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.
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.
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