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On June 11, 1993, Steven Spielberg ushered in a new franchise with the launch of Jurassic Park. The 126-minute film, which set fire to the summer box office that year (“dino-mite,” as a Hollywood Reporter headline blared), would spawn a series of tentpole films for Universal over the course of the next two decades. THR’s original review is below:
Chaos theory, a new form of mathematics, studies unpredictable systems — weather, the stock market, rioting crowds — any system that will eventually show unpredictable behavior, such as a theme park filled with dinosaurs or, for instance, how many people will come to a movie.
While chaos theory in Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel correctly predicts that a modern-day system containing dinosaurs will result in unimaginable catastrophe, you don’t need chaos theory to predict this jaw-dropping, palm-sweating, eye-popping entertainment will become the Blockbustersaurus rex, the king of all blockbusters. In theme parke-ese, it’s an EEEEEE ride.
Steven Spielberg has cloned classic strains from the highest lineage of monster/action movies, spliced them with the most realistic genes of family entertainment and unleashed them through the most powerful forces of technological aesthetic to create a truly colossal movie experience. With an all-star technical team, many of whom have pushed then envelope before in such juggernauts as Star Wars and Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Spielberg has wondrously implanted the highest strains of science fiction within the supple body of a very human story.
Jurassic Park descends from a vaunted sci-fi narrative line: the fury that man unleashes when he tampers with the higher forces of creation. The arrogant provocateur in this case is John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), a twinkly old goat and self-made man who is kind of a dark cross between Colonel Sanders and Walt Disney. Hammond’s spared no expense in creating the greatest theme park of them all: a secluded Caribbean isle that takes the theme park/animal arcade to its most unbelievable dimension.
Hammond’s crack team of scientists has managed to create real-life dinosaurs by DNA cloning. He’s constructed an uberpark with every conceivable convenience and precaution built into its complex, computer-run system.
Hammond just needs to iron out some pesky permit-type safety questions, so he’s invited a crack team of experts to the isle for a systems inspection, including a renowned paleontologist (Sam Neill), a paleobotanist (Laura Dern), a chaos theory mathematician (Jeff Goldblum) and, for the kids’ POV, his grandchildren (Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello). The hardened scientists and the exuberant kids alike are thunderstruck when they see Jurassic Park’s main creations — the gigantic Tyrannosaurus rex, as well as the hellaciously vicious Velociraptor. But as in most groups, there is a naysayer. The black-clad mathematician glibly predicts gloom — “An accident waiting to happen.”
Screenwriters Crichton and David Koepp expertly distill and present the story’s complex scientific underpinnings into palatable and understandable explanations, while delicately lacing it with eruptive building blocks. Symphonically structured, with tender swells and light larks, Jurassic Park is superbly orchestrated as Spielberg masterfully works the emotional throttle, always appreciative of the human factor, and unleashes it to full ferocious power. Jurassic Park is the highest form of its generic species, the mainstream movie.
The brightest stars in this creative constellation are the technicians: When Oscar Day rolls around, there will be no excuses for muddled acceptance speeches. Among those who should start polishing: Stan Winston for the incredible live-action dinosaurs; Industrial Light & Magic’s Dennis Muren for the full-motion dinosaurs, as well as dinosaur supervisor Phil Tippett. Similarly, composer John Williams’ titanic score with its peals of trumpetry and cinematographer Dean Cundey’s mesmeric lensing are terrifically gripping.
The well-selected cast is winningly sympathetic and entertainingly idiosyncratic. Attenborough is terrific as the exuberant but overreaching entrepreneur, while Goldblum is deliciously vainglorious as the devil’s advocate. Neill, Dern and the kids, Mazzello and Richards, win our affections and wonderfully epitomize the wondrous spirit and transcendent belief that shines through this often horrific entertainment — “That life will find a way.” — Duane Byrge
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