I may have only been a few months old when Jurassic Park was originally released into theaters on June 11, 1993, but the movie endured to have a huge impact on me as a child, a teen, and now an adult, as well as on Hollywood and the film industry.
Steven Spielberg, (some small director you've probably never heard of) is directly responsible for the modern-day blockbuster film, beginning in 1975 with Jaws. He's the genius behind the hugely successful Indiana Jones franchise, not to mention the box office magic of one-offs like E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He built Jurassic Park into another successful franchise with four sequels — the latest, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, screens in theaters nationwide beginning Friday, June 22.
Spielberg always finds a way to make a story that theoretically shouldn't work into some kind of masterpiece. Jaws was a movie about a 25-foot shark that terrorized a small beach, and the audience watching it — albeit the shark didn't appear on screen until about the 80-minute mark of the 124-minute film.
How can a movie where the supposed central character doesn't appear for two-thirds of the entire thing work? There are several factors, but mostly, Spielberg knows how to be suspenseful. John Williams' terrifying score gave the direction an able assist.
Pitch-perfect direction and scoring are two factors that, 18 years later, helped elevate Jurassic Park to the blockbuster stratosphere. When a movie is about re-creating dinosaurs from DNA recovered from mosquitoes, a topic that doubtless delights science geeks but bores the genome sequence out of the rest of us, the reveal of the "main attraction" has to be executed with precision.
Re-watching the movie not too long ago, I paid very close attention to the scene where we meet the Tyrannosaurus rex, and it is honestly one of the best-directed scenes I can think of. Any other director would have introduced T-rex faster and louder, but not Spielberg.
Rain is dropping and it's all you can hear until thumping starts to get louder and louder. Cut to two cups of water, where the water begins to shake. Cut to the two children – Lex and Tim – sitting in a car, terrified out of their minds by the shaking and thumping. Donald Gennaro, the lawyer in the movie, wakes up hearing the noises, and you sit on his reaction. A pregnant 30 seconds go by without any dialogue, until he guesses (wrong) what it may be. It's not the power coming back on, sir.
Through night-vision goggles you see a goat, shown earlier in the film as the next meal for T-rex, no longer there. Perfect editing has Lex ask where the goat is, only to finish her question with a piece of the goat landing on the car right above her. Moviegoers all, we have been primed at this point to expect the big reveal any second. Then a claw, a roar, but through the rain it's a little blurry. Pan up and BOOM! Dinosaur swallowing a goat whole. Easily the longest minute of anticipation that will wow you every single time you watch the movie. Including the next few minutes of T-rex in action.
As amazing as that scene is, it's not even the best scene of the movie. (I'm not counting the beautiful scene of national treasure Jeff Goldblum laughing in only a way he can laugh.) Best scene honor goes to the velociraptors in the kitchen, where a groundbreaking (at the time) form of CGI was created for the raptors to be able to leap on the counter. The CGI for the dinosaurs took over a year to create, and is the foundation for the CGI we get in film today.
Besides Jurassic Park, there is only one other film I can think of that had as big of an impact cinematically, and that also holds up with every watch: Star Wars, which is also coincidentally scored by John Williams.
The main difference – in this context – between those two films is Star Wars had characters we cared about. It deserved a sequel that in my opinion was better than the original, because it was able to do exactly what a sequel should – build on the characters we love.
Jurassic Park has no characters we care about, truly. I could make an argument for Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) because she's an underrated badass before you really got those in blockbuster films, but this entire movie is about the dinosaurs.
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Now four sequels later, regardless of how much fun the movies are, they are not as exciting and emotional as the original Jurassic Park.
They may make more money: Jurassic World raked in $1.67 billion globally, and held the opening-weekend box office record in the U.S. for six months until Star Wars: The Force Awakens handily took that over, and then Avengers: Infinity War won back in April. But at the time it came out, Jurassic Park became the first movie ever to gross more than $800 million worldwide. You can thank Spielberg and dinosaurs for that.
Jaws may be the first summer blockbuster, but Jurassic Park is the best. Alfred Hitchcock may be widely considered the master of suspense, but Spielberg is snapping dragon fire at his bum.
The fourth sequel, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, is in theaters everywhere Friday, June 22.