Don’t fret about that angry T-Rex in your rear-view mirror, instead fear that God-playing, egotistic, amoral scientist who’s looming in your headlights. That’s the real takeaway from Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg’s early ’90s science fiction horror mega-flick.
Cloning is the problem here, and billionaire John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) is the cause of all the fuss. He heads InGen, a bioengineering colossus that controls Isla Nublar, a gorgeous tropical island that, we are told, lies 120 miles off Costa Rica. Hammond is putting the finishing touches on a massive theme park on the island. He’s got a secret, a big and potentially lucrative one, but a wrinkle has cropped up. The family of one of his workers – who was, um, eaten by something big and hungry in a large InGen metal container – has filed a $20 million wrongful death lawsuit and his insurers tell Hammond he has to get experts to certify the park as safe before he can open it to the public.
To do that he persuades paleontologists Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), along with mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), to visit the island for a weekend and do the certifying. Alan and Ellie, by the way, are more than friends, and she wants kids but he doesn’t.
Also, treason is lurking at InGen. For a valise full of $750,000 in cash, greedy and reckless computer whiz Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) has agreed to smuggle out the embryos of dinosaurs – yes, cloned dinosaurs are Hammond’s big secret – to a competitor’s agent.
The second half of this movie has lots of action – menace, chases and more menace – but the first half conveys the theme. Once on the island, Hammond takes his visitors out into the wild, where they are pole-axed, stunned and just plain gobsmacked when a (fortunately vegetarian) dinosaur comes ambling along. “Welcome to Jurassic Park,” Hammond says. They are troubled and literally staggered, though, when he nonchalantly says he’s also created Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaurs.
Back at InGen headquarters, Hammond shows his guests how his scientists have cloned dinosaurs via dinosaur blood from prehistoric mosquitoes preserved in amber. He is surprised and disappointed when his visitors raise objections. Malcolm says danger is inherent in manipulating genetic power. Ellie points out that the dinosaurs are aggressive creatures. Alan says we can’t possibly know what to expect when dinosaurs and men are thrown together when natural history had separated them by 65 million years.
Malcolm decries Hammond’s “lack of humility before nature.” He argues, “…your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Hammond has created only female dinosaurs and thinks they cannot reproduce, but Malcolm believes in the unanticipated and says, “Life will find a way,” and later he is proven right. He also muses, “God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates Man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.” Ellie replies, “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the Earth,” but Malcolm’s point is taken.
Trouble starts when Hammond’s grandkids, Tim (Joseph Mazzello) and Lex (Ariana Richards) Murphy, arrive for a visit. All the visitors go on a tour of the park before anyone realizes a tropical storm is fast approaching. They also leave their vehicles to explore, which they’re not supposed to do. Back at h.q., Nedry sneaks away to steal dinosaur embryos, but to cover his tracks he SPOILER ALERT disables an overview system, and that leads to the whole island’s security systems shutting down, including the electrified wire fences that enclose the most dangerous dinosaurs.
Before long, the dinosaurs are on the prowl and the humans are being hunted. Rain is now falling, and menace is palpable. Suffice it to say that if you haven’t finished your popcorn by now, you’re liable to spill it all over the place when you jump up, startled by every dinosaur attack. The humans exhibit courage and resourcefulness as they fight for their lives and for each other.
We’ll leave you to find out what happens as the tried and true film formula, “increase the jeopardy in the third act,” plays out. You’ll be glad to know, though, that SPOILER ALERT as Alan protects the kids he comes to like them, and that pleases Ellie.
In Jurassic Park as with Frankenstein and similar films, scientists’ attempts at playing God have unforeseen and catastrophic consequences. The moral question arises, “Who is the real monster, the scientist or his creatures?” So does the question, “If it is bad to create man-eating dinosaurs, how much worse is it to create fellow human beings and to experiment with them, via cloning and chimeras, for example?”
The MPAA rating for this film is, “PG-13 for intense science fiction terror.” The fairly frequent bad language includes the taking of God’s name in vain. Parents should note that director Spielberg wouldn’t let his own kids see the movie; he called it “too intense” for them. That it is, what with its many scenes of hideous dinosaurs menacing terrified, screaming children – and adults, for that matter – and several instances of the same savage monsters eating people alive.
Michael Crichton and David Koepp wrote the script, based on Crichton’s 1990 novel of the same title. John Williams was the composer and Dean Cundey the cinematographer. Michael Kahn edited the film. Rick Carter was the production designer and Paul Deason the unit production manager. Jackie Carr was set decorator and Jim Teegarden and John Bell were the art directors. Gary Hymes was stunt coordinator. Don Elliot was special effects foreman and Joss Geiduschek the special effects engineer.
Dennis Muren was in charge of full-motion dinosaurs and Stan Winston the live-action ones. Phil Tippett was dinosaur supervisor – is that like herding cats? – and Michael Lantieri headed dinosaur special effects. The film’s lush scenery was shot in Kauai.
— Dan Engler