All-time Top 10: Jurassic Park

I was a HUGE dinosaur kid. Some of the first movies I remember watching were the early Land Before Time movies. My cousin and I loved them so much we would pretend to be Little Foot and Cera when we would swim in our grandparents’ pool. And before I discovered Harry Potter, my favorite book series was Dinotopia, a fantasy world where dinosaurs lived on a hidden island and learned to speak. I could tell you at a very young age that the Triceratops was my favorite dinosaur and pronounce dinosaur names I had no business knowing. I. Loved. Dinosaurs.

So it’s strange that I don’t remember when I saw Jurassic Park for the first time. It was released in 1993 and being three I was a little too young to see it in theaters, but by the time my dinosaur obsession kicked in, it should have been at the top of my list. I think I may have even seen the second or third movie before I saw the original. So before Jurassic World came out in 2015, I went back and watched the original trilogy.

Jurassic Park is a masterpiece. In a lot of ways, it marked the dawn of the modern blockbuster, especially due to its groundbreaking visual effects and engaging action scenes. The main characters are outstanding and entertaining to watch and gave us some of the most iconic moments in cinematic history.

Based on the best-selling novel by Michael Crichton and directed by Stephen Spielberg, Jurassic Park follows a team of paleontologists and scientists as they visit a remote island where an eccentric, wealthy businessman has figured out how to bring dinosaurs back to life. I’m sure most of you know the story, but shockingly, all hell breaks loose.

Let’s start with the visual effects. It is shocking how well the CGI in this movie holds up. There are plenty of featurettes and behind-the-scenes videos explaining how they invented the technology needed to create the dinosaurs, but a combination of real animatronics and computer-generated models literally brought dinosaurs back from extinction. There’s a reason why the movie won the Best Visual Effects Oscar that year.

The combination of these two effects are perfectly displayed in the movie’s most iconic sequence: the T-rex attack. It’s one of the greatest action sequences in cinematic history. From the moment the water ripples on the dashboard, we known something big is about to go down. The life-sized animatronic monster is terrifying and both it and the CGI version are expertly used so neither looks out of place.

The second most iconic scene uses visual effects in the same way. When Tim and Lex are on the run from a group of velociraptors, they’re followed into the resort’s kitchen. Again, Spielberg knew just how much CGI he could use and where the practical raptors would be better. And the sick triceratops? 100% real. These scenes are still just as tense and exciting today as they were 25 years ago because of the direction and the talent behind the dinosaurs.

Of course, the look of the dinosaurs could only do so much on their own. The characters’ reactions are crucial in selling the story. And what a cast Spielberg assembled. Sam Neill is delightful in his transformation from gruff scientist who hates kids to risking his life for Tim and Lex. Laura Dern is an icon and gets probably my favorite line of the whole movie: “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.” And has Jeff Goldblum ever had a more iconic role? Dr. Ian Malcolm is so weird and awkward and cocky, but that Goldblum charm radiates through his entire performance. Richard Attenborough rounds out the main cast as the goofy and over-sure John Hammond.

A Spielberg movie isn’t complete with a John Williams score. In terms of iconic movie themes, no one will ever beat John Williams, and Jurassic Park is one of his best. The main theme has a beautiful sense of awe and almost a religious respect to it. I’ve always assumed it’s the music you hear when the gates of heaven open after you die. Outside of the main theme, Williams captures the mood of every scene expertly – be it joy, fear, or anything in between.

For me, all these parts – the effects, the cast and the score – all come together to create cinematic magic in the scene where Alan, Ellie and Ian see the dinosaurs for the first time. Neill and Dern give the greatest performances of shock and awe looking at an amazingly lifelike brachiosaurus while Williams’ score swells into that iconic theme.

Jurassic Park asks some big questions that are still just as relevant today as they were in the early 1990s. Corporate greed, capitalism, limitations of scientific advancement, and the ethics of what humanity can do are all present in the movie. The entire thesis of the movie can be summed up in Dr. Malcolm’s line: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” In today’s world, technology advances at such a rate that we can barely keep up. Maybe we all need to sit back and think of whether we should do something just because we can.

Whether you’re seven or 97, Jurassic Park is great at any age. It’s exciting, funny, suspenseful and has a lot of heart. For a former dinosaur kid, it will always be one of my all-time top 10.

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