So! We’re finished up with our epic, five-month Marvel Cinematic Universe retrospective for now, and frankly, it’s time for me to step up and get my teeth into a franchise the same way my writing partner did. I was wracking my brains on what to write about – we’re already done Star Wars, and besides, I can’t think of a film I’m less intrigued by than Solo. What other franchised blockbusters do we have coming out soon? Something with an interesting, impactful history, something that I already have a heavy investment in, something…
Yup, with the latest in the series, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom dropping in around a month, I figured that it was prime time that I took this opportunity to talk about the Jurassic Park franchise, kicking things off with the original 1993 blockbuster-to-end-all-blockbusters, Jurassic Park.
Now, I love a good serious Steven Spielberg film as much as the next gal, but as far as I’m concerned, Jurassic Park is his true masterpiece (with Jaws not far behind, but that’s another twelve-year-old-me-not-sleeping-for-a-month conversation for another time). Following on from Hook and followed by the incredible Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park is the sort of thing that I might have expected to spring forth along with a plume of bong smoke from the mouth of a freshman after their first week in an Science Fiction 101 class: what if…dinosaurs? Were back? And, like Jeff Goldblum was there? And a major theme of the movie was depicted by Sam Neill not being able to do up a seatbelt? It’s a silly, high-concept idea, and one that has no right to work as well as it does. And yet.
Look, I’m going to be honest and say that if you came here looking for a discussion of whether or not JP is a good film or not, you’re going to be dissapointed. Because there is no discussion to be had. Jurassic Park is the best blockbuster ever made, the standard against which every single big-budget movie in this vein would be marked against for years to come (to even Spielberg’s detriment, as the sensationally bad Ready Player One underlined). I’ve only met one person who doesn’t like Jurassic Park, and I entered a fugue state shortly after she told me and don’t honestly remember what happened next.
But what is it that makes Jurassic Park such an inimitably brilliant example of the genre? Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, it’s paced to near-perfection; almost nothing happens for the first forty minutes, as we are introduced to the park and the characters (including Laura Dern, queen of both my heart and The Last Jedi) and some of the dinosaurs, a few nods here and there to the horror that’s about to unfold. The film is confident in it’s premise, knowing that we’re not going to get up and leave before we see a T-Rex at least chew on some livestock, and that confidence gives the story and setting time to breathe. Many modern blockbusters (and indeed, horror movies, from which this film draws a lot) feel the need to throw something big at you early on to keep your interest (Infinity War, while great, is a good example of this), but Jurassic Park has you wait on that payoff. And what a payoff.
Is there a person alive who didn’t see this movie as a kid and wind up with those actions scenes seared on to their memories? Everybody I know who watched JP while growing up can describe at least one sequence beat-for-beat, the scares and the tension branded on to their brains: for me, it’s that scene with the velociraptors in the kitchen, as they stalk a pair of terrified kids through the icy-cold metallic of the hotel. But take your pick: is it the hunter becoming the hunted in the face of acid-spitting predators? The T-Rex’s initial attack on the car? The dinosaurs ripping through entrance hall? A combination of the groundbreaking commitment to highly ambitious real effects, iconic performances, and a sheer belief in the wild silliness of the premise allow the second and third acts to build on that patience to create a sublimely entertaining, scary, funny, and cohesive story that’s pure cinematic perfection, no matter how many times you’ve seen it before. Spielberg’s eye for innovation (Jurassic Park is the first movie to use entirely digital sound, for example) matches with his zing for old-school great storytelling, and the results are enough to secure his place in cinematic history even if he’d quit making movies right here.
But what I love the very most about the original Jurassic Park is it’s sense of wonder. There a scene where Sam Neill, as the ornery scientist of my dreams, lays his head on the stomach of a sick stegosaurus to hear it breath, and the utter disbelieving joy on his face is the best summation of the movie I can think of. The off-screen amazement at the sheer scope and scale of the creatures this movie created (the T-Rex really is just a huge animatronic, with most of the other dinosaurs being constructed in the real world instead of CGI’d into it as well) and the world they existed in oozes off this move in waves. It’s impossible not to find yourself falling in love with the world of Jurassic Park because the love that went into it, the delight at the innovations on show, give this world such texture and colour. There’s heart here, passion, a movie made not just because it would do well at the box office but because Spielberg believed this was a story worth telling. While the other Jurassic Park movies might not live up to those heady heights, it’s always worth coming back to this one to see how a cinematic master on the very top of his game, and exactly what the majesty of a truly brilliant blockbuster can look like.
By Louise MacGregor
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(image courtesy of Vulture)