#250 – Jurassic Park (1993)

1993-jurassic-park-poster1

127 Minutes

Director: Steven Spielberg

Writers: Michael Crichton (Novel and Screenplay)

Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Richard Attenborough, Wayne Knight, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello, Samuel L. Jackson, B.D. Wong, Martin Ferrero

Storyline: During a preview tour of a tycoon’s theme park, an employee tampers with the park security system, allowing its genetically engineered dinosaurs to escape.

Disposition

Brit Boy:

 Well it’s a film I have definitely seen several times before but never had to watch it critically. I’ve always enjoyed it but, how many times have I fully concentrated on what was going on, it’s quite regularly shown on tv now and has to compete with the daily rigors of life. I was really looking forward to watching this with no interruptions, almost like a clean slate view.

This brings me to the next point, has American Girl seen this? My guess is yes but I’m not certain. I think she’ll enjoy it, no need for the sleep and the comfy blanket this time but you never know.

American Girl:

Jurassic Park was first released in 1993, I was about 15 years old.  Now much to my shock the movie is celebrating its 20th Anniversary, this is just another testament to me that I am in fact getting older….  However, I suppose this makes an apt movie to begin our top 250 countdown. This movie has had a recent surge in popular culture because it was recently rereleased in 3D, subsequently making it impossible for me to find via Netflix, OnDemand, RedBox, or even the library.  While I recalled enjoying the movie when I was 15 years old, I wasn’t sure I wanted to shell out the $20 buying the latest blue ray edition.  Luckily I found a coworker that was willing to blow the dust off a copy and lend it to me for a weekend.

Set the Scene

Brit Boy:

Due to work commitments I actual travel quite a lot, this gives me the perfect opportunity to carve out some time to watch and review our movies. Jurassic Park was watched on a packed plane to Sao Paolo, Brazil. Luckily I had no-one sat next to me so I didn’t have to share my cinematic experience. I also had the added bonus of someone willing to bring me beers at regular intervals, I’ve since discovered that movie reviewing is very thirsty work.

American Girl:

This movie is PG-13; however, I decided to watch it with my three children ages 7-10.  I know they are a little young, but after a quick check with the help of Brit Boy for the online “parent ratings”, I figured it would be acceptable.  Besides, I felt it would be fun to share this memory of my childhood with them.  After all, they have seen all of the recent Harry Potter movies, how bad could Jurassic Park seem compared to that?  So we popped some corn, grabbed some M&Ms and had a movie night in our living room.  I remember when I watched the movie when I was younger getting a little scared but mostly feeling excited.

Review

My first impressions were good although no grand musical intro (you will learn later that this is a big influence on my feelings for a film), I did however like hearing the presence of the cicadas over the title screen as we moved into the initial scenes.

The start was great with the viewer not actually realizing quite what was going on. The tension high, but what was up with the head of securities inordinately bizarre gun, it wasn’t applicable to the time and looked misplaced for the 90’s. This continued with the technology, whilst docking the crate it has to be pushed into place, it electronically docks, but then some poor sap has to lift the front gate to let the dinosaur out. This obviously didn’t go too well, whilst he was flung around by the invisible dinosaur in the crate. I did like the fact though that the visibility of the dinosaur was kept to a minimum, it certainly increased the tension. There is a lot of good background information on dinosaur behavior, mentioning high visual acuity etc. Could this be useful to our stars later?

During this scene my kids are unfazed by this violent death.  They’ve dealt with Voldemort in their lifetime, an invisible dinosaur was nothing to be afraid of.

Due to the death of this worker at least 2 experts are required to validate that the park is safe and to keep the investors happy.

We are now introduced to our experts Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Sam Neil and Laura Dern), stuck in the middle of the desert searching for dinosaur bones. They are very definitely our clichéd paleontologists. Initially there is a strange portrayal of the relationship between the two scientists; close friends, lovers, engaged, married, it doesn’t really become clear. Sam Neil’s passion for dinosaurs and intolerance of children becomes apparent early on with a great scene where he is describing the Velociraptor and their hunting technique, hunting in packs you won’t see them coming. This may also be useful later.

site

John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough) is introduced to us next, dramatically flying in via helicopter, with his first stop being to rifle through the fridge and finding a bottle of champagne. He is wearing the stereotypical white safari suit, has a friendly Scottish accent and comes across as a bumbling old amiable fool. He then proceeds to invite Dr. Alan and Dr. Ellie to visit his project for the weekend, buying their time by offering to continue funding their research for several more years. During this first encounter I loved the way he corrected his British pronunciation of “schedule” so that the poor Americans understood, take note American Girl!!!

