Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Riske Business: Jurassic Park: 20 Years Later

This was it! Jurassic Park was the movie that defined my childhood. I think every movie fan has one of those.

JB has mentioned before that he was a ‘monster kid.’ I am, too, but even more than that, I was a ‘Jurassic kid’ – a branch of the monster tree.

It’s hard to put into words how much I loved Jurassic Park when it was first released, but I will try.
I think much of my affection for Jurassic Park came because it was the right movie at the right time. I was 11 years old when JP was first released, and it was the apex of my ‘monster kid’ phase. What 11 year old doesn’t like dinosaurs? They are the closest thing (along with sharks) to real existing monsters that we have ever had! In the summer and winter of 1993, I saw JP five times in a theater, which was not the norm for me. One or two times, maybe, but never more than that until Jurassic Park.

The first time I saw the movie was the Tuesday after it came out – four days late! I was a wreck for those four days. I remember on opening day I went to run errands with my Mom and she bought me a Jurassic Park calendar. It was the ultimate taunt, but she’s great and she took me, my sister and my friend Travis to see it later that week. We pre-ordered tickets for like an 11 a.m. show on a Tuesday morning (my kid brain was sure it was going to be sold out) and the theater was packed – with about 8 people. Travis and I did not approve of my Mom and sister’s plan to sit in the middle of the auditorium, so we vetoed that and sat in the first row. We weren’t f-ing around. This was Park, yo!

It was everything I hoped it would be and more. The movie became ‘the thing’ for me in the summer of '93. It was all about going to the pool, shooting hoops, playing Sega and talking Park. I was obsessed. I did not just love the movie, but also the mystique of everything AROUND IT. Let’s talk about merch! I had the trading cards, the ‘official’ movie magazine, the cups from McDonalds (this was where McDonalds introduced “Dino Sizing,” the precursor to “Super Sizing”), the Scholastic junior novelization and so on.
I would call my friends and brag that I got to see Jurassic Park again. Once I saw Jurassic Park, I didn’t see a new movie in theaters that summer until The Fugitive, which was released eight weeks later! If Jurassic Park was out, why even bother seeing anything else? (To be fair, a lot of really fun and interesting movies came out during those eight weeks -- Rookie of the Year, Free Willy, Hocus Pocus, In the Line of Fire, The Firm and Sleepless in Seattle, to name a few).

Jurassic Summer was right in between when I finished elementary school and entered junior high. On my first day of 6th grade, I asked EVERYBODY if they had seen Jurassic Park. If they said "yes" with any enthusiasm, we were best friends. If no, I wanted nothing to do with them (they were probably a communist or just the worst). I could not fathom that. How did you NOT SEE JURASSIC PARK????

My classmates and I would hum the theme song during field trips at nature trails. I talked about the Mr. DNA scenes with my Science teachers and immediately discredited them when they said it was not possible. I saw fossils everywhere! I told my Dad I wanted to be an archaeologist until he told me "No, you don’t." Apparently he didn’t want me to live with him and Mom for the rest of my life.*

Jurassic Park was so cool that it made normal things totally mint! This is the movie that made Jeff Goldblum a golden g-d to children across the world. He was like Elvis! If you asked any 11-year old boy who the coolest guy on Earth was, in his top five would be Sam Neill. I had a crush (I thought) on Lex from Jurassic Park. In retrospect, it was second-hand affection. I just wanted to date Jurassic Park!

Speaking of transference of affection, this is where I developed my Laura-ning Dern-sibility (where you become punch drunk over the undefinable appeal of Laura Dern). That still lasts to this day for me – she’s all elbows and knees, but I’d still knock over 10 Brooklyn Deckers for a Dern (Laura, not Bruce; I’d rather have Brooklyn than Bruce).
I followed character actors from this movie to others, JUST BECAUSE THEY WERE IN JURASSIC PARK! Not to mention following Michael Crichton film adaptations.

Rising Sun? You are not like Jurassic Park,” I said to myself. “Disclosure – would you be better with dinosaurs?” (Dear Oscars, do a tribute next year to Disclosure, the movie that led us to virtual reality at the office). I had so much hope Congo was going to be the next JP. Oh, was it not! Although I still love that movie. I place a high value on silly. Adam want green drop drink! I’m allowed one, it will calm me down!
Cut to today, I’ve seen Jurassic Park probably more than any other movie, and yet I don’t consider it one of my favorite movies any more. I still love it, but I take it for granted. I don’t gain anything out of subsequent viewings. I would rather watch other pre-Jurassic Spielberg than watch Jurassic Park.

