Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Riske Business: Jurassic Park: 20 Years Later
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.
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.
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).
“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!
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.
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.