Jurassic Park (1993), G.O.A.T

Clever girl

Generally speaking, most movie kids would rather swallow a gallon of nails than pick one movie to crown their “favorite.” And that’s a totally healthy response, because there are a lot of fantastic movies out there, all of which can be perfect for different phases of your life and have special meaning at particular moments.

For a while, I too refused to name a “Favorite Movie.” I once had to put together a top-ten-list of my favorite movies as the first assignment for my high school film class, and I spent hours agonizing over which to choose. I wanted to give due honor to the movies that had been formative in my childhood, but also show off my budding film conossuiership, but also not seem like a Movie Asshole ©, but also impress the cute boy who sat next to me in class. (I was like, 16. Give me a break.) As you can probably imagine, the final list was a rather eclectic one.

All list-induced drama aside, I did truly love all of the movies I put on that list, and most of them would still be considered a part of my nebulous list of G.O.A.Ts. However, I flat-out refused to rank them, because my heart was pulled in so many directions. Think of The Bachelorette, but instead of vaguely-similar-looking buff dudes vying for my attention, it’s a house full of movies, all trying to be The One. And instead of sexy cocktail parties and scintillating outings to foreign beaches, it’s just 16-year-old Caroline alone in her basement.

It’s probably useful to note that I was also in the beginnings of my Film Asshole © phase, so I thought that movies had to be artfully complex and thought-provoking and French to be Good, and thus worthy of the list. The concept of simply enjoying a movie as a basis for truly liking it seemed…plebian. It was only in college, when I realized that being a film asshole was much more fun than being a Film Asshole ©, that I realized that I did in fact, have a favorite movie- and it was low-key obvious.

You’ve probably guessed what my favorite movie is

In awkward icebreakers at social events or what-have-you, one of the routine questions is “if you’d have to bring only three things to a deserted island, what would you bring?” If I’m trying to look cool for my audience, I’ll say something vague about a fire-starting kit or tent and throw in something spicy like “my makeup bag, haha!” Normal, sensible things.  However,  If I’m two drinks in and want these people to know I mean business, I tell them that I would bring Jurassic Park I, II, and a portable DVD player. As I am only allowed three items I’d have to leave III and Jurassic World to the wayside (sorry, Chris Pratt), and would then of course need a device to play them on. TBH, I’ve seen these movies so many times that I could probably stare at the disks themselves and imagine the movies, but the sight of an almost- shirtless Jeff Goldblum glistening on a table is an image that is best witnessed first-hand, my friends.

I love the Jurassic Park series, flaws and strange gymnastic subplots all. But Jurassic Park I is undoubtedly the best of the bunch, and it is singlehandedly my favorite movie ever. To be clear, I do not think this movie is the “best movie ever made,” because it’s not.

But it does have dinosaurs in it, which makes it a hell of a better than a lot of other movies. How much better would Mamma Mia! been if there had been dinosaurs in it? Just throwing that out there.

But back on track: I owned the first three Jurassic Park movies on VHS. And then I got the DVD set, which I kept enshrined in my dorm room. And then I put them all on my laptop in digital formats, just in case, you know. And now they’re all on Netflix, which means that I am unstoppable. I think I watched the whole series twice in a row in the first week or so they were on Netflix, and I watched Jurassic Park an extra time solo just because.

I adore Jurassic Park and its bastard children on a level that is borderline weird. Story time: My family once had a little combined VHS/TV doohickey that they would bring on long car rides to try and keep us little hell-spawn occupied. As DVD began to take over as the medium of the era, the TV retired to my room. At that point, my family had over 300 VHS tapes, all of which were easily accessible and ready to be watched. Did I take this chance to explore the world of film, without parental supervision? Watch any R-rated film I wanted? Watch the live-action Mario movie that to this day I do not understand why my parents own?

