Jurassic Park is one of those movies where it surprises me that I enjoy watching it again on DVD almost as much as the first time I saw it on the big screen. Spielberg really worked his unquestionable magic to create a movie that as a whole was much greater than its individual parts. He took some rather large risks, and they paid off more than anyone rightfully could have expected.
For those not already aware, Jurassic Park is the movie that pushed CGI from being a way to create unusual creatures and effects (The Abyss and Terminator 2) into a means to portray realistic animals and human bodies on film. The advances made in CGI in a very short time can be seen by comparing images in Alien 3 (such as debris flying through the air looking pretty fake) to what was accomplished in Jurassic Park, where audiences felt like they were watching real dinosaurs roam a tropical island.
These days I have mixed feelings about the prevalence of CGI in movies. It fills a needed role and, when used judiciously, adds tremendously to what can be accomplished on film. But most people can still spot what is real and what is CGI, and its overuse in many movies distorts and cheapens the potential movie experience. It’s often used as a cost-cutting measure, because doing things practically often takes more time, effort, and money. But there are still a great many things in movies that are better done real (even if in some cases real means something like animatronics), rather than depending on computer imaging. Jurassic Park isn’t an example of that, however, it shows how CGI advances filmmaking.
There are four main things that for me make Jurassic Park a re-watchable movie experience. The first is great casting. From the misguided, grandfatherly mad scientist creating modern day dinosaurs (monsters) to the two children, all of them are believable characters because of the actors chosen to portray them. Laura Dern is especially wonderful to watch in the movie, from her screaming at being chased by a T. Rex to little subtle things she did throughout.
The second is that Spielberg managed to convey the joy and wonder of seeing mammoth, extinct creatures walk the earth again. When the two scientists (Sam Neill and Dern) see their first dinosaur I feel like I am right there with them, my jaw hanging open in astonishment. When Dr. Grant (Neill) is thrilled at being able to touch and lean against a Triceratops I feel like I am at his side, experiencing a childlike joy.
The third is that the movie is excellently paced. There’s really only one scene that I feel truly fails, and that’s the one with Grant and the grandchildren waking up after sleeping in a tree and interacting with a large herbivore. The rest of it is like a well designed roller coaster. You ride up that first big hill and then – WHOOSH! – you’re screaming down. You get a bit of a breather around a corner and then – WHAM! – you’re speeding down another hill. Right until the very end.
The fourth is a very specific thing, and that’s the scene with the two cars stopped on the track in front of the Tyrannosaurus Rex pen. In my opinion, it’s one of the most tense, suspenseful, exciting, and scary scenes put on film. You’d think that after seeing it five or six times that it would lose impact, but I just watched the movie again and I still get all tensed up, and mutter to the characters to shut off the light or to stay still! There’s something about seeing that giant, monstrous face, with the gigantic teeth, peering in the window with that one huge eye that still gives me chills.
When you add in the exceptional score by the venerable John Williams, and little touches of subtle humor (“objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear), Jurassic Park is everything a magical, blockbuster, thrill-ride movie is meant to be.