Our Cinematic Autobiography: Jurassic Park
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Our Cinematic Autobiography: Jurassic Park

By Rob Payne | Think Pieces | July 5, 2012 | Comments ()


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 clich├ęd 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.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • No one could say SHOOOT HERRR!! like you Rob. Great read.

  • baxlala

    I identify with, just, EVERYTHING in this article. I was 11 when this movie came out, devoured the novel (one of the first grown up novels I ever read, having tried and grown bored by The Hobbit (I KNOW)), and am pretty sure I can attribute my love of dinosaurs to both this movie and Calvin & Hobbes. My husband and I actually used music from the score in our wedding...I walked down the aisle to it. Gives me chills every time I hear it.

    For anyone who still harbors an obsession with dinosaurs, a trip to Dinosaur World in Kentucky would not be a disappointment: http://www.dinosaurworld.com/d...

    I guess there's also one in Florida, but I can't vouch for that one.

  • Nadineydoll

    Jurassic Park still grabs me from the first moment. As a kid I remember being fucking SURE that the dinosaurs were real and to this day part of me thinks they still have an island somewhere full of resurrected monsters

  • mdm

    Regardless of anything else, I still say the finest, most perfect scene in all of movie history is the brachiosaur reveal.

  • competitivenonfiction

    I'm the kind of person who will watch movies over and over again, and usually after the 5th viewing, I start to zone out and can sort of putter around while the movie runs in the background. Jurassic Park is the one movie that totally captures my attention and I don't even know how many times I have watched it over the years. It really is a perfect movie.

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    i actually caught this at a midnight movie at the Music Box here in Chicago a few weeks back. Seeing it in theaters again as an adult was maybe even a little better than seeing it as a kid, since everyone in the audience was clearly reliving a shared nostalgic touchstone. Honest cheering and laughing at all the right moments, there wasn't a jaded or cynical breath in the air. and of course, the entire theater erupted in applause as the T-Rex appeared at the end, with the "When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth" banner falls around him.

    I read a lot of Calvin and Hobbes growing up, and his fascination with dinosaurs became my own, and this movie was exactly as you stated, a childhood dream come true
    that the effects hold up as well as they do so many years past is astounding. and the sound design. those velociraptor screams are exponentially more terrifying in huge theater sound.

    plus, this has one of my favorite moments in a movie ever. when the raptors are searching for the kids in the kitchen, and you get a close up of one of the raptor's tapping its claw on the floor. it goes by quick, and i mean as cheesy and ridiculous as that might be in any other context, i remember thinking it was soooooo cool that the raptors were just like people when frustrated, haha.

  • csb

    I'm gonna go watch it again right now.

  • seanfast

    So much of your memory happened to me as well. I was 8 at the time the movie came out in theaters, turning 9 the next month. I too, read voraciously through the book, my first adult novel, during recess, at night, before school, etc. to prepare for the movie.

    I still remember counting down the days until June 11. I was so excited for the movie, my friends and I would act out scenes from it during recess. We would even look for sap on the trees that bordered our school's property that had bugs stuck in them and try to scrape it off into plastic push-pop containers to preserve forever.
    Thanks for reminding me of all those memories :)

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Going by comments...it's sound a little bit like this movie is Star Wars for a later generation - just tapping into that perfect moment when awe, imagination and cinema come together.

  • Strand

    Jurassic Park is like Who Framed Rodger Rabbit to me, movies I desperately wanted to be real. I can't watch it without a pang of regret, wishing that some genius out there will find a way to realise it and make a theme park for me to visit, even if only on Coupon Day.

    I was already well into that 'dinosaur' phase kids go through before Jurassic Park came out. I spent my lunchtimes reading the DK dinosaur books, making those glow-in-the-dark skeleton models, buying little capsule toys etc and that movie hit my world like an atomic bomb.

