has an arc even if that arc ends by being dinosaur food (that includes the significant members of the dino cast, as well). Each performance is distinctly good without being more clichéd than necessary (yes, that still includes the dinosaurs). The score is arguably John Williams' best, even when it's slowed down 1000%. As many great and award-winning movies as Spielberg has made, Jurassic Park might very well be his most flawless work, and that's including more respectable films like Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, and Munich.
I am willing to admit to some nostalgic bias, because no matter when I watch Jurassic Park, I'm immediately pulled back in time to that summer of 1993. That was the summer when the best dinosaur movie of all time busted every block and when generations of children's dreams came true. It was also the summer before my parents separated and my life changed considerably, before my mother and I moved from our suburban house to a near-urban apartment, before I left all my friends and had to start all over at a new school. That aforementioned dollar theater was in the new city and it became my fortress of solitude, and the adventure on Isla Nublar was the only movie I wanted to see. So that's what I did, until it finally left multiplexes for good. It's safe to say that I identified with Joseph Mazzello's Tim Murphy, whose parents were also going through a bitter separation, and looked up to Dr. Grant like the heroic father figure I always wanted, too. Jurassic Park, more than almost anything else, helped me survive the hazards of my parents' crumbling relationship.
My parents did eventually get back together, and maybe even stronger than ever, but it's always a pleasure to go back to that place. To be transported back to a time that was far from the best of times, but just before the worst. 1993 was the year when dinosaurs returned to rule the Earth for practically everyone. For me, and I'm sure for many of you, dinosaurs have never stopped ruling.
Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter, tumbls on the Tumblr, and his wares can be purchased here (if you're into that sort of thing). He's pretty sure Jurassic Park is the reason he watches and re-watches "Walking with Dinosaurs" and its ilk on Netflix Instant.