Jurassic Park: A Retrospective Review
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As a young boy growing up in the United Kingdom, I was exposed to a fair few fun television shows which you would expect me to experience. I had Doctor Who (both old episodes and the brand-new Russell T Davies series), a whole host of Gerry Anderson shows (Captain Scarlet still being my favourite) and everything in-between. All were amazing within their own right – but there was one show which really stayed with me, and that was Primeval – a show produced by Impossible Pictures for ITV. This show followed a group of heroes, including scientists and soldiers, as they attempted to respond to dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures who were slipping through cracks in time and appearing in the modern age. This show opened a love of dinosaurs within a young and impressionable Tom, and hungry for more to fill the void after this series ended, I stumbled upon Jurassic Park. Surprisingly, despite being more than twenty-five years old, I found that the Jurassic Park franchise still had a thriving fan base – one which I am very much proactive within today. As I continue to be a part of this community today, I wanted to take the time to retroactively review the first film in the Jurassic Park series – and explore why this film is still such a cinematic success so many years after its original box office debut. Hold onto your butts, because we’re diving deep into dinosaur infested territory with this one!
To understand why this film was such a success, I think it’simportant that we first breakdown the origins of this ground-breaking film.Long before acclaimed director StevenSpielberg touched the property, Jurassic Park had already been a name whichdinosaur fans of the 90’s had a familiarity with. Published on November the 20th,1990, Jurassic Park was a new novel from the critically acclaimed MichaelCrichton – whose work was already incredibly popular due to its rich scientificgrounding unseen in many other works of fiction. Crichton had worked on severalbooks – including the popular Andromeda Strain, which was published on the 12thof May 1969. When Jurassic Park released in 1990, it was a popular dive into aworld which was once again inhabited by dinosaurs. The book is filled with thesame wonder and mystique which it’s on-screen counterpart captures, but it isalso filled with genuine moments of spine-tingling terror and horror. Crichtoneven uses graphical violence within the original – capturing scenes ofcharacters being disembowelled and pecked apart to perfectly encapsulate thesheer power of the creatures which form the very crux of the original story.The mixture of different themes, and the crucial connective tissue of man’sability to mess with things which he does not fully understand, created apowerful concoction which resonated with people across the world – includingthe imaginative mind of Steven Spielberg. This, in turn, led to Crichton andSpielberg working together to turn Jurassic Park into a Hollywood blockbuster,which saw its release in the Summer of 1993.
The cinematic adaption of Jurassic Park proved to be a hit – grossing $357,067,947 at the Box Office according to Box Office Mojo. The film spawned toys, tie-in merchandise, and even a series of hit and miss sequels which we are likely to discuss in the future. It is safe to say, that given these colossal figures, Jurassic Park was another homerun for the already acclaimed Spielberg. So now we know a little bit about the history of the film, the crucial question remains – what did Jurassic Park do so well? And why does the film remain a timeless classic today?
Well, I think it is safe to say that the first thing thatSpielberg got right was the casting for Jurassic Park. Each actor feltwell-suited to their role, and where possible, they felt distinctive enoughfrom the characters in the novel that the new identities Spielberg had createdfor the characters of the cinematic version really paid off. Firstly, we haveSam Neill – who perfectly portrays a pragmatic palaeontologist who iscautiously doubtful about the Park, and is fully aware of the severity of thesituation when things go wrong. Whilst all the characters feel somewhat adaptedfrom their in-novel counterparts, it is safe to say that Grant is certainly oneof the more authentic feeling adaptions, at least in my opinion. Casting thebeautiful Laura Dern as Ellie Sattler was also an incredibly intelligentdecision – as she brought the calm but resolute sternness of a strong andcapable Paleo botanist who could stand up for herself and look after herself –even in the most difficult of situations. I think everyone out there will alsoagree that Jeff Goldblum was another perfect casting – bringing a level ofcharisma to the cast which bounced perfectly off Neill and Dern. This created areal dynamic within the acting group – something which was only complimentedfurther by the addition of the stoic Richard Attenborough as the jovial ownerof the park, John Hammond. This great cast of raw acting talent – combined withother popular and influential actors like Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, WayneKnight, Samuel L. Jackson, B.D. Wong, Ariana Richards and Jospeh Mazzello –creates a cast of interesting and diverse characters who each have their ownidentities and feel like they have their own places within the screenplay,something which I want to touch on next.
