Dr. Grant, my dear Dr. Sattler. Welcome to Jurassic Park.
The two true stars of the show!
T-rex (top) and
Ian Malcolm and Alan Grant
Are the children safe?
In The Hunt for Red October (1990), Sam Neill 's character's dying words are, "I would like to have seen Montana." He gets his wish during the opening scene in Jurassic Park when his character is working at a dig in Montana.
Pictured, from left, are
Sam Neill, Laura Dern,
Director Steven Spielberg.
Jurassic Park is my favorite monster movie. For realism in special effects, it beats the tail off Godzilla; for high-powered acting talent, it is second to none, and for lessons about mucking with Mother Nature, it's a two-hour tsk-tsk. Those elements, combined with the expert direction of Steven Spielberg, who redeemed himself for the execrable Hook (1991) by releasing this film and Schindler's List in the very same year, make this the very model of modern movie-making. But let me take these one at a time.
First, the special effects, which were every bit as believable as the marketing had led me to expect. There wasn't a whole lot of suspense in seeing the first dinosaur in the first 30 minutes of the film, but there was great tension in the foreshadowing of the evil Velociraptor. The Michael Crichton novel on which the film is based gives a plausible explanation for how dinosaurs, chosen for extinction millions of years ago, could be brought back to life (especially if, unlike Crichton, you're a non-scientist). The birthing of one of those carnivores is especially effective. The close-ups, with animatronics, were less effective, but the computer-generated beasts moved and expressed themselves quite well. Watching a flock of full-grown herbivores race past the human visitors to the island theme park was great fun. How was it done? It's so beyond my understanding that I just gave up, sat back and enjoyed it.
Second, the acting. Jurassic Park has been criticized for leaving behind character development to make way for the monsters. I agree that some characters are better developed than others, but on the whole the criticism is unfair. Each character of any stature develops over the course of the film. I wish all the best lines hadn't gone to Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), but I can't think of anyone better to deliver zingers like these:
I'm always on the lookout for the next ex-Mrs. Malcolm.
Although Dr. Sattler gets off a good couple of lines:
* * *
It looks like we're out of a job.
Don't you mean extinct?
* * *
All major theme parks have delays. When they opened Disneyland in 1956, nothing worked.
Yeah, but John, if the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don't eat the tourists.
* * *
(dinosaurs fail to show)
Eventually, you do plan to have dinosaurs on your dinosaur tour, right?
* * *
(rescued after the T-rex attack)
Remind me to thank John for a lovely weekend.
* * *
(after being chased by the T-Rex)
You think they'll have that on the tour?
There is no doubt that our attractions will drive children out of their minds.
And, yes, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) could have been better developed. But there is no question that Sam Neill (playing Dr. Alan Grant), one of my top five actors, and Laura Dern (playing Dr. Ellie Sattler), turn in fine performances. Even the supporting players, such as Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight, also known on "Seinfeld" as Newman), Miguel Sandoval (playing the Costa Rican digger in the second opening sequence, and the kids (Joseph Mazzello as Tim and Ariana Richards as Lex), were great. This being a Spielberg film, of course the kids may see danger but no kids are harmed in the making of this film.
What are those?
Small versions of adults, honey.
* * *
God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs...
Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth...
Finally... fun is the focus of this film, of course, which is why I hesitate to bring up the anti-science message behind this science fiction and adventure film. It is the Ian Malcolm character (Goldbloom) who is the most articulate, if not the most logical. Amid all his wisecracks, he observes...
I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you're using here: it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you're selling it, you want to sell it!
This has to be the product of muddy thinking. All scientists add to the work that has gone before. That's called progress. You don't re-invent the wheel, as they say. Of course scientists and technologists stand "on the shoulders of geniuses"; how else would they reach the next level in research? The slap at commercialism is to be expected from the traditionally anti-corporate Hollywood mentality, though it is ironic coming from a film as heavily marketed as this one was!
As for the ethics involved in the creation of the mythical Jurassic Park, Malcolm the Moralizer confronts Hammond (Attenborough) with the jibe that has been thrown at every innovator since the beginning of time:
Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn't stop to think if they should.
There is some guilty pleasure in seeing a T-rex eat the lawyer (thanklessly played by Martin Ferrero), though even a sympathetic character, Game Warden Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck), the only character who knows and shows respect for the re-created creatures, meets his end. So you don't mess with Mother Nature or it will bite you back, eh? But we do it all the time! It's called breeding and no one sees ethical problems with that.
Jurassic Park plays out as an adventure in a dangerous wonderland. I'm only on JP#1 and Spielberg has been back twice more. (I have reviewed JPIII.) Though the dream of controlling nature turns out badly in the end...
Mr. Hammond, after careful consideration, I've decided not to endorse your park.
...it's a thrill ride that keeps me coming back for more.
So have I.
Jurassic Park (1993) 127 mins. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Written by Michael Crichton (novel and screenplay) and David Koepp. Cast: Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant, Laura Dern as Dr. Ellie Sattler, Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm, Richard Attenborough as John Parker Hammond, Bob Peck as Park Warden Robert Muldoon, Martin Ferrero as Donald Gennaro, B.D. Wong as Chief Geneticist Dr. Henry Wu, Joseph Mazzello as Timothy 'Tim' Murphy, Ariana Richards as Alexis 'Lex' Murphy, Samuel L. Jackson as Chief Engineer Ray Arnold, Wayne Knight as Dennis Nedry, Gerald R. Molen as Dr. Gerry Harding, DVM, Miguel Sandoval as Juanito Rostagno, Cameron Thor as Dr. Lewis Dodgson, Greg Burson as Mr. DNA (voice), Richard Kiley as Jurassic Park Tour Voice (voice). Also known as: JP (1993) (USA: promotional abbreviation).
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Ronald Bruce Meyer is a freelance reviewer.
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