Much to Brit Boy’s disappointment I didn’t notice Hammond’s pronunciation correction, but in my defense when I first see Hammond on screen all I can think about is the time I was with Brit Boy and his family at a zoo (ironically), and a stranger asked if Brit Boy’s dad was Attenborough.  At the time I had no idea who that was, but now I get it.  So for the first 5 minutes of seeing Hammond I was considering that Brit Boy will look pretty good when he’s older rather than thinking about the actual movie…  However, my attention is pulled back in when I notice a close-up shot of a large mosquito encrusted in amber, which becomes the backbone of the Jurassic Park story. Instantly I think this is a brilliant marketing ploy.  (What a simple souvenir and/or toy to mass produce for the ever indulging consumer?!)

Our next character’s introduction is that of our fat Hawaiian shirt wearing thief, Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight). We see quite a switch in personality here, from a geek fascinated in a fake shaving foam can, which will be used to smuggle out viable dinosaur embryo’s, to a desperate man who needs to get down to business, we don’t ever find out why he is so desperate for money.

Nedry is completely sleazy and it is instantly clear that he is the baddie of the story. I found great irony in the fact that the stolen dinosaur embryos are supposed to be transported via shaving cream cans.  Luckily, this was in a time when shaving cream could actually be brought onto airplanes, otherwise half the plot may have been lost… 

Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), definitely my favorite character of the movie. He was introduced perfectly by Hammond when they all met up prior to getting on the helicopter to take them to the island. “I bring scientists you bring a rock star!” this is a great introduction to the affable chaostician.

Brit Boy, what is a chaostician?  And how did you even know this?  I took notes and am certain I never heard that word…. All I know is that at this point, there are a lot of doctors on this helicopter.  I am not sure what they all really do, but I know that is really beside the point.

Flying in by helicopter there is a great view of the island which is absolutely beautiful, I’m not sure where this was filmed, but it’s certainly getting added to my travel bucket list (good idea for another blog? We’ll see……). Back to the movie, the soundtrack during this initial journey was brilliant and really conveyed the excitement of the visitors and Hammond’s pride in what they would see. This really bounced off Hammond’s character well. The only thing I’m not sure of, is why did they make Dr. Alan into an idiot, not being able to work out how to use the helicopter seat belts, light relief?? Seemed unnecessary to me.

I liken the scenery to something you would see on an episode of “Survivor”.  They all arrive on the island and are locked in by ominous huge metal locking electric doors.  A sign reads “Welcome to Jurassic Park, the most advanced amusement park in the entire world.”  As my 8 year old daughter watches the doors close and lock she says to me “I’d be scared to be stuck in a place with dinosaurs”.  Smart girl, considering none of the doctors seem to care.

Jurassic Park Gates

Soon after their arrival we get our first introduction to the dinosaurs, the visual effects have really stood the test of time and don’t look dated in the slightest. There’s a great quote from a shocked and in awe Dr. Alan “they move in herds, they do move in herds...” . I can’t quite equate what it would be like to spend your professional life working theoretically and then have all of your theories proven in front of your eyes, but I do think this comes across in this scene.

I really liked the theme park intro and the interaction between Hammond, his CGI counterpart, and the DNA, it was a clever way of introducing “the science” behind the creation of the dinosaurs, it was very believable and very Disney.

DNA

I must say I love this bit of the movie.  The video makes you completely buy in to the story, believing that it would actually be possible to genetically recreate dinosaurs.  It reminds me of the “School of Rock” shows I use to watch as a child.  Even my kids learned a little lesson in DNA and were explaining to me how it related to their current science lessons in class. 

