I Was Eaten Alive at Jurassic Park

Late to the Party: Jurassic Park

As a 10-year-old American boy in 1993, I was there. I remember the buzz, the eye-popping effects they showed in TV clips, the Weird Al song that I was much too young to realize was a parody. I definitely remember the merchandise with the red “jP” logo on it (I received a bottle of shampoo or something as a birthday gift and I think it still sits in my parents’ bathroom cabinet, unopened).

Dino Damage!

I know the lines (but I never knew “Hold on to your butts” was supposed to be ironic!), the Goldblum-reclining meme, even “WE’VE GOT DODGSON HERE!”.  Through cultural osmosis I received a lot of information about Jurassic Park, but never the actual film. The “Collectors’ Edition” DVD I watched was actually “left” for me by my ex-roommate–some 5 years ago! Bout time I got around to it.

I started watching this with my adult eyes, as we have a tense opening action scene (very Jaws like) and the adult characters are introduced one by one.  An immediate theme is the experienced vs. the inexperienced.  The ever-businesslike Donald Genarro visiting the Costa Rican “digger”, the scientific, meticulous Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler vs. the frankly-dickish John Hammond, the “rock star” chaologist (I guess that’s a thing?) Ian Malcolm vs… well, everything.  Just look at them in the helicopter ride over.  Ian Malcolm in leather & shades, the diggers are in khakis and button-down shirts–his hat matching her blonde hair–and our resident Dr. Frankenstein who doesn’t know he’s in way over his head yet.

They might as well be going off for a season of Survivor.

The John Williams score finally swells as we meet the island, but there’s still–as always–an undercurrent of danger.  We finally get to the dinosaurs as exactly the 20-minute mark.  Yes, the CGI looks dated now (PCs could probably generate something like those wide-shots by the year 2000), but I honestly don’t care.  This was still in the wild-frontier stage of Hollywood CG, and animatronics–courtesy of Stan Winston–get their due as well (like TRON (1982), a lot of the effects you think are CG are actually not).  Honestly, I was fooled by some of the non-dinosaur uses, like I didn’t know the upside-down car during the T-Rex attack was CG as well!

Anyway, quote Ian, dumbfounded, “You crazy son of a b****, you did it.”  Quote Genarro, “We’re gonna make a fortune out of this place.”  Another running theme of this film is the sense of breathless wonder humans have at viewing and being around dinosaurs–even when placed in the middle of life-threatening danger (we’ll get to that).  Even for me, at the raptor-hatching scene I wasn’t thinking of the magic of moviemaking, I was thinking of the magic of life itself.

By the time we get to the lunch scene (in a… what kind of room is that?), it’s clear that this place isn’t passing the smell test.  Ian states his case. “The lack of humility before nature is staggering,” he says, and notice the halo over his head at the scene-closing “What you can discovery I call the rape of the natural world.”  He will surely have his, ah, way.  But then when Alan and Ellie sees the sick triceratops, all is forgiven again.

Hammond’s grandkids show up at the 38-minute mark.  I can’t speak for the others, but the 10-year-old boy in me did identify with little Timmy.  He’s about as annoying as Eddie Furlong in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, but a much better actor (whereas Lex mostly just stares and screams–and is good at it to be fair).  They go on the automated tour, the storm sets in, Dennis turns off the fences at the 63 minute mark (except the raptors, they’re saved for Act III), everything goes wrong.  Now we get to the dinosaurs.  First the T-Rex, then the Dilophosaurus pack that Dennis encounters.  I think it was a smart choice to put the kids in front of the dinosaurs first, they’re the ones the studio is getting to buy toys after all.  And honestly, the 10-year-old in me was digging it, the part that loves wanton destruction.  The toilet scene is still really funny–if contrived.

Ever since I heard Weird Al Yankovic sing “Now I’m being chased by some irate velociraptors / Well believe me, this has been one lousy day,” I’ve wondered just what’s going through characters’ minds in the middle of an action scene, especially one that comes on so suddenly as this one seems to.  I guess it’s just survive–this is my life now.  Not that that stops the occasional one-liner.  Ian Malcolm wonders if outrunning a T-Rex will be on the tour, and after finally being picked up and being put through hell, Alan tells Hammond “After careful consideration I’ve come to the conclusion that your system sucks!“–sorry wrong movie.