Fuck no. My ass popped in the Jurassic Park II VHS and watched it three times in one day. It got to the point where I would just leave one of the movies on in the background, like people do with music. I’d gleefully clean my room to the sounds of the raptors devouring some human, which must have really pleased my mom.

These movies have infinite replay value for me, particularly Jurassic Park. It’s like everything about this movie was calibrated for Caroline’s Maximum Enjoyment. It also happened to come out a year to the day before my first birthday, so I’d also like to think it was fate. But seriously, this movie has aged with me, and the ways in which I interact with it have only shifted and evolved. I’d like to think it went something like this:

Age 8, or whatever, the first time I watched it: Holy fuck, dinosaurs!!!!

Age 14, budding teen Caroline: Holy fuck, dinosaurs???? Sam Neill is kinda cute, but idk, he’s old, yuck…

Age 16, Film Asshole © Caroline: Holy fuck, DINOSAURS? Sam Neill can get it, while also paying for my college and providing for my future. Also, genetic power? Philosophical ramifications of unbridled scientific progress?

Today, film asshole Caroline: M O T H E R F U C K I N ‘  D I N O S A U R S !  S A M   N E I L L . J E F F  G O L D B L U M.  L A U R A  D E R N.  G    E    N    E     T    I    C   S !!!11!1!!!

As you can see, the dinosaurs have remained pretty constant as a source of entertainment. This was supplanted by my blossoming attraction to Dr. Alan Grant, which was only rivaled to my equally confusing blossoming attraction to Rachel Weisz in The Mummy (surprise, kid!!!). Of course, as I became more scientifically literate, the premise behind the film became more compelling and horrifying, which in turn made Jurassic Park a more nuanced watch.

At any rate, the simple fact is that Jurassic Park has been a staple in my life that I have enjoyed in every weird phase I’ve gone through. I can watch it on a loop, and can essentially recite the dialogue line for line. Visiting the “park” in Orlando FL was like visiting a holy site, and I sat and ate the shitty food in the shitty Jurassic Park cafeteria and almost cried. I’ve told my parents that I will only accept Jurassic Park china for my wedding registry because I KNOW what my aesthetic is, thank you very much.

Jurassic Park is my favorite movie of all time, and thus of course gets my G.O.A.T. And here’s why.

Life, uh, finds a way

While the philosophical aspects of this movie only dawned on me as an adult, the message and nuances of Jurassic Park seem eternally relevant. To be fair, this is a movie mostly about dinosaurs and avoiding being eaten by said dinosaurs, but also is an angry, gory meditation of scientific power.

The story behind this -as written by Michael Crichton- is eternally relevant in the age of genetic power. This isn’t to say that the premise of this movie is good science, because it is not. (Yes, I did look it up, because despite having seen the movie, I still wanted to dinosaurs to be real.) The type of “science” they do in Jurassic Park is superficially plausible for the vaguely scientifically literate viewer (ie: me) so it doesn’t seem horribly outlandish (ie: we’ve smashed a shark and an octopus together really hard and made a sharktopus or something).  Shit, the name of the damn movie isn’t even right: most of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are actually from the Cretaceous Period (the T-Rex, velociraptors, Gallimimus, Brachiosaurs, etc.). It’s essentially like doing a period film about Italian Renaissance painters and titling it something like “The Pilgrims Ride the Mayflower.” The “science” behind JP basically serves to be plausible enough to let you enjoy the movie on a rational level, so long as you don’t think too hard.

For context, this movie came out in ’93, only a few years after the Human Genome Project began, as scientists started to fully explore genetics and all of the power inherent. The concept of direct genetic tinkering was (and is) a deeply powerful one- particularly in the 90s, when even less was understood about genetics. While the premise of “WE MADE FUCKING DINOSAURS” was absurd, the concept of genetic power in misguided hands served as a scientific boogeyman to the public and is the quiet horror of this movie.