Dr. Malcolm then leads the charge to stop the ride and go explore the lab, I feel a bit sorry for Hammond as this spoils the experience he has carefully planned for them. We quickly find out that there is no unauthorized breeding in Jurassic Park as all of the dinosaurs are created female.

I felt it was quite a design flaw if  you could easily exit the ride and overtake the lab. But, as luck would have it, they are able to explore the lab just in time for us all to witness a baby dinosaur “hatch” from an egg.  Even 20 years later the special effects of this movie are brilliant.  Even my kids were “ooo-ing and ahhhh-ing” watching the little Velociraptor hatch. 

This leads to a brilliant monologue by Dr. Malcolm.

“Life will not be contained, life breaks free it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers painfully maybe even dangerously”

At this point the million dollar debate is raised and I would consider the main theme of the movie…. Even though dinosaurs can be brought back from extinction should they be?  Perhaps there is a reason these creatures became extinct to begin with….

As the tour continues we move outside to the pen where the worker was killed in the first scene. As they lower a live cow into the pen, we discover that these dinosaurs are Velociraptors the same dinosaurs which Dr. Alan was describing to the boy. This leads to an interesting dialogue between Dr. Alan and Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck), the man with the ridiculous gun at the start of the film, who we discover is a game warden from Kenya. He believes that the raptors “should all be destroyed”. They are lethal at 8 months old, problem solvers who constantly and systematically test the electric fences for weaknesses, they remember…

After the dismantled cow harness appears sans cow, the lawyer (Martin Ferrero) shows his true colors “we can charge anything we want…”

Interesting naivety is shown by Hammond, he expected the scientists to be behind everything and really gung ho, he is becoming concerned, that this may back fire.

Now that the stage has been set and the audience is aptly aware of imminent doom, Hammond’s grandkids (Tim and Lex) show up.  They are about 8 and 12 years old.  I immediately think to myself that as a mother I am pretty certain I would not let my kids go to a dinosaur theme park by themselves….  But what fun would the story be without a little added drama?  Of course the kids instantly take to Dr. Alan’s character even though he is increasingly nervous around children.

We now get our first glimpse of Samuel L. Jackson (Ray Arnold), it’s unlike any part I can remember him playing, I must look him up on IMDB to see how early this appearance is in his larger film career.

The tour continues with Tim and Lex in tow, they all get into automated 4×4’s which run on tracks round the park. I really like the way they designed the park it was very believable, and just like you would expect.

Again, I am impressed with the thought that went into the filming of this movie.  The jeeps are perfectly painted and still seem new and fitting with the modern times even today.  Spielberg has a way of making his movies feel timeless in that regards.  20 years later and this amusement park still has the feel of being cutting edge.

Traveling round the park we get our first hint of problems, there are no dinosaurs to see because of the huge enclosures they are in. We get our first glimpse of a mean side to Dr. Malcolm’s character when he sarcastically pokes fun at Hammond for the lack of dinosaurs. Hammond’s reaction made me feel really sorry for him, he just wants everyone to be as excited and thrilled as he is for what he has achieved. He then starts grasping at straws, ordering that they try and entice one of the dinosaurs out into full view, cue the introduction of the scape goat….

A goat is brought in and chained to a tree to “coax” out the dinosaur.  But the dinosaur never appears. Even the goat lies down in boredom.

Again the lack of dinosaur viewing just enhances the times when they are on screen. Another piece of useful information this time about Dilophosaurus, very curious dinosaurs, who spit venom in the face of their prey to immobilize them, could this be useful later?? The sick Triceratops looks incredibly realistic, however I was slightly confused at how they all managed to leap into the enclosure and get close. Doesn’t seem like a safe exhibit for when he opens the doors to the general public, anyway Dr. Ellie remains behind to tend the sick dinosaur (not really sure what she hopes to achieve, but our intrepid scientists are now separated…).

Whilst Dr. Malcolm, Dr. Alan, the lawyer, Tim and Lex continue with the tour, we have notification that a big storm is going hit the Island. Nedry starts to panic and is forced to bring the embryo theft forward. He triggers a program which starts systematically powering down the fences and unlocking some internal doors so that his plan can be executed. Another result of his meddling is that of the cars losing power, outside the enclosure where the tethered goat is bleating.

