I’m going to open this review discussing some of the flaws of Jurassic Park — sorry, 17-year-old me; Jurassic Park does indeed have flaws — not because the flaws are the most important thing about the movie, but because I find it illuminating how little they impact my overall reaction to the film.
So here it is: The writing in Jurassic Park is kind of dumb. So much world-building and thematic development end up having essentially zero bearing on the overall shape of the plot. Everything about “life finding a way” and gender-swapping amphibian genes is just a smokescreen for the power going out, which is really the crux of the entire conflict of the film.
And even the power going out is triggered by John Hammond – who says “we spared no expense” about 17 times – refusing to give a modest raise to a to the lone IT professional on staff.
All of that is fine, really, except Steven Spielberg and co. try to trick you into thinking that the movie is about something deeper. The movie really wants to be about the uncontrollable force of nature at a primordial level, rather than the importance of paying the bills. (On that note, maybe the movie is really about the danger of relying so much on computer-driven automation.)
But here’s where it circles back. The Jurassic Park lesson: Sometimes, to be great, a movie just has to do one thing — one really special thing — terrifically and miraculously well. You can throw the other details to the wind as long as that one thing resonates.
And in the case of Jurassic Park that one thing is making the audience believe that giant dinosaurs are real. Not just real, but alive and intimidating and co-mingling with fleshy, tasty-looking humans. Jurassic Park delivers that experience magnificently, in bone-rattling blockbuster production values. It’s been almost 30 years since its release, and it still awes and terrifies me. And thus, no amount of writing hiccups or quirks prevents Jurassic Park from being a transporting piece of cinema.
The movie’s key creative voice is Spielberg. He is, of course, one of cinema’s best at creating adventures that suck you in. Some of these set pieces rank among my favorite ever. At the top of the heap is the T-rex attack in the rain, an absolute barnburner. It’s a heart-pounding nightmare. It’s also just one of a bunch of moments that had me lost in the absolute wonder of giant lizards come to life: the big brontosaurus reveal, Newman from Seinfeld getting acid spit in his face, every scene involving the velociraptors, etc. All terrifically memorable and immersive constructions of cinema
Providing an emotional backbone to the film is John Williams’ score, and it’s frankly tough to overstate how important it is. It might not be his most profound or ambitious composition, but it is a deeply Romantic score, soaring in the proper moments to remind you that this isn’t just a thriller, but a magical fantasy that taps into your inner child. Plus, Spielberg is savvy enough to keep the music quiet and rely upon some amazing sound effect design during the tensest moment.
The cast, unfortunately, has its high and low points. Sam Neill is probably the best in show as a heroic curmudgeon. Laura Dern manages to leave a huge impression despite having a pretty flat character with little to do. Richard Attenborough and Jeff Goldblum suffer from characters who are underdeveloped and gratingly pointless, respectively. It struck me this time that Attenborough’s character Hammond would be a lot more interesting if he were more outright villainous and capitalistic rather than the congenial, privileged grandfather that he is.
It adds up to a movie that is not among Spielberg’s most canonical and flawless masterpieces. But that doesn’t stop me from calling Jurassic Park an all-time favorite. There is a sheer joy to it that’s hard to quantify, a fantasy come to life of wonder and terror, and it’s the reason we watch movies in the first place.
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100