Brad’s April Escape - Episode 6
April 9 - Jurassic Park
Throughout this month, I’ll screen a film from The Bearded Trio Cinematic Universe and list 10 random scenes, characters, musical cues or performances that I particularly enjoy and look forward to upon every viewing. I’d love to hear similar little things you enjoy about these films, and hope you join me in this escape from the present-day world.
Next up is a film that to me, attained "classic" status instantly upon first viewing, Jurassic Park (1993)
Jurassic Park - An Introduction
I saw this movie on opening night in the U.S., Friday, June 11, 1993, with my then-11 year-old sister. I knew it was a Spielberg film, so I was excited to settle into the theater to take this in. But my expectations were that of a "kiddie film." I expected the tone and actions of the characters would be that of a film aimed at 8-year-olds. Nothing wrong with that by the way, but that was my mindset as I arrived at the theater.
As I'll get into later, this movie attained "instant classic" status for me upon that first viewing. It had been four years since I had seen a Spielberg film I truly enjoyed (Last Crusade), but this one knocked me off my feet. John Williams's music was as strong as it ever was. ILM's visual effects signaled the start of a new era. There really was nothing that came before to compare the effects to. All my favorites were involved with this project. Spielberg. Williams. George Lucas, as an uncredited post-production supervisor. ILM. Sound maestros Gary Rydstrom and Gary Summers. As I left the theater on that Friday night, I was happy to expand my family of favorite movies from Star Wars and Indiana Jones to include Jurassic Park.
10 Things I Like - Jurassic Park
1. As I stated earlier, my expectations were blown out of the water upon first viewing. And those expectations were obliterated approximately three seconds into the presentation of the opening titles. Williams's music grabs you by the collar and says "get out of here with that kiddie stiff." The music was dark, dangerous. The male chorus, so wonderfully used throughout this film, sucks you right in and gets you started on an adventure you didn't know you were taking. As the Universal logo swirled around, giving way to this stark title card, I tossed my expectations out the window and put out my hands to Spielberg once again, asking this genius "please here, take my hands on your next heart-stopping adventure."
2. I mentioned the male chorus as part of the soundtrack as the film opens. We have some more amazing choral moments early on in the film, starting here with the discovery of another mosquito ensconced inside amber. It flows into the next scene seamlessly, as we move to Alan Grant's camp in Montana. I can't put my finger on what it is Williams does with chorus, but it never fails to send shivers up my back (See Episodes I and III of Star Wars for other examples). Williams's music allowed me, in my mind, to lend serious credibility to the story and characters in this film. It felt like a musical evolution for Williams, to help bring me into this brand new world. Just beautiful work.
3. Two very interesting scenes butt up against one another here, and both center around a form of bribery. John Hammond isn't immediately received well when asking Ellie Sattler and Alan Grant to come to his park. They are reluctant, but suddenly accept when offered a total of $150,000 over three years to continue funding their archaeological dig in Montana. Shortly thereafter, we see the meeting between Dotson and Dennis Nedry, pictured above. This time, the corporate representative comes armed with cash (unlike Hammond, who relies on a handshake agreement). Dotson promises Nedry 10 times the amount Hammond promised the doctors - $1.5 million - if he smuggled all 15 species of dinosaurs off the island.
So here we have two scenes, involving cash payments from a corporate entity to another party for diametrically opposite purposes. A tip of the cap here to Spielberg's longtime editor Michael Kahn for crafting these two scenes together in this way. Kahn has to be listed among the top unsung heroes of Spielberg's career, and he is at his best in this film.
4. Have I mentioned the John Williams soundtrack to this film yet? Oh, have I? Well good, because it's getting mentioned again.
We hear the main Jurassic Park theme flourish as the helicopter approaches the island. It swells to its highest level, exemplifying the grand vision of the island and the most optimistic view of our character's experience that awaits them. This scene plays particularly well on the big screen, when the music surrounds you, complementing the visuals of the blue sea and green mountains as the copter makes its final approach and descent to the island. No visual effects necessary. Just the highest level of location scouting and the genius of the greatest music film composer who ever lived.
