Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1994, the only film to win between 1993 and 1997 (TV shows Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon 5 won twice each in that period). It beat three other films and a TV episode, in order: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Groundhog Day, Babylon 5 – “The Gathering” and Addams Family Values. The only one of those that I have seen is Groundhog Day, and while I like it a lot, I would have voted Jurassic Park ahead of it. IMDB users also like Jurassic Park, rating it #2 film of 1993 on one system and #3 on the other, behind Schindler's List in both cases. I agree with that judgement too.

None of the cast seems to have been in previous Hugo winners, or in Doctor Who. Two had small parts in previous Oscar winners. Jeff Goldblum, playing Ian Malcolm here, was one of the Californian party guests sixteen years ago in Annie Hall:

And Jerry Molen, who was co-producer of both Jurassic Park and Rain Man, also appeared in front of the cameras in each film. Here he is Harding who looks after sick dinosaurs; in Rain Man five years ago he was Dr Bruner, the head of Walbrook where Raymond Babbitt lives.

I originally thought of doing a joint review of this and Schindler's List, because they were both directed by Steven Spielberg, both based on best-selling novels and both came out in the same year. But really, the subject matter is so very different that I felt it would be somewhat disrespectful to take that approach. Also, I am quite enjoying the pace of doing a film review most weekends, and didn't really want to lose momentum. So here we are.

In the unlikely event that you don't know, Jurassic Park is set in the present day (ie 1993) and concerns a theme park where dinosaurs have been brought back to life with Science. Two cute palæontologists scientists and two cute children are brought in to check it out before opening, and due to sabotage by an employee secretly in the pay of the competition, the dinosaurs escape their pens and all hell breaks loose. The cute characters all survive, though some of the others (including the saboteur) get eaten by dinosaurs. Here's a trailer.

To start with the usual, almost all the characters are white. This is a film set in Latin American, none of whose characters appear to be Latinx. The minor scientists include an Asian and an African-American (the latter being a curiously cast Samuel L. Jackson).

The women characters are given more agency than in the original novel – Laura Dern's Ellie Sattler, the palæontologist palæobotanist, is the peer of Sam Neill's Alan Grant rather than his student; Ariana Richards as Lex Murphy is older than her brother Tim (Joseph Mazzello), and her computer skills save the day. However the subplot of Dern trying to persuade Neill that they should have babies together (not in the original book) is pretty cringeworthy.

But look, the human characters are completely beside the point. This is a film about special effects, and making dinosaurs real. The cinematography and John Williams' music signal to you that this is a really special occasion, a cinematic big deal, and frankly that's what it is. It's one of the most effective sensawunda films out there. The opening scene with dinosaurs in the lake is still mindblowing.

And despite having seen the film before, rewatching it this time I was still on the edge of my seat for the sequence where the velociraptors hunt the children in the kitchen.

I'm putting this in my top ten Hugo and Nebula winning films, behind another novel adaptation, A Clockwork Orange, but ahead of another tale about humans misusing technology, Dr Strangelove.

I went back and reread the book. The second paragraph of the third chapter (by one count) is:

Although it was true enough, as he had told the Bowmans, that lizard bites were common, Jimenez had never heard of a basilisk lizard biting anyone. And he had certainly never heard of anyone being hospitalized for a lizard bite. Then, too, the bite radius on Tina's arm appeared slightly too large for a basilisk. When he got back to the Carara station, he had checked the small research library there, but found no reference to basilisk lizard bites. Next he checked International BioSciences Services, a computer database in America. But he found no references to basilisk bites, or hospitalization for lizard bites.

When I first read it in 2011, I said,

Of course, I saw the film when it first came out, and found myself continually comparing the book to it. But in fact the book holds up well – a lot of the shocking visual moments from the film are reasonably firmly rooted in the book, and sometimes actually come off better on the page. And the book turns out to be not really about the process of reviving dinosaurs, but about the fragility of human endeavour against the chaos of the natural world – the author's mouthpiece character, who gets to speak long infodumps and whose gnomic statements preface every section of the book, is not a palæontologist but the mathematician played by Jeff Goldblum in the film.

I did notice, however, that very few of the Costa Rican characters and none of the walk-on black characters actually had names.

Comparing again with the film, I was struck that the novel spends a lot more time on set-up – here are lizards on the main coast of Central America, here is the rather crap career structure of the average American palæontologist – where the film just gets on with showing rather than telling. It also seemed to me that the film streamlined the various goals of the humans trying to deal with the park's problems, more effectively than the book. You can get the book hereContact in 1998; meantime the next Oscar-winenr is Forrest Gump.

One thought on “Jurassic Park

Comments are closed.