Jurassic Park (United States, 1993)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

On a small island off the coast of Costa Rica exists a most unusual animal preserve by the name of Jurassic Park. Operated by dinosaur lover John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), Jurassic Park is the first of its kind. Its population of creatures includes brachiosaurs, dilophosaurs, tricerotops, velociraptors, and a Tyrannosaurus Rex, each of which has been cloned using the latest technology that takes DNA from dinosaur-biting prehistoric insects preserved in amber, and uses that DNA for the re-creation. When the consortium funding Jurassic Park become concerned that all is not as it should be, Hammond is forced to call in three experts: paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), his partner, paleo-botanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and the brilliant-but-cynical mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). When the trio arrives at Jurassic Park, they are astonished by what it represents. It doesn't take long, however, for astonishment to turn to horror.

First of all, for anyone who's wondering, given the current state of technology, the situation postulated in Jurassic Park cannot happen. Not only do the necessary cloning techniques not exist, but the likelihood of retrieving dinosaur DNA from an amber-encased prehistoric mosquito is extremely small. While insect specimens have been unearthed, for there to be dinosaur DNA, circumstances demand that the mosquito had bitten a dinosaur shortly before its fatal imprisonment, and the chance of that is slim, at best.

Nevertheless, the enjoyment of any movie is hardly predicated by a factual premise. The apparent realism of some of Crichton's pseudo-science imbues Jurassic Park with a grounding that is acceptable in our high-tech world. After all, to weave a dinosaur fable in this day and age, it helps if science, not fantasy, is the driving force.

Of course, the special effects help immensely. They are so good, in fact, and the dinosaurs look so real, that I half expected to see "dinosaur trainer" during the closing credits. Instead, however, plaudits go to the creators of Jurassic Park's primary screen presences (all apologies to the actors). Stan Winston, definitely no stranger to this sort of film (his recent credits include Aliens and Terminator 2), is credited with the live-action creatures. Dennis Muren gets his due for the full motion monsters. Phil Tippett is the "dinosaur supervisor" and Michael Lantieri presides over the creature effects. All-in-all, the wizards at ILM have done an outstanding job, giving us by far the most impressive and believable monster movie of all time. Nothing compares.

Unfortunately, the story isn't the equal of its execution. To begin with, Crichton's book, while filled with fascinating ideas and entertaining moments, doesn't hold together as a top-of-the-line adventure story. The ending is especially problematic, resulting in a long-winded denouement that drags to an anticlimactic conclusion. Despite numerous small changes and omissions, the movie Jurassic Park is very much faithful to its printed inspiration. Perhaps Michael Crichton's involvement in the screenplay has something to do with this.

The biggest weakness of the novel is characterization, and the same flaw is fully evident in the screen adaptation. There are a few exceptions. The scenes between Alan and Ellie at the beginning are well-done, with the affection between them evident from the start (a change from the book, where the two were never a couple). Also noteworthy is a scene where Ellie confronts Hammond, who's eating a dish of ice cream in the midst of the crisis. Here, we get a sense of what's going on inside the old man's head. In the book, he's a mixed-up fanatic, but in the film, he's made into a sympathetic, albeit eccentric, figure. Interestingly, some transposition has gone on between Hammond's two grandchildren. Tim (Joseph Mazzello) is still the dinosaur-lover, but the screen's version of the boy is younger than his sister Alexis (Ariana Richards). The flip-flop in age creates a difference in their relationship and they come across as closer and less-adversarial on screen. Also, here it's Alexis, not Tim, who's the computer whiz.

The plot is little more than a cleverly jumbled-together batch of formulas. As I mentioned before, Jurassic Park is, reduced to its most basic level, a monster movie. Thrown in for good measure is the human interest story - the growing relationship between self-confessed child-hater Grant and his two youthful charges - but this part of the film works least successfully.

Nevertheless, I doubt that there are many who will go to Jurassic Park for its characters or story. Rightly so, crowds will flock to the theaters screening this movie so they can ooh and aah, jump in their seats, and root for the overmatched humans against the big, bad dinosaurs. Even those familiar with the written work can't help being drawn in to the pulse-pounding exhilaration of the chase as the Tyrannosaurus menaces two powerless electric cars and the trapped humans inside. In the end, Jurassic Park succeeds because it's good entertainment.

Jurassic Park (United States, 1993)

Run Time: 2:06
U.S. Release Date: 1993-06-11
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1