Why is that? I don’t think the sequels did anything to detract from my experience with the original. Oddly, they seem to exist outside of each other, kind of like 2010 to 2001 or Staying Alive to Saturday Night Fever. I have a weird relationship with the Park nowadays. I have seen it at midnight screenings in Chicago in the past few years, and it feels more like marker checking than enjoyable viewing. T-Rex attack-check, raptors-check, and then I leave the theater. I’m a clock puncher.

Do you ever feel like you’ve gotten everything you will ever get out of a movie you love?

It makes me sad that I feel this way about Jurassic Park. Familiarity is a problem. I did it to myself, but there are no surprises left. I can recite chunks of dialogue without even trying. I know the movie so damn well that I anticipate B.D. Wong’s pencil lift off the clipboard when he says “You're implying that a group composed entirely of female animals will... breed?” I know the cab driver is pissed at Dodgson when he doesn’t shut the door before meeting Denis Nedry. At work when I’m goofing around, I have said “It's a UNIX system! I know this!” My friend Jon and I will just say “DINO DNA!” “FROM YOUR BLOOD” or “DIE-NO-SOARS!” in Mr. DNA voice at one another when we have nothing else to say.
Another roadblock to new discovery is how iconic the movie has become in pop culture. Even if you aren’t watching Jurassic Park regularly, it has been referenced so many times visually and otherwise that it’s like you’ve seen it a hundred times even if it’s only five times. This is a common problem with "classics," which sometimes feel like homework when you go back to them.

Romanticism aside, let’s look at Jurassic Park objectively. Is it great? Is it good?

I still feel it is in Spielberg’s top output (top 10), and it’s certainly one of the best summer blockbusters ever made. The movie was knocked at the time of its release for its thin character development, but it looks more rich in that regard in comparison to today’s actors in blockbusters. Every one of the main players has a distinct personality, and you feel like they had a life before their weekend at Jurassic Park. You care about them. So I’d like to give credit there.

The special effects still hold up magnificently. The key there, I think, is the mix of CGI and animatronic/practical effects. Even when it’s not, the action feels tangible. The movie has some great villains (the raptors, the T-Rex) which are valuable to any action movie. The photography is beautiful, the action is well shot and staged and the score is great to listen to, even outside of the movie.

The pacing in the first half is flawed. It takes too long to get going. Unlike Jaws, where there are plenty of interesting goings-on in the background, the first half of Jurassic Park doesn’t have that initial momentum. I think it cares too much about the business-side, but it doesn’t have any real depth so we’re watching a lot of surface. The ending, with the T-Rex saving the day, is a total cheat . Dues ex Monstera!

Long story short, the movie remains very good if not great. But it’s still a classic in terms of summer blockbusters.

So, what’s left for a Jurassic kid?

Well, I’m very happy to say this story looks like it will have a happy ending. You know that Jurassic Park is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, right? Well, Universal is re-releasing it in IMAX 3D. I saw the trailer in IMAX 3D and, surprisingly, I got the butterflies in my stomach again. I felt like I was 11 years old for 2-1/2 minutes! I can’t wait to see this movie in the IMAX 3D format, and this from a guy who doesn’t give a crap about IMAX or 3D normally.

The key is that I’m seeing it through a different frame of reference. In terms of the IMAX 3D experience, quite literally. The IMAX 3D in the trailer is truly immersive. I hope the whole movie lives up to that standard.

And after that? Well, I think I’m going to take a good long break. But I’ll be back when my son or daughter one day turns 11 and I can show them the movie that meant so much to me when I was their age. I’ll see it through their eyes, and maybe get back that feeling I had in 1993. Probably not, but we’ll see. They will likely have their own defining movie. Jurassic Park will be for old people.

I have always loved movies. One reason is because I use them as guide posts for remembering what was happening at specific times in my life. Jurassic and Park are two words that recapture a flush of childhood memories. I will always love the movie just for that reason.

What’s the movie that defined your childhood or you were obsessed with? Can’t wait to hear your stories!

*Side note: in high school I looked into being a U.S. Marshal because I loved U.S. Marshals. They don’t make much money and it’s dangerous! In other words, thanks, U.S. Marshals, for doing the work so I don’t have to.