Jurassic Park is very much about dinosaurs and their ability to eat people, but also about science, morality, and man’s belief that nature can be subjugated. I’m not a scientist, but I’ve read enough science-y shit and listened to enough of my genius scientist friends to know that life is fucking weird. “Life finds a way,” can come off as a vague catchall to cover for the miraculous sex-altering dinosaurs, but strange, unbelievable shit like that happens in nature more frequently than one would believe. Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) simplistic belief that because they created these “dinosaurs” that they control them is incredibly naïve: he pumps money into this endeavor, thinking he can play god with creatures that are incredibly dangerous. Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is portrayed as the flaky pseudo-scientist, but his critique of Hammond and his enterprise is wholly damning, and is the sort of “MESSAGE!” moment.

Here’s the scene if you want to watch it for yourself:

Malcolm slams Hammond for his unbridled use of technology for profit, as he rightly sees that Hammond doesn’t quite understand that the creatures he has brought into existence are living. He sees them as attractions and as moneymakers, with no respect for their power. Hammond believes he is in power: he is their father, he is their God. He “made” (or rather paid other people money who made) these creatures, much like he would contract out the construction of a ride. Hammond doesn’t see them as they are: dangerous, thinking creatures who were not made for this era.

I think what makes this moment so effective is that Hammond is not a bad man: he is never characterized as money-grubbing or miserly. He’s a jolly, family-minded man who has a vision and business acumen. He isn’t a villain: he merely has no understanding or respect for what he has done. He sees only profit, not long-term consequence. In Malcolm’s words:

“Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” 

I think this is one of the reasons this movie ages so well: genetic science only continues to advance as this movie grows older. The type of science Jurassic Park poses isn’t entirely ludicrous anymore. The power to alter a living being is both amazing and horrifying, and always will be.

And to be sure, a lot of this “horror” comes from fearing what we don’t understand: genetic science is powerful, but not simple. I consider myself vaguely scientifically literate, but my understanding of genetics is still basic, at best. I understand the theoretical possibilities for genetic tinkering, but only vaguely. To be clear: this isn’t some moralistic diatribe against scientific progress, as the situation as presented in Jurassic Park is an extreme one that is incredibly unique. Trying to bring back a fucking T-Rex for an amusement park is vastly different from trying to identify or alter the genes that play into cancer or depression. But in the light of unbridled possibility, caution is important, I think as a general rule.

tl; dr : Jurassic Park is about dinosaurs, yes, but also science and man’s notion that they’re king of the hill. Until they get eaten.

Get to the fucking dinosaurs, lady

Okay okay okay let’s get to the Good Shit:

Dinosaurs, man.

I was a dinosaur kid. My parents like to tell people about the time I corrected a waitress who handed me a plastic dinosaur to play with, as she called it “the flying one,” when it was obviously a pterodactyl. I was three at the time, and already a raging asshole. So clearly, Jurassic Park was going to fall on receptive ears. (yes, I am aware that technically Pterodactyls aren’t dinosaurs)

I first watched Jurassic Park when I was 8 or so, in a dark room in the middle of a thunderstorm, so there was a certain amount of ambience working in the movie’s favor. I still remember the jeep scene with the T-Rex vividly, and that awe and fear has stuck with me. The dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are still some of the best animatronic creations I have ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of ‘em. Confession: I have never been one for digital creatures. I deeply appreciate the technical artistry that goes into making digital art, but it never manages to truly feel tangible to me, and thus not scary.

That said, Jurassic Park manages to use digital dinos to incredible effect. The digital sequences merge perfectly with the physical sequences, and you generally would have to be paying attention to decipher the difference. There are some scenes that are obviously all digital (the introduction of the brachiosaurs, the gallimimuses running, etc) but as a whole, the FX blends in well. In certain scenes, it took me a long-ass time to realize that what a lot of what I was seeing was computer generated, so 100 points to the digital FX team.

