By Marc S. Sanders
Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel, Jurassic Park, is my favorite book of all time. I recall reading it in one Friday night a week before the Steven Spielberg adaptation was released in theaters. It was the easiest book to breeze through and I never stopped thinking about Crichton’s approach to a what if scenario where dinosaurs are resurrected in the name of scientific discovery and profitability. Ideas related to chaos theory and DNA experimentation were considered against the mayhem of people running for their lives in an amusement park attraction. Amid the action, there was opportunity to think and consider. Spielberg’s film doesn’t offer enough time for ponderance. It starts out that way, but it doesn’t finish its thought. That’s always been a hinderance for me.
There’s no question regarding the immense thrills the film brings, even thirty years later. Effects and puppeteer wiz Stan Winston (how I wish he hadn’t passed away so soon) outdid himself following memorable recreations from films like Aliens and Predator. The centerpiece of the blockbuster is of course the T-Rex. Spielberg follows his age-old approach of not showing the monster right away, though high publicity and massive merchandising of the early 1990s never kept this cat in the bag anyway. Oh well! Yet, when the humungous, twenty-ton dinosaur puppet makes its grand entrance midway through the film, it still holds as a spectacular scene, especially because two fine child actors (Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello) with high pitched screams heighten the terror. Look, you should know by now. If Steven Spielberg is aiming for the rafters of box office thrills, he’s gonna put the kids in danger first and foremost.
Velociraptors are the other big stars of this creature feature and the behavior of these CGI animals is magnificent as we observe them communicate with one another. Like the T-Rex, we don’t get an immediate first glance of them either, but their squeals and screeches as they leap in for a monster mash smorgasbord get us to jump in our seats. When the veil is lifted on these guys, Spielberg and his effects crew go further by granting them with quick agility. Before all this, we are told by the science experts of how they are strategic pack hunters with cheetah like speed and how they tear away at flesh as they pounce on live prey. You wince as you imagine. They are also smart too. These dogs can open doors!
Again, all good stuff here.
The best character is the sarcastic mathematician, Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who insists resurrecting dinosaurs is a terrible idea for the modern age. Goldblum is so good with the script written by David Koepp that my favorite scene in the picture is when the main characters sit around the dinner table to discuss what has surprisingly been thrust upon them. I yearned for more scenes like this. Ian Malcolm offers up a new iteration of “Matt Hooper” (Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws) that I just didn’t get enough of. Only the surface is scratched on the argument of intelligence versus stupidity. In Jaws, we got nearly a full hour of this welcome back and forth.
What lacks is what Jaws provided over a decade earlier. The debates of how to live (or die) with dangerous animals begins, but doesn’t finish in Jurassic Park. It merely gets started, and then the argument gets abandoned to allow for unending carnage. Don’t get me wrong. I love carnage in my movies. However, Crichton illustrated an even amount of attention to chaos blended with intelligence (or ignorant lack thereof) when he wrote his book. I got a textbook education from Michael Crichton. From Steven Spielberg and David Koepp, I just got a thin dog eared comic book.
Goldblum is third in line in the cast credits behind Sam Neill and Laura Dern as Alan Grant, a paleontologist, and Ellie Satler, a paleobotanist. They, along with Malcolm, are cordially invited by billionaire entrepreneur John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) to visit his private island that is soon to be converted into Jurassic Park, a zoo/amusement park consisting of live dinosaur attractions. The dinner sets up the debate of Hammond versus the three scientists. Is anyone being responsible with the potential to act upon breakthrough discoveries?
Granted, if Hollywood was going to make a dinosaur movie, then it was going to be catered to children age 10 and up. Kids and families of four or more sell tickets. The novel doesn’t aim towards that demographic, however. It is darker and the Hammond character is more sinister and greedier. He’s not a fleshed-out villain in the film. He’s lovable. The film simplifies itself too much as it devolves into a run and chase and chew and chomp adventure of screams and outstanding John Williams music.
I watch the film over and over again because visually it remains magnificent, but I still remind myself that it is not enough. Steven Spielberg’s film is admired and so well regarded and perhaps it is deserving of its legacy, thirty years, five sequel films and a couple of Universal Studios attractions later. On the other hand, I wish it allowed its brain to develop a little bit more.
Steven Spielberg’s interpretation of Jurassic Park could’ve been as smart as a velociraptor.