I’ve mentioned in a few other posts that Citizen Screenings, a blog I created a while back to share thoughts on recent or post-classic-era films will be transitioning. My friend Rob Medaska will be taking over the reigns there sharing his thoughts on film and television. Leading up to the day when Rob takes over that site I’ve been moving a few entries to this blog. Although Once Upon a Screen will remain a place dedicated to classics, which are the films that are nearest and dearest, I will occasionally post an entry on a more recent film that I deem a classic for one reason or another. Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, which is now twenty-two years old if you can believe it, is one of those. With the upcoming release of Jurassic World (on June 12), the (what is it?) fourth entry in the series – I thought it’d be a good time to share my thoughts on the original film published as part of The Steven Spielberg Blogathon, which I co-hosted with Outspoken & Freckled and It Rains…You Get Wet.
65 Million Years in the making…JURASSIC PARK
“I’ve wanted to make a dinosaur picture all of my life and have always been a huge fan of Ray Harryhausen, but I could never find a realistic way to do dinosaurs – until Michael Crichton figured out a genius way to combine science and imagination.” – Steven Spielberg
I read ‘Jurassic Park’ the novel by Michael Crichton as soon as it was published in 1990. The story, as we all know by now, is an enjoyable cautionary tale about the dangers of pushing the science and imagination combination to its limit, a “what if” about creatures that never cease to fuel our imaginations. If Crichton hit the nail on the head as pertains that combination then having Steven Spielberg helm such a story for the big screen is Kismet. Science and imagination are Mr. Spielberg’s strong suits. And mine are spoilers – so beware!!
Recognizing the potential of the dinosaur story Crichton had written, almost all of the major studios wanted a stab at it with Universal winning out in the end intent on Spielberg to direct. He’d been Crichton’s first choice in any case. And Steven Spielberg was so excited about working on this dinosaur movie that he began to storyboard the film almost immediately, before he had a screenplay. In fact, pre-production on JURASSIC PARK began in 1989 and Michael Crichton’s novel was published in 1990. Spielberg worked off a manuscript for the only time in his career until the screenplay co-written by Crichton and David Koepp was completed.
No doubt due to Michael Crichton’s involvement in the screenplay, JURASSIC PARK stays as true to the novel as possible given the time limitations inherent in film. The major differences between the versions of the story are in characterization and these do suffer in the translation to the story for the screen. For instance, the character of John Hammond the millionaire developer played by Richard Attenborough (in his first acting role in 15 years) is quite trite and of little substance, but that’s the price that’s paid and it turns out to be worth it to watch the dinosaurs given their proper due. The fundamental story between book and film, however, is the same.
With exteriors shot on the island of Kauai and interiors at the Universal lot, the JURASSIC PARK adventure takes place on the fictitious island of Isla Nublar off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. The story goes that Hammond has created a theme park called, Jurassic Park that features as its main attractions dinosaurs of all sizes and types, including the big and ferocious types that like to hunt and eat flesh for survival. In any case, before Hammond’s park can open he needs the approval of experts to satisfy his investors so he gathers a few key people to spend a weekend on Isla Nublar.
These include paleontologist, Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Paleobotanist, Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), mathematician/chaostician, Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), the investor’s lawyer, Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) and Hammond’s grandchildren, Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello) who represent the park’s target audience. (Check out the complete cast and crew list here).
John Hammond’s planned exhibition of the various attractions in Jurassic Park begins without a hitch. In fact, his promised, exciting adventure is in danger of being labeled outright boring during the first couple of hours of the tour when none of the creatures make an appearance as the tour cars follow the route. But then
a sinister plot for money by park programmer, Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) sets all hell lose – and terrific, exciting entertainment ensues.
Dennis Nedry, who is incidentally one of the more annoying, slimy characters ever (played superbly by Knight) plots to steal some of the dinosaur embryos and sell them to a rival company who wants the genetic engineering secrets used at Jurassic Park. Well, because of Nedry’s plans – and I won’t get into all the details – the electricity within the theme park is turned off. Without electricity to keep the 10,000 volt fences powered the dinosaurs escape, which means several of the characters in the movie meet less than serene endings, although the worst of the violence is left to our imaginations. Luckily, Nedry himself meets a death-by-dinosaur. And a pretty gratifying one at that. Or at least I enjoy it since I dislike this character so much and he’s killed by one of the more interesting dinosaurs on the island – the venom-spitting, frilled-neck Dilophosaurus. Nedry meets his end off camera, but it is in a nasty, satisfying way he leaves Isla Nublar to steal no more. And the entire sequence is pretty suspenseful with the small, initially benign-looking creature making a severe transformation before our eyes.