Directed by: Steven Spielberg || Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, Gerald R. Molen
Screenplay by: Michael Crichton, David Koepp || Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, B. D. Wong, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards
Music by: John Williams || Cinematography: Dean Cundey || Edited by: Michael Kahn || Country: United States || Language: English
Running Time: 127 minutes
Few people have been influenced more by the original Jurassic Park than I. The early 1990s dinosaur classic is often cited by film journalists, critics, and filmmakers as one of their biggest inspirations for working in the movie industry, but for my part, it was the movie’s stars themselves, the dinosaurs, which inspired me to pursue a career in biological research. Since I first saw the film in 1999 at nine years old, I’ve been in love with dinosaurs, crocodylians, and sharp-toothed animals of all shapes and sizes, both extinct and extant. Jurassic Park is still indirectly guiding my life-course to this day. It rivals the Star Wars films (1977, 1980, 1983, 2015) and the Alien-Predator series (1977–2012) as the biggest film franchise to affect my childhood and early adulthood.
Unlike those other movies, however, Jurassic Park is not a film that has grown in complexity or thematic potency as I’ve matured. Something like Star Wars is a property that reveals new layers within its narrative and cinematography every time I watch it; I’ve come to appreciate it more and more with each additional viewing. With Jurassic Park (henceforth, JP), I respect it for the massive impact it has had not only on me, but on the film industry in general; but unlike many of JP’s childhood fans, I no longer place the movie on a pedestal next to cinema’s all-time greats. It’s a strong film, for sure, and its special FX still hold up to this day, but numerous supporting characters are either irritating or underwritten, and its adapted screenplay by book-author Michael Crichton and David Koepp leaves much to be desired.
No, my main complaints with the film have to do with its story being one of Steven Spielberg’s weakest as a director. Visually it’s as powerful as anything the man has ever conceived, but its screenplay, the base on which its direction is laid, meanders on lackluster social commentary, annoying child actors, and seemingly writes off its second best character by the halfway mark. JP the movie cuts out much of the repetitive exposition and scientific mumbo jumbo from JP the book, which I approve; however, Crichton and Koepp’s script also removes much of the dark humor and gritty violence from the novel, which I believe to be a bad move. No one in this film seems capable of pointing a gun at and shooting a dinosaur, even with a Franchi SPAS-12. I understand these animals are cool, but dinosaurs aren’t H.R. Giger’s indomitable xenomorphs, right? I appreciate the warm, optimistic conservationist themes in JP’s narrative, but at times they seem to clash with the few instances of dinosaur violence and dark humor the movie does explicitly depict, like the excellent Dilophosaurus scene with Wayne Knight. Tonally, the film can’t seem to pick a lane.
Other complaints have to do with Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards as Tim and Lex, as well as most of the rest of the supporting cast. Tim and Lex are irritating as fuck, and may be some of the most insufferable child characters ever put to film. Martin Ferrero as Donald Gennaro is almost as annoying, as is the self-righteous Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). All the aforementioned are in sharp contrast to the two best roles in the movie, Sam Neill’s Alan Grant and Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm. Both of these guys are awesome, and their banter and chemistry with each other (and much of the rest of the cast) is excellent. Goldblum has most of the best lines and all the best jokes. Unfortunately, after the Tyrannosaurus Rex centerpiece, he’s largely removed from the film, which is a huge shame. Still, Neill makes for a great everyman protagonist who doesn’t do a half bad job impersonating a research paleontologist.
Other supporting characters are strong, such as Richard Attenborough as John Hammond, Samuel L. Jackson as Ray Arnold, and of course Wayne Knight as the scheming, corrupt Dennis Nedry. Individually, these actors have moderate screentime, but together they add colorful banter and comic relief to what would have otherwise been a by-the-numbers, vanilla supporting cast.
The main selling points for this movie are, of course, the dinosaur special FX and Spielberg’s direction; the dinosaurs, both in animatronic and computer-generated form, look convincing to this day, and Spielberg’s set-pieces are as much pure spectacle as anything in Jaws (1976), E.T. (1982), or Saving Private Ryan (1998). The T-Rex paddock sequence is iconic in every sense of the word; the lighting, pacing, rain effects, and clever mix of practical FX and CGI are all astounding. It’s rivaled, however, by the impeccable kitchen sequence near the end of the film, where the aforementioned Mazzello and Richards play hide-and-seek with a pair of hungry, ferocious raptors; this scene is as proficient in the use of silence and subtle sound effects as the T-Rex attack is loud, powerful, and pulse-pounding. It’s one of the best choreographed sequences I’ve ever seen on film.
No review of JP comes without acknowledgement of John Williams’ unforgettable score, of course. This was back when movies had scores, God damn it! It’s a tossup whether Williams’ music for JP is better than his work on Star Wars or Indiana Jones (1981, 1984, 1989), because they’re all quite heavenly. Put another way, JP’s music is something for which you sit through the entire end credits simply to listen to it till its final measure.
Altogether, Jurassic Park remains one of my most life-changing films and certainly one of Hollywood’s most influential, both in terms of its computer FX breakthroughs and its box office success ($900+ million in its 1993 theatrical run). That being said, to say I believe most Millennials and Generation X-ers recall it with rosy-eyed, nostalgia-glasses would be putting it mildly. It’s got issues with numerous characters, irritating performances, and a script that glosses over some of the most intriguing aspects of its source material, but it works for the classic movie-magic at hand. To say that I’ve grown to appreciate it with a more objective, balanced mindset is not to say that I have stopped loving it. Quite the contrary — Jurassic Park remains one of my all-time favorite films and an easy recommendation to families, children, young adults, and of course newcomers to American cinema in general. Besides, it’s got a freaking T-Rex in it.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Jurassic Park remains one of America’s quintessential blockbusters, which means it leans heavy on photorealistic special FX and amazing set-pieces, but also a lackluster supporting cast and somewhat indecisive themes. Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum are welcome chaperons on this prehistoric adventure, though it’s a shame the latter isn’t present for much of the second half. John Williams’ score is iconic even by his lofty standards.
— However… close your ears whenever Lex and Tim come on screen. Laura Dern will remind you of that irritating girl in your science class who let everyone know her opinion on everything. The conservationist themes haven’t aged well, and don’t mesh with numerous characters being eaten alive.
—> RECOMMENDED, nonetheless!
? So, you do have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour, right?