When it comes to adapting a novel for the screen, it is important to remember that sequences within a novel always have a lot more space to breathe, purely because they are not restricted by things like budgets and camera angles. Sequences like the T-Rex raft chase in the novel are possible because a novel has no limit – if you imagine something, you can make it happen on the pages of your story. This is where the film, and its screenplay, are different – purely because they had to operate within a specific budget. Here, sequences like that chase along the waterway are not present – but Spielberg and Crichton are able to replace them with sequences which feel meaningful and climatic whilst still capturing the very core tension which is a fundamental element of the Jurassic Park novel. Sequences like the Tyrannosaurus Rex breakout are given real space to breathe on screen – allowing them to capture a sense of awe and splendour which really immerses us, as an audience, within the same world that the novel explores. Spielberg and Crichton are careful with their use of the screenplay and the camera – catching key beats and moments of tension which are only capitalised upon by a fantastic use of tight, claustrophobic cinematography. Sequences like the fight in the Visitors Centre at the end of the film can often feel a little bit barren when played out on a grand scale – but by placing our characters in the middle of the fight sequence and by bringing the camera relatively close and intimate to the action, it allows us to feel more wowed and immersed by events as they unfold upon the screen. This really speaks volumes to the strength and overall integrity of Jurassic Park’s screenplay as a whole – something which held no punches, and really captured perfectly the sense of majesty which the novel associated with the terrifying but beautiful creatures which are the linchpin of the entire story.
This use of the dinosaurs within the original story is onlybuilt upon further using the incredible technology which is present within thisfilm – setting a real precedent for the film industry moving forwards. JurassicPark was originally going to use Stop Motion technology to recreate thedinosaurs on-screen, but after much back and forth between the production crewinvolved, it was decided to use animatronics – providing the actors with realand dynamic creatures which they could act alongside. This, I feel, isincredibly apparent in the final production of the film – where the actors andtheir performances are only enhanced by the presence of the animatronics. Take,for example, the sequence we have with the sick Triceratops in the field,surrounded by some of the cast. Here, the audience genuinely resonate with thesick animal and the emotional values which the scene is attempted to portray,purely because the movements are so much more authentic and therefore emotive.It is a lot harder to communicate emotion when it comes to CGI, as some of therecent live-action Disney remakes have suffered for, so real and authenticanimals here are crucial in capitalising upon the themes of the film. I alsofeel as though sequences like the Dilophosaurus ambush against Nedry arescarier – purely because, again, the creatures feel so much more authentic andtherefore lend themselves a lot more to the terror and horror of the sequenceswhich they are present within. I must admit, I also love how the use ofanimatronics is a metaphor for the use of technology we don’t understand too,as we know that with the T-Rex animatronic it often malfunctioned in the rain –leading to some genuine terror during the breakout sequence because it’smovements became unpredictable. This subtle little detail is just another smallway that this film feels so much more authentic to the themes explored withinits source material.
Another great element which lends itself further to the overall authenticity of the film is the fantastic use of world building to really ground this film in a fictional universe which feels real and lived in. The fictional Costa Rican resort of Isla Nublar feels incredibly functional – with everything from docks and visitor accommodation referenced both in the forefront and in the background throughout the film to really make this feel like a functional theme park which exists within a real, three-dimensional world. Some of the attention to detail here really lends itself well to this world building, in my opinion. The inclusion of toilets along the tour, for example, helps to take us from a fictional tour and ground us in something which has real amenities for real visitors. This only lends further integrity to the overall idea that this park is lived in. Other small elements really help to drive this grounded realism home – such as the fact that in one panning shot we see a gift shop lined with dinosaur toys within the visitor’s centre, or how real park maps and leaflets akin to those you get at places like Disneyworld and Universal Studios appear in other shots. It is this thorough level of attention to detail which really helps to make Jurassic Park feel like a real resort getting prepared for its launch as an international attraction for the super-rich, and those small details really help the film to hold its weight when it is scaled up into so many epic set-pieces and sequences.
Lastly, but certainly not least, I think Jurassic Park does best because it builds upon a fascination we all have with the creatures which inhabited our planet years before we did. We all grew up learning about these towering creatures of epic proportions which once inhabited our planet – and for the first-time Jurassic Park really brought them to life through a medium which was as visual stunning and real as everyday life. The film performs best here because it builds upon that sense of wonder and imagination that we all have – and helps us to visualise something which we all dream and wonder about. It is this almost child-like sense of wonder and awe which makes the film timeless. As a species, we always have a hunger to learn more about our past. To find out where we have been, and where we are going, and this film takes that hunger and conveys it within a truly immersive and captivating narrative. They say a good theme which relates to an audience will make for a truly successful film – and in my opinion, there is nowhere where those fundamental filmic principles are more present than within the very heart and bones of Jurassic Park.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this breakdown of Jurassic Park. This film is very special to me – and I am incredibly excited to look at some of its sequels in the run-up to the third Jurassic World film’s debut in 2021. For now, I would love to hear your own thoughts in the comments section of this article, and I hope that you will come back and join our team for all things film and more here on Beyond The Box Office in the near future.
I am a massive dinosaur fan, and lover of all things pop culture! I enjoy various film series including Jurassic Park and Avatar, and am a MASSIVE MCU fan. Hand me some popcorn and I’ll happily spend my day watching movies!