Family Movie Night… With Raptors!

Main Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough

Director: Steven Spielberg

Why in the world am I reviewing this film? Everyone on earth has seen it, half of them have reviewed it, why bother? Well, I had the opportunity to see Jurassic Park (commercial free!) for the first time in several years with someone who had never seen it before. That’s right, it was Family Movie Night! My son was at tthe time just old enough that, when his sister was asleep, we could watch movies not centered around animated insects or Winnie the Pooh characters. He could stay up late and watch “grown-up” movies (the definition of “grown-up” being decided, of course, by the grown-ups). So it was that we caught up with Jurassic Park.

”I think dinosaurs are cool because they’re big and they’re different.”

Approximately 99% of kids, at some point in their childhoods, find dinosaurs fascinating beyond all reason. I was one of those kids. My son is one of those kids. Neither of us has really outgrown the feeling. The whole notion of dinosaurs walking the earth today has so much appeal that the premise alone is enough to put butts in seats. Jurassic Park begins with just this premise. John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has built, on an island off the coast of Costa Rica, a theme park. The grandest, most spectacular theme park ever built, filled with real, living, breathing dinosaurs. Through a highly technical process of genetic manipulation and stretching of reality, Hammond has found a way to clone dinosaurs. He has decided that the best use of this technology is to place those animals in a grand tourist attraction, allowing the whole world, or at least those who can afford it, to step back through history and experience the grandeur of animals we’ve known only through fossil records.

”If you think of dinosaurs in the right way, they’re not that scary.”

Jurassic ParkThere’s just one hitch. A small accident involving a worker being eaten has forced our eager entrepreneur to get some scientists to sign off on his project in order to appease his financial backers. They seem concerned about possible safety issues at this merry park. Assembled to give their approval are Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), chaos theorist and skeptic, Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), archeologist and curmudgeon, and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), archeologist and pretty girl with feelings. Along for the ride are Hammond’s grandchildren, Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazello). They’re just there to see the park. After some initial feel-good impressions of this wonderful world of crazy gene tampering, the visitors begin to run into a few snags. A few rather large, rather toothy snags. After this, all bets are off, and it’s survival of the fittest in Jurassic Park.

It’s a sweet story, in many ways, and filled with action. The sweetness comes in the form of the interaction between Grant and the children, as well as in the child-like disappointment of Hammond at the dissolution of his dream. These parts are interspersed well with the action so that we never get bogged down with too much “emotion” (who needs that?) at the expense of dino-action (that’s what we need!). The inclusion of the more personal aspects of the story does give the movie a little more heft than it might otherwise have – sort of keeping it from being a dinosaur slasher film.

”The dinosaurs are really good. They don’t look fake or anything.”

This film is based on the Michael Crichton (who also penned the screenplay) book of the same name. With Steven Spielberg at the helm as director, we expect a lavish and stunning spectacle. And boy do we get it. From the aerial views of the island itself to the set-up of the park, to the stunning park itself, this is one gorgeous movie. Those dinosaurs that we kids dream of are right there, alive, on screen. So real you feel like you could touch them. In a very fine mini-documentary included in the DVD extras, the team explains how these creatures came about via a combination of animatronics, miniatures, full sized models and the then brand new, soon to become ubiquitous science of CGI. By not relying on only one of these technologies, Spielberg manages to make these creatures come alive in a way that really couldn’t have been done with any single method. There are beautiful scenes, computer animated, of herds of dinosaurs flocking. There are stunning scenes, using animatronics, of dinosaurs stalking their prey. There are perhaps the scariest scenes of all, of the T-Rex literally breathing down a character’s neck, using full sized models. The remarkable combination gives a feeling of completeness to these creatures. They are sweet and menacing and downright sentient. In other words, on top of being marvelous visually, these beasts have personality. Even the character interaction with them implies a level of intelligence and a bringing in of the dinosaurs as characters themselves that you simply don’t see very often anymore with the sole reliance on regular CGI.

”I like the Malcolm character because he talks really fluently.”

The actors are all good, some better than others. In my mind, despite his part being small, Jeff Goldblum will always stand out. Every adventure needs some comic relief, and he’s it. He gets to spout the one-liners, deliver the zingers and generally be an amusing pain in the rump. The beauty of this character is that he is never over-used. A little of Ian Malcolm goes a long way, and the filmmakers make the most of this sardonic personality without making us sick of him by the end. Goldblum is perfectly cast in the role, sarcasm dripping off his tongue like honey.

”I like how Dr. Grant acted like he really knew what he was doing.”

Neill and Dern are good, but not fabulous. I can imagine others filling their shoes without difficulty. Neill is a fine curmudgeon at the beginning, but changes his stripes too quickly as we progress into the story. Dern is sympathetic and motherly, but seems to have little more to do here than be the token girl. Not her fault by any means and she gives it a good shot, but she just hasn’t really got a character she can sink her teeth into. So to speak.

The kids really sounded scared and there is some comedy in it.”

The kids are wonderful. Not cloying as movie kids so often are, not obnoxiously precocious as movie kids so often are, not completely unable to act as movie kids so often are. Their actions and reactions are nicely done, with their exaggerated, wide eyed looks of fear and wonder perfectly reflecting the heightened childlike feelings we might all have in this situation. Both Richards as Lex and Mazello as Tim do very well here, the sure hand of Spielberg making them more palatable than the huge majority of movie children, the story giving them the opportunity to live nearly every child’s fantasy.

So what did Junior think? He was thoroughly and mightily impressed. Awed, even. Interestingly enough, the part he found most scary was not the scene with either the T-Rex (though he loved that scene) or the Raptors, but that with Newman, er, Wayne Knight as the rogue scientist meeting his end. Those little dinosaurs really got to him. And watching with him, they are pretty darn creepy in a far more subtle way then the bigger, more obvious predators. He was in dinosaur heaven during the scenes with the large herds and the veggie-saur segments – I could almost feel him wishing himself into that place. Best of all? He got to see this without his sister because he was a big kid and she wasn’t. The joys of being older are many and wonderful.

Jurassic Park is one of those movies that we’ve all seen, yet it hadn’t really occurred to me until recently how much it would appeal to a child. It has dinosaurs, no icky kissing scenes, lots of action and great special effects. The inclusion of children as part of the story adds to the kid-traction, making this a perfect Family Movie Night! film. The movie (released in 1993) has aged extremely gracefully, a tribute to the special effects team – in a world of rapidly changing and ever improving special effects, it’s a rare movie that can be so dependent on those effects and not look dated after a few years. Do yourself a favor, see this one again, enjoy it – maybe even invite a kid to enjoy it with you.

”You should see this movie because it’s cool and the actors are really good actors. It doesn’t go really slow and the words fit in really good so they don’t have to talk much and there can be more action.”*

I think that says it all.

* A big thanks to a now far older juniornocket for his italicized contributions to this review. For the record, he thought the dinosaurs were really cool.