When I was about seven or eight years old, I found myself perusing my grandparents’ shelf of VHS tapes. In amongst the Tommy Cooper compilations and boxes of Turkish Delight one tape caught my eye. It was completely black, save the outline of a T-Rex skeleton with the words ‘Jurassic Park’ written below: the famous logo of course. Beneath that, the tagline; ‘An adventure 65 million years in the making.’
I had to watch it.
Allow me to explain: I loved dinosaurs. Crazy about ‘em. I had dinosaur toys, archaeology books about dinosaurs, a dinosaur bedspread at one point I think… And here was a movie about a dinosaur theme park for goodness’ sake! Just mull those three words over for a second: Dinosaur. Theme. Park. Isn’t that the best combination of those three words in the history of the English language? Of course it is. That was a rhetorical question.
And here it was, in my grandparents’ house, which meant that I could actually watch it despite its PG rating; my mother would never have let me watch it at home, but Grandad wouldn’t mind. Heck, Nan would even give me jelly and ice cream to eat whilst watching it.
Jurassic Park, in case you’ve been living under a rock for the past twenty-five years, is Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film about an eccentric old billionaire, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough, a.k.a the Lord Attenborough of Richmond-upon-Thames), who has worked out how to bring dinosaurs back to life using DNA remains crossed with frogs and decides to open the world’s first dinosaur theme park on an island off the coast of Costa Rica. Before the grand opening and after a worker is eaten by a velociraptor, he invites a collection of palaeontologists, lawyers and mathematicians to the island to determine the safety of the park. Naturally it all goes wrong and hilarity ensues. Wait, no, sorry – it all goes wrong and all hell breaks loose. And by hell, I mean carnivorous prehistoric beasties out for a bit of sweet, sweet palaeontologist to chow down on. It’s then a huge game of cat and mouse as the humans on the island have to get back to each other and back to the chopper before they get eaten.
A simple, yet effective, plot full of characters you care about, thrilling action sequences, grisly deaths, Samuel L. Jackson, nail-biting edge-of-your-seat suspense, and awe-inspiring special effects (which even now look just as incredible as they did in 1993) make Jurassic Park, for me, the definitive action adventure/science-fiction movie of our time –and certainly one of Spielberg’s best.
Of course, you may be forgiven for thinking you’re simply reading the delirious ravings of a dino-obsessed fan boy. But you’d be wrong! Jurassic Park won three Academy Awards in sound and special effects, and a BAFTA for SFX on top of that. Empire magazine have ranked it in their 500 greatest movies list and deemed it the sixth most influential film in the magazine’s lifetime. The AFI ranked it the 35th most thrilling movie of all time and when it was first aired on television in the US in 1995, over 68 million people tuned in to watch.
Why so popular then? Well, for the reasons I listed above – but allow me to go into more detail. There are many things that make Jurassic Park so special. First up: Steven Spielberg. By 1993 the director had brought us Jaws, E.T., the Indiana Jones trilogy and Hook to name a few. All these films have something in common: wonderful storytelling combined with a level of escapism, implausibility and thrills. There was perhaps no one better than Spielberg to adapt Michael Crichton’s novel. Linked with this, then, is the very concept itself: dinosaurs vs. humans essentially, and the wider message that we homo sapiens have no control over Nature; “life finds a way.” Most people watching Jurassic Park, with no scientific knowledge, would sit there and think it could happen. It sounds possible. Which of course just adds to the wonder, and makes the ride even more thrilling.
There are few other movies that have had such a profound effect on the world of filmmaking. It paved the way for the glut of CGI-dependent movies that would follow over the next decade. George Lucas started work on his Star Wars prequels, we had Independence Day, The Matrix, and according to the author of Peter Jackson: A Filmmaker’s Story, Jackson was inspired by Jurassic Park to explore again his love of fantasy films. And we all know where that led… Five years after Jurassic Park, Godzilla would be released, and in 1999 the BBC produced Walking with Dinosaurs (another favourite of mine); could any of these projects have happened without the pioneering efforts of the SFX team behind Jurassic Park’s biggest spectacles? Probably not – or at least, probably not as soon as they did.
Jurassic Park, therefore, is not just one of the best films of the last three decades, but also one of the most important. It is a benchmark movie; one that deserves our respect and admiration, as well as multiple viewings. And I say again: Dinosaur. Theme. Park.