  1. Ohhh buddy, now you're talking to my heart. I was never really a "Monster Kid" but I was most certainly a "Dinosaur Kid". One of my stupid pet tricks before I even started school was spelling "paleontologist" (my then chosen career) for my parents' friends. I had more dinosaur toys than Transformers. I READ "Jurassic Park" when I was about 10 - a couple years before I even knew a movie was coming out, and holy sweet Jesus fuck was I excited when I first heard about the movie. As there wasn't really an Internet back then I'm not even sure how I was seeing teasers for it but I remember the anticipation KILLING me. Growing up in a one-horse town I did not have an opportunity to see it until about a month after opening day and it, of course, totally blew my mind. Never before or again were my expectations set so high and not only met, but exceeded. I too loved Lex (don't get it now but I like your theory) and also find Laura Dern inexplicably hot as balls. I saw it "only" three times in theatres (I think it and T2 from the summer before are the only other movies I've gone to the theatre multiple times for) and then eagerly awaited the VHS, which I PREORDERED from my local video store. I'm pretty sure that's the first time that became a thing. I then watched that SO MANY TIMES.

    My affection to the movie carries on to this day - I would still argue that the T-Rex Attack is THE most enthralling 10 minutes in film history - and I happily shelled out $40 for the blu-ray set, even though the first was the only one I really cared about (the other two are fine, but you know) but like you, it isn't in my Top 10 Favourite Movies anymore.

    To me, Steven Spielberg is to Movies as The (early) Beatles are to Music. Unless you don't have a soul, you enjoy it, but a lot of their stuff is just so effortlessly consumable that it feels a little too easy - there's nothing challenging about it - it's a testament to their master craftmanship, but it's easier to lose interest in perfection (as it relates to the entertainment factor, not necessarily as art) than something that is good but flawed - does that make sense? In other words, Jurassic Park, like a lot of Spielberg's movies, is like pizza - oh so yummy and you almost think you could subsist on nothing but (and probably could have as a youngster) but my palate has grown a bit more sophisticated. I still love pizza but I'm more interested in experiencing different foods and flavours.

    But dammit, maybe I'll order a pizza and watch Jurassic Park tonight! Great article, Adam!

    1. P.S. Also looking forward to the IMAX 3D presentation - I read an article about the Australian ratings board upping it from something like PG-13 to Adult because the 3D experience is tangibly more intense than the original presentation - I like the sound of that!

      P.P.S. "My affection to the movie" should read "affection for" - wish there was an edit feature on this site because me hate make mistakes which look like mine grasp of English are tenuous. It's like my brain goes to the Preposition Bank and just grabs one at random sometimes.

  2. lmao @ this "I just wanted to date Jurassic Park! "

  3. Maybe it's because I was 20 when "Jurassic Park" came out (and didn't see it until a few weeks into its theatrical run with no enthusiasm whatsoever, before and after seeing it) but the movie did nothing for me then and it has done nothing for me the few times I've seen it at home. I'm a 3D whore though, so maybe an IMAX 3D screening is what the doctor ordered to get me to appreciate "JP"? Because Mr. DNA in 3D: OMG OMG OMG!!! :-P

    The movie does a couple of things extremely well though. It nails a perfect balance between practical & CG special effects instead of relying almost entirely on the latter, which is where Hollywood is mostly at right now. AMC's "The Walking Dead" is one of the few recent media properties that also balances both practical and CG effects really well (though it leans toward the latter as much as "JP" leaned toward the former). The godly score from John Williams, one of his best ever, is also a winnah; I'm not the least bit ashamed to say the final scene leading into the credits along with the credits are my favorite moments in "Jurassic Park" because that's when the star, Williams' score, completely takes over.

  4. 'Star Wars', of course. I remember, and i'm not happy to admit this, watching 'The Phantom Menace' relentlessly. 'Attack of the Clones' less so but still a bunch and 'Revenge of the Sith' was viewed in the theater. So yea, i'm apart of that generation who grew up with the prequels. I remember after watching RotS, coming home and destroying the original trilogy. It was my cocaine. And the original 'Star Wars' (1977) still remains in my top 5 favorite films ever ('Empire' is certaintly better but it's easier squeezing my love for the series into the first one) but, lately, i have kind of been going through what you, Adam, talked about with 'Park'. I dont think i'll ever take 'Star Wars' out of my top 5 but i think i've reached my saturation point with the series (and comics and T.V. shows and games and napkins and dish towels and shoe laces and soap dispensors) and should probably distance myself from the series for ,at least, 5 years. Sadly, that'll be very hard to do cause, i dont know if anybody's heard, but starting from 2015, there's going to be a new 'Star Wars' movie EVERY 2-3 YEARS. Insanity. I'm happy but also scared and grossed out(?). But yea, I'm done.

    Great column Adam with very charming stories thrown in.

