By Jonathan Kellam
Jurassic Park (1993)
Directed by Steven Spielberg
**** out of ****
Sam Neill as Alan Grant
Laura Dern as Ellie Sattler
Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm
Richard Attenborough as John Hammond
Samuel L. Jackson as Ray Arnold
It has been twenty years since Jurassic Park first graced the big screen and it is still as grandiose and awe-inspiring as it was then. Jurassic Park is a cautionary tale of science run amok…literally. Due to the miracles of modern science, amusement park magnate John Hammond has developed a park on an island featuring living, breathing dinosaurs and in order to comfort wary investors, a group of scientists are brought in to give their endorsement. This wonderful weekend excursion soon becomes a nightmare when the power goes out and the dinosaurs, free from their pens, hunt the island’s inhabitants.
Michael Crichton’s novel, on which this film is based, is much darker in tone. Likeable characters are hard to be found and they meet much more grisly ends. Steven Spielberg wisely decided to lighten the mood and make a film that was kid friendly. After all, what kid doesn’t love dinosaurs? Spielberg has skillfully created a movie that is scary and intense, yet funny and magical. Its two sequels tended to use the dinosaurs only as monsters to chase down the poor humans; only in the first does there seem to be an appreciation for what beautiful and majestic creatures the dinosaurs really were. Also, after twenty years the visual effects have held up beautifully. Mostly animatronics were used in scenes in which the dinosaurs’ whole bodies weren’t shown and even when it is CG, it looks much better than most of the CG-laden movies of today.
I think the movie benefitted by having a talented cast that wasn’t composed of Hollywood’s A-listers. Dr. Alan Grant isn’t a muscle-bound action hero; he’s a middle-aged, sardonic, even cranky, scientist. Sam Neill was a perfect choice; Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt just wouldn’t have fit. In the book, Ellie Sattler is described as a very young, very attractive graduate student and while present throughout, she does very little to advance the plot. In the film she is Dr. Ellie Sattler, who is portrayed masterfully by Laura Dern, and she is probably the sharpest character of them all. Also, Jeff Goldblum gives what is possibly the most memorable performance of his career thus far as the cocky New Age mathematician, Dr. Ian Malcolm. One of the great things about Jurassic Park is that all the principal characters have their own very distinct personalities, they are all well cast, and they are all (save one or two) very likeable.
With Jurassic Park, Spielberg has created a cinematic masterpiece that can be enjoyed by all ages. Best of all, it hasn’t aged a day. If you’re looking for a movie to take the whole family to this weekend, I highly recommend opting for Jurassic Park over G.I. Joe: Retaliation or Oz the Great and Powerful. I assure you, neither of the latter two will warrant a theatrical re-release twenty years down the road. If you are hesitant because you own this movie or are thinking you can just rent it at any time, please reconsider. Jurassic Park must be seen on the big screen and this may be your last opportunity to do so.