Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is not only a fantastic adventure movie, it’s also a brilliant science fiction film and a pulse-pounding horror thriller. The 1993 film has been converted into 3D for its twentieth anniversary, and though the new layer of depth doesn’t add anything essential to the viewing experience, this re-release provides fans with another opportunity to see one of Spielberg’s biggest blockbusters on the big screen, where they can reassess its themes all over again and find depth in the storytelling while the extra dimension gives more physical depth to the image.
Look, you already know this movie is terrific. The 3D conversion is passable but unnecessary, only becoming worthwhile during a few camera moves in which it highlights the height of the camera as it peers down on its subjects (the tree rescue, the electric fence, the park gate, when the raptor jumps at Lex in the vent). That said, I’d still recommend seeing this in a real IMAX theater if you can, because the movie has never been seen on a screen of that size before and it’s worth it to get immersed in this world again. Some of the effects are starting to look a little dated twenty years down the line, but the animatronics still look incredible and that T-Rex still looks as horrifyingly real as it did all those years ago.
[Since I was far too young to review it when the film was originally released, this was the first time I watched Jurassic Park with a critical eye, and I made a ton of observations about it seeing it from a fresh perspective. I’ll try to present them as cohesive as possible, but forgive me if I bounce around a little bit. This won’t be a “review” in the same sense that I’d write about the latest new release, so stick with me on this one as I work through some of these observations and I’ll be back to writing about other movies soon.]
One of the themes Spielberg returns to most often as a filmmaker is fatherhood, and the director often deals with his own personal “daddy issues” through characters in his own movies. (Including Hook, the movie Spielberg worked on right before JP.) But unlike many of his previous efforts, Jurassic Park isn’t about an absentee father: it’s about a man discovering his potential to become one. As the film progresses, we discover that the underlying story is about Grant proving his fatherly capabilities to Sattler. From the moment she puts Lex in the same Jeep as Grant at the beginning of their park tour, Sattler uses this trip and Hammond’s grandchildren as part of an elaborate test to see if Grant is the kind of man with whom she could one day have a family.
It’s worth noting that even though Grant and Sattler are romantically involved, the film rarely (if ever) has those characters give any physical indication of their relationship. Dr. Ian Malcolm – with slick hair, black leather jacket, and “rock star” nickname bestowed upon him by Hammond – is the most sexualized character in the film, and he introduces a half-hearted love triangle aspect to the story as he tries to charm Sattler with his lesson on chaos theory. But Grant’s decision to protect the children shows her his parental instincts, something far more important to her than Malcolm’s fleeting sex appeal.
The concept of reproduction is addressed multiple times, from an early conversation between Sattler and Grant about Grant’s reluctance to have children, to discussions of how Hammond’s scientists breed dinosaurs on the island, highlighted by Malcolm’s iconic and semi-spooky declaration that “life finds a way.” Spielberg even explores this theme visually in a brief sequence on the helicopter as the scientists descend to the island for the first time. Grant attempts to put his seat belt on, but comes up with two “female” ends; pressed for time, he comes up with a quick fix, tying the two ends together to secure himself through turbulence. This mirrors the Jurassic Park scientists’ methods of using frog DNA as their own quick fix to complete the strand, as well as Dennis Nedry’s ultimately fatal mistake of planning to sell dino samples to the highest bidder as a fast-track solution to escaping his financial troubles. The movie is clear on this point: quick fixes do not work, and those that employ them will be punished.
John Hammond, a character I never paid much attention to as a younger viewer, struck me this time as a tragic figure who begins with good intentions but whose hubris brings about the destruction of his life’s goal. He’s a guy who clearly has a love for the past but doesn’t have the foresight to understand the consequences of his actions, and despite Malcolm’s continued warnings and the collapse of the park around him, by the end he still hasn’t learned his lesson. In a scene with Sattler late in the film, Hammond talks about his first attraction – a motorized flea circus which tricked his guests into thinking they could see fleas operating the pieces – and describes how, with Jurassic Park, he “wanted to give them something that wasn’t an illusion. Something that was real.” He goes on to say that “creation is an act of sheer will. Next time it’ll be flawless.” These notions apply to the act of filmmaking as much as to the planning of this fictional theme park, and it seems as if Spielberg – a fellow showman, albeit of a different kind – can relate to Hammond in that sense.
Twenty years ago, Jurassic Park became a cinematic touchstone for its pioneering use of special effects technology. Since that time, it seems as if most of the conversation around the film has remained centered on that focal point, but seeing it on the big screen again proved that there is much more to this movie worth discussing than the realism of CGI dinosaurs. This is a timeless story of human arrogance, nature’s wrath, and the fallout between the two, and even among Spielberg’s insanely good filmography, Jurassic Park is one of his most interesting accomplishments. Until next time…