This should probably be a short article. I say that because I will make an argument that has been an ice-cold fact for almost 30 years. Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is a great movie. Heck, it could even be a perfect movie. A new spark of brilliance is revealed each time you look at it.
With the sixth and “final” movie in the Jurassic Saga, Jurassic World Dominion, hitting theaters in a few weeks, I decided to rewatch every film in the franchise. Not just as a refresher but to give any film a fresh look. It starts with the first Jurassic Park, a movie I saw on opening night, June 11, 1993, and immediately fell in love with it. In the decades since, I’ve seen it dozens and dozens of times, mostly in bits and pieces on the cable. However, seeing it from start to finish without advertising is a very different experience. You see why Jurassic Park has held up in popular culture today.
When this happens, I usually cry. (Image: Universal Photos)
Of course, Michael Crichton’s original idea of cloning dinosaurs in modern times and putting them in a theme park is brilliant in its own right. Still, Crichton and David Koepp’s adapted screenplay is so well-structured and propulsive that you could use it for a screenwriting course. The first thing I noticed during the regattas was the near perfection of the script. From the first scene, the audience is presented with multiple key bits of information without their knowledge, followed by a seamless transition into what’s to come. We start with a worker who was killed by a mysterious creature. In the next scene, there is a lawsuit over his death, and we first see a mosquito in amber. A character mentions Alan Grant (Sam Neill), and we go to Alan Grant, who describes the entire third act of the film. Enter John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), the owner of the park, with a proposal, and in moments, Jurassic Park is off to the races.
This economy of storytelling continues throughout the film. There probably isn’t a single scene that doesn’t advance the story or provide crucial character development. And that story, for the most part, is incredibly simple. Once Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) land on the island, they learn how the dinosaurs were made, ask questions about them, then head into the park. That’s it. You add the kids Tim and Lex (Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards) to raise the emotional stakes and the storyline of Nedry (Wayne Knight) to complicate things further. Still, soon you’ll have people wandering through a theme park with dinosaurs.
Life finds a way. (Image: Universal Photos)
Adding to that simplicity, Jurassic Park is also almost completely devoid of mythology. In later films, we would learn more about John Hammond’s company, InGen, his personal life, friends, rivals, and other companies that want his discoveries. The world is expanding considerably. But that’s not part of this movie at all. We don’t know who Dodgson is, the man who pays Nedry to steal the embryos. We do not care. It’s not about the outside world. It’s about this story, these characters, and their survival.
Another thing I capitalized on with this rewatch was the absolute brilliance of the action scenes. Nowadays, we have become accustomed to chaotic action—rapid cuts, explosions, cameras flying around, basically non-stop chaos. Jurassic Park is not. You know exactly where each character is at any time, in any scene. Spielberg’s blocking and editing are so obvious that if you pause the first T-Rex attack at any given time, each person watching can tell you exactly where the characters are relative to the others, and it just wears but adds to the tension. It’s a habit the director uses for every scene, with one brutal, probably deliberate exception: by the time the Velociraptors corner Tim and Lex in the kitchen, we’re so used to knowing where everyone is on each scene. The moment is when we see Lex trying to close the door of her compartment, and the bird of prey falls on her; we are terrified. That’s when Spielberg pulls the rug from under us. We realize the bird of prey saw a reflection, and you get that nice adrenaline rush when it crashes, and Lex escapes. The moment works so well because every scene that precedes it is perfectly designed to give the audience confidence and understand what they’re seeing.
Spielberg also ensures that the characters feel the wonder that we, the audience, should feel throughout the film. In multiple scenes, Grant and Sattler have physical and emotional reactions to the on-screen revelations, whether it’s Jurassic Park with a T-Rex or the beauty in a sick Triceratops. Even when Grant peers out the helicopter window at the very end, he’s certainly relieved but mesmerized. Seeing characters on the screen full of wonder gives the audience permission to feel that wonder too. No one is tired. No one is corrupt (OK, Nedry is evil, and we see where that leads him). Everyone is awed, or afraid, of the magic and menace of the park. It establishes a tone that, if memory serves, will only return in the rest of the franchise in the rarest of cases. A style that makes this film special.
This is also due to the mastery of everyone who contributed to the film. We’ve already mentioned the screenplay and directing, but the digital effects of ILM, especially those of the T-Rex, remain almost flawless 30 years later. John Williams’ score literally – and I mean literally – brings me to tears when I hear it in context. The costumes, sets, designs, and Jurassic Park result from hundreds of people working at the top of their game on an excellent idea and creating something that will last longer than we could ever imagine.
People are throwing the term “perfect movie” around hyperbolically these days. And while Jurassic Park isn’t 100% perfect, it’s about as close as movies can get.
I mean, come on. Look at that. (Image: Universal Photos)
“Wait, did you just say Jurassic Park wasn’t perfect?”
OK, I thought that might be controversial. This is why I say that, and let me preface this by clarifying that these are the tiniest nitpickers. Things I don’t necessarily care about, but perfect is perfect.
For example, how did John Hammond sneak into Grant and Sattler’s trailer in Montana? We see the helicopter coming to pick him up, but how did he get there undetected? Did he walk? Did he drive? I also can never get around the improbable, illogical luck of a) finding a mosquito preserved in amber but then b) that mosquito is 65-100 million years old and not, say, 20 million or 2 million or some other number; c) that mosquito that sucked a dinosaur’s blood just before it got stuck in the juice; and then d) finding enough mosquitoes to get enough DNA to recreate all these different types of dinosaurs. Finding just one mosquito with usable dinosaur blood must have been like winning the lottery daily for a year. But to find more than one? Only the most astronomical odds. And yes, it’s a sci-fi movie; you have to suspend disbelief, it doesn’t matter, and at least the idea itself is science-backed, which is saying something. But when we talk about perfection, it drops by 0.1%.
Jurassic Park is currently streaming on HBO Max.
Coming next week is the only other Steven Spielberg-directed Jurassic film, 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
Want more Gizmodo news? See when to expect the latest Marvel and Star Wars releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about House of the Dragon and Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.
Editor’s Note: The release dates in this article are based in the US but will be updated with local Australian dates as we learn more.