RETRO REVIEW: “Jurassic Park” (1993)

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Normally my Retro Reviews are chosen by my Twitter followers who vote in a poll to determine what film I’m going to watch (you can follow me @KeithandMovies). But this week someone else inspired my choice of movie. My son just started his freshman year of college and he’s taking a film appreciation course. His first assignment was to write an essay on his favorite film. Interestingly he chose “Jurassic Park”. And guess what film was showing as part of our favorite theater’s ‘Welcome Back‘ promotion? It was written in the stars.

Many consider Steven Spielberg to be the father of the summer blockbuster. “Jaws”, the “Indiana Jones” films, “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and of course “Jurassic Park” make a really strong case. “Jurassic Park” would become Spielberg’s biggest money-maker. It shattered box office records becoming the highest grossing film of all-time (until James Cameron’s “Titanic” came along in 1997). The film was a hit with critics and went on to win three Academy Awards. It’s still beloved by many including my son. After seeing it again on the big screen I was reminded of why it has such a following.

“Jurassic Park” was based on a Michael Crichton novel of the same name. Smelling a potential smash hit, Spielberg and Universal Pictures acquired the film rights to Crichton’s novel before it was even published. Crichton was then hired to write the screenplay with David Koepp. They set their story on a fictional island near Costa Rica where a wealthy entrepreneur and his team of scientists have created a theme park around the cloning of dinosaurs. It was a story ripe with potential, but only if the special effects could sell its ambition. “Jurassic Park” turned out to be an incredible visual achievement and a groundbreaking step forward for movie technology.

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Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

Richard Attenborough plays businessman John Hammond, a gazillionaire who bought his own island to build his dinosaur park. After an accident leads to the death of one of his dino handlers, Hammond is pushed by his investors to bring in a team of experts to verify whether the park is safe for the public. Hammond invites paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil) and paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern). The lawyer for the investors Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) invites math whiz and chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum).

Once on the island the group are taken to meet Hammond. On the way they are astonished at the sight of a massive living, breathing brachiosaurus. They arrive at the park’s visitor center where Hammond gives them a tour of his laboratory. The group’s amazement turns to skepticism once Hammond reveals the science behind his venture. In one particularly terrific scene they all gather around a table for lunch and discuss the wisdom and ethics of Hammond’s venture. As Goldblum’s Dr. Malcolm candidly states, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

In a last ditch effort to impress his guests Hammond sends the group along with his two grandchildren Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards) on an automated SUV tour around the park. Meanwhile Hammond’s disgruntled computer programmer Dennis Nedry (Wayne Night) has secretly been paid handsomely by an outside corporation to swipe dinosaur embryos from the park’s lab. Nedry shuts down the security systems enabling him to steal the vials and escape to a nearby dock where a boat awaits. But he inadvertently shuts down the SUVs leaving three doctors, a lawyer, and two kids stranded outside of a Tyrannosaurus Rex enclosure.

With the electric fences deactivated the T-Rex escapes attacking the two SUVs in what many consider to be the film’s most memorable sequence. Watching it again I was blown away by Spielberg’s masterclass on scene construction. The framing of his shots, the crisp editing, the impeccable sound design, visual effects wizard Stan Winston’s mind-blowing animatronics, and other details such as Spielberg using no score during the bulk of the sequence. It’s a scene full of nail-biting tension even for people like me who already knows what happens.

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Photo Courtesy of Universal Pictures

In addition to the stand-out special effects, Spielberg, his DP Dean Cundey, and production designer Rick Carter deserve loads of credit for creating a convincing setting that grounds a fantastical concept. Shot mostly in Hawaii, the Dominican Republic, and on the Universal Studios lot, Spielberg and his team manage to sell Jurassic Park as a palpable place full of awe and wonder. And it still sparks the imagination after all these years.

And while I’m doling out credit, Crichton and Koepp earn their’s by putting together a fun and engaging array of characters. Neil and Dern are the leads and they fill the shoes of their characters well. And there is terrific supporting work from Attenborough, Night, Ferrero, Samuel L. Jackson, and Bob Peck. But there is one thing I distinctly remember from my previous viewings and it still holds true today – Jeff Goldblum steals every scene he’s in. His Malcolm is smart, weirdly charming, hilarious, even heroic when he needs to be. Unfortunately he gets put on the shelf in the last act, but Goldblum still makes every scene he’s in better.

This was easily one of my favorite Retro Review revisits so far. It was nice to see how remarkably well “Jurassic Park” holds up, but I wasn’t expecting to have so much fun with it. It’s a movie that really flourishes on the big screen and puts an emphasis on the value of that experience. I can enthusiastically say that I liked “Jurassic Park” more this time than during my original 1993 theater visit. Maybe I’m just starving for a good summer tentpole movie. Or maybe this is simply Spielberg once again proving himself to not only be the father of the blockbuster but also the king.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4-5-stars

26 thoughts on “RETRO REVIEW: “Jurassic Park” (1993)

  1. Jurassic Park has always been my favorite movie. I’ve seen it, no joke, probably well over a hundred times in my 30 years of life. It’s still an absolute joy for me to watch today. I can quote almost every line. It’s a truly timeless film. Thank you for the nostalgia!

    • Nice! I had such a good time seeing it again. Obviously it was to be back in theater, but the movie itself is such a big screen treat. I had a blast.

  2. It is a film that remains fun to watch and definitely one of Spielberg’s finest films of his career. It is so fun to watch while it also shows proof of why you don’t fuck with mother nature. I’d like to forget about the other 2 films that followed while I have enjoyed the Jurassic World sequels.

    • That’s interesting. I thought the first Jurassic World was decent but really didn’t like the second one. I don’t remember a whole lot about the next two Jurassic Park movies. I’m anxious to give them another look.

  3. I’d put this up there as one of my favorite movies of all time. My husband and I break it out every now and again, it holds up well (yes – that scene where TRex attacks the SUVs still makes me wince) and it still has some very relevant themes in it I think! A wonderful throwback review 🙂 Ian Malcolm was always my favorite character – “Remind me to thank John for the lovely weekend….”

    • Thanks so much. I was amazed by how much fun this movie was. But it’s also incredibly well made. And Malcolm…so, so, so good. That dinner table scene is so perfectly written and acted.

  4. I think I like it, but I don’t like it as much as everyone else, so when I’m watching it I catch myself thinking – it’s fine, but it isn’t that great. I see it a little bit as anti-science, so that part bugs me. That would be the chaos theory and Jeff Goldblum, sort of a mystical “we can’t understand things” attitude rather than a scientific approach.

    Whenever I come across in on tv somewhere, I do always stop and watch a few minutes, so I’m more pro than con on it.

    • I’m really okay with its approach to science. I tend to think it lands somewhere in the middle. But I give it a lot of flexibility when it comes science. After all, how seriously can we take a story about cloning dinosaurs from a prehistoric mosquito found fossilized in tree sap? 😉

  5. One of the all time greats. It’s amazing how well this movie still holds up. CGI in the early 90’s can still be a big distracting, but this never is.

    also #JusticeForLex she is such an underrated Jurassic Park character. The only way I’d watch another one of the Jurassic World additions is if she was in it.

    • Interesting you bring up the kids. For some reason I went into this rewatch expecting the two kids to be annoying. They really aren’t! They both do a great job moving from youthful exuberance to terrified and in shock. They added more to the film than I ever remember.

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