Jurassic Park (1993)
PG-13. Do I have to wait for my daughter to be old enough to watch this movie? Like, I'd love to show it to her tomorrow. But there's the whole raptor eating a guy's face off. There's a solid amount of blood. The goat leg on the glass can be pretty intense. Also, "That's one big pile of...", yeah, maybe I'll wait. But just know that I really don't want to. PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
I finally get to write about Jurassic Park? Actually about Jurassic Park? It's a little bit of a cop out because I've probably written too much about Jurassic Park at this point. I keep reviewing the sequels and comparing other movies to it that my thoughts on the film are well-known by this point. Regardless, I'm shocked that three years into my blog, I've only gotten around to Jurassic Park now. I thought I watched this movie annually. My wife doesn't like watching movies repeatedly. I am kind of the same way, but I do have my favorites and Jurassic Park is definitely one of my favorites. I started a film club with the other film teacher at Villa and I've been watching movie multiple times this week. If I've ever been an expert when it comes to a movie, my bet is that it is Jurassic Park. I originally posted a different image above, but I was fairly convinced it was flipped because the T-Rex fence was on the wrong side of the picture. That's where we are.
I do want to make clear that Jurassic Park isn't my favorite movie. It's up there. I do think it is the greatest blockbuster film. I enjoy it more than Star Wars, which is probably blasphemy to many. Star Wars is great and it'll always be great. But I definitely take Jurassic Park to be its own movie, despite many sequels that are all inferior. I know, this is nitpicky garbage, but I do have to say that this might be a perfect movie. Why Jurassic Park works is that it is meticulous. (Although, I've now seen it so many times that I've noticed some really weird details. The digital display says that the raptor paddock is offline, but one of the next lines is that Nedry left the raptor paddock online. Yup, I'm at that level.) Michael Crichton's novel was the first "adult" novel that I read. I remember when I saw this movie with my dad, I was obsessed. I wanted to know as much about this movie as possible, so my dad let me read an adult novel. I was capable of reading giant texts at that age, but usually it was something that was considered a classic or was assigned for school. But I was ten and I wanted to read something that was a New York Times Bestseller, so I read Jurassic Park. Crichton's book was amazing and that was an experience I'll never forget, but the film that Spielberg made is a masterclass in managing what is essential while still maintaining the tones and themes of the film. Lots of things are different from the book to the movie. I think people keep on talking about how the book was so much different, but it feels like both are completely respectful to what was trying to be accomplished in this movie. It's so weird that this is really Crichton's second attempt at doing the theme park gone bad is so much better. (I love the new Westworld, so chill out.) But Spielberg took what was almost a Tom Clancy level corporate espionage sci-fi action and turned it into a movie that appeals to so many people on so many levels.
Because of this attention to tone and audience, Jurassic Park becomes something different than a matter of nostalgia. I've watched my nostalgia movies and, while I still enjoy them because nostalgia is the best, I also know when they are becoming dated. I took a long break from Jurassic Park. It was during my arthouse years, when I refused to repeat any movie. I was only going to watch fancy pants movies and I had the best time. (I don't regret this era of my film watching whatsoever. I still love art house movies and I watched a ton of new stuff because of this time.) But then I watched Jurassic Park again. It was probably when Jurassic World was coming out and I wanted to play a little bit of catch up. Maybe it was sooner than that. But that movie was almost like a new film to me. I could still quote the movie (I was using the phrase, "Hold onto your butts" way longer than I should have), but I watched it from an adult's perspective. When I was a kid, I watched it as a cool dinosaur movie. It's a very cool dinosaur movie, I promise you. It's the best dinosaur movie ever made. It's scary and edgy and...I digress. But as an adult, I watched it as a Michael Crichton thriller. There's this narrative that gets the whole story going and Spielberg really milks this information. He never infodumps. That movie takes its time. It allows us to bask in the possibilities of what the park could be. It does such a good job that we can leave the movie fully embracing the message of "You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you didn't stop to think if you should." I mean, the message is direct and clear, but it also leaves you thinking that we should still have a Jurassic Park. That's how cool that opening of the film is. Most movies, especially disaster movies, really stress the first part's happiness. This is meant to juxtapose the horrible things that are going to happen later. We meet the characters who deserve their awful fates and how their excess brought about calamity. John Hammond is a bit different. John Hammond is Victor Frankenstein, only way better. Victor Frankenstein deserves to be embarrassed and ridiculed for his choices. John Hammond honestly thinks that he is improving the world. This is such a nuanced argument. The argument wasn't against the advancement of science (despite its description as the "rape of the natural world"), but just how we go about it. It's philanthropy that is rushed. But then the whole thing shifts. Jurassic Park changes the formula a bit. The first part with the happiness is addressed full on by the characters. They all come to the realization at the same time that this happiness is unsustainable. The scene over the Chilean sea bass is telling because the victims of the attack don't need to experience tragedy to come to this realization. Only Hammond and Gennaro don't learn this mistake. It's such a great tonal shift. We are in love with Jurassic Park, but now we are afraid of Jurassic Park. I never fell in love with the building in The Towering Inferno or the boat in The Poseidon Adventure. I did fall in love with Jurassic Park.