(Of course the sleaziest character of the plot line (Nedry) is in charge of the computer system and security for the entire park.) 

This now brings us to one of the most replayed scenes of the movie, I absolutely love the tension which is created just by watching the ripples in the glass of water as something obviously very big approaches. At this point the audience doesn’t have a clue what it may be.

Water

The lawyer speculates that the thudding noise is the power trying to come back on, but he’s just clutching at straws. Conveniently Tim finds some night-vision headgear from a box in the suv and spots the goat is missing just as his sister does. “Where’s the goat?”. Suddenly from out of nowhere part of a disemboweled goat lands on the clear Perspex roof the car. We still haven’t seen what has caused this but know that it’s something very large and fierce and our car passengers should begin to get very worried. We then see a clawed hand holding on to the obviously deactivated electric fence and a close up of Tyrannosaurus Rex as she swallows the rest of the goat and looks straight into the camera. The look in her eye shows real intelligence, I do like the way the dinosaurs are given personality and it makes for a more enjoyable film, however the purist in me cries out this is anthropomorphic! This internal battle continues, would the dinosaurs been better viewed as intelligent but lethal predators with no conscience?

It’s interesting that the real peril and action doesn’t start until almost halfway through the film, I must say the time hasn’t dragged at all.

We then see the lawyer run off, why did he run? Makes no sense, where did he want to go? This leaves Tim and Lex alone in the car… we then come to one of the classic scenes in the film, the T-Rex bursts through the fence. Cue panic in the cars as the kids can’t turn off a torch (ok flashlight American girl 😉 just called me Hammond…), this plays into what we learned about t-Rex earlier that it hunts by sight. Dr. Alan and Dr. Malcolm then try to distract it using flares. Cut to the bathroom where the lawyer is hiding, not sure why he’s hiding there or why he’s sitting on the toilet. Nevertheless it creates a great scene when the t-Rex breaks through the roof and plucks him off the toilet…. Again I missed how and why the t-Rex knew he was there.

The minute the lawyer chose to run and hide like a coward leaving Tim and Lex left to fend for themselves against dinosaurs I knew he was a goner.  It’s movie 101, kids and pets very rarely die.   The cowards always die, and it seemed fitting that his final moments were cowered on a porta-potty.  (Considering I work with a bunch of attorneys I did find humor in the fact that the attorney is once again portrayed as sleazy and uncaring.  There are a lot of anti-attorneys out there in the viewing audience and I am sure many of these people saw this ending fitting for the attorney.)

We now cut to the computer nerve center where Samuel L Jackson is trying to get the park back online, however he’s struggling with Nedry’s  2 million lines of code and various protection measures he has put in place. Dr. Ellie and Muldoon have returned safely.

Meanwhile there is no sign of Dr. Malcolm, and Dr. Alan is struggling to get the kids out of the car, whilst dodging the advances of T-Rex, he eventually manages to free Lex but Tim is trapped in the car. Trying to get at Tim the T-Rex starts pushing the car to the edge of the high wall which serves as a barrier to the enclosure. Dr. Alan and Lex have no choice but to start climbing down, they see the car go hurtling past them and land in a tree, are they safe for now?

Nedry is driving erratically through the park, glasses steamed up and struggling to see, he crashes his car into a sign, resulting in him not knowing the way to the dock to drop off the embryos. He randomly picks a direction and careers toward rescue or is it certain doom? The car crashes and he slides off the road and down a hill, he loses his glasses as water pours down the hill, he really is the typical bumbling baddie….

Dilophosaurus appears, the curious non-threatening dinosaur, Nedry obviously hasn’t read his idiots guide to dinosaurs as he dismisses them with a threat to run them over when he gets back to his car. He starts climbing up the hill, the dinosaur attacks, a large frilled collar opening out on the back of its neck making it much for threatening and frightening. It spits its venom at him hitting him in the chest and eyes, blinded he walks into the car knocking himself over, the shaving foam can with the embryos falls out and is carried down the hill. He gets up and with a sigh of relief makes it into the car and shuts the door, safe. Or so he thought….another Dilophosaurus is waiting on the passenger seat. The camera pans out as the car starts shaking, Nedry meets his maker. All we see is the shaving can being covered in mud at the bottom of the hill.