While Alan and the kids are hiding out in a tree for the night (see?  He can be good with kids!), Hammond’s Scottish accent comes out a little at the dining room table with Ellie.  I think this scene does a good job of not making him feel sympathetic, despite his best efforts.  In the morning, Alan again marvels at the miracle of life after discovering the hatched eggs (which only spells more trouble for them, right?).  “Life found a way” indeed.  And a few scenes later,

Lex: I wanna go now.
Alan: Look how it [the T-Rex] eats.
Lex: Please!
Alan: I bet you never look at birds the same way agdain.

The raptors finally appear 103 minutes in.  As a kid, I had never even heard of velociraptors, let alone knew how to say it (I thought it was “velocityraptors”).  But they are certainly the coolest motherfucking things in this film–and smart too!  10-year-old me would have loved the kitchen scene (again, kid-centric).  And I remember them being front-and-center in the merchandising too (maybe the T-Rex was seen as played out?).  There are some horror elements in the power shed, and the tense moment with the electric fence.  Alan and the kids pull a Die Hard then escape through the foyer,  the T-Rex appears one more time as a deux ex machina (striking an awesome pose), then it’s time to go home.  Quite a thrill ride.

They say Stephen Spielberg directed this film in order to get funding for Schindler’s List.  The benind-the-scenes footage opens with him explaining “My interest is making a good movie, that honors the existence of dinosaurs. Even juxtaposed with Man today…”  But it’s clear he was much more invested in it than that.  He explains how he storyboarded Michael Crichton’s novel upon first reading it, was inspired to do the water vibrations after watching is car’s rear-view mirror vibrate to Earth Wind & Fire, and gave that T-Rex (the “star of the film”) its heroic moment at the last minute, inspired by the earlier CGI successes.

And really, he was right.  As awesome as Jeff Goldblum is, the dinosaurs–and the people that brought them to life–are the real stars.  The first time they really looked believable on film.  Though it took awhile, watching this movie made me feel like a kid again.  And really, what more could you ask for?


Stray observations:

  • How the hell did Hammond get into Alan & Ellie’s trailer so fast?
  • Nice “nice hat,” Dennis (another Jaws reference!)
  • How the hell would someone as straight-laced as Donald know someone like Ian?
  • Nice shot of Hammond’s amber-topped cane as he walks by in the introduction room (the camera lingers on it in the final scene in the helicopter)
  • Mr. DNA says that dinosaurs “Left their blueprints behind for us to find” via preserved mosquitoes.  Nice choice of words there.
  • Ray Arnold is a helluva smoker.  I work in IT, but even I don’t know if cigarettes were allowed in computer rooms back then.
  • Hammond, berating Dennis in their first scene together, says “I don’t blame people for their mistakes but I do ask that they pay for them.”  Nice foreshadowing.
  • How the hell do they not have locking mechanisms on the tour vehicle doors? Did they take them out?
  • I literally laughed out loud at Jeff Goldblum, clad in black, walking over to a dung pile larger than he is, taking off his glasses, and declaring “That is one big pile of shit.”
  • So that’s where Future Ex-Mrs. Malcolm got their name!
  • Nice little slapstick-style whistle as Dennis slips on the waterfall.
  • There are those literal plastic lunchboxes Ian was talking about.  I can’t remember if they were made back in the day either.  They must’ve been; merchandise was fucking everywhere.
  • The slogan printed down the arms of the long-sleeve shirts in the gift shop reads “They’re watching.”  Huh?
  • The credits call the CG dinosaurs “full motion dinosaurs”
  • It’s good that Phil Tippett, whose dinosaur miniatures were impressive but still looked like stop-motion to Spielberg, still had a role in this film as a “dinosaur supervisor.”  He made stop-motion, diorama storyboards called “animatics,” so in a way was a kind of assistant-director.
  • An anecdote: My family and I visited Universal Studios Hollywood in 1996–2 weeks before the associated ride opened.  I wasn’t back there again until this past February–when the ride was closed again to turn it into Jurassic World: The Ride!