5. Our first introduction to the character of Dr. Ian Malcolm is a goofy one. He makes jokes, spouts off about chaos and seems to be along for the ride. Until this shot. Our characters are on the tour of the JP facilities, showing the scientists at work after the Mr. DNA cartoon. Jeff Goldblum acts in this shot perfectly, paying strict attention, taking in all this information in a very rapid rate. Dr. Malcolm picked up lots of credibility with me with Goldblum's portrayal here. As any strong ensemble cast has, each character has their own unique skills and eccentricities. Grant is the dinosaur expert. Gennaro is the lawyer. Sattler is an environmental expert of that era. But who was Malcolm other than "the rock star?" Here, he starts to weave the fabric of his raw intelligence and ability to take this new phenomenon and place it into a larger context. It all starts for Dr. Malcolm here.
6. "Dennis Steals the Embryo" is another soundtrack highlight. There are solid links between this track and one from the soundtrack to JFK (1991) known as "The Conspirators." Low, light percussions follow Dennis as he tries to execute his plot of stealing the dinosaur embryos. I found myself, strangely, rooting for Dennis to succeed. He somehow became this sympathetic figure to me as I followed his story within the film. I was genuinely bummed out when he met his most horrific death on his way to the East Dock later in the film.
7. This was a truly terrifying scene to watch in the theater. The scene is told from the point of view of the kids, Lex and Tim, and properly so. They are the most vulnerable, if not the loudest humans in this scene. This scene is a brilliant blend of Stan Winston, ILM, Skywalker Sound, John Williams and of course, Steven Spielberg. His selection of shots, from the iris of the T-Rex through the window, to the POV shot of the T-Rex crashing into the car from above, show a director completely dialed into his material. A beautifully staged, shot and directed scene that hits the audience square in the chest.
8. In my Raiders of the Lost Ark blog entry, I discussed Signature Spielberg Shots. The second half of Jurassic Park is filled with them. The way I define Signature Spielberg Shots are shots that aren't 100 percent necessary to advance the plot, but are visual cues of the state of the story in the moment. Ellie stepping on a muddy Jurassic Park map is exactly one of those shots. The breezy optimism we felt entering the park, aided by the sweeping John Williams main theme, is now gone, replaced by dirt, mud, fear and tragedy.
9. Here's another Signature Spielberg Shot. Not really necessary, but tells so much story in this 2.5 second shot of the velociraptor chasing our heroes through the Visitors Center.
10. We conclude with another Signature Spielberg Shot. It felt inevitable to me that the T-Rex would get framed as a hero in some way. This last shot is another combination of the best sound, music and visuals. An appropriate conclusion to another visionary entry from Spielberg.
Brad’s Escapism Moment in Jurassic Park
How about a joyful scene in this movie? The most pure our characters are throughout the film is when they encounter the sick Triceratops. Alan and Ellie are near, or at tears. The kids are in awe. Even Malcolm seems impressed by this vulnerable animal. Again, the John Williams score plays with our feelings of empathy and respect in this scene. As a viewer, I gave myself over the joy expressed by the characters here. I would sometimes pretend that this dinosaur was also computer generated, when of course it was a practical effect created ingeniously by Stan Winston and his crew. Clearly, my expectations of ILM were ahead of its time!
I consider Jurassic Park a cousin of Star Wars and Indiana Jones. So many of the same people worked on all three franchises, and all three appeal to the youngster residing in all of us, wishing to be swept away by the stirring combination of visuals, sound and music that make the experience of going to the cinema unlike any other in modern society. The original Jurassic Park is the only non Star Wars or Indiana Jones movie I have ever seen more than once in the theater. It translates to that medium so well, and is another example of Spielberg making a movie for the audience, and succeeding in the ultimate way.
My respect for this film only grows when I consider that it was released in the same year as Schindler's List (1993). More about that film later this month.
I will also give a plug here to the YouTube channel of Klayton Fioriti, which can be found here. He has an extensive library of videos breaking down the lore, mythology, fun speculation and real world aspect of the Jurassic Park franchise. He approaches the topic with intelligence, a level head and the best kind of curiosity. He thoroughly enjoys this franchise, and his insights have enhanced my appreciation of the franchise, still alive in the present day. Give him a follow if you're a fan of this franchise.
Coming next: Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
The Bearded Trio - The Site For Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Williams and a whole lot more.