But one of the aspects of Jurassic Park that captured my imagination as a child was that the majority of the on-screen dinosaurs are animatronics or –get this- people in suits. No, seriously: some of the velociraptor shots were actually a guy named John Rosengrant in a really tricked-out suit, which meant that the velociraptor’s movements were far more fluid than they might have been if a robot was trying to do it. Stan Winston was the man behind the studio that created these magnificent dinos, and his team’s work is breathtaking and far surpasses many more modern efforts in practical monster FX.

I am constantly astounded by the artistry that went into these creatures – the pupils dilate and retract, the breathing, the fluidity of motion, the skin’s texture- every detail was planned and executed flawlessly. These machines and props were works of art, but they read so realistically. To a wide-eyed 8 year-old clutching a blanket in the dark, dinosaurs came alive. Jurassic Park pulled out all the stops and combined digital FX, practical FX, and the good old “man-in-a-rubber-suit” to create living, breathing, monsters.

Okay, so we’ve got really, really, ridiculously good-looking dinosaurs. But as one film scholar wrote, sound is half of the picture. We’ve got “realistic” dinos on the set, but had they been paired with weak or basic roars, they would have fallen flat on their foam asses.

The sound mixing for these dinosaurs is just as beautiful as their construction, and the sound engineers for JP deserve a million awards (they rightfully won quite a few). These artists had nothing to go on: no one that I know of has heard a live T-Rex roar. If you or someone you know has, please contact the Smithsonian Institute ASAP. The T-Rex roar could have been so generic and throwaway, but even today it is still so distinct: it’s a tiger, elephant, and an alligator, all mixed into one. I’ve posted an article about the creation of the T-Rex roar in the source section if you’re curious about the specifics. While you’re at it, look up alligators and infrasound/water dance. It’s wicked cool. The velociraptor cry is similarly unique and eerie (it’s also my text tone, in case you were wondering.) All in all, the sounds were on par with visuals for the dinos, and they turned them bloodcurdlingly real.

OBJECTS MAY APPEAR LARGER

In some respects, Jurassic Park is like Jaws, but older and sexier. Both are simple monster stories based off of books which use robot creatures to threaten humans in a man-v-nature hoedown-throwdown directed by Steven Spielberg, all set to music by John Williams. And like Jaws , it had a series of sequels that just missed the mark.

Jaws is another one of my GOATS, so you can look up my piece on it if you’re curious as to what other rambling diatribes I could possibly spew forth about monster movies. Simply put, Jaws succeeds because it tells a simple story really well. And Jurassic Park is no different, really. Man makes dinosaurs. Man puts dinosaurs in a cage. Dinosaurs escape cage. Dinosaurs eat Man. Of course, Jurassic Park is rife with philosophical undertones and scientific warnings and so on, which take it a step above Jaws for complexity. Also, this time Spielberg wasn’t fighting a rusty bunch of shitty shark animatronics, and had Stan Winston’s genius and skill at his disposal with regards to FX. However, the visual panache with which Spielberg tells Jurassic Park is right in line with Jaws. Spielberg is good with stories, and is really good at conveying certain things without dialogue or comment. Sometimes it’s with music, other times with clever framing. In Jaws this was often because the star (the robot shark) wasn’t working so they had to get clever. Jurassic Park, on the other hand, had functioning, great-looking monsters. And still, Jurassic Park is full of singularly evocative moments. Spielberg is a fucking master of telling simple story well, and uses the camera like a painter’s brush. Every time I watch Jurassic Park I fall in love with them all over again: here are just a few.

As this is a monster movie, a lot of them are incredible “Oh shit,” moments:

Raptor Dinner Time

When hitting the high points of this movie, I often forgot this scene. It was only on my last few viewings that I realized just how powerful it was: the conjunction of the dialogue, paired with the sparse visuals, is bone-chilling. We don’t see the raptors in whole for a very long time, and in this scene we see nothing of them- no claws, no suggestive flash of an eye, nada. The cow gets lowered into the pen, and then nothing comes back up. The sound guys do another fantastic job of creating a unique frenzy of ferocity, which does more than any dialogue could. The branches in the pen thrash violently amidst snarls, and the mangled, broken cow harness emerges. The power and viciousness of these creatures is so crystal-clear in this moment, and we don’t even know what they look like yet.