Then there is the subtle commentary on humanity's greed. The first movie introduces a thread that none of the other movies in the franchise gets right. The other movies get one thing right: the dinosaur action. Even the worst movie in the franchise gets dino action right and that's super fun. They even get the marveling at dinosaurs thing right. But the other movies are really heavy-handed with the corporate greed angle. Instead, the most corporate espionage one of the group is the one that knows exactly how to handle it. I swear, there had to be a temptation to info dump a lot of stuff with Dodson and Nedry. They give us what we need to know. Nedry is being paid to sneak embryos off the island by Dodson using a fake Barbasol can. That's all you need to know. But we watch Nedry and wait for the shoe to drop. Nedry is constantly int he story, reminding us that something untoward is going to happen and he has control over it. He's the right level of unlikable. Even better is that John Hammond blames Nedry for the problem. When he's sharing ice cream with Ellie Sattler, he pins the whole thing on him. Normally I don't love when themes are so blatantly stated, but it works in Jurassic Park. Ellie comments on the whole story with the fleas. Like Frankenstein, Hammond never had control. He simply thought he did. Perhaps Jurassic Park could work in a world where man was free of greed, but man always manages to ruin things that are meant for good. Someone is always looking to make a buck and I love that it is this moment that larger messages are stated. As part of this, it is this house of cards that just collapses at the right time. Something very simple as someone trying to make a few bucks to get out from under his bills causes one of the greatest scientific advances of all time to fall apart. Spielberg gets this message just right. I can hear my wife rolling her eyes (loudly). I know it isn't real, but as allegory, it works wonders.
The script is something special. I think the rules don't apply to me when it comes to quoting movies because I find it intolerable when other people do it. I guess I just defined "intolerance", but I'll move on. I quote Jurassic Park way too much. Honest-to-Pete, once a year, I find an excuse to say "T-Rex doesn't want to be fed. T-Rex wants to hunt." It's never forced and you'd think it would be. Not really. But the script is absolutely a joy. This is what I'm talking about in terms of craftsmanship. There are very few throwaway line. Like The Empire Strikes Back, there are very few throwaway lines. Each line is a solidly crafted beat. I'm writing this part now as the "I can't get Jurassic Park online without Dennis Nedry." Sammy has some really intense technobabble going on there, but he's talking about a "white rabbit" object. A lot of writers or filmmakers would take the time to stress how important and how clever their writing is. The "White Rabbit" would be a recurring motif. Nope, the world is already inhabited enough. Yet, this "white rabbit" object matches Nedry's playfulness. It's a little detail that just makes everything feel inhabited. This is what sci-fi should be. It should feel lived in. Admittedly, Jurassic Park is a specific genre of sci-fi that is grounded in our reality. Only one (major) elemen is actually science fiction. The rest, as I mentioned, is a corporate espionage disaster movie.
It's odd that the most famous scene in the movie might not be the best. I mean, it is perfect, but I'm comparing the T-Rex attack with the raptor chase. I suppose I should be critical about some things in this movie because I'm being a little unfair that I'm gushing over the film so intensely. (I'm actually at the scene where Alan Grant saves Tim from the tree, despite the fact that there is no moat area in the previous scene. ) There are times that Lex and Tim are pretty mature. Like most stories that involve kids, there's a bit too much malleability with how they handle stress. I don't think think this is a major crime. But there are moments where Tim is jumping up in down because he has to act like a kid. But back to the best moment of the movie. The raptor attack in the kitchen is one of the most suspenseful scenes in cinema. The timing and the dramatic irony are pumped up to eleven. The only thing that I really wish is that I could feel the same stress I did the first time I watched this scene. I know it too well because I now watch it from the perspective of a critical observer. The T-Rex scene keeps sticking with me because it is so iconic, as it well deserves to be. But the raptor scene is my favorite. I know I'm not alone in that, but I think that was the first time I was really scared when going to see a movie on the big screen.
Yeah, I gush. But I watch a lot of movies and sometimes it is good to be reminded how much I love movies. There's not a movie on this blog that I regret watching, but there's nothing pretentious about loving Jurassic Park. It's an amazing action blockbuster and I don't know if any other blockbuster will hit the same level of love for me. There's a level of attention and love that shows in this movie and I'm proud to say that I really dig it.
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Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.