Jurassic Park (1993) — The last great Spielberg franchise

“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Justin’s rating: Clever filmmakers.

Justin’s review: Looking down the extensive filmography of director Steven Spielberg, it struck me that 1993 may have been the high water mark in his career. Not only did he put out two of his best-made and most acclaimed movies in his life — Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List — but it was the last time (to date) that he kicked off a new movie franchise. Don’t get me wrong, he’s done some terrific movies since like Saving Private Ryan and Minority Report, but the Spielberg who got behind high adventure IPs peaked that year.

When I was talking with my oldest son the other day about movies, I said that one of the best moviegoing experiences I ever had was seeing Jurassic Park in theaters in ’93. This was THE summer blockbuster of the year, and I was blown away by its sheer scope, artistry, and storytelling. I also vividly remember working at the video store when we finally got copies of Jurassic Park in — and we couldn’t keep them on the shelves for months afterward. People would bribe and cajole us to stash rental copies aside for them.

Now that Jurassic Park is a long-running franchise with all of the wear, tear, and inconsistent sequels that you’d expect, it’s easier to forget how well-made the original was. Based on a best-selling novel by Michael Crichton, the film adaptation turned a rather wordy technothriller into a rollicking adventure with all of the great Spielberg trademarks: Likable kids, interesting monsters, John Williams, and scenes that are so perfectly done that film classes will study them for years afterward.

Problems with a dinosaur-themed amusement park in Costa Rica trigger an assembly of various outsiders to come in and evaluate the situation. Oddly enough, this group includes paleontologists Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neil) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Lara Dern), chaos mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), attorney Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero), and two grandkids of the park owner. Arriving without quite knowing what’s going on, the group discovers that Jurassic Park isn’t just about dinosaurs in theme — but dinosaurs in fact. By using a weird pseudo-scientific process, park scientists cloned and grew various dinos for the purpose of showing them off to the world. For money, of course.

But what Malcolm, Grant, and Sattler quickly realize is that there is no perfect system for containment and that the dinosaurs aren’t going to be docile park attractions. This is proved — within hours, in fact — when Seinfeld’s Wayne Knight shuts down the park security to steal some embryos and all hell breaks loose. What follows is a desperate attempt by the visitors to (a) not get eaten, (b) get back to the lodge, and (c) restore power and get off the island.

There are so many amazing elements of Jurassic Park that it’s hard to isolate or list them all, but I’m going to try. Spielberg appears to effortlessly construct a perfect flow to the movie, especially how he doesn’t play the “let’s show people dinosaurs!” card until it’s absolutely the perfect moment to do so. That scene may be one of the best in all of cinema, in fact. The sizable cast of characters all have distinct personalities and are infused with chemistry and humor (let’s not overlook the fact that Jurassic Park is a very quotable movie, something else I think people forget). It can be a legitimately scary movie at parts, but just enough to make a kid temporarily cry out in fright rather than cry for the rest of the day. And of course, the John Williams score is magnificent, and I am listening to it right now as I write this.

And I really appreciate that while the CGI and puppetry of the dinosaurs are good, the expense and trouble of showing them meant that dinos are used sparingly and in service of the plot. Just as in Spielberg’s earlier Jaws, sometimes showing less means much more when we finally do get to the payoff.

We really do not get movies like this that are the whole package that often — so when we do, we should treasure and not forget them.

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