JP-Dilophosaurus2

When I see the shaving cream can, I can’t help but wonder if this is the foreshadowing for a Jurassic Park sequel.  Could these embryos somehow “hatch” from the can?  No one knows this can is lost here, buried in mud, and as already mentioned “life can find a way”….

Can

Dr. Alan climbs the tree to rescue Tim, he’s starting to show an affinity to the kids. This leads to a brilliant exchange between him and Tim. After being pushed off a 100ft wall by a T-Rex, and landing in a tree, Tim is only concerned about having thrown up, and is obviously embarrassed. It shows how skewed kids views are on life, they can go through all kinds of trauma but the littlest insignificant trials and tribulations are what they worry about. This was a great piece of writing. We then see Tim leaning across the car to grab Dr. Alan’s hand and steadying himself on the steering wheel. The wheels turn and we see the consequence of this as the scene continues, I found this interesting how small details can really start a catalogue of events, I guess this really mirrors the film’s message throughout. We then see some outstanding tree descending from Tim who has never climbed a tree in his life, he must be a natural…

Once they are safe, Dr. Alan has a nice conversation with Tim trying to lift the boy’s spirits.  At this point, Dr. Alan removes a Velciraptor claw from his pocket that he has been carrying the entire movie and throws it down. This seemed such a great moment of symbolism, almost as though Dr. Alan was ready to give up his research on dinosaurs (now that he has lived it) and ready to move forward on starting a family with Dr. Ellie.

Muldoon and Dr. Ellie arrive at the scene of the mayhem. As they’re wandering around spotting pieces of Gennaro, we hear a convenient moaning coming from under some debris, they’ve found Dr. Malcolm. I liked the brief exchange between the 3 of them:

“Can we chance moving him?” “Please chance it!!”

There is again a great use of the T-Rex tremors in a footprint full of water and Dr. Malcolm is getting increasing agitated as he lies prone in the back of the open Jeep. T-Rex appears and a dramatic cat and mouse chase ensues as the Jeep speeds away. I loved some of the camera angles used in this, especially from the rear view mirror (Objects in the mirror maybe closer than they appear….) which really adds to the tension and the fact Dr. Malcolm is like a waiting buffet for T-Rex.

mirro

Once they are back at HQ we get a great panned shot of the park gift shop to be, you can tell that they were anticipating this to be a huge movie at the time as all of the merchandise was actually available once the movie was released. There follows an interesting discussion between Hammond and Dr. Ellie where, Hammond’s background as a flea circus owner is touched upon. He really is an old school showman. Take note again American Girl, Hammond mentions a merry-go-round and corrects himself to carousel so that he is understood, welcome to my life….

Brit Boy, you’re in America now, time to speak American.  I am sure you are aptly aware that Americans expect to be catered to, we are of course the center of the universe, or at least like to view ourselves that way.  So let’s just get back to the story.  By this point Dr. Ellie and Hammond are reunited at the visitor center and are awaiting signs of the others.  This causes the two of them to argue passionately over the “could vs. should” debate.  Hammond is of course still cheering on his park and vision, even though his grandchildren are currently missing with wild and roaming dinosaurs. 

Meanwhile, Dr. Alan appears to be having fun in his new paternal role, and has discovered that the dinosaurs are breeding. The frog based DNA, which was used to fill in the blanks in the genome, has resulted in some of the female dinosaurs turning male.

This “frog DNA” thing gets me a bit confused.  It all seems a bit convenient to me that frog DNA is the only DNA which could possibly fill in the blanks of a regenerated dinosaur.  Yet, as luck would have it, the frog can also “change sexes”.  Is this seriously real? If so, it’s all just a bit too easy, and makes the DNA angle a bit less believable for me.  Regardless, at this point in the film I am too engrossed to give it much thought. 

