Jurassic Park. In my teenage years -- better known as the late 90s -- this movie was on TV seemingly every day on countless channels....and I watched it a ton. But that whole mildly successful sequel, 2015's Jurassic World, threw me right back into the franchise. Sure, the sequel was a lot of mindless, stupid fun, but the original is almost always better. A true classic. A gem. A must-see. Jurassic Park.
Working at a fossil/dig site in Montana, paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) are in the midst of unearthing a huge find...when they're interrupted by a helicopter carrying a bazillionaire philanthropist, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), who has an odd request for them. He's asking them to come examine, experience and see a new theme park he's spent years building, promising quite the paycheck if they come along. They do, flying out to Isla Nubar, an island in the Pacific off the coast of Costa Rica, not sure what they've gotten themselves in to. Along with them is a brilliant mathematician, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who's equally curious. What exactly is Hammond behind? The entire group is stunned to find that somehow, some way, Hammond and his bioengineering company, InGen, has managed to create real-life dinosaurs and not just one, but many different species. The plan to open the theme park to the public couldn't possibly work, could it? There are just too many things that could go wrong....right?
My goodness. What a freaking movie. It's hard to believe it has been 22 years since the original and by far still the best of the series hit theaters way back in 1993. It's hard to believe for so many reasons. One, it impacted countless movies after. The technology on display here helped rewrite Hollywood with big, broad strokes. What 'Park' did with its computer-generated effects is nothing short of extraordinary, and almost every movie released since featuring any CGI owes a tip of the cap in this direction. The premise itself? Both inventively genius and criminally simplistic in its entertainment value. You can't say that for too many movies now, can you? Twenty-plus years later, it hasn't lost any of its edge, shock value or entertainment, director Steven Spielberg turning in a true classic, and a profoundly important movie in film history.
This 1993 scientifically-charged thriller is based off a novel from author Michael Crichton. The book is a gem, one of those great examples of what a perfect thriller can be. It's by no means a criticism to say that Spielberg's film is one of the few books as good as its source novel. Instead, it is a compliment to both film and novel. It will come as no shock that Hammond's idealistic park has its faults, resulting in an ever-growing body count, but 'Jurassic' does bring together intelligence and creativity with a straightforward survival story. Doesn't get any simpler than that. Run and get away or get eaten by a prehistoric dinosaur brought back from extinction. Oh, the movie looks great, what's real and what's CGI, and a little musical score from composer John Williams is pretty decent too. Maybe you've heard it? Listen HERE, a score and theme that becomes another character in a generally flawless movie.
Who doesn't love dinosaurs? Anyone? Bueller? Exactly. From kids to senior citizens and everyone in between, DINOSAURS ARE AWESOME. AWESOME I TELLS YA! Spielberg, Crichton and a heck of a crew from Industrial Light & Magic bring the dinosaurs to life, most notably the tyrannosaurus rex and the velociraptor, two of nature and history's most terrifying killing machines. The characters are excellent (more on the cast later), but it is the dinosaurs who steal the show. The T-Rex chasing down a fleeing jeep, the raptors hunting in packs, an attack always a blink away, these scenes of dinosaurs on the bloody hunt are scenes to behold, like Jaws on steroids. Spielberg builds the tension up to unbearable levels, water in a plastic cup shaking as a T-Rex approaches from the jungle. The horrifying realization that a raptor can open a door. These quiet, terrifying moments balance out with the hold onto your seat moments in impeccable fashion. Even knowing where these scenes are going, it....is....damn...frightening.
The best movies bring their stories to life, and that's where Jurassic Park succeeds at the highest levels. Whether it's the hint of the power and vicious hunting of a raptor or a chase across a grassy plain with a herd of gallimimus being chased down a T-Rex, these moments are exhilarating to watch as a moviegoer. All those creatures you saw in books, there they are, big as life, on the screen in front of you. Yeah, it produces some freaking scary moments once the dinos are loose, but from the moment we first see the dinosaurs, there is that feeling of being transported back to your childhood reading those books. We're seeing something that has been extinct for at least 65 million years. It sounds so simple to say that, but that is the simple, elegant beauty of this classic movie and its lasting impression, impact and quality. Just a gem.
The stars are the dinosaurs, but the human actors aren't too shabby either. I've always been a Neill fan, mostly because of this part as the pragmatic, highly intelligent Dr. Grant, amazed by what he sees but wary of these scientific developments. His chemistry with Dern's Ellie is spot-on, and the questioning trio is complete with a scene-stealing, never better Jeff Goldblum as questioning mathematician, Ian Malcolm. Throw in Attenborough (in his first acting role) since 1979, and you've got some thump at the top of the order. Also look for Samuel L. Jackson and Wayne Knight as park employees, BD Wong the bioengineer who helped create them, Bob Peck as Muldoon, the game hunter and park's game warden, Martin Ferrero as the $-for-eyes lawyer, and Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards as Tim and Lex, Hammond's grandkids visiting the island.
As an old man of 29 watching this -- as opposed to a know it all 12 year old -- I was able to appreciate the kick-ass dinosaurs, but also the intelligence, creativity and general smarts of the movie. I loved Malcolm's non-stop criticism, the destructive nature of the park no matter what it was intended for, leading to his immortal line 'Nature finds a way' in a phenomenal monologue. His chaos theory says that in the end, well, chaos will reign. You can't truly control what doesn't want to be controlled, especially dinosaurs. Creatures from literally millions of years ago, recreated and controlled? No way. As well, the way the dinosaurs are created is beyond ingenious, a credit to Crichton's writing ability and Spielberg's ability to flesh it out (and with some twists along the way about dinosaurs that are supposedly unable to reproduce). Yes, this is a huge action/thriller blockbuster, but it is also an incredibly intelligent and creative film. It works pretty effortlessly on basically every level possible.
Spielberg is an all-time great, a director with classics Jaws, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, and the Indiana Jones movies to his name (among others). This is a film that definitely belongs on that list. A true classic on all levels. This will be a movie that down the road people still look back and marvel at it. Can't say enough about this classic. A gem, and a movie you most definitely should have seen by now.
Jurassic Park (1993): ****/****