With the imminent release of Jurassic World, a few weeks ago, I decided to go back to where it all began – as I’m sure many people have. In truth, this was totally unnecessary: Jurassic Park is my fiancée’s most favourite film of all time, so needless to say, I’ve seen it plenty of times before. No matter how many times I’ve seen it though, it’s always a joy to watch. Here’s why…
Released in 1993, when I was only five and way too young to watch it, I’ve always been envious of the people who saw Jurassic Park at the cinema, when it first came out. I’ve spoken to numerous people who have cited it as one of the best cinematic experiences of their lives, and despite having now seen it on the big-screen, and the really big-screen (IMAX) in multiple formats (both 3D and 2D), I don’t think anything will compare to seeing it on that initial release.
The strange thing is that even at the age of five, I remember the film being a big deal. A vivid memory of mine is walking downstairs one evening, around the time it had been released on VHS, where all the adults in my family were watching it. I was allowed to stay downstairs for a while because the film wasn’t particularly scary at that point, but it wasn’t long before I was sent back up to bed.
In those short moments that I got to watch some of the film, I could feel the sense of occasion, as the excitement seemed to radiate through the room. A few years later I would get to finally see, and fall in love with the film myself, but going back to that night sums up much of Jurassic Park’s success and long lasting classic status.
It was like nothing anybody had seen before – a visual effects extravaganza that changed the way we viewed cinema and the way in which it’s actually made. What’s surprising is how the effects look as good now, as they did back then. Even compared to Jurassic Park 3, which was released nearly a decade after the first, the effects are far superior in the original, mainly through the combination of animatronics and CGI, as opposed to relying, mainly, on the computer as a crutch.
Yet one of the reasons I think Jurassic Park is as brilliant as it is, is the fact that, compared to its sequels, there’s hardly any dinosaurs in it. You have the Brachiosaurus, T-Rex, Triceratops, Gallimimus, Dilophosauras, and of course, the Raptors – but the fact that the film doesn’t go overkill with the dinosaurs (mainly, let’s face it, because of budgetory constraints) makes it all the more wonderous and exciting.
Tension is built masterfully from the very opening scene – arguably one of the greatest film openings of all time – as Speilberg teases us with the occasional glimpse of the monsters. We’re made to earn the thrills and visual effects by firstly investing in the story that’s crafted in the film’s first half – a rarity in modern day cinema.
By the time Rex stomps on the screen, we as an audience have earnt the glorious dino-mayhem that follows. We want the characters – or at least some of them – to survive, which raises the stakes immeasurably. It’s movie storytelling at its very best, layered with wider themes of mankind’s inherent nature to corrupt and manipulate.
The film is textured with an enthralling debate about whether our scientific enhancements make it right for us to defy nature, and subsequently asks, who is really in control? Nature or us?
The scene in which Hammond, Dr Malcolm, Dr Grant and Dr Sattler literally debate the potential ramifications of bringing back an extent species through the use of genetic engineering, is equally as thrilling as the action pieces – a well written sequence that absorbs you and make what you’re watching feel extremely real.
Jurassic Park is that ‘perfect storm’ of a movie, where everything just seems to have clicked into place at the right time. It’s a piece of film history in the way it’s technological achievements changed the way in which cinema was made.
Much like Spielberg’s Jaws, Jurassic Park is iconic – everlasting. It taps into that urge we have as an audience to be frightened, whilst at its core, it has resonating and relevant ideas.
It’s good fun, but has a brain, a heart, and soul too – the type of film which in itself has become almost extinct. It’s this winning combination which has meant Jurassic Park has stood the test of time, and is the reason why it continues to excite audiences even today, despite the varied success of the film’s sequels.
Let’s just hope Jurassic World can do the original justice. It’s a tall order, that’s for sure…