Jurassic Park (1993)
By: Adam Freed
When F. Scott Fitzgerald’s observant narrator Nick Carraway turned thirty, he nearly forgot about the milestone entirely. For Gatsby’s neighbor, the day was nothing more than a passing thought and a few moments of pessimism, “Thirty – the promise of a decade of loneliness…a thinning brief-case of enthusiasm, thinning hair.” If at thirty, all enthusiasm recedes as Carraway suggests, then someone had better notify Hollywood that Jurassic Park (1993) has been relegated into irrelevance. Looking back on Steven Spielberg’s monumental adaptation of Michael Crichton’s science fiction best seller reveals a devastating counterpunch to Nick Carraway’s assertion. Thirty years since audiences first craned their necks in mimicry of Sam Neill and Laura Dern to absorb a life changing glimpse of a brachiosaur, Spielberg’s magical and wondrous bridge to 21st century filmmaking remains definitively intact.
Movie history is pinpointed with rubicon moments, which once witnessed by broad audiences, there proves no turning back. Some of these cinematically propulsive moments have come in the form of doorways, like the famous threshold to Oz crossed by Dorothy Gale in 1939 or John Ford’s tidal wave of cinematic scope delivered as John Wayne crosses Monument Valley in The Searchers (1956). With all respect to both the aforementioned seminal film moments, the seamless and lifelike computer generated integration of Spielberg’s prehistoric vision could be argued to be the most important moment in cinematic history. The movie world could easily be divided into two timelines, those films that precede Jurassic Park, and those that benefit from its masterful creation. Like Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, it was with a delicate fingertip that Steven Spielberg in 1993 again reshaped film-kind in his image and gave life to future generations.
Iconic imagery considered, Jurassic Park would ring oddly hollow if it were not for the transcendent score composed by John Williams. In an unimpeachable career, defined by nothing less than five of the greatest works of orchestral film construction in history, Williams somehow finds another peak, otherwise unreachable by his contemporaries. Equal parts sweeping foray into perilous adventure and tender exploration of childlike wonder, Williams paints a melodious masterpiece for the ages. Although the film’s score is a wealth of canonized classics, it is equally buoyant in its lighter moments. The score captures the failed promise that the park makes to children, like siblings Tim and Lex as they bask in the presumed safety of a dining room devouring an untouched buffet. A relatively tame moment in the film until Williams sonically cues its dissolution into terror by raptor attack. Delicate touches from the wand of a master color the film to its very musical edges.
Missing in the three decades of praise Jurassic Park has welcomed is often just how convincingly the film is acted. Rarely does an ensemble of this size issue forth without a single lost performance. The steady leads of Neill and Dern are balanced by Wayne Knight’s unhinged quirkiness and the omnipresence of Samuel L. Jackson, mere moments from Pulp Fiction (1994) hysteria. The assuredness of Richard Attenborough is brought into question by the shockwave that is Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm. Even the ancillary characters ooze with believability, from BD Wong to Martin Ferrero’s smarmy attorney Gennaro, there are no missed moments in the world of performance to be found anywhere in the film, a feat far easier dreamed than achieved.
Spielberg’s catalog overflows with excellence, so much so that some of his second and third tier titles would still mark career achievements for the rest of the DGA. The now seventy-seven year old director has left very little to be accomplished, yet presses on releasing Academy nominated fare with regularity. With respect to The Fabelmans (2022) and West Side Story (2021), both noteworthy achievements, it seems that Spielberg is satisfied being a victim of his own success. With an armada of legendary titles like Jaws (1975), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982) Jurassic Park (1993) , Schindler’s List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Minority Report (2002) Spielberg’s resume reads more like a masterclass in cross genre superiority rather than the work of a single man. While Fitzgerald may have been correct that very little can be predicted beyond one’s thirtieth birthday, the film universe can rest assured that enthusiasm for Jurassic Park shows no sign of slowing on its inevitable journey towards cinematic immortality.
Target Score: 10/10. Mastery in all facets and from all angles. Jurassic Park is a movie giant that will live far beyond anyone currently inhabiting Earth.