Jurassic Park’s World of Wonder and Terror
Jurassic Park is remembered as one of the greatest movies in our generation. It was released in 1993, directed by the one and only Steven Spielberg, and created such an impact that Hollywood is still trying to recreate it’s success twenty seven years later. What made this movie iconic was Steven’s ability to captivate audiences with magic and miracles, and then twist into the stuff of nightmares. From the beginning of the film, the audience is sucked into the story and the people involved. No matter how we as individuals represent ourselves, the movie treats these identities with respect and realism. Leading the beautiful moments to be captivating, and the scary moments to become horrifying.
Steven Spielberg is a name that carries a lot of weight in the film industry. And he has definitely earned it. He is the visionary mind behind Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, Indiana Jones, Jaws, and E.T. The man has been creating as many dreams for generations. Before Jurassic Park, anyone could have created a movie with dinosaurs killing people. I cannot imagine it was the first story to be pitched with that concept. However, what sets Spielberg apart is the way he builds the suspense. With Jurassic Park, the characters of Grant, Ellie, and Malcolm are brought into a world that they think is wonderful, but also safe. The audience already knows about the raptors, and about Nedry being a traitor. Leaving us to be suspicious of the character’s happiness.
This building tension continues throughout the film. The characters start to become worried once they discover there are raptors on the island. Then the park’s power is shut down. Then Nedry, the man that can bring the park back online, is killed. Then the tour SUV’s shut down. Then we see the T-Rex cage is broken. Then the iconic scene of bumps in the water. Drawing out the tension like this to it’s absolute last moment, the audience is begging for the mayhem to start. The novel, written by Micheal Crichton, had just been released a few years prior and several other directors could have been chosen to bring the story to the big screen. But only Spielberg had the right theatrical flare that made the T-Rex scene so powerful. Partly due to the way the story is told, and partly because of the way he forced the actors to react realistically to said mayhem.
When we are introduced to the two main characters, Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie (Laura Dern), they are told to be expert archaeologists; a very respectful career. They know as much as humans can know about life 200 million years ago. This wasn’t something they fell into or are doing it for the money, they have a real passion. Hammond (Richard Attenborough) gives them a chance to live their dreams. So when they go to the park, they are believably captivated by the dinosaurs. These characters represent the fans that just want to enjoy the idea of the movie. The rest of us are represented by Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) who can only see the flaws.
The scene I love the most in Jurassic Park isn’t the T-Rex or raptors, it’s a conversation between Dr. Malcolm and Hammond. They discuss the ethics of the park existing. The park employees are discussing the money that will come in, the joy it will bring to customers, and the knowledge mankind will learn. But Ian has something else on his mind. The idea that genetic manipulation exists is a powerful plot development. Ian hints that it could be used to literally do anything, it is equal to the power of god. “Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet has ever seen; you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun.” and then goes on to say the memorable line “your scientists were so occupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Everything that happens in this movie falls into place because of this conversation. It’s inclusion, made important by Jeff Goldblum’s performance, gives the events of the film realism. Even more than the animatronics or computer graphics.
The powerful performances by the actors, the idea of the story from the book, the leadership from the director, all of this created a movie that sucked in the audience. So what did they do with our attention… scared the shit out of us. As mentioned, the tension that was brought on, leading into the T-Rex scene helped intensify the scene, but the scene itself has to take the credit. A massive beast that only has one thought, to eat and kill, against five helpless humans with no defense. The tyrannosaurus rex kills a man like it is nothing and then crushes the children’s car out of curiosity. The scene doesn’t even have music playing, the might of this historic creature was enough to convey horror. This movie is so great that the T-Rex isn’t even the scariest part of the film.
The movie starts with a beautiful shot of mystery and horror, with the unseen velociraptors causing violence at a scale the park is not prepared for. That scene sets the tone for the continually hanging threat throughout. The T-Rex is iconic but the scene where the raptors hunt down the children in the kitchen is understandably terrifying. To be hunted by an intelligent creature fills your brain with the chemicals that trigger fight or flight responses and turns off the parts that produce logical thinking. The movie replicates that feeling in the children. Because of the way the movie was put together, this is the climax of the film. The T-Rex can be killed, the were able to trick it and get away. But the raptors are smart, cunning, and malicious. This is the terror that perfectly accompanies the wonder of the film. You cannot get the beauty of the lost world without it’s terror as well. We aren’t capable of living with those creatures.
The reason the park had to have T-Rex’s and raptors is the same reason the movie had to. Audiences need to be thrilled to stay engaged. We do not go to the zoo for the birds or the cows. We go for the tigers. The movie wouldn’t have existed without the horror elements and those wouldn’t have powerful without the beauty of seeing live action Triceratops and Brachiosaurus. I have watched every Jurassic film since this first one, and they have never lived up. Some have had a good attempt in my opinion, but you simply cannot recreate the feeling of the first movie. Every sequel, I have wanted to see the dinosaurs break out during a full park and kill thousands of people, but that blood lust really doesn’t constitute as a good film.
Jurassic Park reminded us that there was another world that existed on this planet, and it would destroy us in an instant. Dinosaurs aren’t the same as aliens, demons, or ghosts because they were real. The ground you stand on had another creature standing there hundreds of millions of years ago. The idea of that is awesome and Steven Spielberg reignited that realization. This movie will stay with us because of the lesson it teaches. We may be the top of the food chain now, but we sure as shit aren’t the most powerful creatures to ever roam his planet. Unless we stay humble and understand this, we will likely destroy ourselves in the search of meaningless, temporary joy. And then something else will take over. Life finds a way.
Movie watched and film analysis written by: Troy Smith