When Steven Spielberg‘s Jurassic Park came out in 1993, it was considered ahead of its time. 29 years later, and it’s not hard to see why this colossal summer blockbuster has become so entrenched in pop culture and cinematic history. As someone who took their dinosaur-loving kid to the movies and struggled not to sleep through all of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Jurassic World: Dominion, I figured perhaps dinosaurs were just not my thing. It turns out, I was wrong, and I should have listened to my gut: never judge a franchise based on its unnecessary sequels.
Based on the novel of the same name by Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park follows three experts, paleontologists Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), who have been chosen to tour and sign off on a theme park in Central America populated with genetically re-created dinosaurs. Jurassic Park is another timeless cautionary tale of man interfering with nature, or in other words, another clueless man plays god and is shocked when it doesn’t work out how he envisioned it. The result? Dinosaurs fuck shit up, and it couldn’t be more fun to watch.
Jurassic Park’s Visuals Stand the Test of Time
It has been nearly 3 decades since its release, and it is still not hard to see why Jurassic Park was such a visually groundbreaking film. The film employs a masterful blend of CGI and practical effects in order to create its iconic dinos, but what is most impressive is that the film actually only utilizes a shockingly sparse 6 minutes of CGI work in its entirety. In fact, most of the film’s most iconic shots, such as the injured Triceratops, rely entirely on practical effects. In total, Jurassic Park utilizes CGI for no more than 63 shots. Compare this to Jurassic World: Dominion – an utter snoozefest of a finale to the Jurassic World franchise – which used around 900, and Jurassic World, which used around 2,000. The Jurassic World franchise is a perfect example of an overabundance of wealth. There is a majesty in Spielberg’s dinosaurs in Jurassic Park that hasn’t been matched since in the sequels, and a large part of that is due to the delicate balance between practical and digital effects.
One of the best examples of this is the iconic T-Rex, which was created with a blend of both highly detailed animatronics and the occasional CGI. The Rex is still iconic in Jurassic Park‘s many sequels, but there is something indescribably special about seeing the Rex stomp onto the screen for the first time after escaping its paddock. The scene is rife with the perfect amount of spine-tingling tension, and it’s not hard to see how this particular scene sparked a defining moment in cinematic history. The quietness of the scene increases the nail-biting build-up to the T- Rex’s debut and makes sure the visuals remain the star of the show, from the shot of the water rippling in the glass to the horror of realization on the characters’ faces. It’s absolute perfection even before the T-Rex graces the screen.
In fact, Jurassic Park is 127 minutes long, and yet, there is only about 15 minutes where dinosaurs are actually onscreen. This is one of most impressive feats of the original as opposed to the sequels (again – an abundance of wealth, or in this case, dinosaurs, is not always a good thing). Jurassic Park makes every single second of those 15 minutes count, so much so that I was convinced the internet had to be wrong about their screen time. Those 15 minutes feel much longer because Spielberg’s dinosaurs are just that imposing and impactful.
The Dinosaurs Are the Stars, but the Cast Is a Perfect Complement
The dinosaurs may be the stars of the show, but the cast, particularly the three leads and scream queen Lex Murphy (Ariana Richards), perfectly complement the prehistoric giants. There isn’t anything particularly special about the characters themselves, but that’s okay. At the end of the day, you’re watching Jurassic Park for the thrill of the dinosaurs. The characters themselves are fleshed out enough that they serve as a refreshing complement to the dinosaurs, each serving a different role in the narrative. Dr. Ian Malcolm is the voice of reason who advises against the “rape of the natural world.” (Also, Goldblum has a major “cover of a romance novel” moment that is 100% necessary). Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler serve as reminders that there is an intimate beauty in these prehistoric creatures, one that comes across vividly in Laura Dern and Alan Grant’s performances, particularly when they see the dinosaurs for the first time. And then, of course, there’s Lex, who is your reminder that dinosaurs are scary as hell, and they will eat you, so you better start running for your life.
Let’s Not Forget That Iconic Final Shot
In the film’s climax, our team of experts are desperately trying to outrun some hungry raptors when they are rescued by none other than the T-Rex himself. The film’s iconic theme song begins to soar as the Rex snatches the raptor up in its mouth as Dr. Grant, Dr. Sattler, and the kids watch in stunned disbelief before scrambling away. They dash outside where Hammond and Dr. Malcolm pull up just in time, and Alan says, “Mr. Hammond, after careful consideration, I’ve decided not to endorse your park!” Inside the lobby, the T-Rex lets out a ferocious roar as the lobby banner (“When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth!”) flutters to the ground. It is, in every way, a perfect ending, from the cheesiness of Alan’s line to Hammond to the epic symbolism and visual feast of T-Rex’s final moment in the spotlight.
Jurassic Park is a masterpiece with visuals that stand the test of time, an impressive feat during a time where almost anything can be shown on screen with the right technology. With its sweeping score and intricate, unparalleled practical effects that brought dinosaurs to life, Jurassic Park is more than just a summer blockbuster – it’s a cultural milestone in its own right.