  5. Adam and Sol, check this out: comedian Dan Telfer's routine "The Best Dinosaur."

    There's a longer, arguably funnier video here, but the sound quality SUCKS.

    1. I got that worked up when I found out Dilophosaurus has no frill and does not shoot venom at its prey. Thanks Doug!

    2. Ha! That was great Doug - the longer video is worth it - just crank the volume. Very funny stuff, especially if you're a (former) dino-geek like me.

      Do you know that guy, Doug? Chicago's kind of one of those small towns where everyone knows each other, right? Apparently that guy he told to move to Toronto actually did! *snicker*

  6. Dude, do you remember this candy?$%28KGrHqJHJB!E8e782CmdBPOY2cNUl!~~60_12.JPG

    1. No. I can't believe I missed out on a piece of JP merch!

    2. I do - not the Spitters, but the Raptor Bites. And you can bet your sweet ass I bought em!

    3. I feel like these were available before the movie was released, as were the trading cards. Memories can get mixed up, but I feel like I have a specific memory of buying a box of the Spitters and a couple of packs of the trading cards at a pharmacy before my family went to the theater to see the movie.

  7. I am not sure if I ever "obsessed" over a movie as a kid, really. Truth be told, movies didn't even become a big part of my life until my mid- to late-teens, so that interest is a fairly recent development in the grand scheme of my life. I watched movies, I just can't remember having a particular favorite for the early part of my life.

    I can definitely say, though, that there are a few I just love now, and they are movies I will always go to bat for and could watch over and over again, so please allow me to answer you question in that way. Here are a few examples:

    Almost Famous is my favorite movie of all time for personal reasons. The kid reminds me a lot of myself, and specifically what I wish I could have done with my life (sadly, it didn't happen) in working for a music magazine at a young age and getting to experience all the things that he did. Plus, I just love the period of the '70s, the characters that populate the movie, and the soundtrack just rocks. You could say I am obsessed with that movie, as I find it endlessly watchable, and will go to bat for it every single time. However, I think most people would agree that it's a great movie, so hopefully I won't have to do that very much.

    Furthermore, I would say Pulp Fiction holds a similar place in my heart. I absolutely love QT, and while it's highly debatable whether Pulp Fiction is his greatest movie or not, I LOVE watching it everytime I get a chance. I guess I'm just obsessed with Tarantino in general, though. I think he is one of the best writers in the business and one of its most creative minds.

    Finally, I think Singin' in the Rain might qualify as an obsession for me. I could seriously watch that movie like 5 million times and probably never be tired of it. I could also probably quote the whole thing ("I can't STAN' 'EM!" is a particular favorite line of mine)and sing every line of every song from memory. It's all just amazing.

    Oh wait, sorry for dragging this on, but real quick, I did think of the movie that probably defined my childhood the most: Wayne's World. I watched that movie many times as a kid, and could probably quote most of it, and some of the jokes were constantly retold in my family's household. However, I haven't actually sat down to watch it in a long time, so I don't know if it would hold up as well for me today as it did back then. Maybe it would just because of the nostalgia.

    On the subject of this column, Jurassic Park is a movie I have enjoyed for a long time, too. And I'm glad to see its status stay so strong and positive so long after it was made. Good job, Adam!

  8. Good choices John. I was starting to think I was in the minority for thinking Pulp Fiction is still Taratino's best movie. It's just so hard to say because Jackie Brown, Kill Bill and Inglorious Basterds are all pretty flawless too.

    1. I can definitely see arguments for all of those movies being his best, and would consider them valid choices. See, that's why I think Tarantino is one of the best writer/filmmakers working today, because it can be so hard to choose a favorite, and his body of work, albeit not all that big, ranges from "great" to "masterpiece" territory. Kill Bill and Inglourious Basterds both rank very highly in my book, as well. Pulp Fiction is just the best of the best for me, personally.

  9. Nice article Adam and I agree with you on almost all points save for one, I actually like the fact that the first half take its time with the set up. Having grown up near Disney World and working there now I always liked all the stuff about touring Jurassic Park and seeing all the stuff before the T-Rex attack. While I love Mr DNA my fav line in the movie has to go to Jeff Goldblum "John when the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down the Pirates dont eat the tourists!".

    The actual land that popped up in Universal Orlando was a big letdown for me as I really wanted the Jeep ride. One fun story when I was visiting the Jurassic Park land during their Halloween Horror Nights they had raptors jumping out of the bushes and I damn near peed my pants when that freakin thing jumped out at me. Damm it John Hammond just let the pre mesozoic era mosquitos rest in peace so I wont scream like a girl anymore.