Jurassic Park

U.S.; Science Fiction/Adventure; 128 minutes; Directed by: Steven Spielberg; Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, Gerald R. Molen, Steven Spielberg; Amblin Entertainment, Universal Studios

It always surprises me how much people will forgive in a film because they simply call a “popcorn flick”. It’s one thing for a film just to provide a premise for tons of action, loads of special effects, and doesn’t ask the audience to engage in any critical thinking throughout the film. Films like that are actually a lot of fun to watch and can provide good action or suspense from time to time. But it’s another thing to forgive sloppy filmmaking, clumsy story-telling, stale actors, unnatural dialogue, and gaping plot-holes just by labeling it among the “popcorn flick” sub-genre of film. Too long have people looked-over the ugly flaws in Roland Emmerich’s sci-fi/disaster exploits simply because his films didn’t ask them to do any critical thinking at any one point. Why can’t there be a group well-crafted films that are just made for the sake of entertainment without being so utterly stupid at the same time?

Well, films like that do exist. Ladies and Gentleman, I submit for your consideration Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.

This film, based off of the late Micheal Crichton’s science fiction book, was released to theaters in the early 90’s. This was back when Steven Spielberg was rounding out his long and profitable action/adventure streak by going back to film school and making Shindler’s List. In fact, Spielberg pulled double duty by simultaneously making both Jurassic Park and Shindler’s List and releasing them both in the year 1993. In a sense, the Jurassic Park franchise was Spielberg’s good-buy to the genre and class of films he’s made that has entertained millions around the world since the 70’s before becoming more serious minded in his films and later working as executive producer. And what a good-bye to the genre the first film of the franchise became!

Jurassic Park starts off in a dark and sinister light, slowly revealing cages men with serious weaponry. All of these men seem to be petrified with fear at the unseen contents of the cage shrieking as it’s being lowered to ground-level. The animal creates an opening in the cage and drags one of the men into the cage. The other men, lead by a brawny Australian man named Robert Muldoon (played by the late Bob Peck), proceed to shoot the animal dead.

The rest of the film introduces the other characters to the film. Two paleontologists named Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) are personally invited to a “Jurassic Park” that is owned by their sponsor, John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough) in an attempt to get reviews from the guests to quite the concerns from the investors about the park not being safe. Other people tag along for the ride, including the lawyer representing Hammond’s investors Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) and another scientist named Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum).

"It's... it's a dinosaur!" - Dr. Alan Grant (played by Sam Neil)

The characters fly over to the distant island to visit the park. Hammond alludes to the park be like nothing anyone has ever seen before. Even John William’s musical score sounds like the emotions of a kid bouncing in the back seat on his way to Disney Land in anticipation for the rest of the film to get underway. Once on the island, all of the anticipation is finally paid off upon sighting a real life Brachiosaurus feeding in near by tree-tops. The visual effects are truly amazing, as the special effect really feels like an animal in the film. One can see the sun shining off of it’s bumpy neck and see the animal’s heavy breathing. John Williams’ score once again fits seamlessly and a faint choir gives the dinosaur a majestic and glorious appearance.

The rest of the film does well to keep some scientific credibility, both within terms of the anatomy of the animals themselves and the concept of cloning. Even though the idea is in reality far-fetched, there’s enough substance to the idea within the film to make it plausible within the world of the film. There’s even just a touch of character study and progression among the characters John Hammond and Dr. Alan Grant as Hammond’s grand children are also brought onto the island to put in good reviews, a prospect in which Grant finds no foreseeable pleasure.

The idea of man vs. nature is implied in this film, but it’s nowhere near as forceful as most other works of that trend. In fact, it lends itself quite nicely to the plot of the film. One of the park’s personnel shuts the power sooner than he’d like in order to steal dinosaur DNA and beat an oncoming storm down to the shipping dock. This action unleashes the rest dinosaurs upon the guests of the park, as the infamous Tyrannosaurus Rex breaks free of her cage and wreaks havoc upon Grant and the kids.

Even though this might have not been Spielberg’s intention, I’ve always seen the Tyrannosaur’s introductory scene to contain a strange form of cognitive dissonance as the beauty and majesty of the sight of the Tyrannosaurus Rex, designed and engineered by the late Stan Winston and his team, are held up against the suspense created by Spielberg and the brutish and horrifying actions of the animal. The film then turns into a dazzling survival story as the characters meet up with both the danger and the majestic awe of various dinosaurs throughout the park.

That isn’t to say the film is a “perfect” popcorn flick. Many special effects films in the 90’s suffered from the camera work of a “B” rated camera crew appearing stiff and even somewhat sloppy at times. While it’s not as bad as other films of it’s time, one can still see shadows, dirt, and reflective lighting on the lens that resulted from an less developed film crew. This was perhaps a trade-off to put more money into the special effects crew that were creating the dinosaurs. But throughout most of the film these very slight imperfections are hardly noticeable compared to Spielberg’s precise framing, blocking, lighting, and shooting techniques. And, while the breakthroughs in computer animation provided by ILM allowed Spielberg to be more free with his camera movements during a special effect scene, one can also see how experimental it seemed to have been for it’s time.

In the end Jurassic Park is a very fun film to watch, filled with both awe and suspense. The cast, while mainly a “B” rated cast, still delivered convincing performances under the direction of Steven Spielberg. And the performance of accomplished actor and director Sir Richard Attenborough returning to acting in this film after a long hiatus from the career certainly left an impression on the rest of the performers. Spielberg’s sense of adventure hadn’t left him in favor of drama just yet, and his sense of wonder is also quite present in the film. Jurassic Park is a very good rebuttal to any other film being forgiven it’s ugly flaws simply because it was a “popcorn flick”.

A rather triumphant end for one of the most feared dinosaurs in science fiction film history.

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About Stefan D. Byerley
Stefan D. Byerley is an independent filmmaker and freelance visual artist currently residing in North Carolina. He likes detailed storytelling, intriguing imagery, massive bloody violence, crying at the movies, and long walks in the park during the Autumn season.

One Response to Jurassic Park

  1. Pingback: The Guilty Pleasures Pile: Carnosaur « Forced Perspective

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