  • Robert Carrier

    This article resonates with me more than I can clearly illustrate. I was 11 years old when I saw Jurassic Park on opening weekend, and like many of the commentators, I saw the film with my father (my parents would separate soon afterwards). I too read the novel - one of the first adult novels I ever read - and was a huge fan of "Calvin and Hobbes." I loved this film as a kid and it truly had an impact on me - for me, it was the perfect film for many years. Thank you for this write-up.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Nice writeup. Although, I'm gonna say a lot of those quotable lines are quotable only because the delivery is so good, not because they are particularly witty.

  • Strand

    Clever girl

  • Jezzer

    This piece just nailed my every feeling about his movie. Ordinarily I think of Spielberg as a Big Hairy Cheeseball, but Jurassic Park remains one of my all-time favorite movies. I saw it in the theater during its initial run, and the scene where you see the dinosaurs for the very first time -- first the brachiosaurus and then the entire herd of dinosaurs by the water -- was a moment of total overload for me. I literally got chills and my eyes teared up. It's very rare that a movie will do that to me just from visuals alone.

  • Tinkerville

    This week I went to a screening of Jurassic Park in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles (why yes, watching movies in a cemetery is, in fact, amazing) and I can't even put into words how incredible the experience was. Hundreds of people cheering at all the great moments, yelling "hold on to your butts!" in unison with Jackson... unbelievable. The best part was they also had a fireworks display planned and began setting them off when the T-Rex roared and the banner came down over him. You know what I'm talking about.

    And edited to say that I think it's a damn near perfect movie and always will be. The end.

  • Wembley

    'Ian Freeze!' beat 'Clevuh Guhl'???

  • Y'know, I left out it because I then call the script itself "clever" and I was trying to reference it there. But, you're right, it does feel like an extreme oversight on my part. So, fixed!

  • REL

    I could not have said it better myself. I thought I was the only one who had such a powerful attachment to Jurassic Park. I was also ten years old when it came out, and remember being scared to death when those raptors were chasing Tim and Lex around the kitchen. After a week of terrifying raptor nightmares, I summoned the nerve to go back to see it two more times in theaters. After that, I saw it no less than ten more more times at the local $1 theater.

    When I was 18, I got a job working for an archaeological firm. My girlfriend, with whom I had previously bonded over our shared love of Jurassic Park, came to pick me up from work once. I showed up all dusty with khaki pants, a blue work shirt, and a red bandana tied around my neck. She just about fainted, later revealing to me that I looked just like Dr. Alan Grant, her first childhood crush. I'd never been so proud of myself.

    Every once in a while, my friends will talk about their favorite movies. Inevitably, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and The Shawshank Redemption are thrown around, but I am always quick to announce that Jurassic Park will always be my favorite movie ever made. Maybe it is a bit of nostalgia that colors my opinion, as you suggest, but it doesn't change the fact that Jurassic Park defined a period of my formative years, and introduced me to the love and thrill of the movies that I continue to feel today. Thanks for reminding me.

  • What a lovely piece.

    Jurassic Park holds a special place in my heart too simply because it was the first time I can remember simply being in awe of a film. I was just shy of turning 7 when my dad took me to see it (then, as now, he had no sense of what movies were appropriate to show little kids) and I remember distinctly being scared but at the same time just flabbergasted. There were ACTUAL DINOSAURS ON SCREEN (in my 6 year old brain anyways). I was absolutely transported. Many years later, it's that feeling that I feel like I'm always searching for when I go to see a movie. It's one I still get when I see Jurassic Park. The last time I saw it on the big screen was last year at the BFI Southbank IMAX and it was just as good as the first.

  • Vi

    Rob, I just wanted you to know that this past week, I went to a Jurassic Park birthday party for a guy turning 30. It was amazing, every one show up dressed as various characters or dinosaurs. There was beer, dinosaur toys, someone even brought one of the old Jurassic Park T-Rexes where the flank popped off and you could see exposed bone, and everyone rewatched their favorite dinosaur movie while vehemently denying the existence of there ever being sequels.

  • InternetMagpie

    Dino damage!

  • lowercase_ryan

    you have awesome friends.

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