Water Glass

This scene is the equivalent of the first slow dun-duns in the main theme from Jaws. And it’s literally just a glass of water shaking. The implication of the soft thuds and the fact that they’re shaking the car speaks more than any dialogue could. The quiet dread that suddenly seeps into the scene is so perfect. We don’t even see the T-Rex and we’re already terrified.

Claw on the “electric fence” (Starts at 00:57)

I honestly don’t think there was a better way visually introduce the T-Rex. The claws slowly dragging along the wire next to the prominent “ELECTRIC FENCE” hazard sign is brilliant. Again, nothing needs to be said but HOLY SHIT THE FENCES ARE DOWN

Velociraptors can open doors?

Yikes.

Some of them are “Hahaha, Oh Shit,” moments:

Objects in Mirror

objectsinmirror.jpg

This is a wonderful “I’m-laughing-but-also-terrified” moment.

And some of them are “Oh shit, MESSAGE,” moments:

Velociraptor with DNA scrolling over it

raptordna.png

(please pardon the shitty screencap)

Fun fact- I didn’t catch the detail of the DNA code until I saw Jurassic Park on the big screen, when it was re-released in 3-D. It’s such a brilliant, subtle moment: these creatures were just code to the scientists, but this is what they truly are.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (Starts at 00:47)

I fucking lose my shit every time this stinkin’ banner falls and the T-Rex roars and the music starts. It’s such a triumphant “fuck you!” to humans, and I enjoy it very much.

You bet your ass the melodica cover is in here

I figure a brief section should go to the music here. John Williams basically wrote the soundtrack to my childhood. Jaws, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Jurassic Park- all of these scores have strong nostalgia attached to them for me, but the Jurassic Park music is by far my favorite. And there’s really only one memorable song from it, which is the theme. But man oh man- no other song captures wonder and awe so perfectly for me. It’s quiet, it’s sweeping, it’s grand, it’s magic. This is a total personal opinion and I have literally nothing to back up this affection other than I like to sing it when I’m drunk.

Also in reference to the subsection title, enjoy:

 

That neck bandana tho

Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) is legitimately my ideal man. That’s all. This isn’t any argument for why this movie is great.

But it is important.

(in other news: Jeff Goldblum has aged like a fine wine and I am here to drink it, friends.)

Bring this post together, for god’s sake

Jurassic Park is my favorite movie of all time. It’s a movie I loved in my childhood that has withstood the tests of time, and manages to delight me every time I watch it. The script is witty, the music is great, the visuals are punchy. It’s a movie that has layers if you look for them, but it’s also just a really fuckin’ entertaining movie.

This movie has nostalgic value, but is also brilliantly constructed. I have watched this movie more than any other film in my life, and the T-Rex in the Jeep scene is still fucking horrifying. Shit, I watch horror movies all the time, and  the scene I still have trouble watching all the way through is the kitchen scene. Maybe it’s because I’m an older sister to a younger brother, but that scene is one of the most tense sequences I’ve ever seen.  This movie has guts, and the technical finesse to back them up. I’m generally not a big fan of Spielberg’s other movies, but fuuuuuuuuuuuck does this guy do a monster movie right. This movie has it all, folks: a classic score, good looking protagonists, and best of all- dinosaurs.

6/5

Sources/Further Reading

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/the-animals-hiding-in-a-t-rexs-roar/

https://youtu.be/gTNeNUXR6qw (alligator mating call)

https://www.stanwinstonschool.com/blog/jurassic-park-evolution-of-a-raptor-sui

Image Sources

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/T-rex2.jpg

Featured image source:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107290/mediaviewer/rm3913805824

 

 

 

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