In order to get the park back up and running Ray decides to turn off the power, the computers reset and everything appears to be ok, but they have tripped one of the circuit breakers in doing so. Cue our movie 101, don’t send a nice (but incidental character) on a quest to turn the power back on in a building at the other end of the compound…. Hammond, Muldoon, Dr. Malcolm and Dr. Ellie take shelter in the emergency bunker. When the power doesn’t resume and Ray doesn’t return, Dr. Ellie and Muldoon decide to investigate. Journeying across the compound they discover the Velociraptors are out. Muldoon stays back to take care of them whilst Dr. Ellie makes a run for the power bunker. This proves to be an unwise decision by Muldoon as he falls victim to the hunting technique which Dr. Alan so vividly described to the young boy at the start of the movie.

All remaining survivors become reunited in the visitor center.  Now that the power has been restored, the only way to bring safety to the island is to reboot the computer system.  In a dramatic final moment, Lex comes to the rescue when she recognizes the “Unix” system and she single handedly manages to reboot the entire system.  However, this is not enough because the Velociraptors are inside the visitor center and have discovered how to open doors among other amazing feats.  Dr. Ellie, Dr. Alan, Tim, and Lex become in a battle for their lives against the evil Velociraptors.  (I am still unsure where Hammond was through all of this?) The fight ends in the entrance to the visitor center as all four dangle from the bones of a broken dinosaur skeleton in the lobby, of course symbolizing the crashing of the entire park.  They fall to the floor and hug each other as the Velociraptor runs towards them.  They all look over their shoulders at the Velociraptor (and cameras) in complete defeat.  But alas, Spielberg wouldn’t let the audience down, the T-Rex makes her final entrance of the movie, barges into the lobby and eats the Velociraptor saving the day and everyone flees to safety.  The movie ends with Hammond, Tim, Lex, Dr. Ellie and Dr. Alan flying off the island.  The kids are of course snuggled with Dr. Ellie and Dr. Alan (who now seemed convinced they are ready to have a family of their own) and Hammond looks down upon his walking stick at the mosquito encrusted in amber.  Still sad to watch his dream fade away….

Hammond amber

There were some great tense scenes as the Velociraptors chased the kids through the kitchen, some brilliant cinematography with one silhouetted against the jungle background, and the other snorting  at the window during the hunt. I too wasn’t sure about the use of T-Rex , after all of the tension was built up, everyone reunited but still in peril, it was going to take something really special to get them out of the pickle they were in. I just wonder whether her appearance was too convenient or maybe just poignant.

Final Cut

So what did I ultimately think of this movie? Well it was a thoroughly enjoyable romp through the jungle and deservedly makes the top 250 list. I’m not sure it should necessarily be any higher but I guess that maybe should be my benchmark for the future. I thought the characterization was ok with the only rounded character being Hammond, probably not too much of a coincidence that he was played by the double Oscar winning director and accomplished actor Sir Richard Attenborough, I wonder how many more films in the list will have his mark in some way? The special effects though cutting edge at the time still more than stand up to the rigors of today’s cinema goers even 20 years on with the new 3D release testament to that. I can see myself watching this again, and felt it was a great film to cut our teeth on as a first blog.

Overall, for the type of movie this is, I think it was fantastic.  It’s not emotionally moving, and there are no big surprises.  However, the special effects and fast paced story line keep you intrigued and on the edge of your seat.  My kids enjoyed it as well, even though it takes a lot more to impress them these days.   I agree that Jurassic Park has earned a spot on the list, and I think 250 is a correct placement.  The acting wasn’t superb but it was enjoyable.  Spielberg does not disappoint.  The movie does also address an interesting moral debate.  Cloning technology has become far more advanced since the release of this movie and it no longer seems as farfetched at the idea we may be able to genetically recreate dinosaurs. Jurassic Park showed is a simple reminder that it is not always a good idea to mess around with Mother Nature. 

 

In my research regarding this movie and the 20th anniversary celebration, I stumbled upon an article by People magazine which chronicles where the “kids” of Jurassic Park are now.  Ironically, the granddaughter is my age (making me feel appropriately old), and she happens to have an art studio here in Oregon (where I live).  I may need to send her a link to our review (and I didn’t really mean that bit about the acting not being superb…)

Next Stop: #249 The Untouchables (1987)

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