Funny how the mind of a teen operates on a plane far removed from that of an adult. Funny how we take in new things as we discard the old, and regard what we once cherished with a little bit of sadness, a little regret. Funny how the visual splendours of Jurassic Park still hold up well in today’s computer-ravaged movie world but the human story lacks. Funny, after seeing this movie again after a long time, how I cared little about the humans when I was a teen and am now wishing they had been given the decency of a conclusion.
Had writer Michael Crichton not prodded at larger-than-life existential questions early in the plot, and allowed his story to flourish as merely a visual effects extravaganza in the hands of Steven Spielberg, Jurassic Park would now find itself the newest addition to my Great Films collection, because the computer-generated imagery produced by Industrial Light & Magic is timeless in the way it still looks fresh, alive and believable even today.
But the movie begins with such promise, with so many interesting ideas that it kind of betrays itself by converting all its characters from intellectuals to mindless action heroes. I get the feeling that Spielberg and Crichton got so carried away by the awe of what they were achieving with their dinosaurs that they forgot what to do with the humans. There’s a real lack of conviction here, and I think this ultimately damages Jurassic Park’s trajectory.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a wonderful film, shot with ambition and Spielberg’s stalwart eye for detail in grandeur, and the dinosaurs are indeed marvels. The performances are faultless. The locations are serene yet seem to know that they host menacing creatures that can sometimes lurk in the darkness to trap you. The musical score by John Williams uplifts and pumps ever forward. There’s an energy about this movie, and it works. I just wish there had been more to the story. I wish it had the guts to answer the questions it posed itself.
John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) is a multimillionaire with a dream. He wants to create an amusement park where visitors can see and touch the attractions, like a petting zoo for the adventurous. The only thing is, his attractions can sometimes swallow his paying customers whole, which is not very good for business.
He hires two palaeontologists, Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), to come endorse his creation, along with a mathematician and chaos theorist, Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum).
There are early scenes between these four characters that hit the right notes of wonderment, excitement and apprehension. For Alan and Ellie, Jurassic Park is a dream come true. They’ve worked their lives digging up old bones, now they can see their work breathing and, indeed, moving in herds. The first time we see a live dinosaur, early in the film, it is truly a remarkable moment.
Dr. Malcolm, on the other hand, is not so enthusiastic. He worries that tampering with extinct species will disrupt the balance of the universe. He spends much of his time ominously issuing warnings that fall on deaf ears, until, of course, the dinosaurs break out of their cages and start eating people.
It is here that the story disintegrates and the awesome visual effects and animatronics take over. At the start, there is a scene at a dinner table where Hammond tries to sell the viability of his idea to the experts, and none of them agree that resurrecting 65 million-year old animals is a particularly intelligent plan (“Dinosaurs had their shot and nature chose them for extinction”). The scene raises issues of ethics that the movie later abandons. It becomes less about what should be done with technology and more about what can be done with computers.
Alan and Ellie become action cliches. Alan is forced by the screenplay to overcome his fear of children by guarding Hammond’s grandchildren from the clutches of the dreaded T-Rex, and Ellie limps around the compound, trying to restore power while velociraptors pursue her relentlessly. There is even a scene where the raptors try to barge their way into the security room and Hammond’s granddaughter (Ariana Richards) discovers she has miraculous knowledge of the security system, just in time to slam the doors shut.
Because Jurassic Park is directed by Spielberg, the action scenes are confident and exciting. Because the effects are created by ILM (the company that made the early Star Wars pictures look fantastic) the dinosaurs are never unconvincing. Because the cast is comprised of veterans (and a couple of spunky kids) it never looks odd or unapproachable. Because Crichton allowed his story to be swallowed by Spielberg’s effects, he lost his feel for his characters and surrendered them to the whim of Hollywood’s crave for profit.
Best Moment | The T-Rex’s breakout. Or the infamous kitchen scene with the two kids and two raptors. There are a great many action sequences that are fun to watch.
Worst Moment | Wayne Knight’s character trying to convince us he doesn’t know how to get off his own island.